Play Me, I’m Yours
A short video I made with Brad Halstead and Shane McNeil during the 2011 Come Out Festival, using pianos placed around Adelaide with Play Me, I’m Yours.
A short video I made with Brad Halstead and Shane McNeil during the 2011 Come Out Festival, using pianos placed around Adelaide with Play Me, I’m Yours.
This article was first published in the July 2012 Adelaide Review
Adelaide’s theatre community is in urgent need of space to rehearse their work.
Preparing for the world premiere season of Involuntary with the Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE program, director and choreographer Katrina Lazaroff found her company missing one integral feature: rehearsal space.
After “looking all over Adelaide” Lazaroff was lucky the Adelaide Festival Centre staff solved the situation by splitting rehearsal time between the Dunstan Playhouse and Space Theatre. “It’s almost never heard of that you get to rehearse in a theatre,” she says.
In 2010, Arts SA prepared an audit into the lack of suitable performance spaces for Adelaide’s professional dance and theatre community. Alongside citing a lack of suitable venues, outdated technical equipment, and inadequate disabled access to performance spaces, the audit also spoke to a lack of rehearsal space.
Two years on, companies are struggling to find suitable space to develop and rehearse their work, and few are as lucky as Lazaroff. Chris Drummond, Artistic Director of Brink Productions, says every show “involves a saga where our production manager Françoise spends weeks and months looking for a rehearsal space.”
Their latest work, Land & Sea, was forced to rehearse in their performance space, the Queen’s Theatre. While an evocative venue, it is, in effect, an empty warehouse with a concrete floor and tin roof, which Drummond describes as “harsh, cold and incredibly noisy due to the building site next door”.
It’s a trade-off. As a theater community, we put a lot of our resources and talent into the Fringe and a lot of our annual audience goes there to see what’s new, but that means that many of those artists depend on the Fringe instead of starting their own companies. They aren’t creating full seasons, or doing shows longer than an hour, and they aren’t concerned with theatrical design, and so the work isn’t rigorous. To be fair, there are Fringe shows every year that are simply, beautifully and elegantly crafted, and work perfectly within the Fringe’s constraints. But not every show, every play, and every idea is right for the Fringe Festival. So then where do these plays, shows, and ideas get done?
They should be getting done at the small theater companies started by bands of young artists who have bonded together to produce their own vision of what theater should be. And that vision needs to include new plays. Why? Because what is new brings the whole field of theater forward, and if the Twin Cities is creating what is new, we are a part of that national conversation, but if we cling to what is old and tested, we are part of the status quo. And isn’t it just a lot more exciting to do something new? Creating and producing new work is infectious and it infuses a theater scene with an excitement that is often lacking here.
Artists in the Twin Cities need to take more risks and put up new plays. Artists here should take initiative, start their own companies, make new work, self-produce their own plays, cultivate freelance directors and relationships between directors, playwrights, and designers. We desperately need more theater companies who are willing to be the actual fringe to the Fringe Festival and the Guthrie.
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul have a population of 3.3 million, in a state with a population of 5.3 million – Adelaide, by comparison has a population of 1.2 million in a state of 1.6 million. This article from Howl Round, however, throws up some striking similarities in theatrical issues and communities in our cities – in many more ways than large Fringe festivals – some interesting differences, and some really fantastic ideas about theatre creation and support. Well worth a read; and a contemplate about the other cities facing similar issues we often find ourselves facing.
In early December I started to write a post about being a playwright in South Australia. Caleb Lewis, Kit Brookman, Tahli Corin, Duncan Graham, Finegan Kruckemeyer, and now Phillip Kavanagh are people who immediately spring to mind as having left this state in recent years (or weeks, as it may be). I stopped writing mainly because I thought the answer to my question was just “no”, and left it there.
But today on the National Play Festival website, in an interview with Sydney raised, SA based playwright Nicki Bloom, a similar question came up:
Adelaide is a great cultural producer, what is it like working in a city that is outside of the traditional cultural hubs of Sydney and Melbourne?
These days (back to that postmodern, globalised society you spoke of) where you live has less of an impact on where you work. Sure, there’s still plenty of state-based parochialism, but I’ve worked as much in Sydney as I have in Adelaide, and have as broad networks in cities around the world as I do in Adelaide. I think that’s the same for most playwrights these days.
So, should the question be: can you be a playwright in Adelaide as long as you’re working elsewhere? I believe Bloom’s Land & Sea is the only text-based theatre work by a South Australian playwright presented by a fully funded company in SA in 2012. I don’t think this statistic would prove to be unusual.
