On putting the community into theatre

Image: That Production Company (RUINED)

It’s so easy to get caught up in attempting to define and partition off the kinds of theatre we produce. We tend to box, define, create matrices of the way stuff works, test things against check lists of expectations: professional, amateur, pro-am, community, independent …

Western theatre is no stranger to evolutionary processes; it’s one of its great strengths. Right here, right now, it’s clear that, as part of the wider arts-industrial landscape and the generational change in arts leadership, theatre makers are experimenting with the how and where of creating theatre. New alliances that enable greater participation are being thought about and enabled – look at the way the main-house companies like QTC and La Boite are opening the portals – something which, even a few years ago, was unthinkable. Many of the boundaries that used to exist are porous if they haven’t already been dismantled.

The notion of a ‘full ecology’ of theatre existing out there was put by Wesley Enoch (AD of Queensland Theatre Company) recently in a Facebook discussion. But it’s not so much out there as in the things we talk about in foyers, in the rehearsal rooms we occupy, the chat about shows we see. Wesley goes on to compare this ecology with the kind of easy acceptance of the range of activities in sport in this country and wonders why art-making hasn’t been as accommodating. It’s a good question and one that’s part of the thinking I refer to above.

Why no easy access as Wesley asks? It has, I think, as much to do with the ongoing struggle that art and artists in this country have had to ‘prove’ their worth. But it’s a big question that goes to the heart of Australian culture and will continue serving as food for ongoing discussion, but not here right now. I’m interested in the ways and means and the impact this movement is having in and on the wider theatre community here in southern Queensland. Continue reading On putting the community into theatre

Second quarterly report: jobs onstage

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Facts & Figures

Here it is. Further to a couple of earlier posts, Jobs for the girls: logging the stats and First quarterly report: jobs onstage, here’s the second of four planned reports of cast numbers in programmed productions for both subsidised companies in Brisbane in 2011. We’ve added this quarter’s figures to the last to give a running total.

Plays include: An Oak Tree and Faustus (Queensland Theatre Company) and Statespeare and Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness (La Boite Theatre).

When it comes to Queensland Theatre Company’s production of An Oak Tree, things get a bit tricky. An Oak Tree included appearances by 1 male actor and 23 guest actors (10 M; 13 F) in the same role across the season. Each guest appeared in one performance only. 11 other actors (8 M; 3F) played the role during the rehearsal period.

The guest figures for this production appear in the first chart (below) Comparative Chart (i) even though they represent the equivalent of a casual rather than a seasonal acting engagement in a programmed production.

Comparative Chart (i)

Comparative Chart (ii) (below) excludes the guest actor figures for An Oak Tree.

Comparative Chart (ii)

Any errors or omissions, please let us know.

A much better and fuller picture of employment of actors would include figures for other independent productions. Whilst this would be problematical as a ‘living-wage’ employment statistic (most indie productions are stipend or fee-based, deferred payment or non-waged) it would give a sense of how many performance opportunities are being made available for female actors, which is where this conversation began.

These quarterly reports do not include other casual employment for actors, such as play-readings, workshops and other creative development activities by both companies

Just for your information, the National Minimum Wage in Australia as of July 2011 is set at $589.30 per week or $15.51 per hour. Source: ASU National Net

To see what your union has negotiated as minimum rates of pay for professional work, you can download a pdf file of the 2010 Equity Minimums from the MEAA website Alliance Online.

The next update here will be in September.

Plagiarism 101

Illustration for Cheating
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a little bit of buzz on a local Facebook theatre network right now about plagiarism – always a dirty word whether in academic or any other circles, really.

What constitutes general or ‘public domain’ knowledge or usage in a writer’s work is sometimes tricky to determine, especially when a genuinely-original phrase starts appearing all over the place as part of the vernacular. Remember the one, ‘inland tsunami’ with reference to the recent Toowoomba disaster? I do, and I recall clearly the first time I heard it – in a media interview with Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson on the day. But did he originate it?  Like anthropologists, linguists love the game of tracking back to origins. As to claiming ownership of language, well this can be taken to stupid lengths when big corporations try to copyright a phrase or a word. However …

There are other times when it is blindingly clear that not just a random collection of words but a specific idea expressed in a phrase has been lifted and used by another as their own – as happened a week or so ago when an extract from one of Greenroom’s posts was taken and used on another site without attribution.  No names, no pack-drill at this stage, but we will be keeping an eye out for any repeats. By the way, we were not the only ones who noticed this bit of pilfering. I know I was robbed because the phrase in question really was created by me to make a particular point in the article. I remember thinking at the time that it was rather clever; obviously the other reviewer did too!  Now, as far as that other reviewer was concerned it would have been so easy to attribute the quote with a hotlink back to our site (a bit of link love) or in some other way, but it didn’t happen. So, what do I concur from that reviewer and that site: bad manners, questionable ethics and plagiarism aka intellectual dishonesty.

Come on fellow theatre writers, play fair! And, if you run a website, appoint an editor and ask your reviewers to sign off on their work as original before publishing. We’re all in this together.

And disclaimers, if required, are a sign of professional practice. That is all.

