Although there had been homosexual members (labelled “artistic freaks” by the Central Committee of the CPA, and commented on by CIB Security) from the NT’s beginnings as the WAC, it was not until the theatre was at St Peters Lane that the first gay man publicly “came out”.
Over the years the New supported organisations such as the Gay Solidarity Group and Counteraid, and from the 1990s works dealing openly with gay themes were staged. Peter Nichols’ cheekily titled Privates on Parade, about a British Army Entertainment Company touring Malaya in 1948, was produced in 1990. A new production was mounted for the 2014 Mardi Gras season.
Directed by Colin Kenny, the musical in 1990 featured George Hoad, later NT Administrator, in drag. Hoad also acted in the 1992 production of Peter Kenna’s Furtive Love in which the central character struggles to reconcile his homosexuality with his Catholic faith. Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 staged in 1993 unsettles audience preconceptions of gender, sexuality and race.
In 1994 NT officially involved itself with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras arts festival, after which it annually produced a work dealing with homosexual or cross-gender themes. The first, Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band directed by Kevin Jackson, marked the 25th anniversary of the ground- breaking play.
An original script by Sydney writer Barry Lowe, The Death of Peter Pan was workshopped before its staging in 1995. Directed by Elaine Hudson, it centred on J M Barrie’s favourite adopted son Michael Llewellyn-Davies who drowned in a double gay suicide with Rupert Buxton in 1921. Appealing to a wide audience, the play was nominated for best Sydney Mardi Gras production and reviewed by Sheridan Morley in the Spectator: “This is a Peter Pan we must have over here soon”. The performance of Barry Latchford as the ill-in-bed Barrie received special praise. At the end of the season the set’s closet and toy box were auctioned.
1996 saw the Australian premiere of Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me about the early days of AIDS, its cast including Dmitri Psiropoulos. In the slot the next year was David Geary’s Lovelock’s Dream Run directed by Ken Boucher, its subject the NZ Olympic athlete.
From 1998 to 2000 Gill Falson directed a trilogy of gay and lesbian cabarets ~ No Funny Business, Lots More Funny Business and Life is a Funny Business ~ a creative collaboration from NT writers, performers and musical directors.
As part of regular programming, male homosexual intimacy was the subject of Canadian playwright Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love and Poor Superman, the latter in repertory with local writer Gina Schien’s Relative Comfort exploring lesbian relationships.
Alex Harding’s Australian musical Only Heaven Knows had a successful season in 1998.
Set in the 1940s/50s gay subculture of Kings Cross, it was directed by Pete Nettell and designed by Wayne Harris, with Paul Flynn playing the lead.
2001 opened with Alice Livingstone’s production of Once in a while the odd thing happens charting the struggle of Benjamin Britten to come to terms with his sexuality. This was followed by an Australian work The Man in the Moon is a Miss by Cameron Sharp and George Torbay.
The official 2002 Mardi Gras show was Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde in repertory with Barry Lowe’s concept The Importance of Being Earnest: a prison fantasy with the same performers and production team, headed by director Elaine Hudson. Performance times were changed on “Wilde Weekends”.
Added to the season were a moved reading of Michael Neaylon’s Six Pack, and Louise Fischer’s cabaret Lemon Delicious: A Celebration of Sheilas, a concept repeated in 2003 and 2004.
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom was a supporting production in 2007, and in 2006 there was a Workshop reading of Ray Goodlass’ Teaching the Fairy to Swim re the unsolved Adelaide murder by drowning of university lecturer George Duncan in 1972.
Mark Ravenhill’s Mother Clap’s Molly House played to good houses in 2003. A new production was mounted in 2015.
Staged for Mardi Gras in 2004 was Falsettos directed by Brendan McDonall who also directed Falling Petals by Melbourne writer Ben Ellis the next year.
Lee Blessing’s Thief River was the official Mardi Gras show in 2006; Tango Masculino in 2007; the controversial Corpus Christi in 2008;
Take Me Out about baseball players in 2009; Hardcore in 2010; Canary in 2011 ("We're still the litmus test of whether a society respects human rights. We're the canaries in the mine”); The Temperamentals in 2012; and Milk Milk Lemonade in 2013. The next two Mardi Gras seasons saw revivals of Privates on Parade and Mother Clap’s Molly House.
New Theatre was the 2017 winner of the ACON Arts& Entertainment Award for their contribution and commitment to the LGBTI community in their programming of plays.