1948 – 2023
We have lost a great man of the theatre.
Vale Kevin Jackson.
A much loved and respected theatre director, teacher and reviewer, Kevin Jackson passed away on January 18 after a long illness.
Many Actors Benevolent Fund members and committee members are NIDA graduates and had the privilege of being students of Kevin Jackson over his 27 years of tenure. Kevin taught at NIDA in various capacities from 1984 until 2011, including as Head of Acting in the mid-1980s. In those years of service, he taught and inspired hundreds of students who went on to be leaders in the industry including Baz Luhrmann, Richard Roxburgh, Jacqueline McKenzie, Miranda Otto, Cate Blanchett, Essie Davis, Nicholas Bishop and Sam Worthington.
Kevin Jackson began his theatre life as an actor appearing in productions of The Winslow Boy and The Importance of Being Earnest at the Genesian Theatre before he went on to study acting at NIDA graduating in 1971.
He became a member of the Old Tote Theatre Company from 1973–1974, where he performed in several productions including The Beggar’s Opera, Women Beware Women and Peer Gynt.
He once quipped: “When I was starting out as an actor, there were two theatres where you could ply your craft: if you were Catholic, you went to The Genesians, and if you were a Communist, you went to New Theatre. I was both, so I had double the opportunities!”
In 1974 he helped to set up the now legendary Q Theatre in Penrith with Doreen Warburton and a group of friends. But acting was something he preferred to teach rather than do and he moved into directing and teaching.
Kevin received a NSW government scholarship to study at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco – an association he maintained until 2002. His experience there informed his teaching at NIDA for the great benefit of the Australian acting profession.
NIDA CEO Liz Hughes said: "Kevin’s contribution to Australian acting is immeasurable. During his almost three decades teaching at NIDA, he was known for a fierce intelligence and phenomenal knowledge of theatre and performance, together with [being] a generous, sensitive and nurturing soul. Uncompromising. Devoted. It was clear he wanted the best from people. He made a difference.”
After retiring from NIDA Kevin continued teaching at a host of other organisations.
His directing work was focused on Sydney’s independent and pro-am sector. He directed 12 productions for Newtown’s New Theatre including Enemies by Maxim Gorky, Queen Christina; The American Clock by Arthur Miller Chekhov in Yalta and the first Mardi Gras production for New Theatre The Boys in the Band. He also directed Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind (Bondi Pavilion) and Mother Teresa is Dead at the Old Fitzroy Theatre. His mantra - the playwright is GOD – informed all his work. He insisted on a rigorous dissection of text, paying attention to every word, every punctuation mark, every character note or stage direction, because that was where you found the truth of the character. His knowledge of plays and playwrights was encyclopaedic.
He was feared, admired, loved, and his advice and insight was embraced by anyone wise enough to realise that here was someone whose passion for the craft of acting and the making of theatre would enrich their practice.
More recently, his 2016 production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Seymour Centre drew wide critical praise.
With typical respect for the playwright’s intentions Kevin commissioned a new, full-text translation of the play from writer Karen Vickery, a former NIDA colleague and a fluent Russian speaker. “I asked Karen to give me a translation, not an adaptation,” Jackson told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I wanted the play to fit the Australian ear and feel good in the mouths of Australian actors.”
Robert Jago, company manager of Sport for Jove, which produced Three Sisters, paid tribute: “His values of the discipline and focus required to be an actor, commitment to research, the respect for knowing your script properly and his insistence that the playwright’s vision be upheld are forever imprinted into the minds of those who worked with him.”
Sport for Jove’s Artistic Director Damien Ryan told Limelight: “It was a real privilege to have Kevin bring that show to our company, something he cared so deeply about, a wonderful cast he put together and a beautiful show. We should really have sold tickets to the rehearsal room, the insights alone were remarkable, encyclopaedic and rigorous. An immense knowledge goes with him.”
With the rise of blog culture, Kevin took to reviewing theatre on his Theatre Diary blog. He reviewed hundreds of productions between 2008 and late 2022. His online opinions were occasionally forthright. Some proved controversial, and stirred angry debate within the theatre community.
He diligently reviewed independent works by emerging playwrights and directors, each production receiving as much attention and analysis as the mainstage works. Often he preferred the small and unknown to the productions staged by large and well funded major companies.
His blog remains one of our most incisive chronicles of theatre and performance. Currently there is a push to publish his reviews, so informative and well considered that they are deemed worthy of preservation for study.
Kevin was a man of the theatre through and through. He considered that all of his theatre experiences were worthy of fair and investigative comment – even if he ruffled feathers. Kevin held fearless and held unyeilding convictions about writing, directing and most importantly, respect for the intentions of the playwright.
"Kevin’s was a life of passion and love, without compromise," summed up his close friend Augusta Supple.
In his latter years he was a committee member of the Rodney Seaborn Playwright Award along with former NIDA associates Elizabeth Butcher and John Clarke. Kevin’s contribution to the Award and the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation grants program was benefited by his vast knowledge of what was happening in Sydney’s emerging theatre community. New writers, directors and independent productions were all on his radar.
Kevin continued to be a familiar face in theatres across Sydney right up to his final weeks. In a Facebook post, director Aubrey Mellor described Jackson as a “great acting teacher, director and theatre master… A most wonderful man who loved theatre.
Kevin Jackson is survived by former partner and loving friend George Khut.
A memorial service will be held for Kevin that will be open to everyone, regardless of whether you were a student, friend or colleague.
SUNDAY 12 MARCH, 2023
National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)
215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
5.00 pm - 8.00 pm