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
Listen – Of 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: http://www.australiantheatreforum.com.au/atf-2015/documentation/ or #ATF2015
Bryony Kimmings was the hands-down favourite at the inaugural Festival Of Live Art (FOLA) in Melbourne last year with two shows, Sex Idiot and Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, totally selling out and winning over hearts and minds across the city. Using theatre, performance and a healthy dose of humour to tackle serious social issues including sexual health, depression and the sexualisation of children, Kimmings is a force to be reckoned with, and is heading to Fringe World with a new show Fake It Til You Make It, and the return of Sex Idiot.
TS: Oh hi! I’m a bit of a fanboy and am super-excited we finally get to see your shows in Perth!Can you give us a brief rundown of each? BK: Fake It til You Make It: It’s a new show. Made just this year and premiering in Perth (whoop!). It is a collaboration between myself and my lovely fiancé Tim, who up until 3 months ago worked in advertising. It’s a show about clinical depression, love, relationships and the idea of “being a man”. Its funny but also very sad and it follows our journey through the past few years. It will connect with a LOT of people, yet mental illness remains a taboo! Sex Idiot: So this is a vintage show of mine, created all the way back in 2010, from a very different era of my life. It’s a show full of songs, poems, dancing and larking about with the audience and follows the story of when I found out I had an STI/STD and had never had a sexual health text before… the show is the story of the journey I took trying to find out who gave it to me!
TS: How do you describe the work that you make? BK: I generally get very angry about something that I find unjust, sad or just plain dumb about the world and my gut reaction is always “we must DO something about this fellow humans!” My main skill is theatre and art… so that doesn’t always naturally lend itself to changing the minds of everyone, or creating a viral movement as its naturally quite niche. So I generally do a very live social experiment, set out to change something big, often through the press or harnessing people power and then make a show about it.
TS: Your shows deal with pervasive social stigmas and the various effects they have on the individual and broader society. How do you go about tackling such thorny issues? BK: I just try my best to be honest and knowledgeable. I go through a process, I get mad, I get smart, I get honest. People cannot mock you or call you out for being a fake if you are generally moved by the need to do something and you are trying your best to do it. Also I make it palatable. I will make sure we have a lot of fun first. Like fall in love with each other as a performer and audience member and then BAM! Smash you in the gut with the hard stuff. Not to make you feel bad but just to make you WANT to do something about it to. Its recruitment in a flamboyant and fun way! Ha!
TS: What is the general reaction to your shows? Do you ever feel the need to mitigate the risk involved, or do you just go for it and let the audience have it? BK: I just always go for it. There has been a few occasions in my life where the material and the concept for the show was just NOT a good match for the audience. This is usually less my fault and more the fault of the people who book me. I have performed Sex Idiot in front of a very religious group in Zagreb, Croatia. There is a bit in the show when they are asked to donate pubic hair… that did NOT go down well. I always let them have it though, that’s my job. I am a professional, I am happy to have a row about what it was people didn’t like after but for me the job I am doing is soothsayer… jester. I must say what I feel because there are so many destructive crazy weirdos doing harm to the world and without the antidote we are all screwed.
TS: This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with a loved one – both Fake It… and Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model feature some nearest and dearest. Is working with someone you know so well a help or hindrance in the rehearsal room? Are there no-go zones or topics when working? BK: It’s just lovely to work with people you love. I had no plans to work with a non-performer again straight away but the Taylor project was so good, Tim’s story was so strong and I desperately wanted to tell it so it happened again. Next I am making a musical and then a project with 10 young men just out of prison who will again be totally different to work with. I pick the form that suits the subject with the cast that makes most sense. If I am going to make a show that talks about how crazy it is that we don’t allow our men and boys to talk about depression, then in that show there has to be an example of what that conversation could look like if we stopped silencing mental illness and started to celebrate it. He had to be in there. It’s a labour of love and a joy!
