What’s new Tuxedo Cat?

by Jane

This article was original published in the January 2012 Issue of the Adelaide Review.

Adelaide’s “cultural boulevard”, North Terrace is home to heritage institutions the State Library of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of South Australia but the 2012 Fringe will add pop up venues to North Terrace’s list of must see destinations.

Greg Clarke and Jennifer Layther at the first walkthrough of the new Tuxedo Cat. Photo Gary Cockburn.

This festival season a new cultural venue will open on the southern side of North Terrace, the latest incarnation of the Tuxedo Cat. Since 2008, the Tuxedo Cat has established a reputation as one of the most loved Fringe hubs for independent performing
arts work.

Established and run by Bryan Lynagh and Cassandra Tombs, the Cat, as they affectionately call it, started as a rooftop venue in Synagogue Place off Rundle Street, running for three Fringes before the building underwent development. For the 2011 Fringe they opened in Electra House opposite Town Hall, also sitting empty in preparation of development. In 2012, they will be operating in Club 199 and the iconic 200 North Terrace.

“We feel like it’s our best address yet,” says Lynagh over a drink. “I think it’s a good mix having the Art Gallery and Library and Museum just across the road from a grassroots arts venue.”

Working with Renew Adelaide, the Cat’s access to the buildings is supported by Le Cordon Bleu, Maras Group, and Commercial and General. Renew Adelaide’s CEO Ianto Ware estimates this support could amount to in excess of $100,000 for nothing more than the recognition of the contribution of these organisations to Adelaide’s cultural revival.

At the time of the interview, Tombs and Lynagh have only had access to the space for a few weeks, and Lynagh has been “inhaling concrete dust all day” while working on the venue. While this is their fifth Fringe under the Tuxedo Cat banner, the pair still struggle with red tape.

“In some ways it feels like year one,” says Lynagh.

“Everyone talks about ‘activating spaces’ and governments wanting to help,” says Tombs, “but this is a pretty mega project. It’s two buildings side-by-side; we’re going to be out the front and in an alley way with five theatres. There are no clear steps, as yet, to start this project.

“We do like using disused spaces, or unusual spaces, non-traditional spaces. Having said that, though, they always come with a handful of problems: building code compliancy; acoustic problems; traffic management regarding human movement and security. I actually quite like the puzzle of trying to sort that all out.

“It’s not the easiest way to run a business,” she concedes.

This new, large-scale venue echoes similar reclaimed spaces for artists established interstate. Melbourne’s River Street Studios, and Sydney’s Queen Street Studios and Firstdraft Depot have been established through ties between artists, arts workers, developers, city councils and arts funding organisations. These spaces are not-for-profit ventures where experimentation, work in development, and low-scale production is encouraged and supported by low rent or venue hire fees.

Lynagh and Tombs also run a second Cat in Melbourne, borne out of frustrations with the Adelaide City Council and Liquor Licensing. After the second year in Synagogue Place, Tombs didn’t believe Adelaide would be ongoing.

“I thought, we’re not going to be able to do this here, we need to change this right up, so we just did Melbourne. A year later, we just kept pushing and pushing and pushing in Adelaide and made some headway, so now we’re doing both.”

Word of these venues has travelled far. Next year, the pair will be opening a venue at the Cairns Festival at the invitation of the local council: “Tuxedo Cat goes troppo,” laughs Tombs.

In Adelaide, for Club 199 at least, Lynagh and Tombs will be leasing the building on six-month guarantee. The pair is excited about this space continuing beyond the Fringe in an ongoing contribution to Adelaide’s art scene. “People ask during Fringe, ‘Are you going to be here afterwards?’ and now we can say, ‘Yes’,” Lynagh explains excitedly.

At the heart of the Cat is the community of artists and audiences it engages. “The Tuxedo Cat community is great,” says Lynagh.  “There is a lot of love for the Cat. People just want to be involved.”

While the community support is fantastic, creating these spaces comes with a financial burden. “It’s all on a shoestring budget; well, it’s all on our credit card,” he remarks. “This is what council and government talk about all the time, and we’re actually going to do it.”

Despite this, the pair holds a strong commitment to placing the needs of the artists at the centre of the venue.

“When you’re a creative person, you’ve got an idea for a show and you’re going to put a show on, you need to do a show in front of an audience,” says Tombs.  “You need feedback from an audience, to see if it’s funny, see if it all works, see if it ties together. Is it even a show?

“But what was starting to happen was unless you were prepared to sell your car or go into debt, you weren’t getting a chance to get those ideas out into the public domain. So we tried to keep our venue hire as low as functionally possible, and it includes your tech and your lighting. It’s really basic stuff. We are catering for artists that are trying out new ideas.”

During the 2012 Fringe, the venue will house more than 40 artists completing 450 performances. “We’re positive, we have a purpose, we work our guts out,” says Lynagh. “I’ll tell you what, if I wasn’t running Tuxedo Cat I would be going there all the time and drinking and checking out shows, definitely.”

Laughing, he shakes his head, “It’s such a shame.”

Other Fringe and Festival season pop-up venues

Arcade Lane
For the third year running, Ross Stanley will be running his pop-up venue Arcade Lane off Grenfell Street. Adjacent to the former Regent Cinema, Stanley uses the abandoned cinema spaces to create two indoor theatres off a laneway filled with bands, DJs and roving performances.

Over the years, Stanley has observed a broad group of Fringe goers discovering the lane.  “You’ve got 20-year-olds rubbing shoulders with advertising executives rubbing shoulders with 60-year-old theatre-goers,” he says.  “Generally speaking, everyone’s a little bit creative or a little bit on the arty tip, and they’re looking for that alternative experience.”

In 2012, the Adelaide Festival’s night hub is moving off the riverbank and onto the plaza behind Parliament House. Festival designer Geoff Cobham describes the new space as a “scaffolding shantytown”, a maze incorporating music performances and eight themed bars.

While Barrio will begin construction on the plaza less than two weeks before the opening on March 2, Cobham says the trick to the venue is, “trying to keep it looking like it’s something that’s just grown organically, rather than something we’ve constructed. It should look like something that’s been there for years, and it’s slowly been built over the years by the people who live there”.

The Queen’s Theatre
The Queen’s Theatre was a theatre in its short life from inception in 1840, to closure in 1842. It has since been used for everything from law courts to horse yards, with the now gutted frame often a performance warehouse space during festivals.

For the 2012 Fringe it has come under the management of local company No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, who are transforming the space into a three-theatre, two-bar performance hub.

Venue manager Kathryn Sproul is excited by “the charm, the challenge, and its unexpectedness. How we set up will be unique to this experience, and it won’t be how anyone else has set it up before”.