As Adelaide sits in its January arts slump – as I sit here desperately calling, desperately craving, desperately waiting for some theatre – we are all waiting for the impending Fringe and Festival. We are waiting for the city’s parks and open spaces to come alive with lights and fantasy, for foyers to be abuzz, for street performers to yell, for flyers to be shoved into our hands, for art to creep and seep its way into every crack it can find. We are waiting for balmy summer nights, for ciders and gin and tonics, and for fanning ourselves with programs and hats, and wondering how the grass got to be just so brown. We are waiting to be excited, be inspired, be scared – by ourselves, by our interstate neighbours, and by our overseas guests.
We are waiting for the articles, for the photographs, for the coverage of this event which we see as unlike any other. We are waiting for our press to celebrate this great thing that we make: that the staff make, that the artists make, that the audiences make, that the city makes. We are waiting for the street press, for the walls of posters, for pens to circle the new guide after the last one fell apart from being read too many times.
We are waiting, unfortunately, for exhaustion, for bad shows, to pay too much for a bottle of beer. We are waiting to not hear about the best show until it is too late, to find a show runs two hours instead of the advertised one, to realise your skirt doesn’t cover all of the faux-leather seat in the un-air-conditioned venue. We are all desperately hoping we are not waiting for another locust plague. We are waiting for those inevitable articles: there is too much art; there is too much competition; how can anyone survive in such a glut?
But, you know and I know, art is not a zero-sum game. If I go to one play, that in itself isn’t going to stop me going to another.
Perhaps, we could consider, the primary property of good art is to drive the want for more good art.
Art begets more art.
Audiences beget larger audiences.
We don’t suffer from too much art – we suffer from too little of it.
The Fringe has increased ticket sales every year since it went annual. It is easy to bemoan but it’s just a pseudo-comedy festival now! It’s not art! But who are you, imaginary blog reader, to say that comedy is not real art? Art is a big, wonderful salad, with fruits and vegetables and grains and meats and dressing in every form you can imagine – and oh, the combinations you can find if you try just once to step away from the Garden Salad.
This year, whether you are in Adelaide in March or in July, or off in your theatre-going corner of the world somewhere: pay it forward.
Every time you find yourself bemoaning there is not a large enough audience, buy yourself a ticket to another show.
Find out what people in your local area are creating – and buy a ticket to an independent co-op.
Find out what people in your country are creating – and buy a ticket to the next touring show, or throw cation to the wind and buy a plane ticket to another city.
Find out what people in another country are creating – and buy a ticket to the next festival which blows them into town.
Find out what makes you tick: because it might be what makes your audience tick.
Every time you find yourself bemoaning there is not enough funding, don’t have that next coffee and donate $5 to the general funds of your favourite company, or to a new group crowd-sourcing the $500 they need to create a whole production.
Read all that you can – blogs, newspapers, books, twitter – and find out what people are creating or thinking about or are worried about; find out what the people in your shoes did forty-years ago, or are doing on the other-side of the world. Share all that you read that excites you, that inspires you, or scares you. Find out what your friends and colleagues think: agree with them, argue with them; question them and yourself and your art.
And if someone is only going to buy one ticket all year? Then you need to be the best, and make them buy yours.
But don’t be that person that is only going to buy one ticket all year.
Find your way around the theatres of your city, and around the theatres of whatever other cities you visit. Watch the plays, and then watch the audience in the foyer. Be a fixture of a foyer or of a theatre bar, so you no longer need to be told how much a drink costs and you’re already holding the exact change. Go to forums and panels, and absorb what you hear – and if you disagree, challenge it.
When you see a work you love, shout it from the rooftops. And when you see a work you don’t like? Then be honest about that, too.
Buy tickets to the opening nights of new works – just so you can say I saw it first. Wish for it to be brilliant, but take the terrible over the mediocre: shun the mediocracy.
Stretch yourself. Find where you are comfortable, and then force yourself into a completely new position.
If you’re an audience member, never stop believing the next show will be better. If you’re a creator, never stop believing the next show will be better.
If you’re a marketer, never stop believing that when you’ve got someone you can get them for life. If you’re an administrator, never stop believing a half-price under-30 ticket now will lead to many full-priced tickets in the future.
