Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Playwright and the Director: An Australian Bushfire

In late May in The Weekend Australian, Rosemary Neill lit a fire that seems to still be burning. There have been various breakouts since then, including here, here, here and here, each fueled differently. 

Today, The Weekend Australian fans more flames, publishing letters by director Aubrey Mellor and playwright Peter Fleming (alarmingly headlined 'Can Ralph Myers be taken seriously?'). It also reports on playwright David Stevens' dissatisfaction with how Australian playwrights are treated, and on a recent forum at NIDA chaired by playwright Stephen Sewell titled 'Rolling in Their Graves - Working with the text of a dead author'

Roland Barthes, of course, famously argued 'The Death of the Author' in a 1968 essay. He died in 1980.

This 'debate', and I use the inverted commas with purpose, has had unusual longevity. The framing has often been poor: auteur vs author, director vs playwright, adaptations vs new plays, Simon Stone vs Australian playwrights, Ralph Myers vs the baby boomers. But the misleading binaries have not diminished passions. One wonders what lurks below.

The Australian theatre has had these kinds of debates many times before. To offer just one example: when Louis Nowra and Stephen Sewell were in their so-called 'internationalist' phase in the late '70s and early '80s - writing plays NOT set in Australia - many thought that they were not properly contributing to the development of Australian theatrical culture and, more bizarrely, that their works were not truly 'new Australian plays'. That argument is now plainly silly. 

This current debate feels like a cousin to that old one. 

There are some basic questions here which, I think, find simple answers. Let me attempt to gaze through the bushfire haze.        

Sunday, 16 June 2013

What price austerity?

The fragile Greek government, seeking to prove that it's serious about austerity, last week shut down the state broadcaster. This message from the musicians of the shut-down national radio and television centre in Athens was published by Norman Lebrecht:
"Dear friends, these are our colleagues from our National Radio Orchestra and Chorus, performing in tears, in their rehearsal room, yesterday night. The room, albeit hot and humid as the air-condition is not working, is packed with people, while thousands are watching outside on the video wall. Both the orchestra and chorus were shut down along with the state radio and tv channels three days ago. 2650 families are now with no job. Please spread the news, we need your support… Let us keep the art alive! Let us keep democracy alive!"  

Greece has failed to see that austerity economics have never worked. It's a debunked approach favoured by those who mistakenly liken the finances of nation states to domestic budgets. In Greece, income cuts and tax increases have exacerbated a crippling recession, forcing tens of thousands of businesses to close and sending unemployment to a record of 27%. Poverty has become widespread and the suicide rate has doubled in the last three years.

Austerity is a dangerous idea. Here's why:

Cut or invest? Public investment in arts and culture can drive economic growth. In England,14p is the amount that each person contributes per week via the Arts Council to investment in arts and culture. That's equal to less than 0.1% of Government spending.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund admitted that it got Greece wrong. It might be too late, for this the birthplace of Western democracy and culture.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Australian Theatre Forum: A View

I dropped into the Australian Theatre Forum in Canberra for its last day on Friday. I attended all of ATF 2009 in Melbourne, but none of ATF 2011 in Brisbane. I adored the experience of that first ATF and so really wanted to experience just a little of what ATF 2013 had to offer.


Sounds like there were at least three highlights, each of which I missed. Firstly, there were the opening day keynotes. Medical anthropologist and social historian Lenore Manderson and futurist Kristin Alford, founding director of Bridge8, kicked off. Their question was “Do we even have a future?” Many found it very stimulating to begin with the thoughts of two scientists. Then David Milroy, the first Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre, gave a stirring and good humoured account of the growing appetite for black stories and a provocation for how we work together as a theatre community. Many I spoke with were moved and inspired.  

The second highlight was a day two keynote from Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska of the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and OK Radio. Their approach opened a space that revealed the need to talk about race. David Milroy had, in his way, set the scene the day before. Here, it generated heat that was not welcomed by all. But it undoubtedly pointed to our uneasy relationship with racism, something which provoked headlines in the sporting arena on those same days. Subsequently, Indigenous theatre makers met privately and reported back to the Forum with a statement calling for support for work towards a "best practice model" when making theatre involving Indigenous culture. And all this in National Reconciliation Week.

People seem also to have enjoyed a presentation of the latest Currency Press Platform Paper, Re-valuing the Artist in the New World Order from David Pledger of Melbourne’s Not Yet, It's DifficultHe joined Martin Portus in conversation.