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


PROFILE | Gemma Pepper – Independent Producer

Posted by Cecile Lucas, June 7th, 2017

Gemma Pepper is a Sydney-based Independent Producer working with a number of companies on both sides of the country including Erth, Side Pony Productions, and previously for Canberra’s Enlighten Festival 2012-2014 as Creative Producer.

Joining me for a quick interview, Gemma spills the beans about The Irresistible, a co-production between Side Pony and The Last Great Hunt, ahead of its season at PICA, her views on some of the best tech-based performance experiences she’s had recently, and some practical tips for new producers…

 

TREAT TIME | we’ve got a double pass to the preview of The Irresistible on Wednesday 14 June. To enter, email cecile@performinglineswa.org.au with your name and email address by COB Monday 12 June.

The Irresistible, 14-24 June at PICA. Info and booking>>

Cecile Lucas: How do you describe what you do when people ask?

Gemma Pepper: I produce theatre, festivals and events and recently I’m trying my hand at producing tech projects as well.

 

CL: Side Pony Production’s latest show The Irresistible (a co-production with The Last Great Hunt) looks at the assumptions people make about others, particular those based on gender. Can you tell us a bit more about what inspired the work?

GP: The seed for this work was sewn when Zoe, Adriane and Tim (the core creative team) worked together in 2013 on The Wives of Hemingway. They were playing with shifting up which performer played each character, ignoring the gender of the performer, and this led to some fairly interesting revelations about how we (as an audience) expect people to behave. They didn’t really have time to delve into it fully at the time and it’s a point of interest that they have all kept coming back to ever since, so it’s great that they have the opportunity to really dig into the topic in this production.


Side Pony’s production The Wives of Hemingway. Photo by David Collins

 

CL: Technology frequently features in Side Pony work, with sound being manipulated and played around with in this show. Can you tell us how it works and what effect it has for the viewer?

GP: Sound and the manipulation of the voice is a really big element of this show. We have been using voice modulation software triggered by hand-held wii-motes as a way for the performers to jump from one character to another, using the voice as the defining feature of the character. It’s quite amazing how the sound of a performer’s voice can completely shift how you think of them; allowing a small statured woman to very convincingly become a laddish well-built man in a matter of seconds. This play with voice is quite unnerving as an audience member and it lets our two performers play a lot of different characters.

 

The Irresistible, photo by David Collins

 

CL: In a previous interview with The Street you shared that you were interested in all sorts of productions using new technology that enhance audience’s experience. Let’s get nerdy – what have you seen or discovered recently that you’ve been excited about?

GP: There are some really interesting new experiences coming out at the moment that embrace new technologies, some within the arts and some further afield. I really love Roslyn Oades’ work Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday (produced by Performing Lines), which is a verbatim theatre work where the performers are guided by documentary audio. Erth is cooking up a brand new VR experience with its prehistoric marine creatures, which will be amazing when it comes out and I’ve stumbled across this fantastic reading app called Novel Effect which uses voice recognition to track your progress as you read aloud from a children’s book and it overlays sound effects to match the story.

Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday. Photo by Sarah Walker

CL: You’ve worked independently as a producer, as well as for companies including Erth. Can you share with us a moment or experience that stands out as formative to you as a producer?

GP: You have moments all the time where you think you are way out of your depth but once you’re in it you can’t back out, so you just knuckle down and get the job done only to look back and realise what a major learning curve it was. “Spectacular by Night” was one of those events for me, which I cooked up when I was Creative Producer of the Enlighten festival in Canberra. I had come up with the idea of hanging trapeze artists under two hot air balloons for a night glow (which is where the hot air balloons glow at dusk), it seemed like a speccy idea at the time but it wasn’t until I was looking over the 15-20,000 people who had come to watch it, hoping like anything the wind wasn’t going to pick up, that I really appreciated the ridiculous ambition of what we were trying to pull off… thankfully everything went smoothly and the crowd were suitably impressed.