Don’t let yourself get pulled down by the fear and negativity: move past them. Don’t let yourself get pulled down by the challenges and the competition: embrace them and find a new ally. Don’t let yourself be disheartened by work which makes your heart ache for something better: fight for that something better.
In 2012, let’s all pay it forward.
My love of art begets your love of art.
Your love of art begets your friends love of art.
Their love of art begets their friends love of art.
The world really isn’t that big a place.
However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing. They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne. It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through. But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists? Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?
In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences. This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home. I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide. Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.
It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle. The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities, be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated. Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs. There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.
It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context. The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.
The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.
Young people have no attention span.
Young people don’t read.
They’re the cause of the ills of this world; the cause of lowering audience numbers. If only they would do as we told them, act as if they had respect, knew what was good for them, then really, we’d all be better off.
As the token outspoken-arts-involved-youth-writers-and-commentators of Adelaide, Will McRostie and I felt a sense of responsibility to stand up to the plate at the Festival of Unpopular Culture and say “listen to us, we are here, our ‘youth’ opinions are just as valid as yours.”
And yet, when it really came down to it, we didn’t care. We say our piece, often, in writing and in appropriate and inappropriate proclamations in public forums. Our voices are out there, but there is another ‘youth’ who doesn’t often get to say their piece. So we rounded up eleven-year-old Harper, thirteen-year-old Harry, and fourteen-year-old Gina for a discussion on what it really means to be young in Adelaide.
Alistair Brasted measures his days in coffee. Three cups a day, but you feel like he could drink more. Trish Ferguson sees couples in the street and wonders why must they hold hands in public? She should be happy for them, she knows. Joel Hartgen wishes he had more company, as he tries to make fun for himself. Jane Hewitt isn’t quite sure who she is yet; she describes herself as quiet and as average. Jackie Sauders lives in a share house with a man who can hear a caterpillar fart. She must be careful not to make noise while moving in the night.
One is the first small-scale theatre work for Tutti Arts, a devised work where the five performers, all members of the company for many years, explore what it means to be alone, to live life largely as an individual.
While a weakness of the narrative itself, the most beautiful thing about a production about loneliness with a cast of five is the collaboration so intrinsic to the work. So while a show exploring themes of loneliness, it is perhaps more accurately of being independent, because through that exploration the cast have found and display as a supportive and cohesive collection. Of course, the elements of isolation are explored, but we see them accompanied.
In the hands of this collection and director Daisy Brown, the Queens Theatre is a place of play and enjoyment. In yellow lights (lighting design by Juha Vanhakartano) and brown boxes (design by Wendy Todd) under the high roof the cast plays in the set of enclosures and shadows to hide in, of open spaces and bright lights to shine in, under a captivating and dynamic score (music direction by Mario Spate) which alternatively plays over and under the action, emphasising the pathos in the stories, and the fun in the play.
The design and the stories are simple and almost made of the mundane – cardboard boxes and loneliness aren’t the most earth shattering of ideas – but in this mundane of the every day life is where the beauty comes from.
Of finding the use of boxes for stacking, for hiding, for storing.
Of finding joy and comfort in the little things, of a shoelace tide from the audience, of saying a monologue just right.
Of being one; of being one of five.
Tutti presents One, devised and performed by Alisatir Brasted, Jackie Saunders, Jane Hewitt, Joel Hartgen and Trish Ferguson. Directed by Daisy Brown, Music Direction by Mario Spate, Dramaturgy by Pat Rix, Design by Wendy Todd, and Lighting Design by Juha Vanhakartano. At the Queens Theatre, Adelaide, until 28 May. More information and tickets.
“To share an audience we need to grow it, but perhaps it’s our fault because we’re focusing too much on the target audience, and maybe by focusing on that target audience we’re neglecting everyone else, and it’s maybe our fault that other people don’t come to theatre.”
Sitting in the audience at Thursday’s In Conversation With: Building arts audiences collaboratively not competitively, (follow through for recording of the event) at the Adelaide Festival Centre and feeling increasingly disillusioned by the four panelists – Wicked producer John Frost, Kate Gould from the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Pamela Foulkes from the State Theatre Company, and Ian Scobie from Arts Projects Australia – this comment came out of the audience. I feel it was perhaps the most astute observation of the whole debate: if you feel you don’t have the audience, maybe we need to look at where that audience is coming from.
But what was the answer from the stage? A (shockingly) resounding “No.”
Followed by a “We’ve spent money on that.”
Well, I think that is exactly the point.
