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”

Talkbacks and Feedbacks get more social

The theatre tribe in my neck of the woods uses Facebook … a lot. They’re gradually coming round to Twitter. Blogs are not as popular … no surprises there.

Social networking is being used, as you might expect, as a community support mechanism providing news, keeping in touch, promoting shows, providing links to items of niche interest, and of course, for online reviews. When it comes to providing feedback to artists or companies, comments in reviews don’t tend to be of much use, although they are read. You take the good with the bad, of course. Some of the worst feedback comments on reviews are the ones which sidetrack discussion into axe-grinding. The original point gets lost and a lot of heat is generated at the expense of light. Continue reading “Talkbacks and Feedbacks get more social”

Quote of the Day: on the morality of arts marketing …

… the fact of the matter is that arts marketers are not in the business of selling cigarettes or cars or toilet paper. We’re in the business of selling art. And, theatre is distinguishable from all other arts because it is the one medium in which there is a direct expression of the human condition. That’s what we do — we put people on stage and watch them have a relationship with one another, and with us. If we wanted to just make money we would have gone into advertising. Most arts marketers do their job because they care about it, because they have a passion for the art. However, marketing for the arts carries with it a moral imperative that does not come with marketing products for Philip Morris or Budweiser. In addition to being advocates for our theatres and our plays, we as arts marketers must be advocates for the human condition.

As always read the entire post on the 2am site.  It’s written by Alli Houseworth and asks some pertinent questions about the morality of arts marketing.

Quote of the day: on honesty and quality

As always, read the whole post Why They Don’t Come Back (yes, on audiences and theatre) from a newly-discovered US-based blogger.  This is a snippet that resonates with me right now.

I think it’s in our interest to be a lot harder on theatre-making. How many of your friends are working on a bad show right now?  Why are we surprised when the audience is made up of mostly actors’ friends? Why do we profusely thank the audience for coming?  Why does everyone compliment each other on a lackluster show?

Enough with the pity party/circle jerk.  Either try to blow the audience away, or don’t bother.  Be harder on your friends.  Save your glowing praise for work that deserves it. It’ll bolster quality overall, and theatre will gain credibility amongst the unwashed mashes, whose dollars we desperately need.

‘unwashed mashes’ …. the mind boggles!

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: on big stakes and long tails in the movie world

Avatar (2009 film)
Image via Wikipedia

As the weekend turns towards the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday night (US) Monday morning (AU), AO Scott writes in the NY Times about the contenders in the Oscar race this year and especially on what he calls the David v Goliath battle of blockbuster up against little movies that can.  It’s also about the way we’re seeing movies these days and how the online world contributes to a movie’s popularity.

The “Hurt Locker”-“Avatar” showdown is being characterized as a David-versus-Goliath battle, but melodrama and rooting interests aside, it is really a contest, within the artificial arena of the Oscar campaign, between the mega-blockbuster and the long tail. That last phrase, the title of a 2006 book by Chris Anderson, already has a bit of an anachronistic sound, but Mr. Anderson’s idea, shorn of some of its revolutionary overstatement, is still compelling. As digital culture makes more and more stuff available and spills it faster and faster into an already swollen marketplace, some works will establish themselves slowly, by word or mouth, social networking and serendipitous rediscovery.

Do read the entire piece – as always AO Scott is a reviewer to treasure.

via Film – Huge Film (‘Avatar’), Small Film (‘Hurt Locker’) – Big Stakes – NYTimes.com