Scratch! Dave Burton (Interview 13)

David Burton

Someone on Twitter this morning posted ‘I wish we could have creative development all the time.’ This sentiment is well understood by artists everywhere. Of course, creative development for its own sake is hardly the point. Every theatre maker longs to have the work go before an audience, and, hopefully, be remunerated appropriately for the effort involved. But, to begin at the beginning …

SE Queensland has some rather good creative development opportunities for independent artists and creatives, as well as support platforms for low-cost productions, many of which are of new work. A few are long-standing and well-regarded by the industry. They include various programs out of  !Metro Arts, which most see as the support hub for this kind of work, certainly in Brisbane. There’s also La Boite’s Indie program which has just finished its first year of operation and, if you are to believe those who have taken part, or spoken to audience members around the  place, then it’s been a raging success. Queensland Theatre Company has several long-standing writing programs which include the prestigious Premier’s Drama Award, which is the only one of its kind in offering a full production at the end of a lengthy creative development period. In the regions, JUTE in Cairns is involved in creative development of new work, whilst Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Projects Company, through its Regional Stages grants, initiated a creative development process for what eventually became David Burton’s April’s Fool. Earlier this year, the play went on to a fully professional production at home, in Ipswich and in Brisbane. The EPC recently also engaged in creative development process for Water Wars, which will get up in the 2011 La Boite Indie Season.  Now La Boite has launched Scratch for 2011. I wanted to know more, so I asked David Burton. He’s one of the 5 newly-created Associate Artists that have been engaged for the year to produce new works from … scratch.

David is a busy writer. He’s just concluded a season of his latest play Furious Angels at !Metro Arts and EPC. The play underwent a year-long creative development process overlapping the period he was working on April’s Fool. For Furious Angels he was paired with playwright Michael Gurr initially over two days of creative development, and then ‘via phone’ during the drafting process. ‘The most tangible thing I got from an extended mentoring was courage,’ he says. ‘When someone of the calibre of Gurr provides reassurance that the work is good, or when it needs to be better, then it’s an enormous support. It provides belief in your ability and, in fact, helped the entire production process.’ Understandably perhaps, David is an enthusiast for what can emerge from well organised and supported creative development programs.

‘I’m biased and speaking for myself as a young artist, but we really do want more opportunities. I can understand the certain amount of justified fear in taking a chance on a new work here or anywhere for that matter, but there is a general feeling around town that it’s futile knocking on some of the doors here. Scratch has been deliberately created to create the opportunity to generate new work, and to bring new blood into La Boite. We’re the seeds for the birth of new networks, and new doors will open for others, hopefully.’

… and Scratch is steroids to artists. We’ve got permission to take risks.

The ‘seeds’ and curators of Jump are fellow Associate Artists: Emma Che Martin, Genevieve Trace, Sarah Winter and Liesel Zink. They’re from a range of theatre backgrounds: Emma Che Martin is a performance educator and director; Genevieve Trace a contemporary performance-maker and producer; Sarah Winter is a performance-maker, while Liesel Zink is a choreographer and dancer. David is the playwright. It’s a non-traditional mix of generative artists and creatives with a self-identified skill set that features the word performance strongly.

I ask David about where he sees Scratch. Surely having a free pass to produce what they like and ‘getting the keys to a grown up theatre’s rehearsal room’ (as he puts it) is not for beginners. It seemed to me that this new layer in the theatre-making cake might be considered to be part of the sector’s emerging artists territory, or have they already emerged? How did he see it?

We leave the emerging terminology alone, probably wisely. ‘Well, for a start it’s quite deliberately different from the programs offered out of other companies,’ he tells me, ‘so it provides diversity. There’s also a sense of freedom. ‘Clearly David Berthold and La Boite have confidence in us. David invited us to become Associate Artists – I suppose it was because of our reputation, and I know he has seen my work. I’m confident in turn that we can come up with the goods – whatever they are – and that confidence breeds the courage to take risks,’ he adds. ‘I suppose we must be doing something right to have been given this opportunity.’

‘And of course, I would never have found myself working with these people in the normal course of events; I just don’t know them,’ David says. ‘Now I could be in a room with a choreographer, and I have no idea what that could lead to,’ he laughs. ‘It’s a mixture of curiosity, excitement and, a little bit of anxiety. Mind you,’ he adds, ‘any job in this business is fraught with anxiety.’  I ask whether the Associate Artists are required to work together in creating a piece. ‘That’s open too – not necessarily,’ he responds.

Apart from freedom, the other huge advantage Scratch has is its immediacy. ‘We can pick up what’s in the air at the time, work with it and bring it before an audience. You can’t do that with most other performance projects that have long lead times and schedules to stick to.’

The Scratch team have 10 slots in the year, which ends up being just about one a month during the 2011 season. The outcomes, whatever they are, will be presented in two-night seasons dotted through the year, produced in the rehearsal room and marketed online. David tells me that the Associates are paid an honorarium and that they have a small production budget. The Associates have already blocked out 5 of the 10 slots, he tells me, but Brisbane audiences will have to wait to see what emerges. ‘Whilst I can’t tell you exactly what I’m going to put on at this stage, I know that one will be a reading of a new play of mine – it’s what I do,’ he adds, ‘write plays. And, of course, there’s always one in the bottom drawer.’

Whatever the outcomes, Scratch sounds like an exciting initiative, a fine investment and well … bliss for the lucky five.

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