No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: those darn youth

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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“I wore bow ties before Doctor Who did”, and other lessons from The Youth

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.

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Unpopular Self Promotion

The Festival of Unpopular Culture – the latest fringe festival venture to have popped up in Adelaide, because god knows we don’t have enough festivals (Adelaide count currently stands at 1,348,987-odd festivals per quarter) – has launched its first program to run alongside the Festival of Ideas.

I will be talking on the event entitled Rip It Up and Start Again: A Hypothetical New Beginning for Arts and Cultural Funding

You know how everyone complains about how the Australia Council devotes most of its energies to major flagships and opera? And everyone else gets, well, chicken feed? And when you try to debate that you get this whole series of arguments about how opera’s a great art form and needs funding and whatever? Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a conversation about what things could look like, rather than a defensive argument about what they’re like now?

Well, let’s pose a hypothetical. Let’s assume every Arts funding body in the nation got shut down, all the money got put into a big pot, we were rebuilding the entire funding system from scratch and every body had to reapply from one big cultural slush fund. What would we do?

On the panel, I will be joining Esther Anatolitis (CEO Melbourne Fringe), Sandy Verschoor (Director, Festival of Ideas), Gavin Artz (CEO ANAT) and Chloe Langford (other young ring-in to balance out the fancy people who actually know stuff / visual artist).   We’ll be speaking on 15th October at 1pm at AC Arts.   I’ve been compiling links of issues I think are related to the panel on twitter under the official hashtag for that event: #FUCfunding, please join in the conversation either there or on the day.  It should be exciting.  I should get in trouble.

Along with the other youth-complainer of Adelaide, Will McRostie, I have also been involved in the on-going curation of a panel about the “real” youth of Adelaide in Child Exploitation.

Conversations about Adelaide’s youth always focus on Gen Y, those aged 18 – 30. On their lack of engagement with Adelaide, on Adelaide’s lack of engagement with them. But what about the real youth of this city?

How do tweens and teens interact with this city? How do they see the place they live in; where does it sit in relation to the world? Are there things here for them to do? Do they spend time in the city, in their suburbs, or at Marion? How long do they plan to stick around?

What are they worried about? What are they looking forward to?

This panel tries to answer the age-old question: is this city only worth living in as long as Justin Bieber comes to visit, or is it actually a great place to grow up?

Bringing together four kids from around Adelaide aged eleven to thirteen, the panel will discuss who they are , where they live, and what it really means to be youth in this city.

You can come listen to the kids talk on 8th October 2pm, also at AC Arts.


Despite my resignation letter, I am still powering ahead in an excel-sheeted-madness of theatrical statistics.  The State Theatre Company of South Australia launched their 2012 program today, it seems they paid some attention to the woman-in-theatre debate and their performance in that regard in 2011, with 4/7 2012 main-stage writers female, and 1.5 of the four pieces in the education staging crediting female playwrights. They have 54.7% female playwrights next year, which is nigh on unheard of, so good on them.

I’m thinking, however, the statistics will be more of a focus on georgraphics and year of premiere: these were actually some of the statistics I found the most interesting last year, so this year I’ll try and give them some more weight.  The current trend (spoiler alert!) is a lack of Shakespeare: has Bill had his day?

On this regard: if there are any young designers/theatre geeks who would maybe be interested in talking to me about creating an info graphic of some stats work, I’d love if you could get in contact.


For those lovely commenters from the “and what have you ever made?” camp: I’ve signed on to production manage my first play, which will be a new work by Emily Steel who wrote the award-winning Rocket Town for last years Fringe.  Like Rocket Town, it will be playing at RiAus during the 2012 Adelaide Fringe.  I’m sure I’ll be bombarding you with more information as we get stuck in.


And for a final unpopular promotion of another Jane: my dear friend Jane Gronow, who has in many ways made me the writer I am today with her amazing support through the incredibly sadly now defunct Lowdown Magazine and her friendship over the last year, has taken over Directions Magazine: the national guide to tertiary education in Australia.  For all you budding artists/arts workers who want to study at a tertiary level, you should check it out.

