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Lifetime award for visionary Brisbane
Katharine Brisbane

Theatre luminary Katharine Brisbane has variously been hailed the den mother of Australian playwrights and an elder of the national performing arts tribe.

Almost every child who has studied Australian drama over the past 40 years would have read one of the more than 900 plays published by Currency Press, which she co-founded with her husband Philip Parsons at the start of the 1970s larrikin new-wave film and theatre movement.

"What was exciting was that you felt that you could make a difference," Brisbane said from her Sydney home after winning a JC Williamson Award lifetime achievement honour in the 2012 Helpmann Awards. "There was change to come and you could be part of it. It happened in the film industry, music and Aboriginal activism. Every aspect was being questioned."

Currency has taken the plays of David Williamson, Dorothy Hewett, Jack Hibberd, Patrick White, Joanna Murray-Smith, Ray Lawler, Jack Davis and Nick Enright into schools around the country.

"Kids grow up reading Australian plays only because of Currency Press," top Australian playwright Katharine Thomson said.

Brisbane also promotes issues ranging from arts funding to the threat to live bands in pubs through her Currency House forum and quarterly papers.

"If Katharine Brisbane didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent her," academic Donald Pulford once said.

Brisbane, 80, a former theatre critic for _The West Australian _, shares the JC Williamson Award with the late Aboriginal singer-songwriter Jimmy Little. "I am very pleased and grateful for the honour because I have been a backstage worker for 60 years in arts and theatre," Brisbane said.

"But I am not up there in the public eye so it is very nice of the industry to award me this honour at this time."

WA's Barking Gecko Theatre Company for young people has scaled the heights, just a few years after facing possible extinction, by picking up five Helpmann Award nominations on Monday night.

Barking Gecko received four nominations for its Shaun Tan adaptation The Red Tree and one for the teenage play Driving into Walls, putting it in a similar league to the much bigger Sydney and Melbourne theatre companies.

The WA Opera received eight nominations. It capped the box-office and artistic success of its production of Elektra with six mentions, including best opera, best director (Matt Lutton) and best music direction (Richard Mills).

Singers Rachelle Durkin and James Clayton each picked up a nomination for their performances in WA Opera's The Tales of Hoffman. Other WA nominees were dancer Daryl Brandwood for his solo work Helix, Tim Watt's puppet theatre show The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, The Man the Sea Saw by Wolfe Bowart, and rocker Justin Burford for his lead role in the musical Rock of Ages.

In the hotly contested stage musical categories, Rock of Ages received seven nominations and a Chorus Line, which opens in Perth in October, received six.

The big surprise was the five nods, including best musical, for An Officer and A Gentleman, whose world premiere season in Sydney was axed after just eight weeks after poor reviews and bad ticket sales. Annie, which opens in Perth later this month, received three nominations.

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