The ShoGo website, or, Amateur vs Professional Part 1.5

We at CWTP couldn’t help sharing this little observation with you. Some of you may be familiar with Arts SA’s new website, ShoGo – www.shogo.com.au. For those not familiar with the site, here is its own description from the ‘About Us’ section:

ShoGo is South Australia’s newest online network for the performing arts. It is for everyone who wants to see great live performances by some of our nationally and internationally acclaimed professional theatre companies.”

As we understand, Arts SA spent a goodly sum on the project of developing this site as a new mechanism to promote and develop audiences for its professional theatre companies. Despite explicitly stating that the site is intended for SA’s *professional* theatre companies –  Arts SA has decided to include a number of amateur theatre companies with them, including the Adelaide Theatre Guild, Northern Light Theatre Company and The Therry Dramatic Society. Indeed there is no effort to disguise that these companies are amateur – The Therry Dramatic Society states that it has been “staging amateur musicals and plays since 1943”.

So why is Arts SA including these amateur companies in the platform for the professional ones? Is it to ‘pad’ out the perceived volume of shows being presented in SA? Is it because Arts SA views these amateur companies as the same as the professional ones that it funds? Or is Arts SA perhaps not interested in all this amateur vs professional terminology? I mean who cares, right? It’s just a website, isn’t it? Does it really matter what goes on it?

We at CWTP take the view that is does actually matter, as this is a small example of a larger willingness to erode a sense of a professional performing arts sector in SA. In our view, associating amateur theatre with professional work devalues the skill of the professional artist and sends mixed messages to audiences about what professional theatre artists produce. As we have discussed in Part I, we can accept that amateurism can abound in professional work, and that amateur work can seek to conduct itself with the greatest professionalism.

That said, we believe that Arts SA’s lack of distinction here is worrying – they are supposed to be building a dynamic sector of professional artists in the state, and encourage daring, risky and inventive professional theatre that can be nationally and internationally acclaimed (as the ShoGo site claims). According to Arts SA’s handbook, the following list – which includes amateur theatre – is ineligible for its support:

“Projects without professional arts outcomes, such as amateur productions, the self-publication of literary works, fundraising, competitions, awards and prizes, as well as projects forming part of a course of study, including graduation activities.”

However, Arts SA’s ShoGo is promoting amateur productions without professional outcomes, and it could even be argued that the continued funding of the Bakehouse and Holden Street Theatre is also passively funding the amateur theatre enterprises of those two organisations. If Arts SA does wants to put its taxpayer funded resources behind amateur work,  it hasn’t quite got the green light yet – not without rejigging its eligibility criteria, that is. We hope those at Arts SA will be a bit more mindful of its own eligibility in the future – especially when it comes time to cut one quarter of the small to medium sector next year.

UPDATE: 14 Oct: We’ve noticed that ShoGo has just updated its ‘About Us’ blurb, deleting reference to professional companies:

ShoGo is South Australia’s newest online network for the performing arts. ShoGo is for everyone who wants to see great live performances – it is a one-stop shop for theatre-goers to find out about shows, companies, venues, reviews, news, special offers and sign up to a free newsletter. It includes cabaret, contemporary dance, physical theatre, theatre, puppetry, opera, comedy, musical theatre, spoken word.”

Perhaps on second thought Arts SA has decided that we don’t have “nationally and internationally acclaimed professional theatre companies”? …We’d be interested to hear your thoughts! The amateur companies remain, by the way…

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Arts Cuts, The State Strategic Plan and how to talk about it all differently.

Before you read this blog article you might like to download the South Australian Strategic Plan to have next to you for reference.  You can get it at…http://www.saplan.net.au/print-the-plan

The latest of the “razor gang” cuts that occurred to South Australia’s arts community this week has left this writer feeling (along with quite a few other people and organizations) a little battered and sore but certainly not dead, buried and cremated (sorry Tony).

The very real outcomes of the budget is still yet to be felt and realized through the strategies that Arts SA will now endeavor to develop and in turn deliver over the next 12 months or so.

“Small to medium-sized arts companies will bear the brunt of the cuts, with Industry Development funding to be cut by a quarter, or more than $1 million, by 2013-14.  This program funds 39 organizations, including Leigh Warren & Dancers, Vitalstatistix and Brink theatre companies, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation and Ausdance.” – from Adelaide Now – September 16 2010

What this writer thought was an interesting thing to do at this stage of uncertainty and flux was to go back to the South Australia’s Strategic Plan (SASP) first developed in 2004 and look at the targets and key measures that pertain to the arts.

As an aside it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to note that the SASP is currently being made anew and the state government is calling for the public to have a say – go to http://www.saplan.net.au/ NOW and begin to look for ways to comment and participate.

