Merrigong's Kristopher McDowell says Wollongong's arts scene can rival Sydney's

FRESHMAN: Merrigong's program manager Kristopher McDowell will be finding more diverse shows for the Wollongong stage. Picture: Sylvia Liber
FRESHMAN: Merrigong's program manager Kristopher McDowell will be finding more diverse shows for the Wollongong stage. Picture: Sylvia Liber

American Kristopher McDowell has been living in Wollongong for two months and believes locals should stop comparing the city to Sydney.

Mr McDowell has stepped into the recently created role of program manager at the not-for-profit Merrigong Theatre Company, to help grow the already diverse artistic program.

After working with arts organisations around Asia, Australia and America, he decided to accept the role because he could see the Illawarra was thriving and was “blown away” but the shows scheduled for the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre and other Merrigong venues.

“I think it’s ridiculous to think we’re inferior to Sydney,” he said.

“As one of the top regional companies in the country [Merrigong] is really serving the community in new ways.”

With an ever evolving and growing community, Illawarra residents shouldn’t need to look to its big sister to enrich their lifestyles but “embrace” the local creative scene according to Mr McDowell..

“I think you do get the 20-somethings who want to go out in a club [that] might be more packed in Sydney versus here,” he said.

“But in terms of the performing arts scene, what [director Simon Hinton] is bringing in artistically would certainly rival programming that would exist at the Opera House or the Sydney Festival.”

Mr McDowell will be searching for new shows locally, nationally and internationally that will make use of a somewhat underutilised space at Wollongong Town Hall.

The cast of Limbo - running in The Spiegeltent in April 2018 - part of the Merrigong main season. Picture: Supplied

The cast of Limbo - running in The Spiegeltent in April 2018 - part of the Merrigong main season. Picture: Supplied

More comedy, musicians and themed “dance hall nights” will appear on a regular basis throughout 2018. He said next year will be a “testing phase” to see what people like and don’t like before doubling the amount of shows on offer.

Promoting Merrigong made productions to overseas playhouses will also be one of his tasks, which he strongly believes is capable.

“We’re poised to bump it up another level,” he said, noting most homegrown productions already tour around Australia such as Letters To Lindy.

It comes as tickets have gone on sale for the first three shows in the Wollongong company’s main program – including the inter-racial romantic comedy Black Is The New White, the burlesque circus show Limbo and the musical favourite Calamity Jane where the audience can choose to sit amongst the actors.

Next year’s main program also includes a stage horror show, a play performed in Arabic and productions aimed at young people in line with school curriculum with teaching notes.