• Dr Margi Brown Ash

A celebration of Wesley Enoch's 5 year leadership

“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.” ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I am thinking of legacies this morning. What do we leave behind when we go…it could be going to another city, another job, another world. As Ray Bradbury says in Fahrenheit 451, everyone leaves something.

Friday 23rd October 2015 was the day that Wesley Enoch left Brisbane. Perhaps not literally, but officially it was his last day at Queensland Theatre Company before he heads south to lead the Sydney Festival. He has left us after five years of leadership.

When I think of Wesley, I see a young man. I met him when he taught in the Metro Arts building way back when, with Contact Youth Arts. He taught my oldest daughter drama and I saw a young man of passion and joy.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and Wesley is a middle aged man, still full of passion and joy, with a determination that has changed the Queensland landscape. He came to QTC and woke Queensland up. Programs grew, opportunities flourished. The Green Room became the common room for the artists of Brisbane, with young people drinking milo, actors learning scripts, meetings, coffee, quiet reading corners.

International Queensland actor Bille Brown donated his vast library of theatrical books to QTC after his death, and they line the walls, a constant reminder of our connection with the greater theatrical family across continents and generations. The benches are covered with bright green fabric and the little kitchen services the whole building. Staff eat in the Green Room daily so the arts community and the staff know each other well.

These changes were just the beginning. Wesley managed to weave enormous magic into the arts community, creating a strong connection between the independent arts sector and the state flagship company. He believed in community and all of his actions supported this. He saw the performances that greater Brisbane had to offer as often as he could. He had genuine conversations with people about art, about food (he is a foodie, cooking for the company some Friday afternoons, bowls of exquisiteness), about connection, about community.

Wesley Enoch changed the Brisbane theatre scene from a somewhat disconnected array of people who occasionally trod the boards at QTC, to a dynamic group of artists who proudly embraced multiple ways creating, moving seamlessly from their independent work, to the state theatre company and back again. He invited independent artists into the building to create, to share their work. He changed the office architecture so that we could have two extra rehearsal rooms and finally he created the Dian Cilento Studio, a tiny theatre that sits next to the Bille Brown.

In a word, he invited us home. When I heard about Wesley’s new appointment to Sydney Festival, I wrote to Sue Donnelly whose title should be The Extraordinary General Manager of QTC, stating how important it was to consider the legacy that Wesley was leaving, that of community, equality and connectedness and to ensure that our new leader would embrace these values.

Wesley’s legacy includes many things, but the things that resonate with me are these three values: community, equality and connectedness. He has created opportunities for many people. He has actively created stories that embrace indigenous themes, something that was so needed, so crucial to the development of our greater community, not only our audience but also our fellow artists. He has created a terrific opportunity for young people to thrive in the Youth Ensembles that grow from strength to strength, not only in downtown Brisbane but also in Logan, where he grew up. He has invited women artists to participate in a series of plays this year under the title Diva Series, where women have presented their own work with QTC’s support. He has encouraged women directors to work in the state theatre company, reaching parity in next years season. He has grown the touring side of QTC to ensure that the whole state, indeed the whole country, get to share these stories.

I will miss Wesley. I will miss his cheeky smile and his steely commitment to change. He has been a leader I respect and cherish.

Wesley has not done this alone. He has attracted around him powerful allies who have made sure that his vision has been executed. A leader never operates in a vacuum and his team has excelled, accepting and growing the challenges presented to them and at the same time having the insight to continue to develop the themes of connection and communication within our industry. I’m thinking they may need to sleep a wee bit once Wesley has left. I do not know a team that works so hard. Hey maybe I do. There is a team across the river who has deep connections with Wesley. Katherine Hoepper has just taken up General Manager of La Boite, after working for years with Wesley and Todd Macdonald has just taken up CEO/Artistic Director of La Boite after being Wesley’s Associate Director. I have a feeling that Wesley’s legacy is alive and well in the cramped rooms of La Boite. Their green room may not be as large or as grand, but their spirit is every bit as inclusive and expansive.

I am proud of our State Theatre Company. I am proud of how the State Theatre Company has impacted other companies. And I urge those people who have worked with Wesley and have loved what he has done to keep in mind these values of connectedness, of community and of equality. I know that La Boite has these values firmly in hand. Wesley, you have left your fingerprints all over the state. Thank you. Your soul is imprinted in all of us.

I will finish where I began,

“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”