Theatre Will Eat Itself (Guest Contributor: Paul Osuch)

Did you know there was a get together of independent theatre Artistic Directors and General Managers last week at Flipside Circus? It was a bit of an old school invitation in … umm … email instead of Facebook but, nonetheless, it was sent around.

I went along because I had recently sent an email and Facebook message around asking people if there was a Brisbane Theatre Producers’ network I could tap into to talk to people about my current project, the Anywhere Theatre Festival. I received a number of responses about things that had happened in the past (and generally imploded). Then, completely unconnected, I received an email from Markwell Presents’ Stephen Maxwell about the event at Flipside Circus.

What happened at the event? Well, I’m not supposed to tell you, but we came up with a secret handshake, discussed how we would form a cartel that would limit any kind of funding going to any other company, and devised a strategy to steal everyone’s audiences.  Pity you weren’t there. Or, in reality, we had some lunchtime food and drink organised by Flipside Circus and Markwell Presents, had a chat to a mixture of people we had and hadn’t met before (or for a while) and then decided we should do this again on at least a quarterly basis.

The event got me thinking. In Brisbane theatre I think we are great at coming up with new ideas and starting new things. I think we are pretty shite at admitting someone else has come up with something great and joining in or simply sharing. It isn’t an original thought. You may argue it isn’t even an accurate thought. There are exceptions. However, after attending many forums, sessions run by visiting international artists, sessions run by funding bodies or festival organisers, I’d have to say it could be a reason why many of these events are woefully underattended. Or is it?

Maybe we are an uncharitable mob unable to give credit to other ideas and join in. Maybe it comes down to the lack of a substantial middle tier of theatre producers in Brisbane theatre. I’m not going to go into the theories for this (see some of the blog entries and discussions on Katherine Lyall-Watson’s our brisbane blog over the last year for a wide range of opinions). However, what is obvious is that indie producers need to present work for more than four of the fifty-two weeks in the year. We need more opportunities and venues to restage work so that it can mature, reach a broader audience and keep those involved with it working.

… an area that tends to be overlooked in prognostications for the year ahead is the audiences and who gets them

How does that help? Well, if this tier is developed, more theatre practitioners are able to spend more of their time working on their art, and are able to attend these events instead of missing them because they can’t take any more time off their day job without getting in trouble. It may also mean that fewer of the people at this stage in their career will feel such a strong pull to leave Brisbane and not return – further reducing the pool.

When it comes down to it, that is one of the reasons why I started the Anywhere Theatre Festival. I wanted to contribute to building up this middle tier with another performance opportunity. We know the existing theatre venues for hire are pretty much booked out, so the only way you can get more time there is to give other people in the pool less. Instead, the Anywhere Theatre Festival is about creating another performance option and introduce a new audience. We are creating the box office and marketing and venue logistics management so that for the small registration fee you get to be part of something bigger and get much more for your money that you would if you tried to go it alone. Registrations close 31st January. Ad ends here.

On to 2011 – what are my predictions? I could talk about the types of shows we are going to see in 2011, but really, most of you were either at the launches for Metro, La Boite and QTC or have seen the season guides or are involved in the seasons so I’m not going to be telling you anything new other than my opinion on those seasons. For anything else I’d just be making it up. Having said that about 2011, you must put this one date in your diary even if, like last week’s gathering at Flipside, it was an idea from Victoria. Credit where credit is due.

The independent theatre companies that find a way to broaden their audience beyond a Facebook group that is 70% the same as most other Brisbane independent theatre companies, and capture maybe .1% of that 2,500,000 million people living in Brisbane will be the ones that will be making a bigger name for themselves locally and beyond in 2012

Where my prediction (or suggestion) lies is in an area that tends to be overlooked in prognostications for the year ahead – the audiences and who gets them.

Brisbane’s population continues to grow at a pretty extreme rate. Government calculations suggest the flow of people from interstate will, in the future, be slightly less than in recent years, but still significant. Many of these people have come from Sydney and Melbourne and are looking for the range of theatre options they had back home. Other people are time-poor families or couples in the middle to outer suburbs for whom a trip to a big show in the city is a big financial investment and a trip in for a small show is not generally considered.

The independent theatre companies that find a way to broaden their audience beyond a Facebook group that is 70% the same as most other Brisbane independent theatre companies, and capture maybe .1% of that 2,500,000 million people living in Brisbane will be the ones that will be making a bigger name for themselves locally and beyond in 2012.

Paul Osuch is the creator of the Anywhere Theatre Festival, running in Brisbane 5-14 May 2011. You can follow on twitter at @anywherefest or find details at the web site www.anywherefest.com

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