Not surprisingly, nowhere and we at CWTP mean NOWHERE are the areas that will be suffering the cuts over the next twelve months mentioned as a single entity or sector in the SASP.  The closest of the plan’s targets that you could possibly fit most of the companies and individuals about to receive cuts into is…

T4.1 “Creative Industries (new): increase the number of South Australians undertaking work in the creative industries by 20% by 2014”

It is interesting to note that the supplementary measure used in achieving this target is the “Number of South Australian’s employed in the combined areas of television, film and interactive content development and production” and this measure certainly does not relate to the sector / echelon as described above that will receive the cuts.

In the 2008 Progress Report on the SASP the key measure “Number of South Australian’s undertaking work in the creative industries” – this measure may indeed include the small to medium sector as described above – has increased by the following amounts;

  • From 68 400 paid in 2004 to 72,800 paid in 2007 – (an increase of 4,400 and we at CWTP would imagine this is greatly if not ALL part time work)
  • From 136,600 unpaid in 2004 to 208,700 unpaid in 2007 – (a massive increase of 72,100 volunteers).

Some questions arise at this point…

  • Why does it seem that volunteers and unpaid “work” in the creative industries is being used to prop up this measure?
  • Does this look like a blurring between the arts and creative professional and the arts and creative hobbyist?
  • Whilst the unpaid arts and creative hobbyist is an important sector of our State’s culture, would it be more pertinent to place it into the SASP’s Building Communities under it’s T5.6 target under Volunteering?

The second of the targets T4.2 is “Double the number of feature films produced in South Australia by 2014” which according to the SASP 2008 Progress Report is on track. We at CWTP assume that the budget announcement that funding for the SA Film Corporation’s new Film Lab initiative will be capped at just under $1 million from next year, saving $500,000 a year will not cause too much of dent in the SAFC being able to keep this key measure as acheiveable.

T4.3 & T4.4 (it’s starting to sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken over the SASP – Ed) both apply to the increase of attendances at South Australia’s cultural institutions and the attendance at selected arts activities (ie: festivals).  Both targets are where the majority of the funding increases and some small decreases announced this week would be going.  Again from Adelaide Now – September 16 2010…

“The Adelaide Festival, which will go annual from 2012, will receive an extra $9.9 million over three years.  Other previously announced initiatives include $1.2 million for a festivals commissioning fund to create new shows and $3 million over four years for major exhibitions.  The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust will have its grant funding cut by less than 1 per cent, but ends up better off with $3 million extra funding for its Cabaret and OzAsia festivals.  The SA Museum, Art Gallery and State Library will each have their funding cut by about 1 per cent over three years from 2011-12.  Fees for arts board members, including the State Library, Museum, Art Gallery, Festival Centre and Adelaide Festival  introduced in 1996  will be dropped in 2012-13, saving $400,000 a year.  These are currently worth $12,000 a year for board members and $18,000 for chairpersons.”

With these “give and takes” it is obvious that the State Government is solely interested in bolstering this part of the arts industry with little blood letting.  In the SASP 2008 Progress Report both T4.3 & T4.4 targets are either on track or in T4.4’s case achieved way before the 2014 due date.

If you take a closer look at T4.4’s key measure “Increase the number of attendances at selected arts activities by 40% by 2014” it seems to read it is actually measuring the amount of visitor numbers NOT local attendances.

Now lets stop here and reiterate that we at CWTP are not against festivals at all and in fact we all love a bit of festival action BUT by going through the budget cuts against the strategic plan in this manner is proving the fact this writer stated at the beginning…  NOWHERE are the areas that will be suffering the cuts over the next twelve months are mentioned as a single entity or sector in the SASP.  In fact it is becoming obvious that the state government doesn’t seem to be interested in or understanding the role of the small to medium and independent arts sector at all.

We won’t go through the rest of the SASP target by target at this stage but suffice to say that most of the rest of Objective 4: Fostering Creativity and Innovation (before you get to the Investment in Science, Research and Innovation part of Objective 4) involves itself with Understanding Aboriginal Culture (T4.5), Commercialization of Research (T4.6), Business Innovation (T4.7) & Broadband Usage (T4.8) all of which, accordingly to the SASP 2008 Progress Report are floundering, and the achievement of what seems to be their quite high targets are either unclear or unlikely.  It is also unclear as to whether the arts sector as a whole are contributing to the measures attached to the objectives due to the fact that most of the arts sector is being funded to present works in festivals and keep old buildings from falling down.

The arts sector is certainly not being funded to…

  • research NEW ways of working and creating work for NEW audiences in the commercial field.
  • work with technology to create new business opportunities.
  • be creative in how we promote the understanding of aboriginal culture.

