Here at Performing Lines WA, we are always on the lookout for fresh perspectives and opinions on the artistic and cultural world of Western Australia. That’s why, the boffins in the lab (Tom and Sarah) have decided decided to take the most direct route and just ask people! So as we jump into August we begin a new series on the Performing Lines WA blog where each month we ask a different (and often hidden) section of the WA arts world to write a short response to a single question. For our first post we have decided to ask the much maligned and oft mis-understood Venue Managers on the subject of:
In regional Western Australia we often talk about creating a diverse program but, in reality, we can do little more than ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of tours that are coming past our town. Obviously, we do ensure (as best we can) that each year contains a good mix of entertainment (ie: some comedy, theatre, music, etc. – something for everyone). But then we need to sell the show. Getting the message to our patrons is also a huge challenge as traditional media (radio, TV and newspaper) no longer has the ‘cut through’ it once had.
Another major challenge for us is that patrons in our part of the state are notorious for leaving their buying to the last day or so and, in regional areas, there is always something else happening that can take from our audience numbers. This something else can be as diverse as a good football game, played locally or on television, to a local wedding or 21st.
So, yes, there are challenges as a venue manager. But we all have challenges – particularly when we work in the arts! But the biggest challenge for all of us is to lobby our State and Federal politicians and make funding for the arts equal funding for sport. Now there’s a challenge!
I believe the greatest challenge for a Venue Manager, and what can also be your greatest asset, is knowing your brand and getting it right for your space. You need to understand what is unique to your venue and what appeals to your audience.
The Blue Room Theatre is a training ground. It is a place where emerging artists can grow professionally and that established artists can create new work in a relatively risk free environment. We encourage artists to push the boundaries of their practise with the focus on new work in an intimate space.
If you carve out your own niche in the industry you are less likely to be in competition with the venues around you. It also means that you are more likely to have a good relationship with those venues and be able to cooperate to your mutual benefit. We are really happy to promote the productions of venues around us (and vice versa) knowing that we are helping the patron make an informed decision about what theatre they want to go and see.
Any venue manager will tell you that the fun of the job is that no two days are alike. The corollary of this is that every day presents you with challenges which you’ve never faced before. Venue managers need to be confident to dive into solving a problem even when at first they might know very little about it. The skill is in finding the right people and asking them the right questions. I avoid getting bogged down in detail – I’m lucky to have a great team who can mop up all of that later. I try to always go back to basics – What’s right for the customer? What’s right for the business? Everything else is just stuff in the way.
Here in Mandurah our greatest challenge lies in engaging with our audiences, developing a conversation about the work, and leading them towards taking an active interest in more challenging work.
When I first arrived in Mandurah two years ago, I quickly spotted Tim Watts’ The Underwater Adventures of Alvin Sputnik and through the Perth Theatre Company booked it for our studio, the Fishtrap Theatre for a four show season in February 2011.
By this stage Alvin Sputnik had already been a smash hit at APAM racking up a phenomenal international festival schedule, been lauded at the New York Fringe, and we were taking the show in between seasons at the Sydney Festival and the Auckland Fringe Festival – all this for a WA produced show that premiered at the Blue Room!
Sadly, this great news largely failed to make an impact on our audiences and we ultimately presented only two shows out of the four with 106 seats sold and 35 comps … for a show that has continued to garner five star reviews from around the world!
To cut our audiences some slack, at this stage MPAC was still emerging from its reputation for presenting tribute shows and amateur musical theatre, towards a more diverse higher quality program: our program butterfly was nibbling her way out of her chrysalis and still had to unfurl her wings and wait for them to dry before it flew.
Eighteen months later the MPAC program butterfly is flying around in earnest but has yet to discover what its optimum diet is. Later this year we are working on two projects with Performing Lines WA towards further developing our audiences for home grown WA work of the highest quality: Dank Micich’s Shiver and Sally Richardson’s theatrical adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child.
