For an insight into the hectic schedule and multi-tasking talents of Adelaide arts identity Joanne Hartstone, look no further than her 16-month-old child. In the lead-up to this year’s Adelaide Fringe, she noticed the toddler pretending to be on the phone while building something with a toy power tool.

“I think it was because the day before I’d been hammering, building the set for [Fringe show] Grav, and I’ve also been on the phone a lot,” says Hartstone.

“But I think it’s great. I really want to model a working mother and a working single mother as well, because that is my world.”

Juggling multiple shows and roles is just the way this respected producer, performer, director and playwright operates.

Hartstone has participated in more than 30 festivals across Australia and internationally, including starring in her own shows in LA, New York, London and Edinburgh.

Local audiences will know her from her solo hit The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign, and Hartstone was also the creator of popular Fringe pop-up venue Black Box Theatres from 2017 to 2021. She was one half of the now-defunct production company Hartstone-Kitney Productions.

Local talent Joanne Hartstone in The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign.

So, in some capacity, this 39-year-old dynamo has been directly involved with the Adelaide Fringe for the past 18 years and jokes: “I know my way around, and I know enough to know better.”

Hartstone’s local knowledge, performing experience and can-do demeanour have shaped her into one of the most in-demand local collaborators for national and international companies trying to get a foothold in the Adelaide Fringe market.

This year she is co-presenting and producing nine Fringe productions, teaming up for the first time with LA-based Fringe Management LLC. The arts company was co-founded by entertainment lawyer Michael Blaha and English actor Nigel Miles Thomas (Grange Hill and Dr Who) in 2001. The duo are veterans of the global Fringe circuit, and have produced 100 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, including winning the coveted Spirit of the Fringe Award.

Blaha first saw Hartstone performing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2017 when he was judging Pick of the Fringe. He loved The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign, naming it Pick of the Fringe and sparking a creative friendship with Hartstone that continues today.

So when Fringe Management LLC was looking to produce shows for the Adelaide Fringe for the first time, it turned to Hartstone to help guide the way.

“As is so often the case in this industry, if you are good to work with, people will talk about it and tend to work with you again and again,” she says.

This new collaboration has led to four shows being co-presented by Hartstone and Fringe Management LLC for Fringe 2024: Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act, The Portable Dorothy Parker, Blood of the Lamb and Grav.

Blood of the Lamb is being presented in The Courtyard of Curiosities at the Migration Museum.

“I’m presenting and producing, which are like two sides of the same coin,” she explains. “Basically, my role is to translate existing pieces of theatre into the Adelaide Fringe landscape.

“I build the frame and then they present the work within the frame, so that when they land in Adelaide everything is ready to go.”

Sourcing a local venue is critical to Hartstone’s on-the-ground role. For Grav, the story of Welsh rugby player Ray Gravell (played by acclaimed Welsh actor Gareth J Bale), Hartstone turned to Holden Street Theatres, where she has created a locker room set with an audience capacity of just 30.

“I guess one of my specialities is that I can activate a space that is not theatrical, and create immersive sets,” the theatre-maker says. “So I created this locker room where the audience actually feels like they’re sitting in a real locker room. It creates this really intimate experience with the performer.

“It’s a men’s locker room with benches all bespoke for this show, which sounds like it’s about sport but it’s actually about so much more. I think this one is going to be a surprise little hit, tapping into some universal themes.

“I’m really proud of this show and to do what I did to translate it to Adelaide, because I know Fringe Management LLC have been trying to come to Adelaide for a few years and I have been able to help translate this show within a Fringe environment.”

Gareth J Bale in a scene from the UK production of Grav.

For Blood of the Lamb, which Hartstone describes as “a piece of political Kafkaesque theatre”, she secured The Gallery at The Courtyard of Curiosities at the Migration Museum, now in its second year of operation.

“That seems to be a venue on the up and up run by Britt Plummer and Nick Phillips,” she says. “It’s still fairly new in terms of activation but they are both old hands in the Fringe world so it struck me as a good place to have a show.”

Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act, starring Nigel Miles-Thomas, will be performed at the Goodwood Theatres and Studios, while The Portable Dorothy Parker is on at The Arch at Holden Street Theatres.

As well as her work with Fringe Management LLC, Hartstone is co-presenting another four shows, this time with UK duo Wright&Grainger (Alex Wright and Phil Grainger).

