Brief Encounters – Homegrown at Empire Theatre Studio

Image: Kate Foy; Sand Drawing: Damien Kamholtz

Last night’s theatre excursion was closer to home than many in the last few weeks have been for me. It was to Brief Encounters at Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Studio – and what a lovely little performance space this is.

Brief Encounters is the latest of the theatre’s Homegrown Studio series which sees local artists – established, emerging and embryonic – working together on the kinds of new work which so often never get to see stage lights shine on them. It’s vital, generative activity and the fact that it is being sponsored and supported by local business and the local council gives me great heart and delight that I live outside the capital city in a community that values such work. Regional artists don’t get to say that often but then, Toowoomba has always valued its art and, well, credit where credit is due. Now, it seems, there is also a place for that most arcane or, at least, often misunderstood of art forms – performance art.

artistic blind date meets creation under-the-gun. (Katy Harris-McLeod: the Tomorrow Collective)

Not all of this kind of work is what might be called successful in terms of being finished ‘product.’ That’s not the point; incompleteness, rawness, and even a bit of self-indulgence are expected in the service of creative experimentation – although several of the encounters were delightfully complete in themselves and quite free of any self-consciousness. With its time constraints Brief Encounters almost works against the pressure most artists feel to put something together that is worthy of sharing in terms of polish and finesse or completeness. Continue reading Brief Encounters – Homegrown at Empire Theatre Studio

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