‘Co-‘ a somewhat misunderstood prefix?

One of the categories in the 2010 (and inaugural) Groundling Awards here on Greenroom, and which is currently open for nominations, is one for Best Co-Production. Out of the dozens of nominations so far received, this category has drawn only a few. I got to wondering why, as there have been some terrific co-pros on Queensland stages this year.

Perhaps the nature of co-productions is not really well understood by those nominating. Perhaps the general theatre-going public – even members of the theatre sector itself – is unsure of which plays were co-productions in the 2010 season here in Queensland. Maybe the reaction is just the old defensive stance at work.

I’ve heard for decades from artists and creatives about non-residents taking jobs in the home state – Queensland, in this case. I’ve wondered whether colleagues in other states feel the same way. Co-pros are seen by some as the latest villains, i.e., that they are responsible for reducing job opportunities. What is less often highlighted is that it provides a greater audience for the work of those creating the production: directors, actors, designers, as well as a wider profile for the partnered companies. A co-production brings together a more diverse pool of creative talent and provides its members the chance to work together in ways that would not ordinarily be available to them. Short of relocation, Queensland artists (as well as those from other states) are, more than likely, not going to get a chance to play with their colleagues and companies elsewhere – in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth or any of the other places on the national touring circuit. Co-productions provide this opportunity. They also build our common-wealth of national theatre.

And from the other side of the table, the fact is that partnerships are what keep participating companies’ budget bottom lines looking healthier than they might if either were to go the production route alone; this probably explains why, in these financially testing times, the bigger subsidised companies have chosen to include co-pros in their seasons. However, co-productions don’t ensure that the cash just rolls in. A co-production does not guarantee a profit or even that the show will ‘make budget’ i.e., reach its targeted deficit. It does mean, however, that the risk is shared by the participating companies, a strategy seen as part of a fiscally responsible approach to arts production. Companies that crash can’t employ anyone.

Co-presentations or presenting partnerships are different beasts altogether. Typically these are productions which are bought in or hired by a company to provide balance and variety to their season. We see this in most of the largely non-production houses, typically at QPAC in Brisbane as well as in the other regional member theatres on the NARPACA touring circuit. In these productions the artists and creatives come with the production; essentially, they’re ‘on tour’ guests in the host company or theatre. We’ve also seen co-presentations or presenting partnerships at work this year in the seasons of both subsidised theatres in Brisbane: Queensland Theatre Company and La Boite. The co-presentation/presenting partnership approach is a perfectly legitimate one; it is designed to benefit the host and the visiting company and the host’s audiences. The benefit to local professional artists and creatives is, perhaps, harder to argue.

Certainly, the issue of balance between self-production, co-production and presenting partnerships should be a critical part of the thinking on season programming within Australian subsidised theatres.  In the meantime, when it comes to palavering the pros and cons of all the ‘co-‘s, knowing the difference between them is really useful.

Can you name three co-productions you saw and liked this year in Queensland? If so, why not consider nominating them for the Groundlings?

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