Australian Theatre Forum: Interdependence, or, what’s love got to do with it?

by Jane

In this afternoon’s panel, Interdependence: Love, Money & Artistic Exchange, we were asked to consider the fact that the ecology should be characterised as co-dependence.  I came in from an afternoon talk on the place of critics in theatrical culture, and how artists support these: both fiscally and through giving them the tools and vocabulary to write about the arts.  More “amicable” than “terribly frank” as promised, talking about co-dependence I am reminded by one of my favourite quotes on the art of criticism and the intersection this has with the artists they write about:

“Is criticism less important than the literature it criticises? Oh, dear! What I think we should do with this question is reject it.  Though conceding that criticism is, if you will, a parasite upon which it criticises, as the misletoe upon the oak, one needs not declare the result inferior. If it has less of quality A, it has more of quality B. The oak may be king of the forest, yet it is the misletoe that one kisses under at Christmas. (What would it mean to say: oak is better than misletoe?)”

– Eric Bently, Thinking About The Playwright (1987)

But more on critics later. In lovely and frank conversations about the nature of a collaborative process, they were as much (or more so) a conversation about failures and hardships in collaboration in partnerships as the success story.  What it boiled down to was collaboration, like theatre, is a dialogue, and if one partner isn’t listening, if one partner stops talking, if the partners are actually having slightly different conversations, it is probably going to fall down.

In the largest co-production Rose Myers worked on, she described a conversation where “in the excitement [she was] blind to the subtle differences in the companies.”

Yaron Lisfich spoke about trying to match companies and collaborations up: “Not every date you go on is successful, you need to learn the lessons which are there to be learnt.”

Sam Haren questioned if there needs to be some sort of induction process for small companies which move in to work within the processes and structures of large companies: how do you know if you might be doing things which don’t work in their culture unless you’ve been told?  But through this “you [can] learn what is the value of the methods and ways that you work.”

As a freelance artists working outside of a company like the other three talkers, Paschal Berry seemed to have the most consistently productive collaborations with organisations: “I’ve always believed partnerships should be easy… I feel nurtured by relationships, but they do have their challenges.”

There were also conversations about failure. I sometimes worry with my critic hat on, the trouble with conversations about creating a climate where it is okay to fail is that it ignores the audience which we risk loosing.  For a climate where there is risk, the risk does need to be a “beautiful failure”: there needs to be something where these risks exist in a culture where they are always supported by the best good work.  If all work fails the system is destroyed, and there is nowhere left to fail in; yet it is through these risks there is the greatest successes: I want to see the “fucked or difficult projects” at the top of lists.  Perhaps we need a culture which allows failures to not be seen?  That allows partnerships to fall apart more amicably, rather than an all-out breakdown.

My favourite sentiment in the session was from Rose: “Partnerships are a dialogue, and a dialogue in the theatre is fundamental. And that’s as exhilarating or frustrating as that may be.”

For more on the Australian Theatre Forum, follow #ATF_2011 and my excessive micro-blogging on twitter, and read the blogs of Augusta Supple and Cameron Woodhead.