Artistic Directors

The Ensemble Theatre is proud to acknowledge that in our 58 year history, there have only been three Artistic Directors. Hayes Gordon AO,OBE founded the theatre in 1958 and ran the company for 27 years until 1986.  Sandra Bates AM was Artistic Director for 30 years from 1986 – 2016.  Mark Kilmurry became Associate Director in 2005 and was appointed Co-Artistic Director  in 2010. Mark took over as sole Artistic Director in January 2016.

Artistic Director – Mark Kilmurry

Mark Kilmurry Cropped 2015 MAY  Mark trained at the Coventry School of Theatre, an intense two year course based in the techniques of Stanislavski, Brecht and Artaud. After graduating Mark played in rep including GOTCHA by Barry Keefe, MEASURE FOR MEASURE, (Bardovan Theatre Company) THE CARETAKER (Pattern 23 Theatre Company) and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, (Cambridge Experimental Theatre Company). During training at drama school Mark studied mime and physical theatre and combined these skills to form the Snarling Beasties Theatre Company with fellow graduate Debbie Isitt. The Snarling Beasties toured Debbie’s plays, including; GANGSTERS, PUNCH & JUDY –the real story, FEMME FATALE, THE WOMAN WHO COOKED HER HUSBAND; OUT of the ORDINARY nationally and internationally playing for six years at the Edinburgh festival winning Perrier Pick-of-the-Fringe three years running, the Independent Theatre Award and Time Out Theatre Award.

Mark wrote his first play ONE SHOT in 1993, playing at Belvoir Street, Sydney Theatre Company and at Santa Fe Theatre Stages festival along with “will the real James Dean please stand up?” Mark was a regular at Santa Fe for three years performing in their repertory season, including NEVILLE’S ISLAND, TARTUFFE and writing, directing and performing in JOHN WAYNE NEVER SLEPT HERE with fellow American actor Brad Bellamy. Through the Santa Fe Festival Mark gained a green card to live and work in the USA.

Since arriving in Sydney in 1996 Mark has performed, written and directed many plays including; WHAT A PIECE OF WORK (actor, Griffin Theatre Company), THE DUMB WAITER (actor, Downstairs Belvoir), HAMLET (actor & director, Studio Company & Riverside Theatres), HAMMERKLAVIER (director) and THE LOVER (director), MERCY THIEVES (actor, director and writer), HAPPY AS LARRY & VIV (actor, director and writer), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (actor, Sydney Theatre Company). Mark’s radio plays include THE MIME-ARTIST’S WIFE (ABC DRAMA) THE LIGHT COMES UP (ABC DRAMA).

Mark is Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre, Sydney and has appeared on stage in the Ensemble Theatre’s  productions of EDUCATING RITA,  RICHARD THE THIRD, THE ACT, THE SUNSET LIMITED, RABBIT HOLE, THE DRAWER BOY, ART, AFTERPLAY & THE YALTA GAME, AUNTIE & ME and JAPES. In 2006 he directed and performed the title role in HAMLET. In 2008 Mark adapted and directed YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? DIARY OF AN OLYMPIC CABBIE and in 2009 devised, wrote and directed AND THE COW JUMPED OVER THE MOON. He adapted the novel THE BIG DRY by Tony Davis for a co-production with ATYP at Ensemble Ensemble in 2016. His other directing credits for Ensemble include MY ZINC BED, THE ANZAC PROJECT, ABSENT FRIENDS, CAMP, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, OTHER DESERT CITIES, FRANKENSTEIN (which also toured nationally in 2013) SKYLIGHT, RED, MANAGING CARMEN, THE SPEAR CARRIER, NOTHING PERSONAL, WARNING: EXPLICIT MATERIAL, CASANOVA, LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS, MURDERERS, ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER, ABIGAIL’S PARTY, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, LITTLE NELL, MARY STUART, THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED, HALPERN & JOHNSON, DERRIDA IN LOVE, THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG, THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW and Warren Mitchell’s one man show WARREN GARNETT & ALF MITCHELL IN….

Mark’s film appearances include; PASSION, A FILM FOR YOU and television; WHITE COLLAR BLUE, CNNNN, BACKBERNER, HOME AND AWAY. He has received the Timeout (UK) Theatre Award; Independent Theatre Award, two Norman Kessell Memorial (Glugs) Awards for Best Actor for HAMLET and JAPES and in 2007 was awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Award for Important Contribution to Theatre by the Glugs.


