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Fringe gets classy: meet the power couple behind Hartstone-Kitney Productions

Established in 2017, Hartstone-Kitney Productions (HPK) has quickly become a mainstay of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Artistic Director and Producer Joanne Hartstone and Head of Production Tom Kitney are the prolific creatives at the helm of this multi-award winning production house. They each have an impressive portfolio to their credit, and they’ve returned stronger than ever for this year’s festival.

Tom Kitney and Joanne Hartstone with their fur babies | image supplied

How did the both of you meet?

We first met through a mutual friend at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. Tom was designing the original fringe production of Trainspotting: Live and I had stopped over for a few fringe days as part of a European tour with my brother. That’s when Tom and I learnt ‘of’ each other, but it wasn’t until Edinburgh Fringe 2017 that our trajectories really collided.

In 2017, I was presenting The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign in Edinburgh, after winning the inaugural Made In Adelaide award in Adelaide Fringe earlier that year and completing a hugely successful Hollywood Fringe season. Tom had designed several fringe shows – including Ben Hart: Belief, Choir of Man and The Magnets. We had met up a couple of times in London before the madness of the fringe began, so there was certainly an established friendship going into the festival.

But as we weren’t working together, it wasn’t until after tech week – after all our collective shows were up and running – that our friendship developed into something more. Tom took me to see all his shows, and he saw ‘Hollywood Sign’ at least three times and I think he was relieved that he didn’t have to pretend to like it! We had a huge group of mutual friends and there was a lot of mutual respect – both personally and professionally. Typically, most of our friends knew there was something between us before we did. We hung out in London after fringe until I left the country and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Joanne Hartstone, Artistic Director of HKP | image supplied

Why did you both decide to combine your talents and create a production company?

The decision to collaborate was a natural progression, really. Tom’s only constructive criticism of ‘Hollywood Sign’ was of the production design – specifically (and obviously) the lights. Being an (already) award-nominated Lighting Designer, he knew he could make the show look like I had originally envisioned. I had a season coming up in New York, and Tom redesigned the show for me to present Off-Broadway. We realised how complimentary our skills were, and together we could build something quite exciting.

However, it wasn’t until Tom came to Adelaide for the first time in 2018 that we realised the true potential of our partnership. Admittedly, each of us was getting along quite far without the other in this industry, but we felt we could achieve so much more together.

We made a new show That Daring Australian Girl together (with Director Nicholas Collett) and the process of creation was a dream. The show exceeded our expectations, was very well received and gave us another ‘hit’ production to tour. We also built a pop-up theatre together and I continued to introduce shows to Adelaide audiences (2018 included We Live By The Sea and Orpheus). Tom left Australia knowing he was coming back to recreate our Off-Broadway design of The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign in the 2018 Cabaret Festival and the seeds for Hartstone-Kitney Productions were well and truly sewn.

Tom Kitney, Head of Production at HKP | image supplied

You are the powerhouse duo behind a multi-award winning company. What do you think makes your collaboration so effective?

We certainly have complementary skills and talents at a similar level within the global arts industry. We also now have a shared vision and goal that we collectively work towards – and that we both develop and enhance as time goes on. Tom and I have similar artistic values, a congruent eye for quality, and have naturally developed a shortcut of communication between us.

We certainly take a lot of risks together – personally, financially and artistically – but then again our whole international relationship has been rather risky so it isn’t surprising that we continue to make educated gambles. I think the risk makes us deeply loyal to each other.

– Joanne Hartstone

How do you go about balancing your personal and professional life?

This is a hard question to answer for many reasons. As most artists know finding this work/life balance is challenging to begin with, let alone balancing two workaholic artists in the one house working on the same projects. Performance deadlines are strict mistresses, and housework will always come second to rehearsals. We are still finding our “balance” with this, as we rarely pass an evening without discussing work. However, as work is our shared passion, we define it as more of a lifestyle than a work/life balance issue.

Tom says the only answer to this is [having] dogs. Our Labradors Molly (7) and Winnie (1) are not allowed in the theatre, so we get to escape the pressure of our work with our fur-mascots at home… [read the entire interview in Issue 5 of The Serenade Files magazine here.]

This article was first published in The Serenade Files Magazine Issue 5 (January – March 2020). Visit the Magazine page to read more features like this.

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