Vale Andrew Ross AM

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing on Saturday 19 March of our beloved founder and inaugural artistic director Andrew Ross AM.

Published

This is an image that may represent - This is an image that may represent -

Andrew Ross' overwhelming contribution to the Australian and international arts scene has spanned over five decades. From founding theatre companies as an artistic director, to a director of festivals, and of performing arts venues in various states, to dramaturg, adapting novels for the stage, and as a mentor, his expertise and commitment to the theatre sector has been unfaltering and unquantifiable. He was a leading light in promoting Indigenous theatre and brought to audiences the talents of our Aboriginal writers, actors and creatives in producing the work of Jack Davis, Jimmy Chi and Sally Morgan as well as leading Western Australian writers such as Randolph Stow. His connections in South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia and other nations of the Indian Ocean Rim have highlighted our neighbour’s cultures to an Australian audience. He is recognised nationally and internationally as one of Australia’s leading performing arts practitioners and a seismic force in theatre.

After being involved in the Melbourne student and alternative theatre scene in the 1970s, Andrew set up a schools touring theatre company in Perth Western Australia (1977-79), which later became Acting Out and ultimately Barking Gecko Theatre Company, Theatre for Young People. He was also Artistic Director at La Boite Theatre in Brisbane from 1982 - 1984.

After undertaking post-graduate director training in the UK with the British Council he returned to Australia to work with Jack Davis on his first major play 'The Dreamers' for the 1982 Festival of Perth. On his way back to Australia he travelled through India, Malaysia and Indonesia taking every opportunity to see live performances, commencing a lifelong interest in the performing arts of South Asia and South East Asia.

After 'The Dreamers' he continued to work with Jack Davis with the production of 'No Sugar' touring to Vancouver, Ottawa and London and the ‘First Born’ trilogy winning the Melbourne Greenroom award for the best production of 1988.

From 1991 – 2003 he was the inaugural Artistic Director of the newly formed Black Swan Theatre Company, based in Western Australia. Ross aspired to produce indigenous and non - indigenous themed theatre that reflected the society in which Western Australians exist, providing a showcase for the creative talents of local artists. Andrew Ross has thus been instrumental in founding two of the longest running theatre companies in Western Australia, with Black Swan celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021.

During this fertile period of creativity he worked closely with composer Iain Grandage, designer Zoë Atkinson and painter Robert Juniper, directing the world premieres of musicals 'Bran Nue Dae', considered to be a turning point in the short history of Aboriginal writing for theatre, 'Corrugation Road' by Jimmy Chi and Kuckles, ‘Mamu’ with the Tjuntjuntjarra community from the Great Victoria Desert, adaptations of the novels 'Tourmaline' and the 'Merry-Go-Round in the Sea' by Randolph Stow, 'Sister girl' by Sally Morgan, 'Meekatharra' by Lois Akimovich, 'The Year of Living Dangerously' by Christopher Koch, and in the 2000 Perth International Arts Festival, 'Plainsong' adapted from the medieval mystery plays by David Britton.

His productions have toured to the UK and Canada and have won a number of awards including a Melbourne Greenroom Award for ‘The First Born’, a trilogy of plays by Jack Davis for Melbourne Theatre Company. The Age Melbourne Critics' Award for Best Production for ‘Corrugation Road’ and The WA Equity Award for Best Production for ‘Plainsong’.

Under Ross' twelve-year leadership Black Swan received a degree of recognition and support often associated with larger more established theatre companies. As a result, the company made a significant contribution to the cultural and social fabric of Western Australia through the quality of the work produced, and the themes and issues explored through the medium of live theatre. This recognition was formalised in November 2004 when the State Government announced that Black Swan, would be recognised as Western Australia’s State flagship company for theatre.

During Ross' term with the company, it engaged in a wide range of activities including: presenting main stage and youth theatre productions; participating in co-productions with other theatre companies; embarking on regional, national and international tours; developing new works; buying in productions from other theatre companies; coordinating an Aboriginal Music Training Program; and establishing relationships with other theatre companies through the many co-productions and collaborations.