Sandra Bates AM (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, January 1986 – January 2016)

Sandra Bates  Sandra Bates AM,  was appointed Governing and Artistic Director of Sydney’s  Ensemble Theatre in January 1986 by the theatre’s founder Hayes Gordon OBE. She had a long association with the theatre both on stage and as a director.  Sandra Bates retired as Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre in January 2016,  having spent 30 years at the company’s helm. Sandra was the longest serving Artistic Director of any theatre company in the country.  (Hayes Gordon was the founding Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre and stayed 27 years, John Bell, retiring at end 2015 spent 25 years at the helm of Bell Shakespeare).

Sandra originally trained as a speech and drama teacher then studied Pharmacy at Sydney University and worked as a pharmacist for 25 years. Sandra joined Hayes Gordon’s acting classes in 1968. She appeared in a number of plays including LUTHER, THE GINGERBREAD LADY and DEEDS for the Ensemble and in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE for the Old Tote at the Opera House (which she later directed herself at the Sydney Opera House in 2000).

Sandra also wrote the play, WHEN IN ROME, which was performed for an Australian Playwrights Season at the Phillip Street Theatre, then enjoyed four subsequent productions.

Sandra became the founding Artistic Director of the Studios Rep Theatre in 1983 and directed eight productions at the Rep before being invited to take over the position of Artistic and Governing Director of the Ensemble Theatre by its founder, Hayes Gordon on his retirement in January, 1986. She stepped down as Artistic Director in January, 2016 after 30 years in the position. Sandra remains Chairman of the Board of Ensemble Foundation Limited.


During the 1990’s Sandra directed A NIGHT WITH ROBINSON CRUSOE, HOPPING TO BYZANTIUM, THE DOUBLE BASS, TALKING HEADS, A SHAYNA MAIDEL, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, SINGLE SPIES, OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, THE MAN OF THE MOMENT (for Ensemble at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre), THE SEAHORSE, LIPS TOGETHER TEETH APART, THREE HOTELS, MIXED EMOTIONS, WAITING ROOMS, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, EMERALD CITY, THE LAST YANKEE, MR HALPERN & MR JOHNSON, MONEY AND FRIENDS, WRONG FOR EACH OTHER, DEATH OF A SALESMAN (staged at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse with Max Cullen and Lorraine Bayly which won the 1997 Most Outstanding Production Glugs Theatre Award, chosen by John McCallum, Theatre Critic for The Australian. KEYBOARD SKILLS, SANCTUARY, BLINDED BY THE SUN, THE SUNSHINE BOYS, The Australian Premiere of VISITING MR GREEN (starring father and son Warren and Daniel Mitchell which sold out and transferred to the Footbridge Theatre), The World Premiere of David Williamson’s FACE TO FACE, she appeared in John Misto’s THE SHOE HORN SONATA opposite Lorraine Bayly.

In 2000, to celebrate the company’s 40 years in their Kirribilli venue, Sandra presented an enlarged season of 16 plays in four Sydney venues, at the Ensemble Theatre, The Playhouse-Sydney Opera House, The Footbridge Theatre and the SBW Independent Theatre.

From 2000 – 2009 Sandra directed HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse, the NSW and Victorian tour of FACE TO FACE, WIT (with Sandy Gore), TRAVELLING NORTH (with Lorraine Bayly and Bud Tingwell), I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES (with father and daughter actors MAX and KATHARINE CULLEN), the World Premiere of David Williamson’s A CONVERSATION, THE PRICE (with Daniel and Warren Mitchell), AFTER THE BALL, JAPES (with Mark Kilmurry in his first role for Ensemble Theatre), THE BOY’S NEXT DOOR, THE DOCK BRIEF (with Max Gillies and Warren Mitchell), the NSW and Victorian tour of A CONVERSATION, The World Premiere of David Williamson’s BIRTHRIGHTS at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse, ART, HUMBLE BOY at the Seymour Centre, the World Premiere of David Williamson’s OPERATOR, CHAPTER TWO, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (with David Field), CHARITABLE INTENT, SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS (with Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney which played at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse, Glen Street Theatre, the Canberra Theatre Centre and the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne then toured nationally and won the 2007 Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production), THE DRAWER BOY, TRYING, RABBIT HOLE (with Georgie Parker and Mark Kilmurry), GLORIOUS! (with Noeline Brown and Barry Creyton), BURNT PIANO, a second production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Seymour Centre with Jacki Weaver and Sean Taylor as Linda and Willy Loman, Mc REELE, The World Premiere of David Williamson’s LET THE SUNSHINE, DUETS, THE RUBY SUNRISE (her 100th production for Ensemble Theatre) and BURNT PIANO.

