Playking Productions Pty Ltd was established by Carrillo Gantner and Clifford Hocking in 1979. At the time, Carrillo was Executive Director of the Playbox Theatre Company and Clifford ran his own commercial theatre business with his partner David Vigo. Playking was established as a joint venture between PLAYbox and HocKING in order to manage the tour of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe around Australian capital cities in 1980. The name seemed doubly suitable as not only was it a felicitous combination of the two names, but it also had a resonant Chinese sound about it (‘Nanjing’, ‘Peking’, ‘Playking’ etc.).
The Playbox Theatre had, in fact, been invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture to organize this tour following their successful presentation of the Fujian Puppet Company of China in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra in 1979. The Fujian Company worked with exquisite small glove puppets in complex Chinese stories, some from the tradition Chinese opera repertoire. They dazzled Australian audiences with their dexterous skills and the refinement of their staging.
An Australia wide tour by 50 members of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe was too large, complex and expensive for Playbox Theatre to undertake alone so Carrillo invited his old friend Clifford Hocking to join forces with Playbox for this. Thus Playking Productions Pty Ltd came into being. Carrillo and Clifford went to Nanjing and Beijing (formerly Peking) in 1979 to select the Nanjing Troupe’s touring program and negotiate the tour deal.
Following the six week Australian tour of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, Playking was invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture to organize and manage the Australian tour of the 50 member Jiangsu Peking Opera Company in 1983. Again, this tour played successfully in every state capital and Canberra over six weeks. The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Michael Edgley International were invited by Playking to join with them as partners in this major tour. With extracts taken from nine different operas in two completely different programs, each selected to give emphasis to an aspect of this refined art (martial arts, singing, dance, classical stories and the Model Operas of the Cultural Revolution period) the tour proved a big hit around the country, but so especially in Melbourne where extra performances had to be scheduled at the Princess Theatre.
Carrillo acted as National Tour Director on the road around Australia with both the Jiangsu Peking Opera Company and Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, while Clifford Hocking and David Vigo managed the marketing and finances from their Melbourne office with support from Playbox Theatre management.
In 1988, Playking Productions joined forces with the Adelaide and Perth Festivals to tour the Kanze Noh Theatre from Japan. Playking presented the Melbourne season at the Arts Centre. A special (and very expensive) Noh stage was constructed in Australia for the tour of this company whose exquisite and elaborate classical forms dazzled Australian audiences.
Carrillo was still Executive and Artistic Director of Playbox Theatre when he brought the Hunan Puppet Company of China and the Yakshagana Puppet Company of India into their season in 1983. He was also responsible for initiating the Nanjing Acrobatic Training Program which brought back to Australia leading members of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe for three months in Albury/Wodonga over the summer of 1983/84. These seven dedicated teachers, all leading figure from the Chinese acrobatic tradition, worked with young performers from Circus Oz, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the wider physical skills theatre community. The program was so influential and important it was repeated the following summer and has come to be seen as the foundation for the renaissance of Australian circus and acrobatic skills leading some years later to the creation of large and small circus and physical skills companies and acts, and to the establishment of the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne.