Crack Theatre Festival (This Is Not Art)

by Jane

Three hours on a train up from Sydney are some really wonderful beaches. On the October long weekend there is also an arts festival. But, let’s be honest, mainly there are beaches.

I was asked to come up to the Crack Theatre Festival with This Is Not Art to talk on a panel about blogging and criticism. Normally when I got to a festival I do everything and drive myself insane and to the point of exhaustion. However, TINA found itself at the end of several exhausting months and at the beginning of a month of festival related travel, so I decided to take it slow.

How slow? In four days I went to: seven shows, one walking tour, two launches, one closing party, one workshop, four panels (plus the one I was on), and one rooftop market.

Slow.

But it still, somehow, felt nice and slow. I spent time walking around Newcastle and its beaches, I went to the museum, I had long breakfasts and long lunches and long barbeques.

To Quota or Not To Quota was perhaps the healthiest panel on representation of women and culturally diverse backgrounds in theatre I’ve been to. Maybe because Crack is such a youth-oriented festival many of the artists in attendance have only just started to come into their professional practice, and they have come into a world where the conversation – and the numbers – about women in theatre in particular have been at the forefront.

Much of the work I have done has been in women in theatre, and it was great to expand that conversation up into culturally and linguistically diverse artists. The audience at the panel, too, had a much larger male component than many I’ve been to in the past, which was heartening.

I wonder, too, if we’ve hit a tipping point in the conversation. I really do think theatre in Australia is in a much better place than it was three years ago (although I’ve yet to do the stats to prove as much – stay tuned). Of course, there are still many things which can be done, particularly increasing access to creative careers for a more diverse range of people and practices, but I feel like the conversation is being driven by some wonderful people in the artistic community, and people are being forced to listen.

We all know the amusement of reading scribbles on public toilet walls. The Toilet Show is a work devised entirely from these scribes. Using a mixture of one liners, created scenes, and a hefty dose of toilet humour, The Toilet Show might be just silly enough to work. The original medium does lead to issues: at times, the work seems too much like the creators are simply listing the jokes and not adding much more than their original presence would hold, while some of the scenes have a tendency to be too contrived. There are many moments, however, when the bizarreness of the original text finds just the right delivery, and the artists certainly seem committed to finding these balances.

Maureen O’Hara Spends A Quiet Night at Home starts with a protracted investment in nuance in realism that we so rarely see in performance. Watching a woman prepare for and take a bath could be too self-indulgent, but somehow Belinda Locke makes the details worth it in a surprising way. Unfortunately, as show progresses from gramophone jazz to modern pop, drawings are projected on the shower curtain, and Locke’s movements become more stylized, these scenes don’t live up to the promise of the simplicity of the opening.

Headphone directed walking tours has become one of my favourite ways to see a city, and I think they should be compulsorily on arrival. In This Is Kansas City participants are individually directed around Newcastle perusing a monster amalgamation of fears. The work took on a distinctly interesting layer that I doubt was intended by its creators in the wake of the news of Jill Meager, but in the end the work is light and gives an empowerment to the listener.

Mothlight was the most complete work in the festival, showing in its six season in two years. I unfortunately missed the work when it was presented in the Adelaide Fringe – praise not filtering through to me until it was too late – and so was very excited to see it in Crack. On the first floor of a carpark, the work asks its audience to move around, finding the best places to watch the action: ducking in and out of columns and a web of glad wrap. Despite this, the audience was remarkably quiet: there was no need to clap for every trick, instead, for much of the performance, there was a lovely quiet in which the work could breath.

Perhaps a fitting end to my slow weekend, I walked into a sheeted tent with origami hanging from the ceiling to join an artist to talk about hands, the things we do with them, and the things they say about us. Folding is a one-on-one intimate performance through conversation, where the artist and performer create origami together for ten minutes. My conversation was nice and relaxed, I was told some people believe when you have moles on opposite planes of a limb they show a line where you were stabbed in a past life, and I went home with a butterfly.

The final thing I am going to write about is my panel, I Started A Blog … And Now I’m A Critic, which I think was curated with just the right balance of people. Belvoir’s publicist, Elly Clough (who post-panel wrote this incredibly sensible ‘how to be a blogging critic’ guide) was in somewhat the role of antagonist, with just the right balance of being supportive – and in need – of good critics and arts writing, while being skeptical of some aspects of blogging culture – and an expectation of free tickets some carry along with them. For once in this digital age in a discussion on digital culture, though, the conversation existed in a very off-line space. I saw no tweets after, it wasn’t recorded for download, and I am quite happy to leave it there.

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