With both of these works we are seeking to engage with our local community and deepen their understanding of the themes incorporated in these works, seeking to develop an ongoing conversation with our audience that enriches and enlivens the conversation about the work. It’s the right sort of challenge!
On behalf of the entire Performing Lines WA team we would like to extend a big thank you to all the venue managers who took time out of their busy schedule to write a response. Next month we dive into the world of Technical and Production staff asking the questionIf you had the chance, what advice would you offer to the creative team at the beginning of a project?
If you have any suggestions on who you would like us to interview, we would love to hear from you!
From choreographing Barking Gecko’s Perth Festival show Driving Into Walls to working with Kate Champion as the Associate Director for FOOD, Danielle Micich (or Dank as we all know her) is on a roll and it just keeps getting better.
In September Dank will tour her highly successful work Shiverto seven regional venues across the state. Shiver is a dance and theatre work taking an honest look at life and loss in all its unpredictable beauty. Four strangers find themselves trapped in an unknown place with no exit. Together they dance tango, search for answers and recall moments when life ran out of control. From the exuberance of young love to the grief of loss, their only hope of moving forward is to face the past. Accompanying the tour is a program of film projects, dance works and installations created by the community made possible through the new CircuitWest Pilot Touring Model. I caught up with Dank to find out all about the upcoming tour.
Shiver 2011 premiere Photo: Ashley de Prazer
Words: Tom Cramond (TC) and Danielle Micich (DM)
TC. For readers that weren’t fortunate enough to see the Perth premier of Shiver in late 2011, can you explain a little about the work and what viewers can expect from it?
DM. Shiver is about the journey of four people and their stories of loss. They each play an important part of telling the stories and all have different outcomes. Shiver was created to reflect on how we personally cope with loss and how we choose to assist others dealing with loss. In moments it is funny and other quite breath takingly too close for words.
TC. Now that the Shiver is going on tour – how do you go about adapting the work to travel across the state?
DM. The first adaptation is replacing a cast member from the original cast. This is a very difficult job. I was not looking to replace a dancer as such but to find a personality that would reflect the character and there role within the whole work. After a nation wide search I have found such performer, Billie Cook from SA.
Shiver 2011 premiere Photo: Ashley de Prazer
TC. Given that each venue you are touring to has a different stage size and technical capacity, how do you customize Shiver for each performance space? Will you have much time to rehearse in each venue?
DM. Shiver is made up primarily of duets, so the stage size I’m not worried about changing from show to show. Each venue will carry it’s own nuances and so it will be up the individual performer to gauge how to project physically and orally for this. We have a very busy schedule so we don’t have much time in each theatre but the time we spend bumping in, teching and running the work should be enough for the performers to adjust.
TC. The touring schedule sees you performing 10 shows right across WA in the space of two and a half weeks – Are you looking forward to the travel involved, or a little nervous about such a hectic schedule?
DM. We have a very experienced team and cast so I’m not too worried about a hectic schedule. I myself have done a lot of touring so I know how to pace myself. Distance just gives us time to listen to really good music on the road and share good old tour stories ourselves.
TC. So just how are you guys going to be travelling around? Can we expect some kind of Almost Famous road trip across the state?
DM. We all get put into a car and drive around together taking turns to drive and arguing about the next pit stop. No doubt with Gerard on tour it will be a blast. He is known to be the fun on any occasion. Our journey will be well documented so keep your eye on our blog and instagram feed.
Shiver 2011 rehearsal Photos: Sarah Rowbottam
TC. Once the show has gone back into rehearsals and is ready for touring (remounting), does your role as the choreographer/ director effectively stop? What role do you think you will be playing on the tour?
DM. No my role as Director is even more important as the face of the tour. I will be responsible to make sure that the performers are looked after in every venue we entre and make sure that the work is looking it’s best at every theatre we go to.
