No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Queensland Theatre Company

Women In Theatre Report

I speak a lot about how blogs are changing the culture around the way we speak around theatre and the arts. I think, possibly, the greatest thing theatre-blogs in this country can do is speak for and create a movement with speed and with power.

When Belvoir announced their now infamous 2010 season, lining eleven men and one woman up on stage to say this is the theatre we’re making this year there was outrage. This physical manifestation of the gender disparity which has plagued the Australian theatre for as long as we have had one threw a new generation of theatre-makers and commenters up in arms.

I documented the main-stages of 2011, and things weren’t rosy. I fully plan to do the same thing again for 2012, as soon as I have a sliver of time in my life. But I was just one tiny fraction of the national movement.

In 2011, two companies – the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Queensland Theatre Company – had no women playwrights. STCSA’s AD Cook said:

there is no conspiracy, you just have to be talented, and the people who would hire you have to agree that you are … And that is the blunt fact of getting a job.  You just have to be good.  And the same with playwrights, they think “why aren’t you doing my plays?”  Well, I don’t think it’s very good. There’s always one answer, isn’t there?

By contrast, QTC’s AD Wesley Enoch said:

When you look at gender, women make up more than 53 per cent of the population. How are we responding to that as artistic directors? … When you look at the figures, then action comes about. QTC has no women playwrights in [2011’s] season, no indigenous playwrights or from a non-English speaking background. What are we saying?¹

Come 2012, STCSA has 54.69% female playwrights; and QTC has 22.22%. No one said this battle wasn’t going to be confusing.

It’s going to be long. And hard. And stressful. And, yes, always always confusing.

But yesterday, it took another huge leap forward with the publishing of the Women In Theatre paper through the Australia Council.  I contributed some of quantitative data to the report, which is compiled with quantitative interviews, and together they paint a national picture across the Major Performing Arts Group companies and the Theatre Board Key Organisations.

Please, read the paper. Share it among your networks. Take its statistics and try to make it better. And when it’s not better, call people out.

I like to think we’re part of a movement, that something is happening, that things will get better. But I can’t do it without you.

¹AWG “Raw Sexism at Play” Storyline Issue 29, Summer 2011

Review: I Feel Awful

The “late” Michael Gow, in his final commission as outgoing Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company invited the Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm to devise a new work.   Into the Billie Brown studio the men of Black Lung have transported their offices, and with the help of a crew of young Brisbane artists, their new “interns”, they have proceeded to explore how theatre is made.

With mixed success over seventy minutes the play rollicks along exploring and exploiting theatrical conventions, disintegrating boundaries and repositioning itself and its genre, until it ultimately finds itself in the most traditional realm of theatre: naturalism.

I have a lot of respect for the theatre conventions they didn’t obey.  There was no call to “please turn off you mobile phones”, and, most interestingly, there was no curtain call.  After the show segued from the process of theatre into the naturalistic fall out between Black Lung and the interns, there was no need for the work to go back to theatrical convention.  It sustained a naturalism about the final scenes because that is where it allowed the production to end, instead of asking for acceptance or recognition from the audience.  The final notes became more about the audience than the cast.

Which was good, because at that point I didn’t feel much like applauding.

Perhaps what is highlighted in a piece of theatre about creating theatre – even if the fact is not explicitly mentioned – is the act of repetition. Theatre runs in seasons, the most rigid of productions attempting to run the same night after night.  Even those shows with only one performance are a culmination of repetition through rehearsal.  For I Feel Awful this only served to highlight the seeming exploitation of the young “interns”, and in particular the female actors, whose most defining traits as characters is the lust thrown on to them by the men.

Unlike some of the male interns, none of the female interns instigate their own actions: they don’t attempt to get the men of Black Lung to read their film scripts; they don’t get to freeze time.  The most independent action any of the women take is to ask when they can return to presenting scenes from the texts of the late Gow.  Scenes the men of Black Lung have taken out of context and played with gender casting to create every situation the intro to a lesbian porno.  This joke once is one thing, if it was a series of heightened situations in some absurdity showing an interface between writer and director.  The same joke repeated again and again celebrates an inherent misogyny in the production, and becomes gross.

The best that can be said for the misogyny is ultimately, it is the Black Lung men which come off the worst.  They are judged harshly by their interns, they are not celebrated in the eyes of the audience.  And yet this leads me to ask: what were they attempting to do with these characters they built around themselves?  I have not seen their work before, and so with this being my only knowledge of the company I would be very hesitant to see their work again.

To explore misogyny is one thing.  To explore it from the male perspective is another.  To continually, night after night, performance after performance, place the young women of the cast in a never-ending position of being lusted over, with hardly any other qualities, is uncomfortable.  To do this for no defined reason is completely questionable.

And so, when the stage was left empty, when the cast had left, the stage lights were up, and we weren’t asked to submit to ritualistic applause, I was pleased.

And this is made all the more disappointing because much of the show was strong.  Particularly when it was exploring and exploiting the rules of theatre.  Talking about theatrical styles, but never a lecture, weaving a narrative into this explanation.  The opening interaction between Gareth and “Gareth” – a prerecorded character within the TV, timed to appear in spontaneous interaction, highlights the rehearsal process.  Falling flats reveal props and a band.

Even as I write this I am making much more of a note of the exposition of these factors than the production ever did.  Occasionally yelling out “That’s Naturalism!”, primarily the piece works as an ever heightening farce, destruction of boundaries taken place with glee, as debris piles about the stage the audience is taken along for the ride, but no stopping to reflect on what is happening.

In this, I Feel Awful holds no punches.  It’s get with the production or get lost. The manipulation of theatre is all the more interesting because of where this is being performed.  This isn’t in the back of a claimed venue in the Fringe.  This is on at a state theatre company, the last commission by an outgoing Artistic Director.  And that is exciting. The legitimacy that gives to an experimental work is exciting.

And while it breaks the rules of what theatre “should” be at a mainstage company, Black Lung still respects the audience and that dialogue an audience wants to receive.  The audience which is going to see this work is probably regular theatre goers, local theatre goers, people who aren’t afraid to see work which takes risks.

I Feel Awful has strengths in its energy, its exciting ideas of the manipulation that theatre is, and the ideas of what it can be.  And yet, for all that was strong, and for Black Lung’s respect of the bonds of theatre with an audience, I still cannot shake my dislike of the inherent misogyny brandished across the work. It is sad what dominated the production is the uncomfortableness of misogyny, buying into these traditional power structures, and the “joke” of repetitious leering.  Because what theatrical culture are we in where repeated sexual harassment is played for laughs?

Queensland Theatre Company presents Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm’s I Feel Awful, written, directed and designed by Thomas M Wright.  Design consultant Simone Romaniuk, lighting designer Gavin Ruben.  The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm: Liam Barton, Gareth Davies, Aaron Orzech, Vacadenjo Wharton-Thomas and Thomas M Wright; with Courtney Ammenhauser, Fin Gilfedder, Will Horan, Tiarnee Kim, Mary Neary, Essie O’Shaughnessy, Charlie Schache, Nathan Sibthorpe and Stephanie Tandy.  At the Billie Brown Studio.  Season closed.

Images by Stephen Henry

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.

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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