 

CL: So you’re based in Sydney, Zoe is based in Perth, and the creative team for The Irresistible are drawn from across Australia. Does that make working collaboratively a challenge? How do you overcome the tyranny of distance?

GP: Zoe and I have worked this way for a long time, so it’s pretty much second nature now. We use a hell of a lot of communication platforms, which can get a bit confusing, but we check in with each other all the time. Bringing others into that space is a little harder and it’s been really important to factor in face to face time, where everyone can get more of a sense of the humour and general aesthetic of what the show is. We now have everyone in the room, which is great, and they are cranking out some pretty amazing content which will make for a really punchy show. I gotta say I’m pretty excited about what it’s becoming.

 

CL: What’s your best advice for aspiring producers?

GP: It’s really important to take on projects that extend your skills, where you learn from others and build your capacity but it’s also important not to say yes to everything. Once you have said yes you don’t have that time available for the next project that comes along that might be amazing… so it’s good to be discerning in the work that you take on.

Side Pony Productions & The Last Great Hunt’s The Irresistible
14 – 24 June | PICA Performance Space | Info and booking>>

Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday is touring nationally from July to September. Catch this multi-award winning production on their only WA dates at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre from 25-26 August 2017. Info and Booking>>


PROFILE | Mararo Wangai

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 26th, 2017

Perth-based playwright and performer Mararo Wangai has been a part of the Black Swan Writers’ Group, creating his own work as well as popping up in productions around town. He’s been working with The Last Great Hunt on their upcoming show The Advisors, opening soon at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia. Cecile caught up with him ahead of the opening.

COMPETITION TIME – we’ve got a double pass to the preview on Wednesday 31 May. To enter, email thom@performinglineswa.org.au with your name and email address by COB Monday 29 May.

Cecile: Can you tell us a bit about the development of The Advisors, and what sparked the show?
Mararo: The development involved a lot of reaching inside each of our collective memories and laying bare the variety of advice that we receive and give. An exploration of the intentions behind the advice came further down the process, and it became clear that there is so much more going on underneath the words; a history, a philosophy, a fear, a fetish, an ideology…all of which pointed to how revealing the giving of advice can be about one’s true self.         

CL: This is a collaborative work with an established group of artists who work together regularly. What is the experience like as a new collaborator?
MW: Incredible. A part of me still worries that it may all be a dream to be honest – to be invited to collaborate with The Last Great Hunt on a second project. It really is a great room to be in; respectful of input, open to discussion, full of constructive feedback and a very hard working team. The Last Great Hunt create a working environment that really allows ideas to flourish, it is no wonder they continue to set the pace of creative output as a company. I continue to learn a great deal from the whole team.

CL: In this piece, audience members can expect to hear all sorts of advice. What is the best or worst piece of advice you’ve ever received from someone? 
MW: Best advice: ‘Take a breath, think about it, come back in the morning’.

Worst advice: varied versions of ‘This won’t hurt’.

CL: As an emerging playwright, who do you go to for advice?

MW: I was very lucky to have Polly Low on my first ever introduction to dramaturgy, through a development with Stages WA in 2013. She really opened my eyes to the delicate balance of believing in your story enough to dare to write it, while also being humble enough to accept feedback and know that you will not have all the answers. She has really played a huge part in my development as a playwright and continues to do so.

CL: What do you struggle with most as a playwright?
MW: Telling stories on behalf of others is something I struggle with a great deal. Coming from a country with a heavy colonialist past, I am aware of the perils that come from misrepresentation; the vilification of dark skin, turning freedom fighters into terrorists, turning corrupt sell-outs into altruistic angels, the list goes on.

I try and learn from each finished script how to keep pushing the limits of my comfort zone and subject matter, but the nagging question remains on my shoulder; as a Kenyan man ‘what right have I –  to write about a Jewish woman who has fallen out of her faith, a middle aged Polish woman who has taken on a young lover, or a kidnapped Ndebele woman in a Shona village?’ I don’t have an answer for myself, except to keep trying to stay true to each character’s voice and allow them to speak for themselves.

