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Theatre in the time of plague … and flood

Update: Almost two years to the day from when I wrote the article below we are still in a time of plague. In those two years, as successive waves of Covid-19 swept across the world, theatres closed, opened up, closed again, seasons and productions were cancelled or postponed, artists and creatives lost opportunities to practise their art forms. It’s been pretty horrible, really. And yet, there’s hope. The coming of live-streaming—no, not the same I grant you—was better than nothing and digital technology made live performance more accessible for many more.

I didn’t write about theatre as I had intended so cheerfully back in 2020. I was about to lose a production myself to the plague shut-downs, and I suppose was sufficiently dispirited to turn my energies elsewhere. I remember making sough dough and brewing kombucha occupied a lot of my time.

So the floods came this month to Brisbane and broke more hearts. QT in Montague Road copped it again. They are in the process of cleaning up after storm-water wrecked the premises. Not the river this time as in 2011 but stinking water with all the after-problems of mould and warped woodwork to deal with. Companies are going to need determination and grit and money to get back up again.

For the past couple of years I’ve hung onto a quote, “the virus is our teacher,” from director Peter Sellars, and looked for as much of the silver lining as possible. When it comes to the teaching part, I can only suppose Mother Nature is close to giving up trying to persuade humans to take better care of the planet. Still, despite flood, fire, war, and plague theatre has been lurching onwards for a couple of millennia. It’s because every generation needs to tell their stories well, out loud for all to hear, to rehearse what might be with hope.

So, heigh-ho. On we go, with feeling.

The joke – not sure that’s quite the right word – doing the rounds right now is a reminder that Shakespeare wrote KING LEAR during a plague year; that would be 1605-1606. These horrible outbreaks occurred in England roughly every 20 years across three centuries from the outbreak of the Black Death in the mid-14th century. They devastated the population of England when they struck. The worst plague year was in 1563 – the year before Shakespeare was born. It killed almost a quarter of the population of London. And the point of the ‘joke’ is that we too can create during the worst of times, maybe even turn out a great and enduring work of art. Make no mistake, this is one of those worst of times and yes, art – maybe even great art – will be produced.

We’re grieving so many losses right now and that, for now, is the new normal. So it will be the art of loss and grieving but also of hope and resilience and, eventually, of celebration that will be made. But … where to begin when you’re a maker of that most social of art forms, theatre? Well, right now, stay home, and don’t even think about a social gathering.

This cheery opening is by way of saying Greenroom is back in the business of talking about theatre from time to time and maybe even facilitating and encouraging the hell out of the making of that art. We’ve been dark since September 2014, but I’d like to think we could put the ghost light back in the cupboard, the pages dusted, and we’re ready for drop-ins. I’ll try to add content over the weeks, months … for as long as it’s possible. What exactly that content will be I’m not sure yet, but we’ll find something. We’re creative and there are lots of us and we are connected, right? Guest contributors are going to be welcome.

You could start by checking back on commentary and reviews from 10 years ago. Greenroom started up in 2009 and, at that stage, blogger-reviewers were pretty new to the scene. I still felt a bit of a fake accepting comps for shows, but I was and still am grateful to the companies that generously supported Greenroom during its years of operation. Scattered here and there in some posts there are actual references to local print media and their reviewers. Since then the scene has changed forever. More people (unpaid) are writing and talking online about theatre and its production; the legacy media has gone forever, and we’re now more connected than ever before. Oh, the stinking irony!

I’m going to finish with a shout out to everyone whose names appear in blog posts from 2009 onwards in Greenroom’s pages. So many of you are still here, still working, still creating! That’s worth celebrating and so, on that note, let’s get going …

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

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”