“I produced a show at the Fringe in 2012 that Alex had written called the Boy James,” Hartstone says. “But I had never actually met him, so when he turned up at the show one night, my dad, who was doing front-of-house, didn’t know who he was and wouldn’t let him in without a ticket. But we didn’t know he was coming!

“Then he contacted me a couple of years later and said, ‘Hey pal, I’ve got a new show called Orpheus. I’m sending the musician out to Adelaide but I can’t get there so can you produce it for me and find me a performer?’.”

Singer-songwriter Phil Grainger in The Gods The Gods The Gods. Photo: Frank Lynch

Orpheus was a hit, earning rave reviews and a loyal audience. It is returning to the Fringe for its fifth season, this time playing at The Yurt at The Courtyard of Curiosities.

“I love this show and I couldn’t understand how they could take me to two worlds with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a notebook, but they do,” Hartstone says.

“I think Phil [Grainger] is staying in my spare room this year, so there’s a lot that goes into supporting these guys. But Adelaide Fringe is such a vital part of their ecosystem, of their year, because they get to meet all these industry people, then that leads to more touring.

“Last year, Wright&Grainger went from here to performing at the Sydney Opera House, and that’s exactly what Adelaide Fringe is supposed to do. It’s supposed to elevate you to these heights and I hope what I’ve done for these guys has helped that. Their work is excellent and they deserve it.

“But they are also a great support to me and they are good pals now. Last Fringe, when I had a five-month-old baby, they were so supportive of me finding my feet as a producer while being a new mother.”

This year, Wright&Grainger is also staging Helios (also at The Yurt), The Gods The Gods The Gods (in collaboration with Adelaide-based producers Hey Dowling – Peta Spurling-Brown and John Glenn), and Say It & Play It, a night of stories poems and songs at Treasury 1860.

The Gods The Gods The Gods. Photo: Carnival Cinema

And for something completely different, Hartstone has teamed up with one of her ex-Annesley College classmates, performer Merrilyn Greer, co-producing her children’s show Meg in the Magic Toyshop.

Hartstone saw the show, aimed at two-to-seven-year-olds, in Edinburgh last year and knew that it needed a bigger platform.

“I stayed with Merrilyn in London for a week after that and we chatted about bringing it to Adelaide then,” she says.

“It’s like Shirley Temple meets The Wiggles. Merrilyn is a really great musician; she went to the Conservatorium of Music here, she’s a musical theatre performer and teacher, and she has really studied all that nursery-age development and made that into a show. It’s like hiding veggies in a kid’s meal.

“I was looking for something I could take my child to and this would be my first choice. It’s got a lovely storyline, colourful gorgeous costumes and themes of friendship, perseverance and overcoming troubles.

“My role as a producer is making sure that the right people from the Fringe are put in front of it, as well as the right people being young people, and hopefully elevating Merrilyn and her show.”

Joanne Hartstone. Photo credit: Frank Lynch/supplied.

Hartstone, who studied acting at Flinders University, says she had to learn to be entrepreneurial once she finished university, as “there’s no such thing as just being an actor”.

“I graduated from acting and then the phone didn’t ring,” she says. “So I’ve actually had to be an entrepreneur and I’ve run venues, built theatres in gardens, been a performer and a playwright.

“I’m very grateful that others trust me to do their work justice but I also have a lot that I can bring to a show to elevate it and highlight it. So I’ve become a trusted curator as a by-product of all that.

“I love that people ask my opinion and I sort of have enough knowledge about the craft to be able to work out why things don’t work or why they do work, or which shows have potential and need just a little bit of a different frame around them so that they can really work well in different environments.

“I think quality is the thing that I look for. Quality and good artistry is something that I think will translate to our audiences, but also stretch our audiences with that spark of something new.”

On top of all this Fringe work, Hartstone, who is also a trained school teacher, has curated small snippets of Fringe shows that she will present at the Adelaide Central Market during this year’s festival.

“This is all just a part of the gift I give back to Adelaide, being able to do all this,” she says. “This is so much a part of my identity and it’s just the thing that I love to do with the support of my family and friends.

“I really want to continue doing it. I don’t know how that will happen. I just will keep putting one foot in front of the other. But in the meantime, it’s participating and giving and sharing and I know the value of art in our lives. It’s the stuff of life.

“But if I do my job well then I should really be invisible. The audience shouldn’t be aware of all that’s gone on behind the scenes to make the magic happen. That’s the way it should be.”

This story is part of a series of articles being produced by InReview with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Fringe coverage here.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard