Brisbane: Wanted – a cultural reality check

I heard a great interview this morning on ABC612 Brisbane with Sam Strong, the ‘newish’ (since last November) Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company. Among other things, Sam sketched out some of his ideas to make QTC a national theatre leader. Anyway, it was exciting and refreshing to hear Sam hint at his plans and talk up his ambition for Queensland theatre.

The perception that Queensland theatre is ‘less good’ than that produced elsewhere raised its head again in the interview … the damned cultural cringe beast never goes away, does it? Nothing riles me up faster than the appearance of this nonsense whether at state or national level. I hunted down an angry post I dashed off nearly 6 years ago.

Here it is – from March 20, 2010.

#killthecringe Continue reading “Brisbane: Wanted – a cultural reality check”

Twitter: to follow or not to follow? That is the question.

Like many who use social networking software to engage in conversation, I’d characterise myself as a heavy Twitter-user.  And the more I use Twitter, the more followers I get; it’s the nature of viral communication.  I’m now followed by 1400 + people – small beans compared with some.  Now, I follow some who don’t follow me, but that’s my choice; they have something of value to offer me.  I’m not offended if I follow someone and they don’t follow back … though it’s interesting who in the big-name stakes actually do follow back and, even at times, respond to a message.

As far as those who follow me, perhaps they feel my posts are useful or interesting, maybe even valuable – I’d hope so – but as to what that is, and why many follow me, I’m never going to know. Why? I simply never hear from them again after the auto-email from Twitter arrives telling me that I have a new follower.  I check their details; no bio – no follow for a start. Self-proclaimed experts or sales pitches are immediate blocks or no-follows, but in deciding whether or not to follow a new follower,  there’s one rule that I am pretty much sticking to come what may.

I send out a regular welcome note to all new followers telling them how I use Twitter – this is only fair I think – asking them to send me a @ message to make contact. If I don’t get this, I don’t follow. Period. Few lately are responding, leading me to conclude that they’re not reading their messages, not serious, or not real.

As I generally end my welcome message ‘I’m at the Twitter party for conversation, not the crowd.’

Happy Birthday Queensland Theatre Company: 40 years on

Queensland Theatre Company today marks the 40th anniversary of its being signed into existence … literally … by an Act of Parliament: the Queensland Theatre Company Act (1970).  It remains unique in Australia in this regard, and is one of a handful of arts Statutory Authorities in the state.  Perhaps this is indicative of the importance that a state government decades ago placed upon the theatre.  The state government through the Minister for the Arts (currently also the Premier Anna Bligh) is the major financial supporter of the state theatre company, contributing 80% of all government funding revenue to the Company’s budget.  The Federal government through the Australia Council provides the remaining 20% from government.

Queensland Theatre Company has had 5 Directors in those 40 years: the late Alan Edwards (MBE AM); Aubrey Mellor (OAM); Chris Johnson; Robyn Nevin (AM), and currently Michael Gow, who will step down in August this year to concentrate on his career as one of Australia’s leading playwrights.

My association with the Company began 2 years after its founding.  I joined for the 1972 Theatre in Education Season; my first job was playing an emu in The Badly Behaved Bunyip by Michael Boddy, alongside Grant Dodwell and Steven Tandy (that’s us in the picture above).  I then worked consistently as an actor, sometime director and writer as well as workshop tutor with Queensland Theatre Company until the end of 1977.  I have been involved with the Company in one way or another for nearly 40 years, and am today the Chairman of the Board.  It’s been an interesting ride!

Happy Birthday Queensland Theatre Company, thanks for the memories, and here’s to many more, robust years to come!

A couple of months ago, I did an interview with Ian Kath for his Your Story podcast.  Here is a brief extract from that interview about my early memories of Queensland Theatre Company.

Quote of the Day: Do Not Write a Crock of Shit

David Mamet at the premiere of Red Belt at the...
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, it’s David Mamet in a memo to the writers of the series The Unit … how could it be anyone else with all those shouty caps.

It’s an extract from Don Hall‘s blog, and the coda line is pure Hall.  Read the whole thing of course, and follow Don if you like a bit of crunch in your RSS feed.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. DO *NOT* WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR *AND* HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

“For a neo-conservative shitweasel, the guy makes sense…”

Don Hall “An Angry White Guy in Chicago: Do Not Write a Crock of Shit

Indie Theatre: how can you tell?

Icons, branding, labels … the medium as message, but what’s the message or meaning when it comes to theatre labels?  There are lots around, and I’m curious about one in particular – independent.

