Local writing not up to scratch: us and them – again.

Image by Marco Veringa via Flickr

The whole issue of parochialism and the cringe just won’t.go.away!

This last week there’s been chatter on the social networks from local playwrights who are angered that a theatre reviewer considers their work to be pretty much second-rate.  There’s no doubt, if you read between the lines of some of the commentary, that writers are frustrated by the lack of opportunities – material and financial resources in particular – for new and subsequent productions of their work here in Queensland.  As many note, it is through getting your work on stage in production that you learn the craft of playwrighting.

The problems surrounding getting a new work to production, and then to a second production cannot be overstated, and it’s apparently the same in the US.  The recently-published Outrageous Fortune contends that US dramatists cannot get new works produced, and that established writers are squeezing out the newcomers.  They’re as mad as hell about it, and a series of ‘town-hall meetings’ in the American tradition were held in major US cities recently to discuss the economics and the politics of the issue.

Closer to home, the interview that sparked the reaction aired last week on 612 ABC Brisbane during a show called Drivetime.  It was one of those cosy radio roundups of the local theatre week: mild in tone, lots of laughs, anecdotes, civil airwave chat.  Local writer and theatre reviewer Sue Gough and regular theatre commenter Doug Kennedy were interviewed by Kelly Higgins-Devine.  The conversation on the week’s Matilda Awards developed around what Kennedy called the ‘positive discrimination’ at work in funding for local writers.  Sue Gough had noted the success of the unfunded 23rd Productions with The Pillowman by Irish writer Martin McDonagh.  Higgins-Devine then asked Gough point blank, ‘Are Australian playwrights up to scratch compared with some of their international peers?’  Gough (bravely and/or foolishly – depending on your point of view) responded as bluntly, ‘In a word, no,’  and went on to respond that, in Australia, you could count the ‘brilliant ones’ on the fingers of one hand.  Well, yes, I guess so.  After all, ‘brilliant’ is a big call in any country – and ‘some’ is a key word when you’re doing any kind of comparison – which we know are odious at the best of times!  If you’re interested, here’s the link to the interview.

After suggesting that local writers need the benchmarking of the best of overseas writers to ‘learn’ from, Sue Gough then went on to say that one reason the local Matilda Awards were created was to focus on Queensland work because no one from ‘the perceived centres that matter’ gets to see our work – whose perception?  As a result, Queensland productions were therefore not eligible for those other cities’ Green Room or Helpmann awards.  It was at this point when the issue of bringing ‘them’ (the critics) up from ‘down there’ to see ‘our’ work and get it ‘on the radar’, that I realised a potentially excellent discussion had been derailed – again – by the cringe beast.

So, a correction to start.  The comment that ‘our plays’ are not being seen outside Queensland is nonsense.  The Playing Australia funding scheme Sue Gough mentioned in passing (the Long Paddock process), as well as independently developed co-productions between Australian theatre companies, mean that Queensland plays, artists, creatives and their work are seen in other state regional and metropolitan centres and capital cities.  As I write, Queensland resident Michael Gow‘s Toy Symphony is on the road nationally, and, if it hasn’t already, is about to play its 100th performance.  The Matilda award-winning production (2007) of Matrix Theatre’s The Kursk by Sasha Janowicz toured nationally last year, and Queensland Theatre Company’s co-production with MTC of Let the Sunshine by David Williamson – another Queensland resident – will soon tour to Melbourne.   Then there’s Brisbane‘s The Escapists with Boy Girl Wall which played the Adelaide Fringe Festival recently, and is due to open in its home city in August this year.  This is a sampling of Australia’s national theatre – it’s common-wealth of theatres.  Is the point made?

We need more, not less public conversation about the state of the arts here and elsewhere in Australia.  There’s nothing wrong with strong points of view – in fact, we should be encouraging them – but uninformed opinion must always be challenged.  Not to do so is … unhelpful, to say the least.  So ABC, how about a series of conversations on theatre issues that matter?   I’m thinking of the kind of intelligent and entertaining jousts over film and the local industry that David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz have from time to time.  You could do worse than by interrogating Sue Gough’s contention that local theatre needs the best of non-Australian plays to serve as a ‘benchmark’ and from which local writers can learn.  Then invite a Queensland playwright to the table.  Now that I would tune in for!

Queensland Theatre Company: Applications for Artistic Director position now open

Queensland Theatre Company has today advertised for the position of Artistic Director in local, national, and international media.

The advertisement and downloadable media statement can also be found on the Company website.  Here’s the ad:

Artistic Director

Queensland Theatre Company is seeking a bold, visionary theatre maker to provide artistic leadership to one of Australia’s major performing arts companies.

Based in Brisbane, Australia’s fastest growing capital city, the Company has a 40 year history of providing audiences with a diverse range of productions and a long-term commitment to regional Queensland.

The Company supports the community and the arts sector through a range of education, artform and artist development activities.

