No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Brisbane

2011: A year in reflection

In 2011, I saw straight plays, musicals, cabaret, modern dance, ballet, puppetry and an opera. I saw monologues and collections of monologues. I saw Shakespeare and Katz – but no Brecht. I saw new Australian work and old Australian work. I saw development readings in rehearsal rooms, independent productions in basements, immersive works on the street, and multi-million dollar musicals in 2000 seat theatres. I saw professional productions, amateur productions, and student productions. I saw 114 performances of 106 works.

In chronological order, these are the six shows which, as I stand in December and reflect on a year which was, stand out with their shoulders above the rest. The heaviest on my brain; the lightest on my heart. Many which made this list had what is ultimately for me, an undefinable quality about them. Two I penned responses rather than reviews. Two I didn’t review at all. Each one made me question how and why I write, made me question my skills to put words to art: for that I am grateful.  I don’t think I always rose to the occasion of writing about them, but I grew in the attempt.

A Comedy – Brown Council, presented by Vitalstatistix

Four women. Four hours of performance a night. Countless bananas, tomatoes and cream pies. A Comedy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Did I “get it”?  I don’t know. I don’t care.  I sat for four hours (and then an extra fifth) participating in one of the most demanding, hilarious, debaucherous, bizarre, and unknown nights of theatre I suspect I will ever have. Among other things: I threw a cream pie, got covered in a cream pie in retaliation, threw money and peanuts for the dancing monkeys, and was ventriloquist for the voice of a tampon. Bananas and I still have issues.

Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel – Teatret Gruppe 38, presented by the Come Out Festival

A work I couldn’t write about – and not just because during the Come Out Festival I saw fifteen shows in six days.  I tried many times and never found the right words.  A transformative work, part participatory theatre, part art installation, this show made me feel like I was eight: smelling the thermos of coffee of a couple’s love, touching the plate of ice of a snowman’s melting heart, seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes.  We were invited to the dinner table of Hans Christian and his stories, distilled down to an essence and shown in miniature.  It was made of the magic of stories, of a light hand, of asking an audience to open their eyes and look – and we did.

Thick Skinned Things – Stella Denn Haag, presented by the Come Out Festival

In what is very possibly the first time in the history of the theatre, the curtain is going up early.
I find out as I make my way down North Terrace, a leisurely stroll interrupted from a panicked call from my friend Chloe “Are you nearly here?  It’s starting early.  We’re trying to wait for you…”
I kick off my shoes, and I run.
I run down North Terrace, I run down the stairs in to the train station, I dodge commuters, I run into the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.
An usher beckons me “Are you Jane?  They’re waiting for you.”
We run upstairs to the second usher, “I’m sorry; it’s just began, I can’t let you in.”
“Are you sure?  It’s not supposed to start for five minutes; can I stand in the back?”
“Well…”
A pause.
It’s a long pause.
“If you’re quiet.  And you take off your shoes.  And you don’t take your bag in.  There is a bench that goes around the side.  If you are quiet and sit where no-one can see you; you can go in.”
And so, slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty, I leave my shoes and my bag and I creep into the dark.
There, under a naked globe, is a woman telling us of her story.  A story locked behind closed doors, a woman scared of the outside word, a woman hurt by the people who live there, a woman who is in love with the man next door and his perfect garbage bags.  A woman who is lost when he is gone, a woman who can’t live in the world any more, and instead becomes a mole, burying herself in a labyrinth of tunnels in the dirt.  It’s nothing more than a monologue. Words, told with a slightly veiled accent, told with very little movement and very little light, and an undeniable emotional wallop.

The Seagull – Belvoir

2011 was a year of Chekhov: to Sydney for The Seagull, to the cinema for the National Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard, and to the Dunstan Playhouse for The Three Sisters.  But what The Seagull gave me was an understanding, an infatuation, a fascination, and a connection to this text which has been produced for over one-hundred-years.  When the lights rose at the end of act one I thought their must have been a mistake: we’d only just sat down, the play had only just begun!  But no, over an hour had passed without me batting an eye.  The Seagull felt rawly honest, remarkably natural, and above all, more than any other play I have seen from its era, it felt right.

