Free Range 2011: Steven Mitchell Wright (Interview 21)
Risky, avant-garde and experimental are not words that frighten Steven Mitchell Wright, Artistic Director and founder of The Danger Ensemble; he relishes them. ‘I believe in the power of words and using them to say what we mean,’ and so is happy, in fact, completely unapologetic when using them to position his work as an artist. We talk briefly about why people reject labels – especially ones that appear to take such strong positions like avant-garde or experimental. He’s matter of fact and sweetly tactful. ‘I think it’s just that some people are afraid of being deemed something in case they limit themselves,’ he responds.
Steven’s C-V lists work as performer and creator with Brisbane’s Zen Zen Zo and Frank theatres. Whilst his artistic background lies in dance and theatre, he tells me he has been interested for a long time in the space where music and theatre meet – but not the way they do in musical theatre. He’s appeared at the Edinburgh Festival and directed Amanda Palmer‘s world-tour where her fans experienced a high-end, eclectic theatre show rather than the usual rock-venue presentations they were used to. ‘I’m interested not just in innovation, but in creating new audiences and new experiences for them.’ He’s emphatic about eschewing innovation for innovation’s sake, however. ‘I’m not interested in tack-on gimmicks. It is essential that theatre makers take the time to consider how audiences are going to receive their work. There’s so much influence now from the web-based world and work trans-media,’ he adds, ‘but if the work is about the technology, I’m not interested. There must be humanity at the core.’
Steven’s enthusiastic not only for the work being enabled by !Metro Arts, ‘who provide a place where we can create work we want to do and to investigate the format in which to present,’ but also the wider culture in the south-east of Queensland. ‘We’re in a strong place here,’ he says. I ask him why. He cites generational issues – a lot of young people, strong leadership in the arts, a real feel that change is in the air. ‘It’s a place of opportunity,’ he adds, ‘and there’s a rejuvenated spirit about. People are attempting to create work with a bigger, more confident voice.’ He also talks about local artists getting increased exposure to other theatre practices. He mentions WTF! ‘We’re engaged in creating a strong, sustainable culture right now.’
But right right now, Steven’s got curatorial charge of CROSS-STITCH: WITHOUT APOLOGY (all caps but I’m not shouting) which opens the Free Range 2011 Festival tonight. I ask about his vision for the work.
‘I want to take up the place where fringe festivals end – a place where we’re building an audience and where fear of failing is not an issue’ or, as the media release has it:
CROSS-STITCH: WITHOUT APOLOGY is a two-night art event/nightclub/theatre/gallery/reality-tv/photo-shoot/orgy featuring theatre, music, visual art and that-which-cannot-be-coined in an accelerated-senses avant-garde experience that crashes head-first into Metro Arts’ backyard to kick off FR11. At-the-helm is emerging Artistic Director Steven Mitchell Wright who has invited a gamut of independent artists to develop new work based on myth, history or literature that strives for the virtuosic, questions convention and above all is rooted in passion. ”Through bold experimentation, form collaboration and risk taking we truly discover the potential of our art forms and future. CROSS-STITCH: Without Apology looks not only to revision what ‘the arts’ themselves are but the way in which they can be experienced, remixed, rebooted and framed for an audience.”
For CROSS-STITCH: WITHOUT APOLOGY Steven has curated the collective of artists known as house of box who will use the entirety of the premises at Metro Arts, ‘and spaces won’t be used in ways that they’re intended,’ he adds. Audiences will arrive, be entertained by a DJ in a holding-pen (his words) then separated and be taken off to become immersed in what follows – six different experimental pieces. Some of these will take a couple of minutes while others are longer or you can stay as long as you like. Audiences then return to the holding-pen and head off for another contact with the house of box artists. It sounds like a whole lot of amazing, discombobulating stuff – and, I imagine, this is what Steven would like audiences to feel, at least, in part. It’s also planned to be a fun and lively event.
Steven’s next project lies in central Australia, where’s he off next week to lead a series of workshops. I finish our chat by asking him what challenges he has set for himself for the future. ‘I need to stay strong in my vision of what theatre can be and to continue boldly to create that work, to cultivate a space and audiences for that culture.’ He finishes, ‘I want also to continue to create a culture with young people that ensures a future for what we do in the theatre. If we don’t theatricality will die.’ Now, there’s another conversation, I think to myself.
CROSS-STITCH: WITHOUT APOLOGY
Tonight. Tomorrow. Out The Back. 8pm. Free Event.
Featuring artists house of box, Caroline Dunphy, Morgan Aldrich, Thomas Quirk, Amy Ingram, Stella Electrika, Penny Harpham, William McBride, Lachlan Tetlow-Stuart with Leah Shelton, under the artistic direction of Steven Mitchell Wright.
The Danger Ensemble are part of La Boite’s Indie Season this year. Their Hamlet Apocalypse directed by Steven is scheduled for 25 Aug – 11 September at The Roundhouse Theatre.