Well now, let’s see. It’s Friday and the Forum (and the opening of The Greenhouse) was Thursday. It seems like an eternity ago! I’ve been busy, yes (I’m always busy) but I’ve been thinking. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Bucchino again lately and this is the core of what I came away thinking (and singing) during the drive back to the coast and upon getting home and going to bed instead of blogging until 2am…
RHYME IS WHAT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO UNLESS WE WANT IT TO
When we look at the state theatre companies across the country, do we not think they all look a bit like this?
Yes. It’s a neat street.
Of course the vision for the QTC of the future varies enormously, depending on who you ask to paint the picture. The many, many, MANY pictures are wonderful! And at least we all seem to agree that we would prefer to see something more like this:
And because we know we can, we want to feel that we are creating work that helps us to look like this:
Imagine what the street would look like if our state theatre companies all followed their dreams and each became a true home to their artists, producing sustainably, a vast array of work in traditional and non-traditional spaces, which truly reflected their communities; their people, their stories, their hopes, their dreams and their realities.
So my point is this: it’s time to drop a great big bloody bucket of orange paint over each of our state theatre companies!
If there’s an Artistic Director game to do it, it’s Wesley Enoch. He has, better than any other as far as I’m concerned, established a firm platform of community engagement and open public forum. Wait. To trump Cate, he may have to appear on a community group’s stage himself somewhere, say in Ipswich…
Some stakeholders prefer to take a similar approach to that of Lucas Stibbard’s, by taking a look at what we don’t want. This is a fine approach to begin with; ruling out what’s not desired and leaving us with the perfect picture! Easy! But there’s no perfect picture, as we know. And that’s why it’s so hard to make the changes. What if we start small? What if we don’t even call our subscribers “subscribers”? Are they not now “season ticket holders”? Language and perception are two of the big orange splots within the bigger picture.
A number of artists mentioned that we might do better to look at the sporting model in Queensland. This is something that Sam (my husband) has been saying for years. A rare breed, he loves his sport AND the arts. Depending on the season and whether or not the art is paying, one will always win out.
Anyway, Paul Bishop, our extraordinary facilitator for the afternoon’s forum (really, he should have his own morning show), introduced by Associate Director of QTC, Todd MacDonald, gave us a brief history of the world’s culture and asked us to fill in the blanks for the last 50 – 60 years, specifically for Brisbane theatre. What? Oh, right. To appreciate where we are now and where we’re headed, we need to understand what’s gone before us. Fair enough.
So we had our afternoon’s schedule on a whiteboard and, armed with coloured felt pens, A4 paper, post-its (and iPhones), although we were already running 15 minutes late, we were ready to change the world!
We realised, after just a few minutes, that there has been far richer theatrical culture in Brisbane than many realise, for much longer than some care to remember. Kaye Stevenson commented that resilient artists have continued to work for a long time in this town. What a timely reminder (mentioned again later, during the Welcome to Country from Uncle Des and the opening address from Wesley Enoch) that we must keep asking our elders what has happened before us. We must be willing to listen and take down their stories. We must re-tell them. We must continue to value that which has gone before. I don’t doubt that we do, just as I don’t doubt that there is anyone who doesn’t want to do things better than they’ve been done before.
The question of sustainability was a major one – it kept coming up in conversation – and it took David Walters, the master of green lighting design (and by green I mean sustainable and not for Wicked), to point out that we had full lights on in the room for the day, for a discussion, rather than all of us looking like death-warmed-up under the ugly lights (he didn’t say anything about looking like death-warmed-up but we all know that’s the issue here).
The theatre is an aesthetic thing! Nobody wants to be photographed under the fluoros!
