No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Kumuwuki / Big Wave

Kumuwuki Review: I Met

Emma Beech in the Australian Bureau of Worthiness’ I Met Viborg

I’ve now seen the Australian Bureau of WorthinessI Met in four incarnations: Renmark, Port Adelaide’s Port Road, Viborg in Denmark, and now Goolwa.

I never wrote about the work properly; although I was intending to after Viborg time got away from me; I only just briefly mentioned Port Road; and had an even briefer pass at Renmark. Now, I see that as a unique blessing: if I am going to write about this work I need to write about its changing incarnations, its constant rediscovery of itself and exploration of its own form and possibilities.

Being able to see the work four times before sitting down to write about it is perhaps the most unique privilege and what we search for in looking at the role “embedded critic”: in following the creation – or recreation – of the I Met model, I now, hopefully, get to give more than a cursory review of one show, and instead get to write about what the Bureau have created as a model. A unique show model, perhaps, takes a unique writing model.

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness is the creation of artists Emma Beech and Tessa Leong, and often operated with James Dodd. It’s model is simple: go into a community and discover who they are and what is important to them through the use of a simple question: What makes your day worth it?

No justification or further exploration is given for the question: some answer with the small – seeing someone’s smile, the sound of a packet of biscuits being opened, some offer up answers of the deeply philosophical – the ways they intend to change the world, some can’t offer up an answer at all – nothing.

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Kumuwuki: On hubs.

In the least intimate venue, Hania Radvan attempted to host an intimate conversation on our place is your place, discussing hubs and places in communities.

“It is easier to get a place built then maintained,” said Radvan. “Why are we caught up so much with centres, with hub, with shared spaces?”

“Hubs: it’s a simple concept, but communities are complex, and how do we meld the two?”

Ashleigh Bunter comes from Toowoomba in Queensland, where she is an curator and arts worker, currently working with the Toowoomba Regional Arts Gallery and is director of A. Bunter Projects. With 130,000 people, it is the largest inland non-capital centre town in Australia. She said it is a city where “young, emerging artists are really getting active and creating space for themselves.”

She recently returned to Toowoomba from living in Sydney, and she said she “came back with fresh eyes and looked around at the people working there and found it really exciting.”

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Kumuwuki: Youth Arts Policies

Pitched by Jim Lawson, the director of Young People and the Arts Australia (the national peak body for organisations and practitioners that engage children and young people in the arts, and the Australian member of ASSITEJ), Youth arts policies do not run on a standard gauge track took a brief look at the various policies relating to youth arts in Australia. Youth arts is work by, and work for, children and young people, with young people typically being defined in Australia as people under 30.

Lawson spoke about how these conversations are also about the “wave of change in youth arts, and perhaps the waves of change that are happening nationally.”

In Australia, he said, “youth arts is now an incredibly sophisticated incubator of the arts and artists”, and spoke about the great success Australian companies that are making work for young people are happening. In particular, many of theatre companies making work for young people are touring internationally, as both myself and Cameron Woodhead have recently written about.

Lawson said “the development of policy for young people in the arts has developed for some states and not others”, and these policies don’t only exist at the state level, but local governments can also have very dynamic youth arts policies.

He noted the Australia Council’s youth arts policy is now ten years old, and some states are even older. “Certainly a lot has changed in ten years.”

While policies can sometimes be derided as just being talk, said Lawson, and “there is a lot to be said for actions speaking; while policies may be just talk, I think it’s vital.”

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Kumuwuki: thinking sustainably

Saturday Plenary 

Tom Trevorrow is an Ngarrindjeri Elder, and the chair of the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee and the manager of Camp Coorong a living cultural museum in the land of the Ngarrindjeri people. With members of his community, Trevorrow worked in the creation of the The Ngarrindjeri Sea Country Plan [PDF], a document aimed at “government agencies, natural resource managers, researchers, industry and the wider Australian community to better understand and recognise rights and responsibilities to our Yarluwar-Ruwe (Sea Country), including the lower Murray River, Lakes, Coorong and adjacent marine and land areas.”

Starting his presentation welcoming us to Kumuwuki, Trevorrow said the bringing together of people here “means a lot to us as Ngarrindjeri people because it never happened in the past where we could all come together and smile at each other and talk to each other, and even hug each other.”

The Ngarrindjeri people come from eighteen groups, who Trevorrow told us “are connected by our creation stories […], we’re connected by language, our initiation ceremonies, and connected by land.”

When Trevorrow grew up, Aboriginal people we’re allowed to live within a mile of town. “I come from what they call the ‘fringe dwellers’ because we weren’t allowed to live in town with the rest of society.”

He told us he has great respect for the upbringing he got as a fringe dweller “to be able to grow up on country and be with my elders, my Ngarrindjeri elders who were able to talk about country and pass knowledge on to me. And as I travelled through Ngarrindjeri country […] I used to stay at campsites where my Elders were camping out on the land. I don’t know if i was a lucky one or if i was an inquisitive one, but i asked a lot of questions of my elders and they always spoke about country. And it’s in me. They planted a seed in me.”