The Book of Everything – Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image / Belvoir, presented by Windmill Theatre Company

The third work made for young audiences on this list.  Theatre which captures the heart is a glorious thing.  This show was a burst of magic for me and my co-reviewer date Aria.  We sat transfixed in the world of the pages of Thomas’s diary from Amsterdam in 1951; we were transported.  We laughed, we yelled, we shielded our eyes, we were a plague of frogs, we wiped away tears, and then the two of us wrote.  I left feeling strengthened, re-invigorated, loved, and hopeful.

boy girl wall – The Escapists, presented by La Boite Theatre Company

In many ways an ode to theatre and to those who go to theatre.  A story about love, but not a love story.  A story about our characters, but also our narrator, and our audience. At one point, Lucus Stibbard quipped a small joke and I was the only person in the audience to let out a small laugh. He turned to me, caught my eye, and smiled the briefest of smiles: a flittering acknowledgement of a tiny moment shared.  I don’t remember the joke: perhaps it wasn’t one at all and my laughter was completely out of context or unexpected. But  boy girl wall is about these moments in life which are unexpected. Life can be shit: you don’t need your boss, you don’t need your writers block, you don’t need magpies, you certainly don’t need Mondays.  But in between these moments, you can smile, and laugh, and fall in love.  And that’s precisely what I did in that theatre.

Thanks to you all. I’ll see you in a theatre in 2012.


Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

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Review: boy girl wall

Bursting on to the scene, far above my right shoulder, appears our narrator, Lucus Sibbard.  He is here to guide us through this story: in one apartment, lives a boy; next door, a girl;  between them, a wall.  Thom and Aletha battle on their lives alone: he, wishing he was an astronomer, wasting his days in an IT job where he doesn’t really know what his job is at all; she, a children’s book author working on that difficult second book, for which not a word has been written.  The wall, living between them for years, decides what needs to happen is Thom and Aletha must meet.  This isn’t a love story, we’re told.  But it is a story about love.

Lucas bounds up and down and across the stage, always talking to and referring to the audience (“Who goes to the theatre on a Thursday?” he asks his Thursday theatre audience): our presence as much an integral part of the production as the action itself.  Perhaps it’s even more so: we sneak a look into the lives of this pair in what seems to be the middle of their story. Lucus brings us in on a Tuesday (“Nothing happens on a Tuesday.”), leaves us with a kiss, and in 75 minutes the story is all over.  And joining us and Aletha and Thom on this crazy journey is the inanimate objects which play a part: the wall, the doors, the computer Dave, the powerbox, the days of the week.  Are days of the week inanimate objects?  They’re surely not animate objects, but then again, they’re hardly objects.  Inanimate inobjects?

Sarah Winter sits above the action, orchestrating a series of odd instruments composed by Neridah Waters, soundscaping with a delicate touch, a hint of whimsy, and an occasional burst of pop song.  The set (Jonathon Oxlade) is a chalkboard stage floor thrusting into the audience, chalkboard upon chalkboard building up in a wall above the stage.  Playing across the two dimensional stage and wall, lighting (Keith Clark) illuminates and hides created spaces.  From all this and a stick of chalk, Lucus builds his set.

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Australian Theatre Forum: So Many Possibilities

Some wrap up bits and pieces from people I was lucky enough to share space with last week:

Augusta Supple, undoubtedly the best co-blogger a girl could have, summed up the final session with fineness and a full thank-you list.

Alison Croggon shared with us her thoughts of the two days she was at the Forum, and posts her speech from the Innovation panel.

Candy Bowers posted her first two beautiful, inspiring, heart aching daily reflections.

Australianplays.org has posted the first lot in a series of videos of speeches and thoughts.

I would still like to say more but am currently in recovery mode, so it might take some time.

Australian Theatre Forum: And that’s all there is

A toast to the future. (Notice the obnoxious glare of blogger's computers in the front row.) Photo thanks to Olivia Allen.

4:12 PM and we’re sitting collected in the Visy theatre at the Brisbane Powerhouse, and I think I can speak for everyone – if not at least for super bloggers Augusta Supple and myself, who collectively have typed somewhere in the air of one million words in the past three days – when I say we are exhausted.  It has been a huge three days.  Mine weren’t helped by the lovely hobbling and limping I’ve been having fun with, thanks to the sprained ankle I received after hitting the Brisbane galleries a bit too hard.  Yeah, I’m hardcore.

But more so than that, it was an intense three days of ideas and processes: panels, talks, open spaces, wine, beer, shows and picnics have all played a part in where we are now at the end of 2011’s Australian Theatre Forum.

Wesley Enoch is talking through the top points which came from the open spaces, through to action meetings, before being presented and voted for by the group.  Ten votes each with red dots, he is talking us through the strategies, the ideas and the plans which we are going to move on to and act upon outside of the forum.  “These things will go forward as a way of promoting the things we do as a united voice”, says Wesley.  On to policy makers, on to the Australia Council, on to government, on to the sector, and on to Australia as a whole.

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Australian Theatre Forum: Convictions – Naming The Top Ten

The key words from the five action points from the ten action topics.  Created by copying down the exact wording of everyone’s action points, and creating a word cloud of popularity.

Australian Theatre Forum: Audience Activations

Griffin Theatre's thousand wooden spoons around Sydney: a viral momentum.

Who are our audiences?  How to we connect with them?  How do we grow them? How do we talk to them?