Luke Jaaniste spoke of the theatre company being more a part of our entire ecosystem, a living, breathing, feeding, inter-dependent organism, though his paper reads more clearly about this than his brief address to us on the day and I urge you to go back and read it. Lisa Erhart gave us the Galaxy Analogy and poignantly noted that she is one of the cool, older, red stars within our galaxy, while there are others involved who are the hot, new, young blue stars. She wants us to smash the elite theatre culture that appears to be – still – associated with the company and for it to become far greater reaching and responsive to community. Anna Molnar used the term “theatre without borders” and also noted, later, that to trademark it or copyright it would defeat its purpose. It was noted that the only “colour” in the room was in the paper and pens. Todd MacDonald summarised that the state theatre company has a responsibility to raise standards and tell the stories that truly reflect our community. This came up repeatedly. In Farmer Rob’s words, we must start to “sell to the farmers.”
Rob spoke about farmers who sing – they’re happier – and have “thrown out the farm”. (I’m waiting to see the link for this organisation and when I do, I’ll add it here.) This became more relevant as we began discussing the traditional space, the buildings and that “elite” culture of pre-booking, dressing “appropriately” and going to dinner and a show. Todd asked, “Should we lose the mothership?” There was deathly silence. As Wesley honed in on later, the place is significant. It’s important to have a home for artists and a place where people can gather together. As a little, tiny, independent company who floats from theatre to theatre, to Boreen Point, to Community Hall, to park, to beach, to living room, to vacant shop, I know this to be true. We feel it. All the time.
IMHO a company needs a place to call home.
The need to re-structure the company came up several times, with artists wanting artists paid first. Fair enough. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that admin need to be able to sell a show in order for the artists to have an audience! Andrea Moor said the company should be one that, “serves the fans and the artists first.” She also wants to see, as we all do, the companies working together. I don’t doubt this is happening more than ever before, with the dialogue now wide open between QTC and La Boite.
Emma Bennison spoke on behalf of Access Arts and expressed her frustration (echoed by many others in the room and on Twitter) at the funding bodies favouring young and emerging artists for far too long. She reminded us that it’s distressing for her sector of the community to see able-bodied actors playing characters with disabilities. There are actors with disabilities who are not even being considered for these roles. I was waiting for Suer Manger to pipe up. Emma also stated, quite rightly, that we can’t possibly become a more inclusive and accessible company while we continue to make assumptions about people (artists) with disabilities.
Angharad Wynne-Jones joined us via Skype (Sigh. There are always technical difficulties, aren’t there?) and shared with us these words:
We need to balance fear and hope. We need to do things better and differently. We need to hold hands before the paradigm shift.
Matt Delbridge spoke about London’s Green Theatre Project, citing excellent examples to balance the horrific stats of energy use (read waste) by theatres everywhere. You only have to Google “green theatre” to find enough material to occupy your reading time until Arcola Theatre becomes the first carbon neutral theatre in the world. And they will. Check out what they’re doing – for their theatre family and for their wider community – here. Our own Umber Productions achieved a small miracle with David Walters lighting their production of Elaine Acworth’s Water Wars. Their Education Pack provides nice, simple detail about how this was done. I wish the writers and implementers of the new you-beaut rigid bloody curriculum would see more theatre. Just saying.
“I limited the amount of power used. I know it was a kind of arbitrary thing, but I set myself the task – and the show was a touring piece – to run from a 10 AMP (domestic) socket. It simplified things.”
Walters told Kate Foy that the biggest challenge in Water Wars was, ‘getting my head around this approach to lighting. I don’t know of anyone else who’s taken it on. It’s challenging – bloody and dangerous at times but, at other times, very rewarding.’ He continues, ‘… and just because we have the tools doesn’t mean it’s good design. I’m conscious of LEDs being fitted in to what we’ve always known. We’re in transition. We’re in a catchup game now and, for the first time, we have tools we don’t quite know what to do with. We’ve now got computers which have given us extraordinary and sophisticated ways of controlling that light, once we’ve generated it.
Where I am learning is in the area of control. There are old ways of doing things but now there is so much flexibility. For example, there are 60, 80, 100s of channels of control. I’m having to learn to re-think in design terms.’