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Kumuwuki: Democratic Set

Back to Back is a Geelong based theatre company which works with a core ensemble of six performers with intellectual disabilities. Speaking at Kumuwuki, artistic director Bruce Gladwin spoke about how the company’s work is “a continual exploration.”

One of the key things the company explores is “theatre’s relationship to the architectural frame work where the work is presented. […] What is the architectural structure? What is the frame in wich we place the performance?”

These questions, he said, are asked in the support of the actor. One of the first works which made this exploration was a 2002 work called Soft, a performance work which occurred in a large inflatable structure housed inside another building.

Another exploration was in “an aural architecture.” Gladwin described using headphones to create “a type of performance that didn’t need a physical space but was requiring on the sound to create an aural architecture”, which resulted in their work Small Metal Objects.

“All of these ideas” he said, “are all about trying to find a different performance space, a different frame work for the actor.”

Back to Back theatre, Galdwin said, “also have an arm to our practice which is about engageing with community: with our own community in Geelong, and as artists with other communities, undertaking residencies and so on.”

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Kumuwuki: what about the youth?

 Young folk talking about the young style

Alysha Hermann is an artist from the Riverlands in South Australia. She is currently working for Country Arts SA in her local area, and her current artistic practice is in playwrighting, where she is doing a mentorship with Caleb Lewis and participating in the JUTE Theatre Company‘s Enter Stage Write Program.

She started talking by asking questions of the audience to get a feel for the different demographics: are you from a regional area? Is its population less than 50,000? Less than 5,000? Less than 500?

“I find it really interesting how diverse it is to be a regional artist and what it means to be from a regional area,” she said.

“There are regional communities which are absolutely thriving” she said, “and there are communities where there is lots of great arts stuff happening but it’s not connected to it’s wider community.”

Hermann spoke about how there is so much diversity in the ways young people have access to the arts, and her passion is for young people to have opportunities to be engaged with the arts: “the arts are a powerful agent for change.”

Responding to the program blurb saying “young people are communicating globally on digital platforms,” Hermann said “I think it’s a really dangerous assumption to think that young people are engaging internationally on digital platforms across the board.”

Not only are there still issues with the quality and access to internet connections in regional areas, she said, but “we’re using it to connect with our friends and family, who might only be in the next town over, but we don’t have public transport to go visit them.”

Hermann warned against assuming all young people have access to these technologies, because we can leave people out of the equation.

“We want our young people and our young artists to be awesome, and to have these opportunities, so we need to know how to talk to them.”

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Kumuwuki: international creative recovery

Creative Recovery: An international perspective

Talking from a slightly sketchy skype connection, was Coralie Winn the co-founder and creative director of Gap Filler, “a post quake project in Christchurch, New Zealand.”

The project began about “what we can do now in the direct aftermath in the earthquakes.” Talking about the quakes, Winn said “every place has its natural disasters, for us it’s earthquakes.”

“Our city will never be the same again.”

As a part of the necessary response after the earthquakes was the removal of buildings which couldn’t be repaired. As these buildings and rubble were increasingly removed, said Winn, the city was moving towards an “increasing sense of erasure” with various gaps and various vacant lots of land where buildings used to be. With 10,000 aftershocks, it’s been an on going trauma for the city.

Gap Filler was “started by creative people with no money who wanted to do something.” The first project was in a site which used to hold a restaurant and auto-technician, where Gap Filler created “a public space, a garden where people could come and eat their lunch. In the afternoons and evenings we had music, and we used the space to screen films.”

In the early days of the project, there was a lot of talk about the rebuild. Gap Filler was a way of showing that temporary use of space could also activate the city, and a rebuild didn’t need to be rushed through with “really crappy architecture.”

Winn also spoke about how the early 1900s Christchurch had the second highest number of cyclists per capital after Amsterdam, but it has since become car-dominated. There has been much talk in regards to the rebuild if the city will build bike lanes to again become more cycle friendly.

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Welcome To Kumuwuki

The Regional Arts Australia Conference started fourteen years ago in Mount Gambier. A biennial conference, it has travelled to each state and is now back in South Australia, now at Goolwa, under the duel names of Kumuwuki / Big Wave.

Goolwa is the traditional home of the people of the Ngarrindjeri nation, extending along the lower Murray River, the western Fleurieu Peninsula, and the Coorong.  It was settled by white Australians as a river port collecting goods from upstream of the Murray.  Originally, it was connected to the seaside Port Elliot for boat trade, but the area was prone to shipwrecks, and the primary port moved down the coast to Victor Harbor.

Goolwa is now home to 6000 people, and, along with the coastal towns Port Elliot, Victor Harbor, and Middleton, it is a popular summer holiday destination.

Country Arts SA is currently in its third year of running the Regional Centre for Culture. Each year since 2010, a different regional town has been dubbed the Centre for Culture, and has seen an investment in upgrading infrastructure, increased touring, and support for work with and by local artists and communities. The Regional Arts Conference is being presented as a part of Goolwa’s Just Add Water, and sits as just a weekend in the yearlong program.

The conference opening plenary brought together the several hundred delegates, welcomed with a Welcome To Country and a Smoking Ceremony, asking the ancestors of everyone in this space to come and sit with us.

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