I don’t mind getting it wrong. That’s part of it.     

CL: And what do you find most rewarding?
MW: As I am yet to stage any of my plays, right now there is nothing sweeter than sitting in a development room with actors, dramaturg and director and hearing the words fall into place, feeling the strains as a fictional world finally stretches itself out and comes alive after all of our collective efforts. As we say in Swahili ‘Ni tamu sana‘.   

CL: What’s up next for you? Do you have any personal projects in the pipeline?  
MW: It’s a great looking year; We should be finishing my second short film this year, I am waiting to hear back from theatre producers about (finally) staging a work, I am a new member of Blank Space Productions creative team, I am working on a few new drafts to hopefully go on a third play development with Play Writing Australia, and lastly finishing of scripts that are in need of an ending. Watch this space.

Thanks a bunch!

The Last Great Hunt’s The Advisers
31 May to 10 June | State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
Book tickets>>


NEWS | Rachael Whitworth reports on ISPA & IPAY

Posted by Cecile Lucas, February 9th, 2017

Our Producer Rachael Whitworth has just returned from a trip to the US, concluding her engagement with the ISPA Australia Council Legacy Program. She attended the ISPA Congress in New York, and the International Performing Arts for Youth Showcase in Wisconsin. Too excited to hear all about it, Cecile did not leave her time to catch her breath, and quizzed her on the international experience.

Cecile: You’ve recently attended the International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY) Showcase in Wisconsin, as well as the International Society for Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress in New York. Can you tell us a bit about each?

Rachael: I have been an ISPA Australia Council fellow for the past four years. This has been an amazing opportunity to be a part of the global fellows program which fosters emerging and mid-career arts workers from around the world. The fellows come together for a day before the official congress and it is always my favourite part of the program. It provides insight and understanding of arts practice from around the globe and makes me feel very lucky to be living and working in Australia. Some of the fellows literally risk their lives in their quest to create and distribute art in their home countries.

There is a strong focus on leadership at ISPA: how can we make arts relevant to our communities and continue a legacy of the arts as a mechanism for inclusion and change? This year, the theme was ‘Currents of Change: Arts, Power + Politics’. This focal point was intensified by the state of politics around the world and sharpened the lens on the need for the Arts to provide a voice for those who are being silenced whilst offering insight and a different way of thinking for others.

IPAY is a market and showcase for theatre created for young people. This is a smaller gathering of about 200 people and everyone is extremely friendly and open! The program literally runs from 9am to 11pm every day, with full shows presented, break-out discussions around particular topics, 15 minute pitch sessions and an exhibition hall for meetings. It was pretty exhausting as the four-day showcase was packed but I met a lot of presenters and saw plenty of international work, both good and bad.

What have you found the benefit of these sorts of event to be for the artists you’re working with and for you as a producer?
ISPA is a professional development opportunity for me as a Producer. I have dramatically expanded my international network and have a better picture of how the arts industry operates in different countries around the world. Many of the people I have formed relationships with I may never work directly but certainly some of this network may lead to opportunities for artists. Indeed, we’ve a couple of exciting presentation opportunities in the pipeline….

Travelling to both ISPA and IPAY also provides exposure to a lot of performances that helps to benchmark arts practice in Australia. And so, this benefits artists that we work with at Performing Lines WA as I have a context for what is happening in performance practice around the world and how the work made in Western Australia may or may not fit in different markets.

Did you see any shows that were amazing?
There are lots of festivals happening in NY in January and I try to see as many shows as I can. You might expect everything you see internationally to be amazing when in fact, there is an equal amount of good and bad everywhere. I saw an amazing dance work for young people And then… by Claire Parsons Co (Sweden), The Polar Bears Go up by Fish and Game (UK) and Shh!  We have a plan by Cahoots (Northern Ireland) at IPAY.

