NEWS | Mitchell Whelan Reports on the 2017 ATF

Posted by Cecile Lucas, October 12th, 2017

Emerging WA Queer artist Mitchell Whelan has just returned from the 2017 Australian Theatre Forum that was held in Adelaide early this month. Mitchell was among the seven independent artists from WA to attend the event. As a strong advocate for better representation of works made by and for Queer people, we asked Mitchell to share his views on the place that Queer work currently occupies on Australian stages following the group conversation he attended during the forum, as well as his overall experience as a first-time Forum attendee.

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It’s about time… we share our stages, our stories and our spaces. It’s about time we fuck the world back.

The 2017 Australian Theatre Forum was a chance to share the ideas, concerns and provocations from around the sector. Theatre Network Australia was successful in making sure that people from culturally, physically, sexually and gender-diverse backgrounds were present in the room as both established and emerging artists. It was fantastic to be part of passionate discussions that critiqued the sector’s room for growth and behaviour as a national community.

Key note speakers Jo Bannon and Ivan Heng (W!LD RICE) provoked the forum brilliantly with what theatre must do. Simply, in a world that is fucked it is the job of theatre not to try and unfuck but to fuck back. We do this with works that transform audiences from strangers to community. Yuin architect Linda Kennedy (Future Black) described an experience in which multiple disciplines came together, dance and architecture of all things, to make a lasting impact in the community.


Blood On The Dance Floor by Jacob Boehme (Image by Dorinne Blaise)

During three days, artists, producers and presenters poured out their own provocations and experiences, inspiring us all to fuck back. Meeting with the sector on a national scale really encouraged me to think critically of how I sit in the Perth’s ecology, and the kind of relationships I have with other artists and organisations here in Perth.

So what do I want to fuck?

In preparation for The Forum I sounded out my neighbourhood of emerging LGBTQIA artists as well as production staff and one common thing clearly stands out: we need more representation of Queer stories, and we should be expecting better. And this sentiment was echoed at The Forum.


Radha La Bia’s The Divine Game at Underbelly Arts

While metropolitan areas are pained at seeing the repetition of the same coming out story, regional areas are in dire need of Queer representation as well as safe spaces so that coming out stories could be told at all.

Sydney and NSW delegates described a frightening decline in Queer works as the nightclubs and performance spaces that usually house such artists are forced to close as a result of NSW’s 2014 Lockout Law and rising inner-city rents.


Betty Grumble’s Sex Clown Saves The World

Then came a point in the conversation where I felt both a mix of pride and fear. Maybe Perth has become a ‘National Hotspot’ for Queer works? The past year has seen a number of LGBTQIA+ artists stage heartfelt, bold and successful Queer theatre at The Blue Room. PICA presented Pony Express’ Ecosexual Bathhouse, as well as works by 110%, Angela Goh and Deep Soulful Sweats. More recently, PICA has partnered with Lz Dunn to bring Aeon to Perth (produced by Performing Lines), and Black Swan State Theatre Company has programmed HIR by Taylor Mac in conversation with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler for 2018.


Ecosexual Bathhouse by Pony Express (Image by Matt Sav)

Why then do many artists still feel the need to search for their stories on stage? Perhaps the answer lies in what we’re willing to ask for as audiences and makers. I quickly scribed the group conversation “The Queer Space on the Australian Stage” led by Emma Valente (The Rabble) and Daniel Clarke (Arts Centre Melbourne):

“A Queer work sits in the margins, it is radical and explosive performance that shifts away from heteronormative desires. Queer work re-imagines sex, desire and the body, and celebrates queer bodies. Queer work is a method of rejecting and accepting, it’s circles and fragments – not lines. And unquestionably, Queer work is made by and for Queer people. But how does this work exist in margins that are being closed down? What happens when your voice is diluted by subscriber bases, straight cisgender directors and government funding? If you can count on one hand the amount of Queer works you’ve seen in your city over the entire year, do you have a hotspot?”


AEON by Lz Dunn & Collaborators (Image by Bryony Jackson)

It’s about time that we ask for the work we want to see, to be made the way we want to see it. That we open our rehearsal rooms and stages to the voices and audiences of our LGBTQIA siblings.


Mitchell Whelan