Rachael Azzopardi on lighting up Adelaide

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In her 25-year career in the arts, Rachael Azzopardi has held many leadership positions - from steering the musical spread of Barrie Kosky's legendary 1996 Adelaide Festival program to overseeing the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

She's held senior leadership roles at Chunky Move, The Sydney Theatre Company with Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, the Sydney Festival and Adelaide Festival. She travelled the world to work with the industry's biggest, from Hong Kong to Broadway.

Back home, Rachael saw incredible things happening across South Australia's arts and technology sectors, and in 2020 she teamed up with Lee Cumberlidge to set up the Illuminate Adelaide Foundation.

Rachael Azzopardi
Rachael Azzopardi. Photo: Sia Duff.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Adelaide and went to uni there. I started to do an acting degree and went to the Elder Conservatory of Music at the University of Adelaide. I did a music degree but then decided I wanted to get behind the scenes, and started working professionally at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as an education assistant.

What was your first job?

It was in an after-school and vacation centre; three nights a week in after-school care, and then uni holidays would be filled up with working in the vacation care. It was fun but exhausting.

I used to play a lot of games and would always run with a concert day each holidays and organise little groups that would perform. I did that to save enough money to see me through the uni semester.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

From my mum, to cut up all my credit cards and only have one. After maxing out four credit cards at uni, I was in a lot of debt so my mum helped me budget out of that debt and cut them all so I only had one, and then we reduced my limit to a more manageable sum. And that's what I do today. I still only have one credit card and pay it off each month. It has a small limit on it.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

When I bought my first home when just after university, in my first job. I bought a small house and that helped me get ahead in the whole housing market, setting me up so instead of paying rent I could pay a mortgage so had an asset at an early age.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Overcapitalising on a renovation project. I bought a house thinking I could renovate it but I renovated it to live in instead of renovating it as an investment. I sold it for less than I spent on it. It was in South Melbourne.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Plants for my garden, and shoes.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I think I'd put it into super, or my mortgage and pay that off.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I think I'd panic a little bit then try and work out what I'd do next.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

I do, I don't have my own children, but I am close to my nieces and nephews and I'm planning to leave it to them.

What's been your best money-making career move?

Probably moving into commercial theatre. While you work long hours, the pay is considerably better than subsidised theatre in the arts industry. When I was younger, those middle manager roles were in commercial theatre but then it evened itself out in bigger companies and festivals. Especially because on tour in musicals you're getting an allowance and housing paid for, and you can save more of your wage. Touring for a few years for a musical helps you put money away.

How do you think about money when you are working in theatre?

It's about risk. The financial risk of putting on shows is really daunting and whether you are a production company putting your own risk in, or a small-medium company, there's the risk of putting on shows and not getting a box office draw. That can severely hinder your operation costs for business.

People don't realise how risky it is putting on shows. Especially in COVID times, it's so fragile - there's no way to get money back in box office to operate your business. Adelaide has been pretty lucky, the Adelaide Festival and Fringe Festival got up this year, last year was harder, but so far this year Adelaide has been in a lucky position. We've opened theatres, the Cabaret Festival is on. The state government has done a great job keeping everything running.

What is Illuminate Adelaide?

Illuminate Adelaide is a new festival for Adelaide, with music, light technology, major ticketed events in Botanic Gardens, light creatures at the Adelaide Zoo and a huge music program. Resident performers are the Avalanches, and there are concerts and DJ sets. City Lights is a free program through the CBD.

We've tried to bring people into the city to help out bars and restaurants, they've had a hard year. We've tried to be open and accessible. This is a major event with major sponsorship by the South Australian Government and SA Tourism Commission. Illuminate Adelaide runs from 17 days and nights from July 16 to August 1.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... the lights go on.

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine and is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.