Fake It Til You Make It | Presented by The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Theatre Works in association with PICA
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre | 30 – 31 Jan
PICA Performing Space | 3 – 7 Feb Tickets/info>>
Sex Idiot | Presented by Theatre Works
Circus Theatre | 29 Jan – 1 Feb Tickets/info>>
Here are the results of our annual wrap-up of what people around town thought was amazing, exciting and generally a winner in 2014. As is tradition, we’ve also asked for a company or artist to look out for in 2015.
We had a diverse range of responses from across the sector, with Chunky Move’s Keep Everything, choreographed by Antony Hamilton and toured by Performing Lines for Mobile States, the most talked about show of 2014. Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, written by Declan Greene and produced by Perth Theatre Company and Griffin Theatre Company came in a close second, with Proximity Festival and Punchdrunk’s The House Where Winter Lives very honourable mentions as well.
Who to look out for in 2015? The Cutting Room Floor are getting some serious attention following their breakout hit F*@k Decaf, and Will O’Mahony, The Last Great Hunt and Joe Lui are again on the radar.
Thanks for everyone who gave us their picks. What were your favourites of 2014?
To watch: Bianca Martin with her new work From Afar on a Hill, which was developed at PICA earlier this year. I’m excited to see how Bianca will provoke audiences through a series of interactive propositions to earn their way into the theatre, whilst examining the hot topic of immigration policy in Australia.
Watch out for: The Cutting Room Floor – led by Artistic Directors Scott Corbett and Zoe Hollyoak, this independent theatre collective created the fantastic pop-up café comedy F*@k Decaf earlier this year and will dive into 2015 with some promising work at Fringe World.
We are thrilled to announce that we will be touring The Skeletal System’s Great White by Will O’Mahony to four venues in the South West, accompanied by an extensive community engagement program.
Performing Lines WA were successful in the inaugural Boost funding round for regional touring, a joint initiative of the Department for Culture and the Arts and the Department of Regional Development that will see Royalties for Regions money used to take productions from across all performing art forms to regional areas.
Great White, written and directed by Will O’Mahony and featuring Will, Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall, will tour to Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre, Arts Margaret River, the Albany Entertainment Centre and Koorliny Arts Centre in October 2015 – keep an eye out for announcements on our Facebook page when tickets go on sale.
We’re also partnering with the venues and Barefaced Stories to deliver an innovative engagement strategy that will allow local communities to tell their stories across different art forms, media and platforms.
Other recipients of the funding are:
Marrugeku Inc, Broome Marrugeku Inc will tour its latest production of Cut the Sky – Five Songs for the Future to the Peel and Kimberley regions from August 16 to September 14, 2015. Eight performances and workshops will be held in Mandurah, Broome, Mowanjum (Kimberley), and Fitzroy Crossing before the company leaves for Europe to perform in Denmark, Belgium and France.
Cut the Sky explores the impact of climate change from an Indigenous point of view through dance, video art and song.
Gina Williams Contemporary musicians Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse will tour Kalyakoorl, Ngalak Warangka (Forever, we sing) to the South-West, Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions from February 24 to April 20, 2015. The workshop component of the tour is being supported by the Department of Education and will result in one of the language songs, Wanjoo, being taught to primary school children before the tour. A total of 25 performances will take place in 24 regional centres.
Kalyakoorl, Ngalak Warangka is Gina and Guy’s debut album. It was released in April 2014 and is sung almost entirely in Noongar language. Kalyakoorl follows Gina’s personal story of love and loss, reconciliation and hope. The tour is described as contemporary songs and heart stories in Noongar language across Noongar Country.
World-renowned Australian choreographer Antony Hamilton’s work defies easy description. His company Antony Hamilton Projects brings together artists from across art forms, creating dance work that seamlessly integrates technology, visual arts and innovative design. He is currently on the road with Keep Everything, a work commissioned by Chunky Move tracing the path of human evolution from ape to robot and back again. It’s a collection of elements of previous works, creating meaning out of seemingly disparate elements. Performing Lines WA’s Thom Smyth (TS) got the lowdown from Antony (AH) ahead of their performance season at PICA from 23 – 26 July.
