Lismore-based theatre company NORPA stages a successful return with a joy-filled production

Two-hundred people pack out a temporary grandstand, rugged up with blankets and beanies to keep warm. Despite the chilly temperatures, it’s a night of celebration.

One of Australia’s few full-time professional regional theatre companies, NORPA, made its long-awaited return with an original production, Love for One Night, celebrating love stories of a diverse and slightly-less-than-fairytale nature.

After a successful opening night on the NSW far north coast, the sense of celebration among the cast and crew was palpable.

“It felt really powerful and just so beautiful to have a full house and an amazing audience laughing and feeling all the feels,” performer Claire Atkins said.

Chief executive and artistic director Julian Louis said it was “magical”.

“I imagined the elements, but to actually see that happen and come together in such a way was truly a highlight in my career so far,” he said.

A hard path to sell-out success
Tickets sold out halfway through the three-week run of shows, suggesting there was some truth to lighting designer Alex Torney’s prediction that people were “chomping at the bit” for entertainment and live performance.

“I think historically, you see the arts flourish in times of disaster, in times of economic downturn, in times of conflict. People really start to crave escapism and experience.”

The disaster and downturn had been extensive.

The company laid off staff during the pandemic and NORPA’s home venue, Lismore City Hall, was inundated during this year’s floods. It remains in disrepair.

Some in the creative team, including Mx Torney, lost their homes.

Yet during rehearsals in the weeks before opening night, there was an air of anticipation.

“Getting into the swing of things was difficult, I did not have the stamina I once had for production weeks,” Mx Torney said.

“But it’s really exciting to be back on the job because this is … what I’ve worked towards for pretty much my entire adult life.”

Ms Atkins was exuberant.

“Oh my god, we are absolutely jumping out of our skins,” she said. “Being able to realise this fabulous show is a dream come true.”

All the world’s a stage, including this pub
Without its studio, NORPA stepped away from the traditional stage and took Love for One Night to a historic pub in the nearby village of Eltham.

Mr Louis said it was something he’d wanted to do for several years, although staging the production at a live pub brought challenges.

Other parts of the hotel continued to operate and serve patrons, so sound and lighting were harder to control.

“I was just really taken by the character of it,” said Mr Louis.

“What you gain from the authentic location and the nostalgia of that place and the character is just so immense.”

While shifting the production outside of a theatre wasn’t a direct result of the floods, the disaster was acknowledged in the script, when two characters reunited after one woman helped clean the mud and debris out of the other’s house.

It was a reference that resonated with the audience.

“It was actually wonderful to be able to go to a show again after so long,” Trish Milgate said.

“Especially after Lismore got smashed with those floods and some of the flood scenes and the references, I think it was just really affirming.”