I say I sat there feeling increasingly disillusioned, because it has never been more obvious to me that when these organisations say their core audience is “well-educated, professional women, over the age of 45” (you would really expect the core audience to be over 45, by virtue of the fact it’s just a much larger bracket than Under 30, and 30-45, no?), that not only are these companies quite happy with that being their core audience, they have absolutely no want to broaden their horizons outside of this. If other people want to come to these shows, fantastic, but they’re certainly not going to – gasp – look at a different programming model to look at what else, and thus who else, they can look to the table.
“We’ve spent money on that.”
They’ve done their Market Research, they’ve increased their marketing budgets, and the “great unwashed” (an actual reference from Frost) still don’t want to come.
I’m not going to say anything here more perceptive than Ianto Ware over on the Renew Adelaide blog: It’s The Content, Stupid. (The whole post is actually brilliant – make sure you read it if you haven’t already.)
I made a comment on twitter that the reason so many young people are seeing Wicked is because it’s not about middle-aged men. I don’t for a moment believe that Wicked’s entire success is due to it being a story about young women, friendship, finding and being honest to yourself, but I do believe that these are major contributing factors to its global popularity amongst teenage girls, and teenage girls are a major contributing factor to its status as a global phenomenon.
In short: I guarantee you more teenage girls are seeing Wicked then are seeing Jersey Boys, and the fact that this is even a statement I am writing down is a tad ridiculous.
Beyond the multi-million dollar megaplex musical, it comes down to the same core issue: different people want to see different work. That’s fine. That’s great! But no amount of marketing is going to replace that gap if the content is always created for the “well-educated, professional women, over the age of 45”, and not, say, The Youth with “no concentration span”, who “don’t read anymore”, who “don’t actually listen to the spoken word.” In short, they’re not interested, so why bother?
Why bother? Because we are interested. We’re interested in seeing good work done well, but we are also very interested in the topic the panel was supposed to be about – collaboration – rather than what it came to be about – competition. Despite our lack of attention span, we’ve managed to do things like get university degrees, work full time, work on fifty projects on the outside, and see and actively participate to art and art culture in this city. And from this, we’re interested in art that is about us, or excites us, or which makes us think and feel and want to collaborate more.
Organisations like the Adelaide Fringe and Format prove that there are audiences from a large cross-section of the community for a large variety of work. It’s not so much about creating new audiences, but creating work for existing audiences.
Then, when the conversation inevitably moves to the lack of venues, or more specifically, the lack of venues with cushioned seating, nice toilets, and air-conditioning, this is when I start to get truly worried. Because I worry that the argument that people won’t see art if the seats aren’t comfortable leads to the argument that people won’t see art if the art isn’t comfortable.
And where are we left then?
A conversation about lack of venues certainly should happen – and is actively happening within the state’s independent theatre sector. But, just for now, rather than constricting our thinking not only by age and education of the audience, but also by the proscenium of the stage, shouldn’t we think of work that can be created and presented in the spaces we do have?
Even if they don’t have air conditioning.
Talking about collaboration, wouldn’t it be great to see Renew Adelaide collaborate with the Festival of Arts to bring out large scale, site specific works which have been developed to work in abandoned buildings? Because we have many of those.
(In particular, British theatre company Punchdrunk have been getting outstanding notices for their installation theatre work Sleep No More. Whoever arranges it so I can see their work gets rave reviews for a year.)
Just as I think organisations could be creating and presenting work which are relevant to more people in this city; couldn’t we be creating and presenting work which is relevant to the particulars of the city itself? Rather than only looking at what we don’t have, why don’t we look at what we do?
I don’t want to only see work about young women any more than I only want to see work about middle-aged men. I do enjoy theatre that has the benefits of a cushioned seat and air-conditioning. But to have a panel presented where anything that fell outside of their norm was completely shut down was bizarre and frustrating.
I want to see and hear ideas across a spectrum: particularly if you are talking about topics of collaboration and competition. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more diversity on the panel. I wish the AFC had the narcissism to put someone from that organisation on the panel: because I think they are a large organisation actually programming across a broad spectrum of work and audiences. They’ve even programmed a site-specific work to Adelaide’s streets this year! In winter!
Collaboration rather than competition is the primary ethic among most artists and arts organisations. As Tricia Walton from Carclew said from the audience, for many people it isn’t just done for financial reasons, but philosophical ones, too. Why weren’t the people who are actively doing this invited to be on the panel?
“To share an audience, we need to grow it”: now, can we get on that, and stop our bickering?