From 2010 – 2014 Sandra has directed NINETY, RAIN MAN, The World Premiere of David Williamson’s RHINESTONE REX and MISS MONICA, LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS (with Sharon Millerchip and Jamie Oxenbould), JUST THE TICKET (with Amanda Muggleton), The World Premiere of AT ANY COST?, FOUR FLAT WHITES IN ITALY, THE ACT, THE GINGERBREAD LADY, WHEN DAD MARRIED FURY, BOMBSHELLS (with Sharon Millerchip), the World Premiere of David Williamson’s HAPPINESS, the Australian Premiere of RAPTURE BLISTER BURN with Georgie Parker, PROOF, and a season of the three plays in David Williamson’s  JACK MANNING TRILOGY playing in repertory at The Concourse, Chatswood.

In 2015 Sandra directed and appeared in John Misto’s THE SHOE-HORN SONATA, 20 years since Ensemble staged it’s World Premiere. Her final production as Artistic Director was Neil Simon’s THE GOOD DOCTOR.  In 2016, Sandra returned as guest director to direct Todd McKenney and Nancye Hayes in a return season of SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS at the Concourse Theatre.

Sandra has also directed the Sydney and Queensland seasons of INTIMATE EXCHANGES, the World Premiere and commercial Australian tour of DOUBLE ACT with Barry Creyton and Noeline Brown, the national tours of DOUBLE BASS with Henri Szeps, MIXED EMOTIONS with Lorraine Bayly and two popular seasons of TIME AND TIME AGAIN.

Sandra was invited to direct FACE TO FACE and A CONVERSATION for the Perth Theatre Company, with FACE TO FACE being presented at the Brazilian Festival in 2001.

Sandra actively encouraged Australian content at the theatre and each year produced at least two or three Australian productions that were often World Premieres.  World Premieres of new Australian plays produced at Ensemble during Sandra’s tenure included David Williamson’s CRUISE CONTROL, AT ANY COST?, MANAGING CARMEN, LET THE SUNSHINE, WHEN DAD MARRIED FURY, RHINESTONE REX AND MISS MONICA, FLATFOOT, LOTTE’S GIFT, OPERATOR, BIRTHRIGHTS, A CONVERSATION and FACE TO FACE, John Misto’s DARK VOYAGER, HARP ON THE WILLOW, THE SHOE-HORN SONATA (winner 1995 Australia Remembers Prize)  and GOSSAMER, Australian novelist Sue Woolfe’s stage adaption of her award winning novel LEANING TOWARDS INFINITY, the musical THE VOYAGE OF MARY BRYANT with book and lyrics by Nick Enright, Henri Szeps’ I’M NOT A DENTIST and WHY KIDS? and Don Mackay’s ACT ONE.


Sandra’s production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Sydney Opera House was awarded the 1997 John McCallum Critic’s Choice Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Production. Her production of Miller’s THE PRICE was nominated for a MO Award for Best Theatre Production in 2002. Sandra’s production of SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS was awarded the 2006 Glugs Theatre Award for Best Production and the 2007 Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production. Sandra was made a Member in the Order of Australia in 2001 for her services to theatre and the arts. She was awarded the Variety Club Heart Award for Theatre in 2002. in 2004 she was awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre.  In 2005 Sandra was presented with the SBW Foundation Achievement Award for services to theatre by The Glugs. In 2007  Sandra was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sydney Theatre Critics.


1968 – Sandra joined Hayes Gordon’s acting classes

1971 – Sandra appeared in Luther at Ensemble Theatre

1973 – Sandra appeared in The Gingerbread Lady at Ensemble Theatre

1981 – Sandra’s play When In Rome was produced by Ensemble Theatre at The Festival of Sydney Playwrights at Phillip St Theatre

1983 – Sandra became Artistic Director of the Studios Rep Theatre (she directed 8 productions for the Rep)

1985 – Sandra directed her first play The Marginal Farm at Ensemble Theatre with Kate Raison in the cast

January 1986 – Sandra was invited by Hayes Gordon to take over as Artistic and Governing Director of the Ensemble Theatre

1987 – Sandra introduced the first ever subscription season at Ensemble Theatre

1989 – Sandra directs her 20th play for Ensemble Theatre,  Just Between Ourselves

1995 – Sandra directed her first ever David Williamson play Emerald City

1997 – Sandra’s production of Death of A Salesman at the Sydney Opera House was awarded John McCallum’s Critics Choice Glugs Award for Best Production

1999 – Sandra directed her first David Williamson World Premiere Face to Face and she appears in The Shoe-Horn Sonata with Lorraine Bayly

2001 – Sandra was made a Member in the Order of Australia for her services to Theatre and the Arts