And Then...’ by Claire Parsons Co

My favourite shows in NY were part of COIL Festival by PS122: Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic was incredible – it repeated a 10 minute section of a reality show over and over for 90 mins; and A Study on Effort by Bobbi Jene Smith, an intense dance work with a live violinist.


A Study on Effort by Bobbi Jene Smith

How does Australian work you’ve seen compare to the sorts of shows presented at these markets?
The good news is the Australian shows at both conferences were awesome, and some of the best in the program! Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster (produced by Performing Lines) and Antony Hamilton’s MEETING were standouts at COIL Festival, and Slingsby Theatre’s The Young King won the Victor Award for best show at IPAY as voted by attendees.

I think the standard of Australian work is very high. Much of the best work I saw, particularly in NY, has something very important to say about the world. Whenever I return to Australia, I always have a refreshed sense of making sure we work on projects that not only have artistic rigour but also a clear focus on what the work is trying to say or reflect about our society today.

So imagine I’m a producer from a small-to-medium and/or an independent artist. What advice would you give to me if I’m considering attending a big arts market like these, PAX or APAM?
If you can, I highly recommend attending before you go with something to sell. It’s a chance to meet people, see how other artists and companies represent their shows, and get a feel for how it all works.

If you are wanting your work to tour, you need to have that in your mind from the outset and create the work to be nimble and tourable. That doesn’t necessarily mean small, or cheap-looking, or that its fits into a suitcase, but that it’s smart and made with an eye to how it will pack up and hit the road. Australian work is very expensive to get anywhere, so really consider the set and your cast and touring party size. Good images and interesting description of the work is important in getting people to engage with your idea and form, in what is often, a very competitive and tiring environment.

I think it is always best for presenters to actually see work live which I know is not always possible at these markets. If you know why you have made the work and who you made it for, you can quickly and succinctly direct your work to the presenters who are actually interested.

Got other questions about pitching your work? We can help. Have a chat with Rachael, Fiona or Thom. Shoot us an email at hello@performinglineswa.org.au
Stay tuned for our rundown of upcoming arts markets, and for Thom’s Top Tips for preparing tour marketing materials.


PROFILE | Jenna Mathie – Producer

Posted by Thom Smyth, November 2nd, 2016

Next up in our profile series, Thom caught up with The Blue Room Theatre’s new-ish Producer Jenna Mathie to talk career paths, LOFT, self-preservation and more.

Thom Smyth | How did you get started in the industry? Have you always had your sights set on producing?
Jenna Mathie | While I was at university a friend of mine asked me to produce a show she was directing. I had been doing some production work at the university theatre but never produced anything in my life so didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. I said yes, and loved it. After that, I produced a number of shows while I was at university, but started working in the cacophonous world of orchestras and classical music and it fell by the wayside. At some point, I realised I didn’t want to work in music anymore but did want to produce theatre. So when I moved back to Perth in 2014 I did a number of short term contracts that helped me develop the skills I thought I needed to be a producer. Along the way I emailed Susannah Day, the then Producer at The Blue Room Theatre and before I knew it I was working here as Assistant Producer for Summer Nights. Since then, they haven’t been able to get rid of me.

TS | What were some career highlight/s before starting at The Blue Room Theatre?
JM | I’ve been pretty fortunate and have travelled quite a bit through the various positions I have had. In 2013/14 I lived in Cambodia and worked with an inclusive arts organisation which was incredible. It made me realise both the power of the arts in all different forms and at all levels of expertise, but also how lucky I was to be born in Australia and do what I do for a living. I also worked on a presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the music performed live by a symphony orchestra at the Sydney Opera House which was brilliant.

