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Theatre director Imara Savage shares what she loves about Walsh Bay

Sydney Theatre Company’s resident director gives us her highlights of the harbourside precinct

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Portrait of Imara Savage
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Walsh Bay
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Car crash artwork in Walsh Bay
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Exterior dining at Ventuno Pizzeria
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Barrangaroo Reserve
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Barrangaroo Reserve
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Walsh Bay
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Walsh Bay
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Imara, Sydney Theatre Company has temporarily relocated to Moore Park while the wharfs undergo extensive renewal. What do you miss most about being in Walsh Bay every day?
Oh my god, I miss everything. I feel like that was a spiritual home – just to be able to go to work and look out on that water every day. I would catch the ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay, walk past the MCA and up through the Rocks, and it never lost its novelty. Every day, I was like, ‘this is the most beautiful city in the world and I cannot believe this is just my trip to work’. Amazing! When the Vivid Light show is on and you’re going home at night it’s incredible. I also miss being at work, as I’ve realised some spaces feel more prone to generating creative discussions than others – and certainly sitting looking at the water is a very different experience from sitting in a cubicle in an office.

One of the on-stage highlights of 2018 was your production of Saint Joan with Sarah Snook in the lead role. What did you enjoy most about working on that show?  
The thing I enjoyed the most was the way this work came about in collaboration with other artists. Being a director is kind of a lonely business in a way, and you can sometimes feel a bit redundant – I know that sounds weird, but actors are pretty capable of directing themselves a lot of the time, they’re good at what they do. And so, particularly in this case, with the young writer Emme Hoy and Sarah Snook, it was just a combination of people who were interested in telling this story in a different way. We were trying to figure out why we were telling this story again today – there were all these film versions and historical documentaries and we were asking what was theatrical about this work. It was interesting to be able to go into [Joan of Arc’s] head in a way that felt like a springboard into poetry and imagination – and that was really exciting. A lot of it was imagination, which was coming out of Emme, Sarah and my collective brain space and that was really fun.

You’re now working on an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart...
There are similar challenges with this one, which is that you take a very well-known historical figure like Elizabeth I (and Mary Queen of Scots to some extent, too), and you think ‘god this is material that has been well and truly mined, and what is the point in putting something on again that has been told in a million different ways?’ Schiller was writing it in the late 1700s and they didn’t have Netflix or HBO, but we do! He fictionalised a lot of it, so he played very loose with history. We’re still waiting for the script at this stage, but those are the challenges we’re grappling with right now.

When you have a show on at Roslyn Packer Theatre, where do you like to eat and drink in the area?
I have two small kids, so I don’t go out as often as I used to, but our go-tos are places like Ventuno, which has great wine and pizza, and Lotus, which has great dumplings. Fratelli Fresh is good for lunch if you want a change from the Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf (currently closed until 2020). I used to go to Saké every now and again, too, in Circular Quay. They do good cocktails. In the theatre a lot of your life is spent in very dark rooms, so I gear myself towards sunshine at lunchtimes. I like to go to this tiny little café between Pier 2/3 and 4/5 called Simmer on the Bay, as they do amazing sandwiches. I’d get a sandwich and sit with my legs dangling over the side of one of the wharfs before I'd go back into a dark theatre.

Where do you go for a nightcap after a long day of rehearsals?
When I’m inclined to go out with friends it’s usually for festivals – Vivid Live, for example, because the programming has been so great. Over the years I’ve gone to see Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver and Solange, and they’ve all been amazing experiences. We’ll go to Opera Bar and look out over the city and then go into the Opera House. All those incredible arts festivals that we get, like the Festival of Dangerous Ideas or when there’s a pop-up gin bar at the MCA – it hasn’t lost its novelty for me.

And during the day, where did you like to take the kids?
Barangaroo Reserve has been amazing. It was great when Sydney Festival did one of their big installations there, a giant ball pit called ‘The Beach’. Barangaroo in itself is great too because it has all those natural rocks to climb up on – it’s different from going to a fenced-in playground. Most of my experience now is in public art spaces, like the Botanical Gardens or the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool, which is what we like to do on weekends. They sometimes have amazing exhibitions like the Kaldor Public Art Projects. I was involved with the Marina Abramović residency, which was a Kaldor Public Art Project, where they used the Pier 2/3 space. As Walsh Bay is not a thoroughfare, people come to the space for a reason – like theatre or to eat at a particular place, or for Sydney Dance Company classes. That’s the amazing thing about the area – you can be rehearsing in the wharf with views of Luna Park and the Bridge, then go downstairs and do a dance class in your lunch break.