2002 – Sandra was awarded the Variety Club Heart Award for Theatre

2004 – Sandra was awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre

2005 – Sandra appointed Mark Kilmurry as Associate Director

2007 – Sandra’s production of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks won the Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production.  Sandra was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sydney Theatre Critics

2009 – Sandra directed The Ruby Sunrise, her 100th production for Ensemble Theatre

2010 – Sandra appointed Mark Kilmurry as Co-Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre

2014 – Sandra directed David Williamson’s Jack Manning Trilogy at the Concourse, Chatswood

2015 – Sandra directed The Good Doctor with Kate Raison in the cast, her final production as Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre

January 2016 – Sandra celebrated 30 years at the helm of Ensemble Theatre and handed the baton to Mark Kilmurry


 HAYES GORDON AO, OBE   (Artistic Director,  1958 – 1986)

Biography by Frank Van Straten, taken from Live Performance Australia’s – Hall of Fame

Dedication, inspiration and imagination

‘The stage was where Hayes Gordon lived,’ wrote Reg Livermore, who trained with Gordon and acted in many of his early Ensemble productions. ‘Everything he did had a sharp and thrilling edge to it. For those of us already in the thrall of what was happening in the theatre in America, he was the horse’s mouth, providing practising actors the opportunity to hone their skills, to seriously stretch themselves; it was an opportunity not to be missed. Even if you were only moderately curious you could pick up a few tips. Hayes, of course, offered more than just a few tips, he truly spoke another sort of language. The information Hayes shared amounted to a revelation. It didn’t take long to realise there was more to acting than nice, rounded vowels sounds, and coming on from the wings on the upstage foot; he was opening doors to a more particular understanding of our craft and would kick-start the imaginations of many. Off the stage, Hayes was quietly spoken and mesmerising; his authority, intelligence and range of interests went far beyond the norm.’

Hayes Gordon was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 25 February 1920. He had his first stage roles in amateur Gilbert and Sullivan productions when he was still at high school. While he studied pharmacy he participated in local variety broadcasts and, at the age of 20, presented his own weekly 60-minute television show, Hayes Gordon Presents. His graduation with a Bachelor of Science was followed by a stint entertaining guests at a smart New Hampshire hotel. He gravitated to New York where he had voice training and, in 1942, scored a place in the chorus of the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey, which had a fortnightly-change repertoire of vintage musicals. His first was Naughty Marietta.

Gordon’s performance in Paper Mill’s The Desert Song resulted in a meeting with its lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein, and a small part in the premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in March 1943. He received his draft papers a few months later. His first service assignment was Moss Hart’s musical play Winged Victory, a tribute to the US Air Force. With Hart’s co-operation, Gordon set up a theatre education program for the 350 members of the company. At the same time he started to study acting with Sanford Meisner at his Neighbourhood Playhouse. Winged Victory toured the country, including a spell in Santa Monica, where the show was filmed. Gordon’s later Broadway appearances were small roles in the 1946 revival of Show Boat, Brigadoon, a flop called Sleepy Hollow and the revues Small Wonder and Along Fifth Avenue.

It was during the run of Brigadoon that Gordon began taking acting lessons from the director and teacher Lee Strasberg, the legendary exponent of ‘The Method’ technique of acting. Gordon was in an early TV ‘soap’ called Fashion Story, had a radio show called Music in the Air, and did night club work. Then, in 1951, he found himself caught up in the McCarthy campaign to root out ‘reds’. He had always been an active supporter of theatrical unions, but Gordon was no communist. Nevertheless, on principle, he refused to sign what was known as ‘the loyalty oath’. Suddenly, for the first time, he was out of work.

Kiss Me, Kate opened at His Majesty’s in Melbourne on 2 February 1952 and toured until mid 1953. During the long run he gave members of the company lessons in the techniques he had learnt from Strasberg. After Kate he appeared in JCW revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma!and compered the long-running Ford Show variety series on radio. From November 1955 he played Hajj in Garnet H. Carroll’s production of Kismet. He compered the original Late Show on TCN-9, Sydney, and then created an afternoon ‘advice’ program called Medico.

Gordon gave occasional acting classes for Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre students, but eventually started his own informal school, specialising in ‘The Method’. His pupils’ first public performance, a highly-acclaimed program of Tennessee Williams one-acters, was staged ‘in the round’ in the Cammeray Children’s Library on 11 May 1958. The company included Reg Livermore, Jon Ewing, Robin Lawlor, Clarissa Kaye and Pat Hill. This was the birth of what was initially known as ‘The Ensemble Company’. A few weeks later Hayes moved his company to a room above a cake shop in Berry Street, North Sydney. In September 1958 a deed formally established The Ensemble Theatre Company, a collective of actors with everyone equal – except Gordon: he was ‘more equal’ in that he was firmly in command. As he explained it: ‘On the business level it was a co-operative. On the artistic plane it was autocratic.’ The actors received no pay; box office takings barely covered the rent.