TC. With this tour you are also embarking on some amazing community activities in each of the regional centres. What have been some exciting moments so far and what effect do you think it will have on the greater tour of Shiver?
DM. It has already brought together people of varied ages that would never otherwise mix. I had asked some to bring stories and photo’s of personal loss and this in itself is a very bonding experience. I have been blowen away about the type of losses people are sharing. It also makes for really rich material as we construct some of the Pre Shiver tour events. I hope that others might follow the blog and see what each town are doing and see how distance does not impact the way we deal with loss.
Dance film made for Shiver tour which will premier in Merredin on 2 Oct 2012 at Cummins Theatre Photo: Ashley de Prazer
TC. Shiver is the result of a nearly five years of development and production, all as an independent artist. What are some of the lessons you have learnt over the run of this work? Do you have any advice for up and coming independent artists?
DM. It is unbelievable how one project can change from year to year. This happens because the as the time you have between each development continue to accumulate, so does your learning. It does have value to see a project to it’s end. Even though Shiver was completed in November 2011, I still have plans to make changes for the tour to make the work better again.
TC. Earlier this year you choreographed Barking Gecko’s show Driving Into Walls and was Associate Director for FOOD, a co-production between Force Majeure and Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney. Have these theatre works influenced how you are approaching the remounting of Shiver?
DM. The actual work itself has not, because we were working towards a specific outcome for both shows. Working with the two directors John Sheedy and Kate Champion has. Watching the way they work and talking about the process and being part of how they structure a work made me rethink what I would like to achieve for Shiver.
Driving Into Walls 2012 Barking Gecko Theatre Company Photo: Jon Green
TC. After the tour (and I imagine a little bit of rest) what’s next for Danielle Micich?
DM. I’m forming a new partnership and starting a new creative development with two amazing musicians here in Perth, Gillian Catlow and Charles Hoernemann, assisted by an Australia Council for the Arts grant. And then some professional development time for myself, up-skilling and trying out methods and ideas with writer Suzie Miller and director Kate Champion.
For more information on the tour, or to find images videos of the production please click here
Danielle Micich Danielle is an independent choreographer, director and performer. She performed with Buzz Dance Theatre for five years, toured internationally with SQUINT and was a recipient of an Australia Council Young and Emerging grant. Danielle was the Artistic Director of STEPS for four years and choreographed the Curriculum Council TEE Set Solo. In 2011 she performed in WISH with Humphrey Bower (Nominated for Outstanding Female Performer 2011), choreographed Plan B for Buzz Dance Theatre and Into The Shimmer Heat for Nova Ensemble. Recently, she choreographed Barking Gecko’s Driving Into Walls and was the Associate Director for FOOD (2012) a co-production between Force Majeure and Belvoir Street Theatre.
We know some nifty things, so we thought we would share them with you. They might be a little grant focused this month…
Performing Lines WA Monthly Tips – Edition #1
Tip #1 Writing grant applications is a bit like sitting an exam. It is important to read the instructions and fine print before you start. Otherwise they may send it back ‘ruled ineligible’. Yes. Really. – Fiona
Tip #2 Start writing your grant application more than five, four, three, two days before the deadline. This will save wear and tear on your producer and likely increase your chance of grant success. Yes. Really. – Fiona
Tip #3 Go where the love is. (Handy hint #3 is stolen (with love) from Annette Carmichael, Ausdance WA Regional Dance Facilitator)
Tip #4 Just ask! Finding information can be a tough job, finding people with real hands on experience even tougher. Thankfully though in my (very brief) experience I have been consistently surprised by those more senior than myself (everyone) offering up their advice, expertise and support whenever I’ve asked. The challenge though, is to put yourself out there and be willing to work around their schedule. Give it a go, you may surprise yourself. – Tom
Tip #5 Personalise your social media so people know who they are talking to. – Sarah
Tip #6 If you need accommodation in Port Hedland, make sure you book at least 6 months in advance if you want a single room under $440!!!- Rachael
Got tips you want to share? Tell us below or email email@example.com
This week Sensorium Theatre wrap up their inaugural tour, after wildly successful residencies/performances of The Jub Jub Treein four Perth metro schools. This fledgling company is bringing joy and a performing arts experience with great integrity to kids with special needs, their teachers, carers and families.