His development and showcasing of Indigenous writers, directors and actors, paved the way for the formation of Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company. Ross gave a career start to acclaimed actors such as Ursula Yovich, Lea Purcell, Ningali Lawford, Trevor Jamieson, Kyle Morrison (former Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin), Kelton Pell, John Moore, Ernie Dingo, Lynette Narkle and many more. Both Tim Minchin and Iain Grandage started their professional careers in productions Andrew directed.

In 2003 he took up the position of Director of the newly opened Brisbane Powerhouse where he remained for 10 years overseeing a programme including commissioning and producing several international touring productions. He oversaw the $3.5 million renovation of the Powerhouse, which saw the venue from a place to simply “see theatre” to a creative and social hub in Brisbane. His vision transformed the Brisbane Powerhouse, to a prized venue in Australia hosting a multi-disciplinary and international programme of performance and visual art. He commissioned and produced a number of original works, including ‘Lawn’ and ‘Roadkill’ by Splintergroup.

In 2013 he worked within the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy producing the Indonesian Performing Arts Market, IPAM 2014. Andrew Ross was the recipient of an Australia-Indonesia Merdeka Fellowship, enabling him to research the export potential of the contemporary performing arts of Indonesia.

He has taught and directed productions at the Victorian College for the Arts and Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts where he was an Associate Professor. Andrew was the Artistic Director of Darwin Festival from 2015 to 2016. He left when health issues prompted a return to Perth to seek medical attention and cancer treatment.

Black Swan State Theatre Company was thrilled to welcome back Andrew to direct Beckett's absurdist classic 'Endgame' as part of our 2017 season, with four Western Australia’s most distinguished and prolific actors: Geoff Kelso, Kelton Pell, Caroline McKenzie and George Shevtsov. Shevtsov, Pell and Kelso were in the inaugural production of Black Swan's 'Twelfth Night' (1991), directed by Ross.

He was a member of Black Swan's artistic reference group, which collaborates and advocates for the company and in 2017 he was appointed the company's Emeritus Artist.

That year he also led on behalf of Australia Indonesian Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia Directors and Artistic programmers to promote a greater presence of Indonesian culture in the Festival Arts venue programs.

Ross came full circle with the presentation with Australia Opera’s 30th anniversary production of ‘Bran Nue Dae’ at the 2020 Perth Festival, with a new generation of Broome collaborators, including co-director Naomi Pigram.

Andrew was born in Melbourne on 15 October 1947 and died in Perth on 19 March 2022. He is survived by his daughters Effie and Jessie, and two grandchildren.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains images and names of deceased persons.

Other News

  • This is an image that may represent - 9776 BSSTC Black Swan Black Beer 1960x920
  • This is an image that may represent - Kate Ian Desktop Image
  • This is an image that may represent - Barracking For The Umpire Desktop Hero
  • Announcing our Black Swan Lager

    Our 2022 season KIN is a celebration and exploration of connection and family, and in the spirit of this, we are excited to partner with Otherside Brewing Co.

  • Black Swan announces new leadership team

    Black Swan is pleased to announce the appointments of Kate Champion as Artistic Director and Ian Booth as Chief Executive Officer.

  • Barracking for the Umpire Postponement

    While WA continues to tackle the impact of COVID, we regret to announce our upcoming season of Barracking for the Umpire by Andrea Gibbs has been postponed.

2 of 3
This is an image that may represent - 9776 BSSTC Black Swan Black Beer 1960x920

Announcing our Black Swan Lager

Our 2022 season KIN is a celebration and exploration of connection and family, and in the spirit of this, we are excited to partner with Otherside Brewing Co.

This is an image that may represent - Kate Ian Desktop Image

Black Swan announces new leadership team

Black Swan is pleased to announce the appointments of Kate Champion as Artistic Director and Ian Booth as Chief Executive Officer.

This is an image that may represent - Barracking For The Umpire Desktop Hero

Barracking for the Umpire Postponement

While WA continues to tackle the impact of COVID, we regret to announce our upcoming season of Barracking for the Umpire by Andrea Gibbs has been postponed.