Critical to this position is the ability to articulate an inspiring vision and to deliver productions and activities that will engage, entertain and provoke audiences, and continue the development of theatre in Queensland and beyond.

For more information, please contact:
Tony Grierson
Braithwaite Steiner Pretty Executive Search
+612 8905 3726 or qtc@bspes.com
Applications close Friday 21 May

What theatre means to Greenroom: World Theatre Day 2010

In case you don’t know, World Theatre Day (that’s #wtd10 if you want to follow all the conversation on Twitter) is tomorrow, March 27.

You can read all about what’s happening on the blog here and, better still, add to it what you and your group are doing.  You can also catch all the action via Twitter tomorrow through Sunday, as the rest of the world catches up with NZ and Australia who kick it all off at midnight tonight.  Follow @wtd10 on Twitter and keep the theatre convo going from front of house, backstage, the foyer, after-parties … wherever.

By the way, you don’t have to do anything special, but be sure to share what you’re doing via a video, stills, audio or a tweet or two from the coalface.  Here’s where they will end up … on the WTD Tumblr ‘scrapbook’ … and here’s how to add your stuff.

Meanwhile, the image above is what theatre means to this blog … at least this is the Wordle that shows the most-used words on the blog since we started last year.

Happy World Theatre Day wherever you are!

Image: http://www.wordle.net/

Poll Results: overall, how do you rate the quality of play-reviewing in your locale?

Not a day goes by without someone, somewhere grinding their axe on a theatre production.  This can be in print or more recently, in online criticism. Equally, theatre workers diss the critics, especially when their production has been less than favourably treated.

The issue of the quality of play reviewing is of sufficient interest we would have thought, to garner some commentary.  However, this poll on the quality of theatre criticism wasn’t well responded to in terms of numbers, and we wonder whether or not there is a general malaise or simple disinterest (by this small – but niche – readership at least) about the issue.  It also opens up another poll which we’ll release soon; this one on what makes for a good piece of theatre criticism.  But to the results of this poll …

Clearly the quality of play reviewing varies here in Australia and elsewhere, and the results show this; perhaps this wasn’t a good option to put – seems far too obvious.  No respondent thought the overall standard to be ‘Excellent,’ but a quarter of all respondents thought the quality of play reviewing in their locale to be  ‘Awful.’

One comment: Pandering, uncritical and written as if the “critic” is looking for friends

Here are the results

Working on text – the early phase of rehearsal

UPDATE – this is an out of the archive post reworked a year or so on. If you’re a regular here or to my other blog Groundling, from which this is taken, you may have already read my rehearsal and performance posts for the Empire Theatre’s 2008 production of Cabaret directed by Lewis Jones.  I played the role of Fraulein Schneider. You can find these posts elsewhere on the site. Just type ‘Cabaret’ in the search pane, and stand back. I’m revisiting some of my posts on actors’ process, which I hope you may find useful. This one looks at text analysis.  As always, I would love your commentary.

Sunday’s rehearsals swung into a first shuffle-through of the play scene by scene. This was table talk about character, backstory, and relationships followed by a work through of a couple of scenes in which my character first appears.

First appearances are critical for character revelation. For a start, an audience starts to make up its mind about how it relates to a character. First appearances are also where a play’s obligatory exposition is revealed. A good play will give out the information on who, what, were, why and so on via character interaction and dialogue that hopefully doesn’t beat you over the head, as well as through other subtle clues in the script. These are things the actor needs to pick up and feed the character.

Text analysis for the actor is a bit like the forensic analysis of a crime scene. However, there is something you also need to bear in mind, and that is to balance what the character knows with what the actor knows … or as it’s often expressed, don’t play what’s on the ‘next page.’ I got a bit carried away myself today wondering how significant the first mention of Jewishness in the play would be to my character. Of course the audience is going to prick its collective ears at this point … ‘Uh oh, we’ve got an issue here that is going to come back later!!’ but the characters themselves are at this stage, blissfully ignorant of the fate in store.

This is what I like about these early turning over the text rehearsals … playing with possibilities and making choices, and seeing where they lead. It’s good to have a director like Lewis who allowed me to stumble my way around the set, getting its geography and furniture layout into my head, getting the feel of ownership that the character would have; it’s my house after all – it was once a large home and where I was born and where I grew up. Alas, nowadays it’s been converted into a boarding house. Yes, this was one of the creative choices I’ve made, along with what has brought Schneider to where she is right now … New Year’s Eve 1929.

I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of rehearsals, and it’s going to include something I’m not all that familiar with … making the transition in and out of a musical number. I’m sure it’s going to be all about finding the right energy level and bridging from speech to song, though handily all of my songs tend to do this with quite a bit of ‘spoken in rhythm’ appearing on the score. Although we are not singing within scenes yet, this finding the right heightened energy was something the director worked on quite a bit during the final run-throughs of the scenes this afternoon.