After two years of musical silence during the global pandemic, newly elevated Frontier Touring CEO Dion Brant smiled as he soaked up the sound of the roaring crowd in the rain as the Foo Fighters rocked Geelong’s GHMBA Stadium in March , marking the return of international headliners to Australia.
“I knew it would be a special time for our industry, but maybe I had underestimated how special it would be for the fans,” he said of the electric atmosphere.
“The pent up emotion that came out that night was incredible. It proved to me that going out in front of bands or going out to shows or plays or whatever, but going out and seeing people under their best day, giving their all to their art makes people feel better.
It’s been a tough ride for arts and entertainment businesses of all shapes and sizes, with border closures having a significant impact on business ventures like Frontier. “We were very lucky to be a healthy company before COVID and we had the means and the ability to survive the severe shock that it was,” Brant noted.
But while their scale meant they had a bit more meat on their bones, Frontier still faced dark days. Not the least of which was the death of their beloved founder Michael Gudinski in March last year, leading to a restructuring of management.
“Losing Michael is almost indescribable,” Brant said of his mentor. “It’s as if the energy that drives you is suddenly extinguished. So for us, it was very difficult. But we’re a pretty tough bunch, and what probably helped us was that Michael was very clear about what he stood for.
Frontier’s goal is to connect passionate artists with their fans. Now that interstate and international borders are open again, the company wasted no time in hosting massive concerts. Local heroes Midnight Oil are currently on tour, momentarily interrupted by Rob Hirst testing positive for COVID. November will see a special Hanging Rock appearance from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. International stars heading down this path include Wolf Alice, Robbie Williams and, early next year, Ed Sheeran.
Brant said plans for the Sheeran tour prove there’s no shortage of ambition. “It’s going to be a massive spectacle on the tour, and it’ll make these big stadiums feel small.”
The hunger is here for music lovers, with crowds returning in large numbers to stadium concerts despite the lingering COVID risks. “People want to have that experience and be inspired and uplifted in the crowd,” Brant insisted.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles to overcome in what remains a feverish environment.
“We’re not just coming back from a standing start,” Brant said. “We also face an uncertain environment, and it continues to be a roller coaster.”
The significant costs of staging huge shows have soared in the face of supply chain and insurance issues triggered by the global pandemic and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Staffing is also tricky. “We face the same challenges as the CWM when they try to fill their grocery stores on weekends,” Brant noted. “Finding competent and experienced staff who, out of necessity, left and did other things during COVID will be an ongoing challenge for us for several years. Hopefully we can get government support for training and reintegrating these people in our industry. We can’t do this without everyone knowing about it.
This includes major international stars. Negotiating schedules and setting dates is a logistical juggling act, Brant said. “There are a lot of pent-up requests and a bit of apprehension as to what would happen if they all came at once. Will there be enough people willing to buy tickets for this to work? »
These rising costs have a ripple effect. “It puts additional pressure on whether or not [a tour] is actually viable, but it’s our job to work on all of those things and give artists the best chance to come here for their Australian fans.
What a way to make a living
Commercially produced musical theater has rebounded from the COVID crisis in poor health. Michael Cassel Group’s international blockbuster hamilton recently moved from Sydney to Melbourne, where Australia’s Broadway hit Global Creatures red Mill continues to perform well. Other companies are also seeing positive signs of recovery.
Sydney-based producer John Frost, managing director of Crossroads Live Australia, said there was a thirst for happiness after everything we’ve been through. Crossroads currently features Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 at the Capitol Theater in Sydney before moving to Melbourne in July, Rodgers + Hammerstein Cinderella opening in May and The Musical Hairspray in August.
“I don’t care what state theater companies do, but commercially people want to go out and have a good time,” Frost insisted. “Overall, 8 to 80 year olds can go see my shows without fear or favor.” We will also present some plays, but we are not going to [Shakespeare’s bloody] Titus Andronicus.’
Frost noted that the support for the arts shown by the NSW government during the pandemic and the federal RISE program have greatly helped Crossroads navigate through lockdowns. Joining US commercial theater group Crossroads Live in December 2020 has bolstered Frost’s ability to put on the biggest shows in Australia, helping to accelerate recovery from the pandemic.
“It’s a big boon for Australia to have them on board because it means a lot more shows and more money in the industry as a whole,” Frost said. “It gives us enormous purchasing power. Gone are the days of seeing a show in New York or London saying, “I really want to do this,” and not necessarily having enough money to put on the table. Now the money is there. We invest in many new shows that are still in the early stages of the script or workshop. So we are there on the ground floor from day one.
This support translates into more opportunities for local talent. “Australian artists haven’t been so good at musicals [before],’ he said. “There are a lot of shows and so much work there. Without a doubt, if you are good at what you do, you will be employed.
A sign of positive growth, Crossroads Live Australia has opened a new office in South Melbourne and plans to continue to grow, despite setbacks including a COVID-related shutdown of 9 to 5.
Ticket sales have rebounded strongly, particularly at weekends and including matinees favored by older moviegoers, bucking the misconception that they are the most reluctant to return to theatres. According to Frost, the only noticeable difference is that sales occur closer to the date of participation. “They don’t necessarily say, ‘let’s get our tickets six months in advance.’ They will release them for a few months. So you have to hold back a bit.
Looking at the box office record broken by Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster The music man in the reopening of Broadway and the continued success of stalwarts like Bad, Frost sees only a bright future for musical theater on the world stage. “That will continue here no doubt.”