TS: How do you describe the kind of work you create?
AH: That’s hard to say, as the work tends to describe itself in ways that language cannot manage. Meaning lies in things that can sometimes not be spoken or written, however if one were pressed, I would say that the work I create is an ongoing stream of ideas, where the last work, and events in between that work and the next, inform a kind of chaotic progression of curiosities.
TS: Keep Everything has been described as a “scrapbook for the stage”. What can we expect when the lights go down at PICA?
AH: One can expect the unexpected I would say.
TS: How did you go about putting the show together? Did you find any broader themes or ideas emerging from piecing together fragments of other works?
AH: Yes, well despite my best intentions, a very humanist sort of organisation of the ideas started to happen. I found myself trying to make sense out of, and create meaning from items that by their very nature are in fact fairly meaningless. So the process started to reveal to me my own very human fixation on creating order out of chaos.
TS: How do you edit and tighten a show that seeks to ‘keep everything’?
AH: In the very same way that we edit and tighten our lives. In real life we are living in a kind of devised, fictional narrative of belief, and the same is neccessary for any creative work- you have to devise a fictional narrative that has an instinctive truth of some sort about it. Keep Everything is not in fact as fragmented as it sounds, but in a way has smoothly blended many ideas into an arc that explores meta-narratives of progress, history, myth and the utopia/dystopia dichotomy. Rehearsals are much like any other, being led by a kind of instinct towards a resolve.
TS: You worked closely with Kim Moyes and Julian Hamilton on the soundtrack. What are they like to work with? Is contemporary dance a particular interest of theirs, or was this a one-off collaboration?
AH: Well Julian’s my brother, so that places him pretty close to the dance world, having grown up together, him picking me up after ballet classes and all! Also, together Julian and Kim make dance music anyway, so it wasn’t such a difficult transfer to make. That being said, the music for the work is quite a different territory for them. Fairly atmospheric and less beat driven for the most part. It was a really great collaboration. Quite easy really because we know each other so well, and understand each other’s influences, interests and so on.
TS: You were over here in Perth recently leading workshops for Strut Dance. How do local WA dancers compare to other dancers you work with?
AH: Yes, I was. The dancers themselves were great to work with. With my current interests, it’s not really about how good you are at something, even dancing! I’m not as interested in virtuosity as I used to be, but more interested in the performers true colours, in quite exposed situations. While the dancers were all great, I was more interested in exploring flaws and failures, and what it might mean to situate those in a performance context.
TS: Ideas of evolution feature strongly (and quite literally) in Keep Everything, and also in your work more broadly. Do you ever want to sit in a certain style and really hone that, or do you see your choreographic practice as more of an inquisitive and evolving thing?
AH: Yeah, I find themes repeating across my works, and I do like to try and explore something quite different every time. So in a way it’s often quite a surprise to reflect back on works and notice the strong similarities. The thing I think is most useful to develop in new directions, is to think more about the differences you can make to the audience situation. Otherwise, if you always work in the convention of the black box theatre with a show that has a set duration, you’ve already restricted yourself to a great limitation. Basically, a beginning, middle and end as defined by you. So open ended audience engagement is something that interests me for the future. So yes, evolving through inquisitiveness is right.
TS: What’s your next big project? What are you looking forward to?
AH: My next big project is touring my work Black Project 1 to Taipei Arts Festival in August, and I’m very much looking forward to it!
Mobile States and PICA present Chunky Move’s Keep Everything
23 – 26 July | 7:30pm | PICA Performance Space
Join Antony and Strut Dance’s Paul Selwyn Norton for a post-show Q&A Fri 25 July Click here for tickets
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.