We also supported creative developments of Sue Peacock’s Reflectand Zoe Pepper’s The Wives of Hemmingway. And I have gone on an extended holidayto Tanzania, falling in love with the complete fundamental uselessness of zebras.
But I increasingly realise that as producers, one of the best things we do is help artists work to a longer timeline than they usually consider. So while we’ve been producing these works through different life stages, we have also been pressing on, resourcing a raft of projects manifesting in the second half of the year. Assembling grant applications and otherwise raising funds is tough – ask any independent artist. Throw in funding notification deadlines and it becomes even more important to be three steps ahead and to keep the IN tray emptying. Hard to make excellent work if you don’t have the fundamentals sorted early.
Once the budget isin place, the project is Go. Then our job is to contract, insure, book travel, find a venue because the one named in the application accepted a booking with hard cash a month ago, stalk the director for a schedule so the key performer can book childcare, cajole the workshop guys into delivering the conveyor belt up the three flights of stairs…
Our mantra for producer excellence has to be ‘everything done we can get done to create the best possible conditions for the artist to realise his/her vision’. Yep, a giant pile of paperwork, email trails from hell, complex negotiations or simple transactions… without all this in train I wouldn’t be announcing new projects.
Still to come this year from Performing Lines WA;
– Shiver by Danielle Micich. This one comes with a whole additional set of parameters to trouble our tiny producer brains, as well as partners to share the load. The first tour selected for the collaborative CircuitWest Pilot Touring Project supported by the Department of Culture and the Arts, Shiver visits seven regional venues in September. We partner with Annette Carmichael from Ausdance WA and the regional presenters to deliver an extensive community engagement/audience development programme tailored to each town. You will certainly read more about this in blogs to come.
– Sally Richardson’s world premiere The Ghost’s Child is an adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s award winning novel for young adults. This one we produce with Guy Boyce and his great team at Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. Book here!
– Another project in the October school holidays I can’t talk about yet – but I guarantee it will be As Messy as it Is Fun.
– The creative development of Crash Course, a new participatory work from James Berlyn featuring 16 chairs with a difference, a whole lot of learning and rehearsals in two States.
– An extra hot ‘off the press’ residency/performance of The Jub Jub Tree in Maddington.
– And finally a pre-Christmas rehearsal stage of Sue Peacock’s Reflect.
There are a few other projects that may yet get over the line in 2012, but what is really exciting me is that I could already tell you about some confirmed projects for next year. But then I would have to kill you. So I’ll just say that by the time we reach our 5th birthday in July 2013 you will have had the chance to buy tickets to one, if not two, more world premieres created and performed by independent West Australian artists.
Finally we inch ahead!
Best birthday wishes to you all,
Fiona de Garis
Producer, Performing Lines WA
P.S. Tomorrow we are launching a new regular feature on the blog, stay tuned…
Community members from Merredin were the first to contribute their lost notices to a state-wide collection of stories of loss. This project created in partnership with Ausdance WA is part of the community engagement program for the upcoming tour of Shiver. From losing pets to precious objects to opportunities and friendships, experiencing loss is an essential part of being human and sharing our stories can help connect us with each other.
Over 100 unique and locally made ‘Lost Notices’ will displayed around Merredin and community members are encouraged to find and photograph the posters and send them online through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #shivertour
For more of the Lost Notices you can see the full gallery on our Facebook site.
Performing Lines WA delivers the Managing and Producing Services for theatre and dance artists in WA (Maps for Artists), which is a joint initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s art funding and advisory body, and the State of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts.