ATF2013: OK Radio
“Personnel is being hired for the Theater in Oklahoma! The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is calling you! It’s calling you today only! If you miss this opportunity, there will never be another! Anyone thinking of his future, your place is with us! All welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, step forward! We are the theater that has a place for everyone, everyone in his place! If you decide to join us, we congratulate you here and now! But hurry, be sure not to miss the midnight deadline! We shut down at midnight, never to reopen! Accursed be anyone who doesn’t believe us!”
— Franz Kafka, Amerika
The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma is a New York based theatre company under Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska. They work in live performance – they came to Australia from presenting their twelve hour Life and Times: Episodes 1- 5 just played at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in the UK, you can read Lyn Guardner’s five star review here – but my main contact with the company has been through OK Radio, their weekly long-form podcast conversations with theatre practitioners from around the world.
These conversations are long ranging and discursive, often introducing me to artists I haven’t heard of, but also ways of talking about and considering art and practice: the ways that I can approach contextualising work and practice as a writer and as an audience member. Cooper and Liska, too, are very interested in questioning – and asking their guests to question – why art? Why this art? Why now?
At the Australian Theatre Forum, Cooper and Liska took the stage in their pyjamas: “we’re more comfortable that way,” said Cooper. “You can change if you want.”
For their speech they brought up Claudia Chidiac, an artist from Sydney. She took a while to warm into the conversation.
“We just try to find somebody that is much more nervous than we are,” said Liska.
“You found her!” replied Chidiac.
As Liska directed her into the conversation about her passions and about working with communities, though, she became more comfortable, and started to share her work. Most interestingly, Liska created a context where we could watch her questioning herself on stage.
“Theatre people are all very nice people […] And I wonder if that is our problem,” asked Liska. “We choose an art form where we can sit next to each other and touch each other and we’re very good people.”
“Revolutions are not often caused by polite people, or good people,” said Cooper. “Sometimes we wonder if we have to stop making art to get something done. I really like art but i have a lot of questions about what it’s good for and if it’s needed.”
“Ten years ago there was a period where the Australian artistic community nationally were making art in response to the governments refugee policy,” said Chidiac, “especially in regards to children in detention. There was a really strong period where people were creating theatre works in droves […] and we really began to see the pressure.”
From the audience came yells that the current situation is worse. Said Chidiac, though “it felt great to be a part of that.”
“It’s not over. There are still debates going. But I don’t feel that intensity from the artistic community,” she said.
In regards to the loss of intensity, said Liska “that seems ineffective. Forgive me, but that seems weak.”
Liska and Cooper quit making theatre for four years, and here at ATF and on their podcast they frequently reference this break: the need to leave theatre, the need to come back, and the new perspective they have to the work and to creating the work because theatre was something they choose to return to.
“We should say that OK Radio is basically based on our problems,” said Cooper.
The conversation moved from the stage to one between people in the audience and the stage. It was passionate and loud, with Liska and Cooper engaging and asking questions, but mostly allowing the space for the most visceral conversation of the Forum so far. Candy Bowers took the microphone and spoke much more powerfully than I can write.
I didn’t blog this conversation. It was too deep, too passionate, too divisive, and too much for me to be able to capture in a blog made on the run. Some very senior figures in Australian arts walked out. Perhaps this is me doing a disservice, to not write about some of the most important conversations that happened in Canberra, but I feel it would be a bigger disservice to think I could write about it. So I’ll just have to leave you here. Go listen to OK Radio.
So you are an “official” conference blogger and you can’t actually blog about the most significant thing that would appear (I was not there) to have happened in the Australian theatre sector for some time?
As someone who was not there, it would have been nice for you to try and articulate what prompted the walkout. Even if you failed in your own term, it would give us unable to attend an idea (just an idea you understand) of what took place.
It’s more than a fear of failing on my own terms. It’s about me failing the people who were speaking, and feeling like I am ill-equipped to take on that role of representing their voices here.
I was speaking to people afterwards about this choice of mine – a choice I’m not entirely happy with, but that I think was the best under the circumstances – and I said that one day I think I should be writing about things like this. But I need to do it with time, space, detailed interviews with the stakeholders, and with an editor who could help me in the creation of the work and who would stand behind whatever I wrote with me. Being, effectively, an “independent publisher” on this blog curtails me. Even though I am officially blogging the conference, I need to be mindful that when I publish here at the end of the day there is no one standing with me.
I’m making judgment calls constantly when blogging events like this as to what thoughts being broadcast on panels are “public” and which are private to the bounds of that room. Sometimes I will get it wrong, but I don’t think I did here. There is more about the event on the #ATF2013 twitter hashtag, and I believe Augusta will be blogging this evening. I don’t know how much she will share. Ultimately, I felt that the events that happened in that room were not mine to tell.
Yes indeed, I’m intending to blog about this (post event) – I need some time to ruminate and this is where blogging is different from journalism or straight reportage… Jane – your discretion is important – that is the nature of blogging – it is your filter you are using to decide how to describe or notate what you experienced.
I need more thinking space around what happened… and if by the time I finish thinking about it I don’t want to blog about it I won’t. And that is the discretion of the blogger and the burden and the responsibility.
And the things that we can tell is who we are and what we say.
(I give you a standing ovation Jane.)
You two are weird.
You actually have a public and political resonsibility you know. Your names are listed on the AFT site as bloggers. So yeah, I get that it was intense, but hey, that’s the nature of a real conference event, where real things and real emotions happen. Sounds like it might have been like the national Australian community theatre conferences from the 80s (there isn’t much community theatre anymore so you’d be hard pressed to get a conference together these days…and the reasons for that are..political).
Arguments actually happen, sometimes it gets ugly. Theatre is by it’s very nature argumentative (well..at it’s best anyway). The blogosphere is one full of intensity and people taking risks and engaging in hard politrical debate…theatre is not immune from that debate…neither are you.
And yes that’s just IMHO, of course, it is always your choice, of course. So well done for making one I guess, I just think it’s a little…weird. Thanks for listening, no wish to offend…
I’m with Clint. I think the people who aren’t able to be at the Australian Theatre Forum- and are following it through the internet- just want to know WHAT happened that apparently was so momentous. Or was it not and this is just a great way to build hype?
This ‘Oh my goodness something happened it was huge but I can’t tell you about but it was huge wow you should have been there but you weren’t so you can’t know because I wouldn’t do it justice but goodness it was a thing, a thing that happened’ (I paraphrase) is incredibly frustrating and isolating. And confusing.
I want to be invited to the sleepover party and be told who your secret crush is. I don’t know that I even care who your secret crush is. I just want to know the secret.
And (I’m going to keep going with the sleepover thing because it’s both whimsical And amusing) after you tell me your secret I might say I’m going to the toilet but really I’m calling my parents and asking if they’ll pick me up and I’ll say I feel sick but really I just don’t want to stay at your house any more. Maybe that will happen. But I still want to know the secret.
[…] those who were already following along on Twitter or keeping track via Jane Howard’s blog, you would have heard about the #walkout in the latter half of this […]
Alysha Herrmann writes a pretty good description. Not an official blogger I don’t think but check out her stuff…
[…] more on this session please check out Jane Howard’s post HERE […]
[…] thinking about the Ok Radio session at the Australian Theatre Forum 2013 (read Jane Howard’s post and my post if you want to join in the thinking with […]