I see it and its diminutive and the very buzzy word indie everywhere.  I’m sufficiently that way inclined – too much of the academic life perhaps – to think it important to understand the meaning behind labels, and so it is that I’ve been mulling over this one again.

Labels can be worn as a badge of pride, a rallying call even. I was involved in a twitter discussion on labelling earlier today, one auspiced by the 2amt websit. Click on the #2amt hashtag in Twitter and get a flavour of what some of the north Americans and one lone Aussie were chatting about. Yes, it was about labels but as always happens, it segued into a whole lot more.

I know labels are generally reductive and even abhorred by some, but they are out there and are used by a wide spectrum from arts bureaucracies through companies and individuals to claim and/or define identity.  You can reject them, but you can’t ignore them.

Try completing a grants application form without filling in the boxes that ask about artistic vision, ideology, business plan or other affiliations – the things that identify you or your group. Whilst the resulting labelling may be in someone else’s terms, you will find yourself and your group relegated to a particular ‘sector’ and will be dealt with accordingly.  That might sound a bit grim, but that’s the realpolitik of arts-funding.  And that’s why clarity of thinking and engagement in the debate by all stakeholders is not only useful, but maybe even essential to the survival or otherwise of the wider theatre ecology.

Anyhow, here is the summing up from an earlier mulling over to contextualise my thinking.  That post dealt with labelling and focussed on professionalism.

Self-identification by a company is rife with terminology that is clearly part of the jockeying process to be taken seriously, to belong as a professional with all its connotations of excellence and dedication. But without a doubt, the waging practices of groups is the key discerning factor in what separates the professional theatre from the rest. But there’s a long continuum of self-identification by the ‘other’: ‘Semi-professional’,’pro-am’, ‘Emerging’, ‘Independent’, ‘Fringe.’ These are all monikers that groups adopt to define their status in the wider, now commonly identified as ‘independent theatre’ sector. No one in this particular discussion used the term ‘amateur’ when referring to their own on their group’s status. This clearly is yet another defining term that has negative connotations for those aspiring to recognition as professional. I did, however, find the term in use on NYC-based director and blogger Isaac Butler’s recent post The Delusion Driving Much American Theater.

Butler talks about ‘pro-am’ theatre companies as ‘theaters and artists doing professional quality work for amateur wages and largely in an amateur environment.’

I have no doubt from the passion of some of the participants in the discussion that these are loaded terms, if not fighting words! What else is interesting in Butler’s post is his statement that most US theatre is ‘pro-am’ …

My thinking on this whole definition business was revved up again by a couple of blog posts elsewhere especially one (with a contentious conclusion) titled ‘Thinking about independence’ from Australian blogger Augusta Supple.  I tossed out a tweet: ‘So when is indie theatre fully professional, and when pro-am? Can we sort this out to start?’  And away we went.

To cut to the chase – here’s what I’ve drawn from the discussion with the 2amt crew:

  • No one likes labels even though we keep using them.
  • The meaning of the labels we apply to theatre e.g., indie, professional, community and so on are pretty much locale specific – at least when it comes to comparing and contrasting across national and even city boundaries.
  • Arts politics are the drivers of definition especially in places where the non-profit theatre depends on government funding, as in Australia.

I was reminded gently by one of the north-American based discussion participants on the #2amt stream that we should never take our country’s support of non-profit theatre for granted and, of course, she is right.  Are we the self-styled ‘lucky country’ then in Australia when it comes to ‘stable govt funding of arts?’  Perhaps we are … and that’s another question that could well get kicked around.

So, it’s back to the local table it would seem … to local arts politics and economics.

Quote of the Day: 3D Is Going to Ruin Movies For a Long Time to Come

Read the whole piece … a review of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  Interesting how for this reviewer and, let’s face it, for most of us that it’s the story that matters in the end …

Such is the problem with 3D. It is so mind-numbingly amazing that narrative storytelling hasn’t caught up with the technology. The corporate screenwriting borgs are so busy trying to come up with plot devices to highlight all the newfangled whoosiwhatsits—objects being hurled at the audience, flying sequences, falling leaves, glowing Venus Flytraps—that no one is really bothering to tell a tale. The audience will let them get away with it too, their mind clouded and their retinas dazzled by the computer animated squiggles of so many creative minds. They’ll keep plopping down their 12 16 dollars without caring about anything other than the spectacle.

via Defamer: Gawker’s Column from Hollywood