Gordon’s innovative productions drew full houses, but before long the venue was declared a firetrap, and he was forced to look for a new home. He found it in a derelict warehouse on the shore of picturesque Careening Cove, Kirribilli. After intensive fundraising the property was acquired for £6,500. Hundreds of hours of voluntary labour transformed it into the Ensemble Theatre, designed to seat 162 patrons on all four sides of a rectangular acting area. It opened on 7 January 1960 with a new production of Mel Dinelli’s The Man, which had been well-received in its first season at Berry Street. Fifty years later the Ensemble is still in business – Sydney’s first theatre-in-the round and its longest established professional theatre company.

The Man was followed by Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending and the vintage American melodrama The Drunkard – a singular and very successful departure from the modern American repertoire that Gordon favoured, though eventually new Australian plays also found a place in the Ensemble’s repertoire. Gordon directed the vast majority of the company’s productions, simultaneously maintaining his commitment to the Ensemble’s highly-regarded acting school. As well there were readings of Australian poetry, special presentations for schools and occasional film screenings.

From January 1966 Gordon directed a series of scaled-down versions of classic American musicals in a theatre-restaurant setting at Menzies Hotel, Sydney. Oklahoma! was the first, followed by Kiss Me, Kate,Out of this World, Can-Can, Wonderful Town, Brigadoon and South Pacific. The resident company included Lorrae Desmond, Judi Farr, Nancye Hayes, Peggy Mortimer, Rosina Raisbeck, Colin Croft, Reg Evans, Robert Healey and Denis Quilley.

In 1967 J.C. Williamson’s persuaded Gordon to return to the stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He told a reporter, ‘I don’t get kicks out of acting any more. My job is to teach.’ Why then, did he take the part? ‘I am doing it simply for the money.’ And the money went to support the Ensemble. Fiddler opened at Her Majesty’s in Sydney on 16 June 1967. Gordon’s bravura performance was universally praised. Despite health problems he stayed with the show throughout its nearly three-year run, and resumed his practice of giving acting classes for his fellow performers. Gordon went straight from Fiddler to directing a 200th anniversary re-enactment of the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, an event largely sabotaged by groups of protesters.

Back at the Ensemble, Gordon relinquished some of his administrative control. He reluctantly accepted the introduction of subscription programming and applications for government subsidies. In 1971 for Williamson’s and Kenn Brodziak’s Aztec Services, he directed the play Who Killed Santa Claus?, a starring vehicle for his old friend and Ensemble pioneer, Maggie Fitzgibbon. In 1972 he married actress Helen Terry, a former student (his previous marriage, to budding American music theatre performer Katrina Van Oss, had ended in divorce many years before). In 1973 he directed Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun for the Christchurch Arts Festival. Also that year the Ensemble’s teaching activities transferred to a building in Pitt Street, and later to the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. And Gordon made headlines when he declined an invitation to direct the opening ceremony of the Opera House, which he regarded as a $100 million design debacle.

Gordon returned to the professional stage to play Daddy Warbucks in the musical Annie for J.C. Williamson’s, Edgley and the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust. The national tour opened at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne on 25 October 1978. The year 1979 brought the Order of the British Empire and a tribute on This is Your Life.

By 1983 the Ensemble’s old warehouse theatre had outlived its usefulness. The company moved to a former cinema space in the Opera House while a new Ensemble, designed by Allan Williams, was built in Kirribilli. It opened on 18 August 1984 with Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue. The new theatre seated 216, but without the ‘in-the-round’ flexibility that had been so much a part of Gordon’s ideal.

Gordon, meanwhile, returned to the stage as Tevye in an Australian Opera revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It opened at the Princess in Melbourne and provided the company with one of most unexpected success. It later played at the Sydney Opera House and the new State Theatre in Melbourne. Gordon’s final stage appearance was in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for Gary Penny Productions at the Opera House Playhouse. His book Acting and Performing was published in 1992. Gordon’s last directorial assignment was Simon’s Jake’s Women at the Ensemble in 1993. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1997.

Hayes Gordon was 79 when he died on 19 October 1999. He was survived by his wife and daughter, by a theatre and an acting school, and by several generations of theatre people who had been nurtured and inspired by his energy, expertise, dedication and profound selflessness.

Frank Van Straten, 2007