No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Malthouse Theatre

Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

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.

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We don’t need your traditional legitimate taste, or, how the youth are redefining culture

The Puppet Show: Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1963

In the past few weeks, interesting commentary on the state of youth and the arts has come out of two studies: Australia’s TheatreSpace Preliminary Report, and Norway’s Changing Relations: Class, education and cultural capital.   Encompassing vastly different research practice, focus, and intent, they nonetheless together have interesting things to say about how we define culture in relation to young people, and how young people define themselves in relation to culture

An article provocatively titled Are The Arts Irrelevant to the Next Generation? speaks to the Norwegian study which showed that between 1998 and 2008 there has been a “marked decline in interest and use of almost every form of culture that is identified with traditional legitimate taste” (emphasis mine).  The study took on a much broader glance at relationships between cultural knowledge and interests with economic backgrounds, but through a study of university students the ideas of a generation can be drawn.

The Norwegian study points towards a shift in interest towards musicals, to pop/rock concerts, and to crime/suspense novels, and appreciated the shift towards “privatisation of cultural consumption”.  While these are all (to a greater or lesser extent) a part of “popular culture”, I take consistent umbrage with the exclusion of these from “traditional legitimate taste.”  What is it about these which means they not of “legitimate taste”?  What is it about the new which is illegitimate? What is it about the non-traditional which instills fear?  What is it about the traditional – the opera, the baroque – which legitimises its place in culture, be that theirs or ours?

The TheatreSpace report, a study of nearly 3000 young theatre-goers in the Eastern state capitals, confuses things somewhat by buying into the current arts definition of “youth” as aged 14-30 – and thus conflating reports from high-school students with those in their twenties.  While the notion of studying youth and culture is one I obviously appreciate, a high-school student attending a weekday matinee with their class is having a vastly different relationship to the work than a “young professional” attending on a Friday night with their friends.  The study tends to skew towards the high-school, curriculum-based experience.  Is the artistic community served by assuming all youth are having the same experience?

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A brief note on our new ADs

I am so excited by the current changing of the guard in Australian theatre. I’ve posted links to speeches by Marion Potts of Malthouse before and I just find her ideas about art, theatre, and the creative avenues we can go down compelling and inspiring; a couple of weeks ago I briefly met and spoke to Ralph Myers in the Belvoir St foyer, a theatre which has such a strength in programming this year, and he had a fantastic energy about him and brilliant thoughts to theatre; and tonight, I again briefly met Wesley Enoch of the Queensland Theatre Company after hearing him speak on a panel on the ‘Significance of Indigenous Art in Contemporary Society’ at the Festival Centre, and he is bring such a strong vision and exciting direction to that company.  We might be at the start of something big.

Review: transumer: deviate from the norm, Adhocracy 2011

When was the last time you fcuked things up?  I mean really, did something so left of field, so unlike yourself (so unlike anyone!), so brilliant and wonderful and bizarre that all you can do is feel absolute joy?

For me, it was Sunday.

As you begin transumer: deviate from the norm, you are handed a red bag. In your red bag goes one yellow balloon, one piece of white chalk, and one animal mask.  In your hands goes an “i-torch” – a contraption which sees an iPod touch with large headphones sticking up off a large metal torch.  Onto the torch, you stick a small, plastic animal friend, who you say hello to, and will get back to later.

In a group of ten, you receive your instructions from a pair of mother fcukers.  On the count of three, everyone presses the big red button: Deviate.

Participants listen to instructions, ready to begin.

Listening to our instructions. Photo: Heath Britton

pvi collective’s transumer has groups of people walking the winter streets of Port Adelaide for one hour where they are invited to, well, deviate.  Defy conventions, tell the city what you want from it, laugh in the face of authority, overthrow the institutions. All while making sure to cross at the green light.

In one hour we wrote on chalk on the pavement, we created an urban home for our animal friend, we did nothing at all for one minute in defiance of the working day.  With a yellow ball, we played dodge ball against the monarchy; with yellow balloons, we took part in our own piece of socially acceptable terrorism – blowing stuff up.  In a one-minute, sadistic version of the Beep Test we tried to topple a bank by running in to it.  Again.  And again.  Shoulder blades, mine are currently yelling loud and clear, are not the suggested body part for impact.

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If you’re not Shakespeare, it’s good to be Brecht (or Lally Katz)

An analysis of Australian Theatre in 2011 through the Major Performing Arts Group theatre companies.
Update #1: 14/11/2010, Malthouse Season Two: Three female directors, four male directors; four male writers, one female writer, one male/female pair; five world premieres, one text from 2010; all Australian works.

1. An introduction and a context
2. What ever happened to the female playwright?
3. Directors: The female strikes back!
4. The classic or the new, what wins out?  (And what are the classics, anyway?)
5. The curse of a premiere culture
6. Oh, the places you will go!
7. Where to from here?


An introduction and a context

This all started for me when at the Woman and Theatre panel at RightAct I started to look at where the work I was seeing in 2010 was coming from in terms of writers and directors.

I then began to wonder if the bias I was seeing was a true indication of the bias in the industry, or if it was the plays I was selecting.  This lead me to creating two studies of 2011 theatre: the productions of the Major Performing Arts Group (MPAG), and the productions we will be seeing in Adelaide.  This is my write up of the MPAG productions.

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In Short: Marion Potts and God Of Carnage

If you haven’t been passed it on yet, make sure you go and read Marion Potts’ Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, which can be found here (downloads a PDF).  Potts is the incoming Artistic Director at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, and she gave an inspiring speech on theatre in this country: its past, its present, and what she hopes to see in its future.  The ideas she will be bringing to Malthouse sound so amazing, I am half tempted to pack up my bags today.

This idea of theatre as the place where we vent, explore, deliberate, imagine who we want to be needs to be at the heart of the company’s work. I want it to be reflected in the collegial and collaborative way I work, not set out as some kind of charter. It needs to be borne of what we do in the rehearsal room, to extend and permeate through the company’s culture in everything from our Education Program to our HR practices. It needs to be felt by our audiences, not told to them, it needs somehow to seep out of the bricks and mortar of our building.

Also, I saw the very funny God of Carnage at the State Theatre Company last night, and my mother says she “thinks it is the funniest play [she’s] ever seen.”  The cast are great, and handle the brilliant melodrama which is Yasmina Reza’s script with aplomb, and I laughed a lot, quite loudly, and it may have afforded me some strange looks from the woman in front of me.  Review to come, but clearly it comes with my recommendation!

Review: The Trial

Josef K (Ewan Leslie), awakes one day to find out he is under arrest.  For what, the arresting officers cannot say, but he is free to go about his life, until he must present for his trial.  From there, Josef K’s life proceeds to spiral out of control, as the impasse of being persecuted by an unknown power, for an unknown crime, takes over and destroys.  Kafka’s The Trial, adapted by Louise Fox and directed by Matthew Lutton, is an uncomfortable and inexplicably satisfying play.

Inexplicable, because as you can see from that lack-lustre of a plot summary, the nature of this story and its themes are hard to pin down and identify.  Yet, the collection of elements gives way to a fantastical production, helped in no small part by Leslie, who won his latest Helpmann for  Richard III as I wrote this.  Leslie gave a huddled performance, a man who was hushed and nearly defeated by life itself before we meet him, who becomes unquiet and tense as the absurdity of his trial takes its toll.  Simply a beautiful actor to watch, he has an energy which feeds into the audience, and carries the play.

Ewen Leslie as Josef K. He also, really distractedly, reminded me of my friend so much in mannerisms.

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