27 May 2024

Drama teacher takes final bow as insightful playwright after 18 years of original plays at Smiths Hill High

| Kellie O'Brien
Join the conversation
man sitting on stage

Smiths Hill High School drama teacher Bryan Cutler will stage his final original play. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

After 18 years scripting original plays that captivated audiences at Smiths Hill High School, much-loved drama teacher Bryan Cutler is taking his final curtain call as a playwright.

On Friday and Saturday (31 May and 1 June), Bryan will stage his final original production, the musical Artificial, at the school.

Bryan said he started writing original plays in 2001 at his previous school, Windsor High, in Sydney.

“Where it came from was a lot of schools were doing musicals at the time, but few were doing original plays,” he said.

After gaining interest from students in staging small plays, Bryan went on to do nine productions before transferring to Smiths Hill.

“After about a year or so, I felt the need to start it up again here – that was 2006,” he said.

“It was inspired by one of our social justice groups, the Oxfam group. I took the challenge on as to whether I could write a comedy about world poverty and it was called The Little Country That Could.”

Bryan said the success of that play began a tradition that had continued for the past 18 years.

Except that first year and this year, in addition, he’s also written a play for the junior drama course every year.

Throughout his time, he’s tackled some wide-ranging but always topical subjects.

READ ALSO 130 years strong: How ‘The Eisteddfod’ has nurtured Illawarra’s artistic spirit

Stem Cell Beef was a good one,” he said, laughing.

Other popular ones included The End of the World in 2012; The Big Box, about the domination of multinational supermarkets forcing out local shops in towns; and The Bubble, about the value of selective high schools such as Smiths Hill and “living inside a bubble”.

Bryan said while inspiration mostly stemmed from current affairs, it also came from the students and his belief that theatre was the greatest educational tool.

“The diversity in theatre is the thing which draws me in on an intellectual level and I suppose that, in a sense, is what I’m trying to do and have been trying to do for years as well,” he said.

“It’s what I call the ‘McDonald’s Moment’ – if everybody’s leaving the theatre, going to McDonald’s at the end, what are they going to be talking about before McDonald’s takes away that memory?

“Can we attempt to create some form of change or awareness?”

Bryan admitted that not all plays had aged well, such as 2008’s Noughts and Crosses, about Romeo and Juliet in cyberspace referencing dial-up internet.

“We were going to restage it a couple of years ago and I thought, ‘I’m going to have to rewrite half of this’,” he said.

This year’s musical, Artificial, about artificial intelligence and the threat it poses to the arts, was ironic for Bryan, having been outspoken about not being a huge fan of musicals.

He said he made the decision early on that 2024 would be his last, but wasn’t sure how to top last year’s “superlative production of Macbeth”.

“I was thinking, ‘Well, what can we do to go out on?’,” he said.

“Many of my wonderful year 12 drama class love musicals, and there are some great singers, dancers and actors.

“So I swallowed my pride and asked a few of them whether they’d like to do a musical for the final production, and they were straight in.”

With a background as a musician, he said the greatest fun was creating the music.

However, not writing sheet music, he enlisted ex-student, now teacher David Wassink and year 12 student Datu Begley, who took the recordings and scored the music for a 15-plus-piece orchestra.

Bryan said it was also the first time he’d worked with other teachers on a production, having enjoyed what Lisa Wellings and Kathleen Russo brought.

Year 12 drama student Ella Sorensen said she loved the reactions of audiences as they watched each unique Bryan had created, particularly when something funny or unexpected happened.

“It’s fun doing something that’s creative and original where no-one has seen or heard any of the storylines before,” Ella said.

‘You’re not sure what you’re going to see and there’s no expectations, and I think that’s what’s really lovely.”

READ ALSO Kiama Readers’ Festival to serve up a literary feast with some of Australia’s greatest authors

Fellow student Scarlett Hill said in every production she had been in or seen, she’d “learned something new about the world”.

“I think Mr Cutler’s plays are quite special in that whilst they are unique, they also make a statement about our society or politically that for us as teenagers is really important to both be able to speak about and hear about.”

Student Clara Martin said that often “what you see on stage is a reflection of all the ideas and personalities of the individual students on stage, which captures the essence of the school as we work together across age groups and friendship groups”.

Bryan said he had only pride for all students he’d taught, admitting to having learned as much from them as he’d given.

“It definitely has been the experience of a lifetime and of my teaching career,” he said.

“It’s what’s fed and driven the passion.”

So why put the pen down?

“I’m finding it harder to write long scripts,” he said.

“A lot of these plays have between 30 and 50 characters so we can get a lot of kids on stage. As I’ve grown older, it’s harder to follow a logical pattern,” he added, laughing.

He also wanted to pursue other interests, including a YouTube channel showcasing his original music.

Tickets for Artificial, to be held on 31 May and 1 June, can be bought at the school.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.