When I was in year seven, I went to the Brisbane Writers Festival to meet John Marsden. I had never heard of a writers’ festival before, but I was instantly bewitched. It was its own perfect type of theatre. The bounds between audience and artist are a pre-packaged intimacy, having already spent hours together alone, with the writer whispering to the reader in their own private tongue. It’s a special, introverted community, a sanctuary for intellectualism and ideas.
As you may be able to tell, I was rather taken with it all.
Many years on, I’m working behind the scenes, as BWF’s Associate Producer. This means I’m part of the programming team, producing hundreds of events that happen in the hot spot (the 4th to the 8th of September), and all year round.
I’m one of dozens of cultural artists who are in a gap. My background is in playwrighting. I’ve grown up from ‘emerging’ and am some way from ‘full-time established’ and am in the ‘weird in-betweeny bit’ (some industry jargon for you there). Many artists venture into a programming or cultural producer role during this time. It’s rich with its own rewards.
What I love about BWF as an organization is that it places a huge value on enabling and celebrating talent. It exists for the purpose of allowing writers to do what they do for tens of thousands of Queenslanders. And Queenslanders love it.
It’s a sweet buzz of validation to produce an event with Ray Feist, for example, which we did earlier in the year in partnership with Brisbane City Libraries, and see giant handfuls of fans come to the interview SO EXCITED to see their favourite writer. As an artist and producer, I have too often become lost in the logistics of an event or piece of art, and forgotten just how sweetly excited people are to come into close contact with a cultural artefact that they treasure. It is that spark, after all, that I felt all those years ago at my first BWF, and it’s the main reason why I’m here now.
The beauty of a festival model is the artwork you come across by accident and trigger you to instant fandom. I’ve just returned from a brief tour to the Darling Downs with spoken word artist and all-round amazing talent Luka Lesson, who was able to introduce his art form to eager young people who had never considered hip-hop and slam poetry as a lyrical gateway to self empowerment. Within two hours, they’d uncovered a new art form and each written their own, heart-felt poem.
This is to neglect the Festival itself, which takes place in just under a month. I could write a whole blog on Kate Eltham’s impressive new Artistic Directorship, seeing shifts into genre-dedicated programming that finally bring significant acknowledgement to the too frequently Festival-forgotten forms like Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, or the entire day of programming we have dedicated to graphic novels and illustrations, ‘Well Drawn’. A third of events are free. We host well over 200 writers, from international, national, local and regional backgrounds, at every stage of their careers. All of these writers come to discuss ideas, do readings, conduct masterclasses, and sell and sign their books.
This devotion to enabling of talent has taught me a lot about my values as a theatre practitioner and cultural producer. There’s been more than once where my experience in theatre has come to great use with BWF, but I would also humbly suggest that Queensland theatre has a lot to learn from the huge diversity of other cultural activities that happen in our state. It’s a dialogue that I think can be conducted with greater depth.
There’s a sign in our office. We see it every day. ‘Innovate or Die’.
John Marsden took my worn copy of ‘Tomorrow, When The War Began’, and my 12 year old heart with it, and confidently signed, ‘To David, Take Risks…’
In a classroom in Toowoomba, I see a student tell Luka Lesson that he’s helped them realize ‘who they really are’.
The wheel keeps going round, and around, and all of us along with it.
Go and make a cup of tea and spend a break looking at the Brisbane Writers Festival site www.bwf.org.au. You’ll be surprised at what you find.