Two of last year’s most talked about MTC productions, The Beast by Eddie Perfect and Simon Stone’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, are among twenty-one playwriting commissions made possible through support from the Joan and Peter Clemenger Trust. Over the past eight years, Joan and Peter’s unwavering commitment to the development of new and diverse Australian works has resulted in plays that have provoked, challenged and delighted audiences. Later this year, our newest commission will be unveiled when Brendan Cowell’s The Sublime opens in August. We spoke with Peter Clemenger AM about a lifelong tradition of giving and how rewarding the experience can be.
When did you and Joan first begin supporting the arts?
We were married in 1956 and we’ve been involved with ballet, art and theatre all our married lives. We had been supporting the arts for many years in a less disciplined way, so in 2001 we started a Trust.
Who inspired the philanthropist in you?
Somewhere in my psyche, I remember somebody saying to me ‘It’s better to give than receive,’ and I believe that. In a way, that small saying has had a bearing on our involvement with philanthropy in general, not just the arts. We’ve had great pleasure in being able to do various things to support the arts and certain aspects of medical research.
MTC has been fortunate to have had your support specifically for play writing commissions. Do you feel a sense of pride in that you have enabled twenty-one unique stories to be told?
It’s nice to know that we’ve done that, but I wouldn’t have had any idea that it was that many. It was our idea to do it, and to some degree it comes about because of the business that I’m in. Advertising is a creative business. We are dealing with creative people all the time like artists and writers. And we know that not everything that you do is going to succeed but you have to keep trying. So we’ve been happy to support writers on the basis that if they get something on stage, that’s fantastic, if they don’t quite make it, that’s too bad but they hopefully will try again.
You clearly believe it is important for Australian voices and diverse stories to be told?
Absolutely. The last MTC play we saw, Neighbourhood Watch, is an Australian play in every sense of the word. We must support theatre in our own country – we have to support the writers, the producers and the performers. That’s not to say that it’s not a good idea to occasionally bring in plays from overseas, because we are competing with the rest of the world. If we’re going to have theatre here, it has to be as good as you can see in New York or London.
What is it you enjoy most about supporting MTC?
I have enjoyed meeting most of the writers we have supported. I think it’s important to know who the writers are, what their past history has been, and what they are aiming to achieve. From my point of view, it makes it more personal rather than just saying here’s the money.
People talk about ‘the joy of giving’ – do you feel a sense of joy when you support theatre?
Yes. We are rather quiet about what we do. Some people say you should talk about what you give and that gives other people an example of what to do. I see the merit of that. On the other hand, in our particular Trust we are somewhat reserved and that’s our personality. But it’s nice to be acknowledged.
Do you think MTC is worthy of support?
The MTC has had its ups and downs over sixty years, as has every other artistic company. The important thing is to be able to keep going through the tough times. Today, the MTC as I see it is in very good shape, perhaps in better shape than it has ever been. It’s important for people who love MTC to stay involved, to see the shows, and for those who can, to help financially. MTC is a great part of Melbourne, long may it continue successfully. When MTC needs support, I would hope the people who go regularly also feel the way that Joan and I do and contribute what they can.
MTC is extremely grateful to Joan and Peter Clemenger AM for their remarkable generosity.