There's no business like show business

How to entertain the world and grow the talent in your own backyard.

Torben Brookman

Torben Brookman’s GWB Entertainment has produced big name musicals such as School of Rock, Matilda, West Side Story and The King and I, for the delight of audiences around the world, but it’s here in South Australia that he chooses to live and grow his business, and invest in our state’s creativity and culture. 

“It's not like many vocational jobs where you work nine to five, and when the office closes you go home and have a separate life and do different things. In the theatre, everything sort of merges and blends.”Torben Brookman

"We feel that has to happen because we're very proudly based here, love living in Adelaide and grew up here. It's a choice, not a requirement for the work that we do," said Torben. 

“So then, with that comes a responsibility to build and grow the industry here, and make sure that whatever we do is of a standard that can be recognised on any stage, anywhere around the world.”

Growing up in the Adelaide Hills with both parents working in theatre, his mum Verity Laughton a playwright, and dad Rob Brookman a producer, artistic director and one of Australia’s most highly regarded Arts administrators, you could say a career in theatre was Torben’s destiny.

But Torben didn’t set out to follow in their footsteps, because as a child he never saw what his mum and dad did as a typical job.

“You may finish work for the day, but then you're off to see a show, which is also kind of work, but it's also your passion.”

Torben Brookman

“It's not like many vocational jobs where you work nine to five, and when the office closes you go home and have a separate life and do different things. In the theatre, everything sort of merges and blends,” said Torben.

Torben started an Arts degree at the University of Adelaide, not because he had a clear vision of his future, but partly because both his parents studied Arts there and had “incredibly fond memories” of the University. He also felt a broad degree would expose him to a range of things and he could figure out what he wanted to do as he went along.

He later switched to a Bachelor of Science, following an interest in athletics and sport and a fascination with exercise physiology.

Despite perusing other interests, Torben continued to work part-time in jobs based in and around the theatre. Whether that be in front of house as an usher, selling tickets in the box office, or as part of the staging crew.

In the lead up to starting honours in exercise physiology, an opportunity came up to work on one of the early WOMADelaide Festivals. It was an experience that painted a different future for Torben.

“It was one of those pivotal moments of figuring out who you are, and I started to realise that while I love learning and data, I don't necessarily think that I personally gravitate to being in a lab on my own for long periods of time.

"I'm much more someone who enjoys being in an environment where there are lots of different things going on, a variety of things. I think it was the best decision I made. Needless to say, I’ve worked in the arts and entertainment industry ever since."

Torben’s interest and skills in creative production continued to grow with many wonderful opportunities to follow to develop his craft.

Of all the experiences, Torben said working with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company The Really Useful Group to tour Cats and Phantom of the Opera in Asia in the early 2000s had the most profound impact on his career.

The company took two of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most well-known and loved productions to places that had never seen musicals before and working with locals who had never worked in the theatre before. The opportunity brought with it all sorts of new and interesting problems to solve, invaluable learnings and possibilities for the future.

 “There was a production called The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was a concert series of Andrew’s great shows, which we put on at the Great Hall of the People of Beijing, which was and remains the Assembly Hall for the Communist Party of China,” said Torben.

“It was in late September 2001 and we'd just loaded in and started rehearsals for the show, then with three hours’ notice, we had to start loading everything out because the Party had called an emergency meeting the following day to discuss China's official position on the September 11 attacks,” he said.

Torben Brookman

In November 2004, while still working for The Really Useful Group, Torben married his partner Richelle. Immediately after, the couple left for Shanghai as the company managers for the Asian tour of The Phantom of the Opera.

The experience of touring Asia is what ultimately led to the pair starting their own production company with a couple of friends. They saw enormous, untapped potential to grow the Asian markets, China in particular.

“While we’ve done a number of things in Australia and other territories, there’s always been a long-term focus on developing China and keeping those relationships throughout Asia,” he said.

The growth of the market in China also enabled GWB Entertainment to take on more shows, provide work opportunities for South Australian artists, crew members and musicians, and develop young, local talent for the world stage.

“Our business is really an interesting combination of different elements of the industry that we hope add up to more than the sum of their parts, and provide real potential to develop work here that hasn't really existed before, not within the musical theatre genre,” said Torben.

Story by Kelly Brown
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen summer 2020, lumen