Co-Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company
Born in: Melbourne
Home Town: Sydney
Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett has worked wonders in her role as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, which she shares with husband Andrew Upton. She has attracted international stars, won new sponsors, boosted audience numbers, scored rave reviews, and transformed the company's finances.
She's also greened STC headquarters with solar panels and rainwater harvesting. And she's doing her best to turn Walsh Bay into an arts precinct, to create "a cultural ribbon" stretching along the waterfront from the Opera House to Barangaroo.
Blanchett and Upton believe the changes are necessary in order to match what Melbourne and Brisbane have already got, and to restore some crackle and pop to the harbour city.
"She's certainly shaped the company," STC director and actor Jonathan Biggins told The Power Index, "not only artistically, but also in the greening of The Wharf."
"In their first two years they've transformed the company and the way many people feel about it," the STC board proclaimed last year, in extending the dynamic duo's contract till the end of 2013.
Of course, people in Campbelltown may not give a damn about what Cate's done. With Georgio Armani as patron, and Audi and UBS as key sponsors, it's clear the STC is largely for a privileged elite. But Sydney's cultural image is important for tourism and the life of the city, even if most people do prefer to play the pokies, go to the footy or watch TV. And on that score, Cate is doing famously.
When she and Upton were hired in late 2007, without the job being advertised, several critics said they lacked the necessary skills, and accused the STC board of being starstruck. But the improvement has been dramatic. Armani signed up within days, and sponsors soon followed. The company had been losing money and struggling to stay afloat. It is now making record profits of around $1 million a year. The recent production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, adapted by Upton, and starring Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, John Bell, Jackie Weaver and Richard Roxburgh, took $3 million at the box office.
Last month, the STC took the play to New York and wowed the critics on Broadway, with the New York Times's Ben Brantley describing it as "outrageously funny", "heartbreaking", and one of the happiest events of his theatre-going life.
Two years earlier, Cate had grabbed rave reviews with the STC's touring production of A Streetcar named Desire.
As well as taking Sydney theatre to the world, Blanchett has brought international stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman and William Hurt to Australia.
But she's also been doing her best to develop Walsh Bay into the city's arts hub, where bars, cafes, restaurants and small arts spaces could flourish. She has helped secure a ferry terminal at Barangaroo (which will be just along the harbour) and drummed up an evening and late-night bus service to The Wharf. When Kristina Keneally agreed to provide it last year, Blanchett gave the then premier a huge hug and bubbled, "that's the best news I've had all year".
"Cate has certainly got the ear of government," says Jonathan Biggins. And she clearly has the power to persuade.
"She doesn't use her fame or the media," says Keneally, "she sits down and talks to people."
"Celebrity helps, but it doesn't go far if you don't have the intelligence and talent to back it up," says fellow actor, Heather Mitchell, who has worked with Blanchett many times. "Cate has both of those things. She's a deep thinker and a great listener and she treats everybody equally, with dignity and generosity. She's incredibly eloquent, she's wonderful."
Nevertheless, the tabloids are ever ready to criticise her, especially when she dabbles in politics. Back in May, Sydney's Sunday Telegraph accused her of sparking "outrage in the community" by appearing in a pro-carbon-tax TV campaign. Dubbing her "Carbon Cate", the paper urged her to "stick to what she does best – acting" and warned her that stardom and wealth did not "qualify her to lecture Australian families ... on why such a [tax] is good for them".
The message was repeated in Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun and rehashed the next day by The Australian in a story headlined, "Forget Cate when it comes to climate". This accused her of having "little credibility" and dismissed the advertisement as, "lefty, progressive, idealistic and elitist".
Blanchett once assured Andrew Denton that praise is more difficult to cop than criticism, but we doubt it was true in this instance. Being torched by the Murdoch press is never a pleasant experience.
In that same Denton interview, Cate confessed she had not liked her husband Andrew Upton at first sight, finding him "aloof and arrogant"—a sentiment that others may share. But she went on to describe him as "fiercely intelligent ... incredibly positive and passionate".
She also explained that "time apart doesn't work" for them. Nowadays, the couple go everywhere together and even have a joint entry in Who's Who in Australia. The Power Index was told we would probably want to put them in our Sydney Top 10 as a couple. But we're striking a blow for independence and giving Cate the gong on her own.
We believe it's Cate's fame (yes) and personality that carries the clout and gets things done. As Jonathan Biggins told us, "Both she and Andrew are important artistically, but Cate is very powerful".