You were appointed to the position earlier this year. What’s been the biggest challenge in taking up the new gig?
JM | Getting yourself out there and trusted by artists can be tricky and takes a while to develop. Having worked here in different roles since 2014, I had a bit of a head start than if I had come in completely new. But the wide variety of personalities and different needs of every artist we work with means it does take a while to build the trust that is so integral to this role. As an organisation The Blue Room Theatre actively tries to assist and support as many artists as possible, which can make saying ‘no’ hard. It has been a learning process on how to not overcommit, but at the end of the day I’m one person, in one organisation, so it is important to say ‘no’ and look after my own sanity as well as the sanity of the other staff members here.

TS | The Blue Room has recently closed its final round of the LOFT devolved funding scheme. What are some of the program’s successes so far? If it is continued, would you want to change anything going forwards?
JM | LOFT has been absolutely wonderful. It’s a platform for support and getting the work of independent artists produced – more than the funds. Just like any show at The Blue Room Theatre, if you walk in the door you get the support of the whole staff. You’ve got a team behind you who are constantly on the lookout for opportunities for LOFT projects.

So far we have had two creative developments, one of which has since been successful in receiving further development opportunities, and the other which has a very exciting 2017 in the pipeline, as well as a killer season of Those Who Fall in Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon The Ocean Floor at Griffin Theatre in Sydney (the first WA show in the Griffin Indie Program). It’s been great to see artists and producers who have been successful in receiving funding through LOFT leverage that support to secure other funding and opportunities.

With each round of LOFT we invite peer assessors from the Eastern States to sit on our panels, building networks and getting West Australian works in front of artists and arts leaders from around the country. Continuing to build these networks and provide opportunities for presentation, development or exchanges interstate is something we would love to ramp up.

project-xan
Project Xan by jedda Productions (funded through LOFT)

Going forward, it would be great if we had more money to give to independent West Australian artists, as each round has been so competitive and it is always a difficult decision for the panels. With the limited amount of opportunities available in Perth, we want to support more mid-career and established artists in developing and presenting the biggest and boldest ideas they have. Project Xan is a wonderful example of this and it opens at PICA in a few weeks, so make sure you check it out.

TS | The arts industry is kind of notorious for consuming your time and energy. What keeps you going?
JM | I really love what I do and the artists that I get to work with. I spend a lot of time at work, seeing shows and talking to artists and producers which can be tiring. But at the end of the day I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than around engaged, curious and intelligent people, and in Perth we are lucky to have a lot of artists that fit that description. That said, I do turn emails off on my phone every evening and weekend, so as soon as I am out of the door here the administrative side of work stops, even if I am talking about or seeing theatre. I think that’s really important, to draw boundaries for yourself and stick to them.

TS | The role of the ‘Producer’ varies widely across organisations. What do you see as the role of the Producer in an organisation like the Blue Room?
JM | Yes, Producer absolutely does mean something different in every organisation. At The Blue Room Theatre, all of the productions we work with in presentation seasons or through the LOFT initiative have their own Producer as well. So I see my position as providing assistance and advice to those Producers to make sure they are feeling supported, well-resourced and like they have someone to come to with any questions or queries along the way. I think about it as endeavouring to produce a sustainable independent theatre sector in Perth; so creating and managing opportunities to help make this a reality. This is not only done through presentation seasons, but through professional development programs and also the advocacy and support we offer members and shows.

TS | What is on the horizon for the Blue Room in 2017 and beyond?
JM | We kick off the year with Summer Nights, which is our curated program of theatre and performance in FRINGE WORLD. For the first time we are programming the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA, which is very exciting, and some brilliant WA artists are presenting in the space. This is an opportunity we are really proud to be able to provide. We will be starting a few new professional development programs, as well as continuing to support West Australian artists to develop and push the boundaries of their artistic practice, from the emerging to the established.

jedda Productions’ Project Xan by Hellie Turner
8 – 19 November 2016 | PICA Performance Space
Tickets/info>>

The Blue Room Theatre | Season Two
[Porto] | Finishes Saturday | Tickets/info>>
Tissue | 8 – 26 November | Tickets/info>>
Signifying Nothing | 15 Nov – 3 Dec | Tickets/info>>