Free Range 2011: !Metro Arts – to begin at the beginning …

With all the talk of free range and incubation models, it was probably inevitable that I started thinking of chicken and egg metaphors as I prepped to talk with Daniel Evans, Jo Thomas and Steven Mitchell Wright this week. All are involved with the 6th Free Range Festival which occupies nearly the whole of the month of June each year at !Metro Arts’ Edward Street, Brisbane home.

It’s going to be a busy barnyard from 3rd to 28th this year. As the press release notes about the Free Range program, it

will bring together an eclectic group of independent performance makers to seed new ideas and evolve new work through a challenging, intense and inspiring month-long program.

Dan Evans tells me more about the process of getting this stimulating and immersive experience up and running.

He has the executive producer role in Free Range 2011 with over-arching responsibility for the roll out and smooth-operation of the hatchings. Dan also has the job of guiding the artists and creatives involved in Free Range ensuring they have the resources they need and that they’re provoked towards taking risks and avoiding shortcuts in their process. In fact, this year he has engaged the services of a team of Provocateurs – Wesley Enoch, Dan Koop, Emily Sexton, Noel Staunton and Fiona Winning – to stimulate, agitate, challenge and push the 5 artists and their ideas during the period of Free Range.

‘We want artists to connect with the Provocateurs on a human level,’ Dan explains. ‘It can free up communication and connect on the level of art itself. The Provocateurs are all national leaders and can often be seen for the position they hold rather than as themselves.’ The Provocateurs and the five artists will be working in what might be seen as a mentorship relationship. They will meet over a speed-dating dinner and take it from there. Each will get a chance to present what they are hoping to do – to pitch – and to get to know the Provocateurs. ‘After that the Provocateurs will be able to drop in at any time to see what’s going on, to give critical feedback and to journey with the people involved as they create,’ Daniel adds. ‘It’s a really juicy process at this seedling stage.’

The model for this year’s Free Range has emerged from a focus group in 2010. Last year artists were asked to nominate what they thought might create a perfect dynamic environment and experience for experimentation. Rather than focus on the product – the artistic outcome – this year’s Free Range hones in on the artist and his or her process. ‘We’re responding to their needs,’ Daniel says, ‘and the work here is experimental, new and risky.’

For 2011 five Free Rangers have been selected to take the journey: Jo & Co, Transparency Collective, David M. Thomas, Red Moon Rising and the escapists.  !Metro Arts is funded by the Program Presenter scheme out of the Australia Council for the Arts, and part of this funding is allocated to the Free Rangers who get a sum of money to support them as they take two weeks away from their daily lives to immerse and create.

It all kicks off this weekend with the return of last year’s hit event, CROSS-STITCH, designed to give an emerging Artistic Director an opportunity ‘to platform their burgeoning aesthetic.’ This year the two-night extravanganza, CROSS-STITCH: Without Apology will see independent director Steven Mitchell Wright curate seven new performance works from local artists throughout the !Metro Arts building.

Daniel Evans hopes the entire !Metro Arts venue rocks throughout June. ‘I hope everyone in town turns up just to see what’s happening – day and night. It’s so interesting to see stuff behind the scenes and to talk with the artists. There will always be something happening here.’

And when it’s all over for another year one of the Free Rangers will have had their work selected to continue on in development under the aegis of the Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar Fringe Festival. ‘Under the Radar has become aligned with !Metro Arts – as its home – over time,’ says Dan. ‘Noel (Staunton) and Liz (Burcham – !Metro Arts CEO) had a conversation about taking the work further and so it’s happened.’

Three very different artist collectives will also showcase works they currently have in development for the Sue Benner Takeover series. During FreeRange 2011, audiences will have the opportunity to preview shows from Motherboard Productions (La Voix Humaine), Skye Gellmann and Ivan Smith (Something with Sabotage) and TheNest4Change (Home). Check for details on the !Metro Arts site.

Meanwhile you can keep up with the latest happenings on the Free Range blog which has daily updates – words, images, video.

Watch for Greenroom’s interview with Steven tomorrow and with Jo Thomas from Jo&Co next week.

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