On facts and figures

by Jane

Over at ABC Arts Online, Alison Croggon has done a brilliant write-up on figures we collated pertaining to the presentation of new plays in Australia. Here are the nuts and bolts of the issue:

Of a total of 93 productions mounted in 2013, we found that a healthy 54 were new Australian works – that is, almost 60 per cent. Two further productions were of Australian classics. International work (classics, adaptations and new plays) totalled 37 productions. Of the new Australian works, 25 were new plays, 19 were new adaptations of prior work and 13 were collaboratively devised. (The figures don’t add up because there is some cross-over in the categories). Six are collaborations between two writers, five of them a writer/director team. AMPAG companies produced work by a total of 34 Australian playwrights in 2013.

Says playwright Daniel Keene to Alison:

Let’s face it, it’s hard being a playwright. There are only so many stages, and only so many plays can be done every year. In order for your plays to be done, you depend on other people to realise them. And sometimes collaborations fail, as they must be allowed to do: but it doesn’t make things any easier.

Earlier this year I interviewed Matthew Whittet for a piece for Arts Centre Melbourne. We discussed how he is an early career playwright who has found great ongoing support from Windmill, who have produced three of his plays and have a fourth currently under commission. He told me:

You hear it constantly over and over and over: you need to find directors. Writers need to find directors. […] If you’re writing for theatre it almost means nothing, or it’s a very very difficult path to tread if you just want to be a writer who sends your work out for other people to do. You have to find collaborators. You have to find people. It’s literally just finding the right fit. The people who you speak to their work and they speak to what you do. It’s like anything, doing any kind of theatre: the best shows always for me always come from a group of people that you feel they enjoy working together, and there is a fit. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or who they are or what their experience is, that’s always a major key.

The theatre world is constantly shifting and changing, and we need a system that allows for flexibility – flexibility, even, in the definition of ‘new Australian work’, on how plays are made, and who makes them. It can be a hard industry for anyone, and when one section is pointed out as the ‘problem’ it’s easy for other artists and arts workers too look at that and prescribe it as the cause of all ills. Today that might be auteur directors; tomorrow it might be administrators; Monday it might be funding bodies. But, alongside flexibility, theatre is built from a community that requires collaboration.

It’s easy to get caught up in emotion; I’m glad Alison and I were able to inject some facts. Sometimes, these facts and figures support what people have been saying; here they don’t. Either way, they allow us to focus our conversations, and that is what will lead to a stronger industry.

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