Review: boy girl wall

Bursting on to the scene, far above my right shoulder, appears our narrator, Lucus Sibbard.  He is here to guide us through this story: in one apartment, lives a boy; next door, a girl;  between them, a wall.  Thom and Aletha battle on their lives alone: he, wishing he was an astronomer, wasting his days in an IT job where he doesn’t really know what his job is at all; she, a children’s book author working on that difficult second book, for which not a word has been written.  The wall, living between them for years, decides what needs to happen is Thom and Aletha must meet.  This isn’t a love story, we’re told.  But it is a story about love.

Lucas bounds up and down and across the stage, always talking to and referring to the audience (“Who goes to the theatre on a Thursday?” he asks his Thursday theatre audience): our presence as much an integral part of the production as the action itself.  Perhaps it’s even more so: we sneak a look into the lives of this pair in what seems to be the middle of their story. Lucus brings us in on a Tuesday (“Nothing happens on a Tuesday.”), leaves us with a kiss, and in 75 minutes the story is all over.  And joining us and Aletha and Thom on this crazy journey is the inanimate objects which play a part: the wall, the doors, the computer Dave, the powerbox, the days of the week.  Are days of the week inanimate objects?  They’re surely not animate objects, but then again, they’re hardly objects.  Inanimate inobjects?

Sarah Winter sits above the action, orchestrating a series of odd instruments composed by Neridah Waters, soundscaping with a delicate touch, a hint of whimsy, and an occasional burst of pop song.  The set (Jonathon Oxlade) is a chalkboard stage floor thrusting into the audience, chalkboard upon chalkboard building up in a wall above the stage.  Playing across the two dimensional stage and wall, lighting (Keith Clark) illuminates and hides created spaces.  From all this and a stick of chalk, Lucus builds his set.

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“I think it’s a real tragedy.”

Declan Greene, playwright of Moth, talking to Artworks in their very interesting piece on young people and theatre.  Well worth a listen:

“I think that if you’re going to recognise theatre as just as a form of live art, just the experience of getting together in a place and participating in that performer/audience dynamic, I think that’s something that’s still very relevant to young people, because young people will go and see live music and they’ll go and see stand up comedy.  I just think it’s a general failing on the people who program work in mainstage theatre companies that they’ve fallen so far behind and they’ve lost younger audiences.  I think it’s a real tragedy.”

Those Darn Youth: Perspectives on Programming and Venues in Adelaide

“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?

On Being A Young Critic

Last night after An Enemy Of The People (review has been submitted, I will post when published), during post show drinks at the venue, I talked to lots of great people who I knew well, who I had once known, who I knew a little, or who I’d only just meet (or, who I had talked to on twitter, and I introduced my self as “I’m No Plain on twitter…” awkward).   One of these discussions, which got rather heated and passionate was talking to a great guy, Kym (falling into the “knew a little” category) about reviewing, and specifically on why I review, why I feel like reviewing is important, and what gives me the right, as someone who is just 21, to think I have the background to truly give criticism.

This debate lead to me and Sophie tagging along with cast to the Exeter for more drinks and more discussions, and the night wrapped up at around 3am, after some of the most stimulating discussions I have had in a long time, meeting some wonderful new people, and reconnecting with someone whom I went to high school with.

But back to the debate: Kym asked why I, as someone so young, feel that I have enough experience to be able to give my thoughts on a play.  Most of the reviewers at the play on Wednesday night were significantly older than me, as are most reviewers in Adelaide, and probably Australia.   If you look at the photo of members of the Adelaide Critics’ Circle, they are primarily older men.  And that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t respect these reviewers – because there are many reviewers whom I have a great deal of respect for and I know they come from a much vaster history than me.  I know I’m still learning, and I have a long way to go, but I think that in itself can be an important voice to have.  And it’s not like I’m alone: there are other young reviewers in Adelaide, and hopefully we’re growing.

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