On their feet: The Boy From Oz at EPC Toowoomba

It takes a lot to get a house full of Toowoomba people on their feet for a standing ovation, but it happened last week at the opening night of The Boy From Oz directed by Lewis Jones. This is the latest big musical production from Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) based at the gorgeous hard-top Empire Theatre which just happens to be celebrating its centenary this year. I hear that audiences stood again at subsequent performances.

The EPC’s productions of plays and musicals – a couple a year – are hugely popular and, more often than not, draw full houses. By the way The Boy From Oz concludes today with an additionally-scheduled Sunday performance, and I have no doubt that delighted audiences will rise as one yet again. Why wouldn’t they?  By any standards it’s a terrific production led by Tye Shepherd as Peter Allen and Bernadette Pryde as Judy Garland. Besides, Toowoomba needs a good shot in the arm, and this joyous, sensitive production is just the tonic.

The Boy From Oz is a community production and proudly so, but it defies any kind of pigeon-holing in terms of its definition as either amateur or professional. As far as the scope of its work goes, labels just don’t stick on the EPC – unless it’s the ‘extraordinary’ label. The EPC has been working non-stop for the past few years under the Artistic Direction of Lewis Jones. It runs regular drama workshops for children and young people in Toowoomba and other centres in its regional catchment area; mentors and provides production experience for local artists and small independent groups as well as higher education students and trainees, and provides professional development seminars for teachers. It also provides employment for artists, creatives and technicians. Continue reading On their feet: The Boy From Oz at EPC Toowoomba

The rules of engagement

There’s a rather sad and, at times, hysterical (but not of the amusing kind) fall-out on another blog about town which reviews amateur as well as professional productions in Brisbane.

Briztix, which also sells tickets and provides a very useful theatre resource for Brisbane, published a review of Blue Fish Theatrical Productions‘ Jekyll and Hyde. It is fair to say that it was a savage criticism, and the reaction it caused has raised some issues that are worth consideration.  The comments extend for pages and they make for not very illuminating reading. Of course, blog comment panes are fair game for anyone who has an axe to grind – just check out some of the media sites if you want a sample of the kind of vitriol, lunacy and also quite marvellous insights by readers. On a theatre blog it’s also a logical way for supporters and critics to have their say – part of what the glorious democracy of the web is all about. As to the review in question, the commentary includes partisan name-calling which resorts to picking over the reviewer’s grammar and fitness to review plays as well as more level-headed commentary of the ‘back to your corners now people’ kind. It’s hot under the collar and defensive and, frankly, does no one, and especially not the local theatre community much good. It’s also a good case for not reading reviews until after a show closes.

Blue Fish Theatrical Productions is a new company – they did Spamalot last year – and they are aiming high; good for them. Whether or not they ‘bit off more than they could chew’ – a phrase found in some of the commentary – is not for comment here. Greenroom has not seen the show. In any case, this site does not review amateur productions – that’s our choice. It is not a judgement on the often remarkably fine work being done by amateur companies around S-E Queensland.

I guess the question at the heart of all this is whether or not reviewers should apply the same rules when discussing an amateur production as they do when taking on a professional work. What do you think?

And when does an amateur company cross the very flexible line into independent territory? Some time ago on my personal blog I mulled over what was meant by independent and professional when it comes to Queensland’s theatre. What is clear is that labels are a problem, and we don’t like them. Do they actually mean much any more? From the review postings mentioned above it seems they do.

What’s very clear, whether or not we reject labelling, is that when it comes to the recognition and reviewing of the broad range of work produced by the theatre sector in Brisbane, it’s time to agree on some ground rules.

The rules of engagement … what are they? Have your say below.

On Criticism (4 June, 2010)

Dear Brisbane Theatre … Who’s the media?

As I write this, an Arts Queensland sponsored tech forum ‘LowFi’ is just finishing up in Brisbane. I was due to attend what was planned as a day-long gathering of speakers, workshops and quick conversations on digital media and its application in the arts. I couldn’t make it so I’ve been following the proceedings today via hashtag on Twitter. Some of the tweets sang the social-media mantra re developing relationships with ‘customers,’ and not just using social media as a marketing add-on. Yes, of course, but the strategies and the actual daily process of using social media for marketing – for getting the word out and engaging with potential and current audience members – are still being discovered and developed. In a time when arts coverage appears to be receiving less coverage in ‘big media’ there is both challenge and opportunity for individual theatre companies to change the landscape of the wider media modus operandi. (The embedded tweets below are from today’s LowFi twitter stream)

#lowfi it's not just about digital marketing guys!
@LeahBarclay
Leah Barclay
RT @ 'All online interaction is a performance of some kind' @ at #lowfi #LoFi
@alexadsett
Alex Adsett

At a gathering of pre-show theatre barflies downstairs from !MetroArts in Verve Café (in the dark corner up the end) the conversation turned last Saturday night to the local buzz – barflies are good at buzz. One fly was heard to say how exciting it all was – that very night audiences would be able to see a couple of shows back to back if they chose to, and wouldn’t more late-night theatre in the city in small, welcoming venues be a thrill? Another opined that Brisbane was a get up and go to bed early town so, maybe not. Another was quite hopeful but felt that it would take time for people to get used to the idea. It was all about building audiences – that’s the challenge – all agreed. Of course, the barflies buzzed on about other things like the quality of the work being seen around the city, and so on. It was time for the first show, and then the second, but then … Continue reading Dear Brisbane Theatre … Who’s the media?