At Activating Audiences, we were given four very different takes on growing these audiences, and what it means to really connect with an audience beyond an exchange of money for tickets and spending an hour or two together in the dark.

The four people who spoke are trying to connect and activate with different audiences, and through that expand the people they are talking to.

Sam Strong talked about Between The Lines, “a venture that puts events and activities around [their] core events”, which are the four or five theatre works Griffin Theatre Company produces a year.  Bring different types of art into their theatre, and bringing parts of their work and audience interactions out of the theatre, Griffin has seen a measurable increase in interaction with the company – both online and in seats.  “Different art forms equals different audiences.”

One of the ways the company has done this over the past couple of years has been changing the nature of the idea around marketing: “Not seeing marketing as this necessary evil you have to put up with when you’re making your art, but discovering the art in your marketing.”

For Kyle Morrison and Yirra Yaakin, “it’s the community you want in the theatre, it’s your community you want to talk to, it’s your community you want to connect with.”  Kyle told us of “one of the most beautiful moments [he’s] ever had in the theatre”: performing with the company he is now artists director of when he was nineteen, he saw two young Aboriginal girls with a school group in the audience, and he delivered one of his lines in their language directly too them.  They were the only two people in the audience who laughed, and “they were there, they we with us, they were following the community.  It really was the most beautiful point in my theatrical career.”

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Australian Theatre Forum: International Collaborations Skype Conversation

Getting My Haircut by Children at the Junction Regional Arts Conference

Our morning started with a Skype conversation between Lenine Bourke (Contact Inc) and Darren O’Donnell (Mammalian Diving Reflex ) on their international collaboration.

I first meet MDR at the Junction Regional Arts Conference in Launceston last year, where I attended haircuts by children.  It was an interesting experience.  I found the children who cut my hair rather timid, but they were probably feeding off my fear of hairdressers (it was the first time I’d been to a hairdresser since I was ten or so, and the first boy was so nervous he ended up asking someone else to do it).  The best part about the experience was the fantastic energy and crazy idea of being in a salon run by children: they took the bookings, they ran all the equipment, they wilfully whirred away at the electric razor – not on my head, but my friend Shaylee ended up with an undercut which, depending on who you asked, was a star, a map of Australia, or a road-killed cat.  One of the great things about the project, says Darren, is “adults and children who don’t know each other actually have a lot to say to each other,” and it was a really interesting experience getting to sit down and talk for forty minutes with children I didn’t know.

Mammalian Diving Reflex started as a theatre company, and then they moved into working with people, rather than performers.  Says Darren “We often work with non-artists as performers as participants.  We ask them to do what they do best.  We ask them to represent themselves and not be anything else, and we do that very theatrically.”

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Australian Theatre Forum: A terrifyingly amicable discussion between artists and critics

Open Spaces thoughts: two.

Terrifyingly frank discussion between arts and critics”, is what was proposed by Cameron Woodhead,  and “Given the ABC has just dropped its in house arts coverage, how do we nourish and sustain critical connections?”  was instigated by Alison Croggon.  I was very excited by the size of the group which choose to attend the discussions.  I was disappointed together, everyone was much more “terrifyingly amicable” than “terrifyingly frank.”

There are so many issues surrounding both prongs of this debate.  For me and my “career” as a critic it boils down to two key issues: how do I receive critical feedback of my work as an emerging writer, and how do I create a sustainable career in a field which is rapidly being removed from our traditional media sources?  I am paid for only two of the publications I write for – and this sum is minimal.  I figure in a good month I might be able to bring in as much as $220.

I have not yet had one of these months which I would describe as good.

(And then, of course, I buy tickets for a great chunk of the shows I review for this blog, so that’s where that money goes. I am often struck how often I am praised for my work on this blog, and how few media lists I am on.)

This career is currently completely unsustainable, this blog is completely unsustainable.  It’s not necessarily that not getting paid is the issue, it’s that I’m not paid and I work full time and then and then and then.  It can all get a bit much.

And on the other point, it is really really hard to get artists to talk to critics about criticism.  I’ve been having more luck in Adelaide in recent months, perhaps my “contribution” to the arts scene there more visibly seen or appreciated?  My annoying voice popping up in more forums, people figuring out I’m not going away?

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Australian Theatre Forum: Funding children’s theatre as opera

Open spaces thoughts: one.

In Open Spaces today I attended in earnest the sessions on funding theatre for young audiences with the money that is received from opera and the discussion on critics, I butterflied around one session moving from a group on musical theatre to a group on new work, and then ended up listening to people talking about New Australian Theatre – but by that time I was needing something to eat and was rather disengaged.

The talk on theatre for young audiences was just all rather lovely, as expected.  With the idea put forward: what if we could subsidise seats in those theatre to the level where they have the same per-seat income as a seat at an opera performance, what could that mean for the sector?

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