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An interview with Cameron Lukey

An interview with Cameron Lukey
January-February 2024, no. 461

An interview with Cameron Lukey

An interview with Cameron Lukey
January-February 2024, no. 461

CameronLukeyIntextCameron Lukey is an Australian producer whose credits include acclaimed productions of 33 Variations at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre in 2019 (starring Ellen Burstyn) and Angels in America at fortyfivedownstairs in 2017. He began his career as an opera singer and joined the team at fortyfivedownstairs in 2016. He was appointed Artistic Director of the theatre in 2023.

What was the first performance that made a deep impression on you?

Seeing Maggie Smith in Bed Among the Lentils by Alan Bennett in my teens (this was in Sydney). It was the first time I had experienced that kind of star stage presence. 

When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist yourself?

My third-grade teacher, Mr Elliot, got the class to perform Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat for a local eisteddfod. I desperately wanted to play Potiphar, so I campaigned for the role during lunch breaks when he was on playground duty. He caved, and I can’t really remember wanting to do anything outside of the arts since.   

What’s the most brilliant individual performance you have ever seen?

Audra McDonald singing with the Sydney Symphony. I sat in the middle of the front row at the Opera House concert hall, and her voice just blew me away. Angela Lansbury in Driving Miss Daisy and Robyn Nevin in August: Osage County also stand out in my mind.

Name three performers you would like to work with?

Name a grande dame and chances are I’d kill to work with her.

Do you have a favourite song?

I don’t really have a favourite song to listen to, but my favourite song to sing during my brief stint as a performer was ‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ by Gerald Finzi. 

And your favourite play or opera?

Turandot. I was lucky enough to catch a general rehearsal of Franco Zefferelli’s production at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012. The finale was complete sensory overload – Puccini’s incredible score, the Met’s massive chorus joined on stage by dozens of dancers twirling ribbons, gold confetti raining down. My favourite play would be Angels in America.

Who is your favourite writer and favourite composer?

I think the writer who had the biggest influence on me was Roald Dahl. I was obsessed as a kid, and my copies of his books were all in tatters. My favourite composer would be a toss-up between Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, and Stephen Sondheim. I also love the film scores of Philip Glass and Thomas Newman.

How do you regard the audience?

They’re like a drug. The high – when they’re buying tickets and loving the show. The comedown – when they’re not.

What’s your favourite theatrical venue in Australia?

Bias aside, I really do think fortyfivedownstairs is the most beautiful venue I’ve ever produced in. I’m also a fan of the Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne.

What do you look for in arts critics?

I appreciate it when a critic takes the response of the audience around them into account, especially if it differs from their own. I remember one instance where a critic was the only person who didn’t take part in a full standing ovation and then wrote a review that made it sound like no one could enjoy the show. That irked me.

Do you read your own reviews?

I think as a producer, you have to! I’m certainly guilty of clicking refresh a few too many times until certain reviews come up online.

Money aside, what makes being an artist difficult or wonderful in Australia?

Difficult? That the ceiling is lower here than in many parts of the world in terms of audience size and overall respect for the arts. Wonderful? That despite this, we still produce so many committed, persistent, talented artists.

What’s the single biggest thing governments could do for artists?

I’m not sure about the single biggest action, but the biggest aim should be to encourage a higher regard for the arts, because I think the most valuable thing would be for a larger percentage of the population to not just engage with the arts but to regard them as vital. 

What advice would you give an aspiring artist?

Find people whose opinions you trust and give them your focus. Don’t seek the opinions of those you don’t really rate just for validation. It’ll backfire.

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

An established producer told me that when you are trying to get a project off the ground, you should let it go as soon as you face resistance. That seemed so counter-intuitive to me. I’ve always believed you need to push and fight to make things happen. Now I understand where they are coming from.

What’s your next project or performance?

I am producing the Australian première of the multi-award-winning two-part epic The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez, based on E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End. It’s a beautiful play that I devoured in one sitting, and it felt like it’d be a lovely bookend to the 2017 production of Angels in America at fortyfivedownstairs.

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