ATF 2015: Made It

Posted by Thom Smyth, February 3rd, 2015

The biennial Australian Theatre Forum has wrapped for 2015! Held in Sydney at the Seymour Centre, the Forum brought together artists and arts workers from independent, small-to-medium and major companies for debate, dialogue and diatribe about the current state of theatre in Australia.

Fiona was in attendance, as were a number of our core artists. Rather than a run-through of the event, we thought we’d list some of the key issues, ideas or actions that Fiona, Danielle Micich (who was also wearing her shiny new AD’s hat) and Sally Richardson took away from the gathering.

Fiona de Garis | Senior Producer – Performing Lines WA

I loved the official reminder at ATF2015 to talk to people we didn’t know – to be open to the random conversations. As always, these were some of the best I had at the Forum.

I loved hearing about the emerging practice and artistic preoccupations of young Victorian artist Brienna Macnish. I found common ground in a long conversation with Rose Godde from Platform Youth Theatre who is doing the hard yards in regional and community engagement. When I met Nick Byrne, I wondered why it had never occurred to me before that long-form theatre based improvisation must exist in the same diversity of practice as it does in dance.

Sharing personal stories folded me into what became my overarching narrative of ATF2015 – the lineage of theatre making in this country and the place/space we find ourselves in now. The themes of a series of passionate, personal, political and historical keynotes by Rachael Maza (see the video below), Richard Frankland and Rhoda Roberts gradually wound themselves through my days; connecting to the voices of artists discussing access and ownership of story in a ‘mapping disability and inclusive arts practice’ breakout, to conversation with elders such as Uncle Jack Charles and Sue Rider and the Auslan translators whose omnipresence illustrated the usual absence of Deaf perspectives in our gatherings. I came away reassured that we all have our own thin line in the story of Australian theatre making – myself included.

I’m reminded that I can choose the direction of my efforts. If theatre is a medium through which we can effect real change there is plenty of work left to do in this country  – I better get on with my share of it.

Danielle Micich | Incoming Artistic Director – Force Majeure & Performing Lines WA Core Artist

Rules of Engagement at the ATF

ListenOf the many discussions I attended, the highlight was Richard J. Frankland. The depth of this passionate artist was clear; you heard what makes Richard tick and his positive plans for the future of making theatre in Australia. The most interesting panel discussion for me was The Philosophy of Philanthropy, discussing vision, values and legacy with Este Darin-Cooper, Phillip Keir and Andrew Leece. Sometimes it is good to know and understand more about how and why people give.
Participate – I would have loved to have participated in the pre-discussions that each panel had with their facilitator. I felt like there may have been more to be gained from the process of setting up of the panel than the planned conversations.
Talk to strangers – This I was good at. Starting many good conversations in the foyer leading me to understand the breadth of people working across the country, especially regionally.

Sally Richardson | Steamworks Arts, Yirra Yaaking Theatre Company & Performing Lines WA Core Artist

It is the conversations at the edges. It is a momentary sense of a community and connection, it is collective listening and it is a chance to speak up. You follow your own line of interest and discovery in sessions where some voices are louder than others, and some voices are more privileged than others.

There is a space created for those who share their insights from the past, these sessions are quieter, their numbers low. There is a space created for independents and emerging and the diverse, and these overflow. What does and does not have cultural currency, immediacy and relevancy? ATF votes with its feet. There are missing faces and spaces; circus and hybrid, with an underlying and implicit focus on a certain form and style of theatre. WA feels and is a long way away from Sydney, and as a representative in a panel discussion on “smashing the silos”.

I am reminded that there are also a silo that is geographical. We still struggle as a community to share the space, and to find a collective voice that may have a real chance to lobby politically. Many millions of dollars have been slashed from the Australia Council for small to medium companies and from individual artists, with state governments struggling to maintain current levels of funding. Yes, the theatrical landscape is going to change, and the contraction and pressure upon resources it is only just beginning.

As the final keynote by Frie Leyson offered as provocation: Are we too afraid to really speak out? Making the ‘mistake’ of trying to please everyone rather than challenge? She invited the audience to shift their focus.

“We urgently need the courage back to pick up this role of disturbers again…We must urgently find our artistic language and artistic arguments again.”

In the post-final keynote glow I stand drink in hand in the Northern foyer of the Sydney Opera House, gazing out at the iconic Bridge, as delegates snap away, thrilled to be in this elite venue of Oz Arts, while contemplating rebellion and the call for action…

Follow the debate online: or #ATF2015 

Image courtesy Australian Theatre Forum website.