How would you like to see Walsh Bay develop over the next decade?
I really like all the public art stuff and how they use the spaces there, or even within the walk from Circular Quay around to the Rocks. Events like the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Vivid or Sydney Festival bring people to the area – especially when they’re free. I think it’s really important that art is accessible and that area is for everybody in Sydney.

Imara's favourite places in Walsh Bay

Restaurants

Simmer on the Bay

Dawes Point

There's nothing quite like dangling your legs over the wharf as you grab a bite to eat from Simmer on the Bay. Customers can't get enough of the home-cooked favourites. 

Theatre

Roslyn Packer Theatre

Millers Point

The Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly Sydney Theatre) is a state-of-the-art home for the best Australian and international performing arts. The space presents works by the Sydney Theatre Company, as well as regular seasons by the Sydney Dance Company, the Sydney Writers' Festival and Sydney Festival.

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Things to do

Barangaroo Reserve

Barangaroo

Named for the pioneering second wife of Bennelong,  Barangaroo is a park and entertainment space that runs over a number of levels with panoramic views of Sydney Harbour. 

Bartender at Fratelli Fresh Walsh Bay
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Restaurants

Fratelli Fresh Walsh Bay

Dawes Point

It's an ace spot for a pre-theatre dinner or a post-SDC-dance-class carb replenishment. You also should order lamb ragu pasta with a glass of red, and you can't go wrong with happy hour (5-7pm) Negronis for $7.50.

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Boulder on top of crushed red Ford Festiva
Photograph: Ken Leanfore
Art, Sculpture and installations

Still Life with Stone & Car

Dawes Point

For the 2004 Biennale of Sydney, Arkansas-born Berlin-based artist Jimmie Durham created this installation from a 1999 Ford Festiva purchased in Homebush, and a two-tonne quartz boulder from a Central Coast quarry – painted with a face. In 2006, the piece was permanently installed in its current location in Walsh Bay – in the middle of a roundabout.

Restaurants

Ventuno Pizzeria Enoteca Birreria

Dawes Point

This pizzeria is best for water views. And it's right near the Sydney Theatre Company so it's the perfect spot for a sneaky pizza before the latest production. The Rustica is great with a beer. Tomato and mozzarella make it sweet and gooey while hot salami spices up the show, bulked up with mushrooms and black olives. 

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Lotus Dumpling Bar Walsh Bay
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Restaurants

Lotus Dumpling Bar

The Rocks
4 out of 5 stars

Lotus still feels like a bit of a secret spot for pre-theatre diners. Order the pork xiao long bao; the pastry isn’t too thick, and the broth within is a flavourful slap in the face: deeply porky, with hints of sesame and seasoning that’s bang on. 

Museums

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

The Rocks

This waterside museum was overhauled head to toe (well, almost) in 2011 and re-opened in March 2012 with light, airy, uncluttered interiors, more floor space and a boxy new facade. It's not just good looks, either: the rooftop café and sculpture terrace, high-tech education centre, and 120-seat lecture theatrette and forecourt are all worth checking out.

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Restaurants

Sake the Rocks

The Rocks
4 out of 5 stars

In an area more known for its beer swilling than cocktail drinking, Saké stands out. And it should – there’s some excitement to be found in this Japanese restaurant and bar. Bar snacks are bite-sized and pack a tasty punch. Salty and often deep-fried, they are perfect accompaniments to the long and potent drink’s list. 

Bars, Cocktail bars

Opera Bar

Sydney
3 out of 5 stars

Beauty and convenience don’t always go hand in hand, but Opera Bar is a glam exception to the rule. It manages to be both one of the most enviably located bars in the city as well as its most advantageous spot for a pre-show drink.

Check out more places to visit in Walsh Bay

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