And herein lies this writer’s argument for this column.  NOW is the most IMPORTANT time that the arts sector look at ways of developing new work and being creative across sectors and across the SASP.

If the state government is headstrong on supporting festivals and major organizations, the small to medium and independent arts organizations and artists sector (without doubt the most creative and innovative of the lot) need to strongly argue and pitch themselves at how the arts and cultural pursuits can be represented across all of the objectives of the SASP.  Lobby the Arts Industry Council and in turn Arts SA and demand that the arts sector develops a language that describes the unseen benefits of arts and cultural activity so that the amazing work that the small to medium sector can be recognized and not suffer cuts in the future.

A lot of the amazing work that is already being done by the entire small to medium arts sector could be seen to contributing to the following targets of the SASP.

  • Improve Well being (Objective 2), Preventative Health (T2.3), Work Life Balance (T2.12)
  • Building Communities (Objective 5), especially in the Aboriginal Leadership (T5.7) Multiculturalism (T5.8) and Regional Population (T5.9).
  • In Expanding Opportunity (Objective 6) there are many places that the arts and culture can be included and measured through Disability (T6.11) and Education (T6.12), Aboriginal Education (T6.18),

This certainly does not necessarily mean everyone in the arts must resort to getting all “touchy feely”, devising new shows or projects that are targeted towards these audiences or community concern nor does it means that everyone must embark on a community based project around disability housing to solve the problem.  Actually it couldn’t be more further from the truth.

The arts sector is wise enough NOT to be petulant and understands that it has long and wide reaching effects on everyone’s lives that comes into contact with it.  Watching the arts, participating in it whether it be through being an audience member, a maker or a even volunteer carries with it innovative examples of social capital and the concepts of inclusion, community and cultural identity and belonging.

We urge you to get smart and amend the way we measure and talk about our arts and culture to our broader community that is not necessarily just bottom line dollar figures and audience participation.  Start by being involved in the next State’s Strategic Planning mechanisms and future state based and national arts forums that are being organised.

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Devouring playwrights in SA

Some weeks ago now some of the CWTP crew went to Gorge 09.  In it’s fifth incarnation this time presented by Brink Productions and returning to the Space Theatre as a part of the Festival Centre’s inSpace program, it was great to see the format of the evening hadn’t changed too much over the past 12 years and was still in the very capable hands of originator Daisy Brown.  An interview with the guest writer, a dry reading of the ten-minute script by neutral actors, followed by two interpretations by two independent project companies containing some of Adelaide’s best BASS employed working actors.  With a few tweaks here and there over the years and now with less audience theatre sports style games Gorge v.09 was one of the slickest and tightest by far.

Gorge has become one of the very few constants of open theatre process exploration on the South Australian theatre / performance scene.  Allowing a “non-working-in-the-theatre-audience” the opportunity to ask the creatives about approaches to text and presenting the works in context is actually a great way to get people talking about the meaning and execution of a work no matter how small.  It’s also a great opportunity for small companies and collectives to strut their oeuvre with a new work before disappearing back into the arts funding mill, and the answering phones to find the best available seat.

This CWTP writer had the pleasure of seeing film writer Matthew McCormack’s piece about twin brothers, bathtubs, painting God and shopping.  Ably interpreted by The Imagen’s use of twin video screens and a shopping trolly and just as equally ably deconstructed by Unreasonable Adults use of tin cans, hand written signs and disembodied computer voices voicing the text. That there was still as much the same old debates around interpretations as this writer has witnessed in previous Gorge’s is testament to the human capacity to find meaning and other “forms of life” in black ink on white paper.

An award has to go to theatre stalwart Myk Mykyta who asked the Unreasonable Adults whether placing two piles of telephone books on the stage and playing the computer voiced soundtrack would have been any different to the blank canvas style of their presentation.  They beautifully replied saying quite definitely it would be different and did he want them to show him just how different?  We at CWTP love it how Myk gets involved.  Go tiger!

Traditional text-based theatre is still strong despite major shifts towards image based or cross art / mixed media works in recent decades.  Gorge with its strict rules of play still conjures up visions of the days of the playwright hunched alone over their steam-driven computer before director and actor is allowed to set eyes on the script.  As the development of new writing seems to have become far more collaborative in recent years with the writer, director and actors often in the same room together pouring over words and meanings over longer periods of time a line between writer and maker/collaborator begins to blur.  Again the strict rules of Gorge denies this part of the process in the rehearsal room but instead throws the notion of interpretation in front of the audience making this viewer feel they’d like to see a more fully realised interpretations of each work further down the track.

Seeing Gorge again has brought up other questions in this blogger concerning the development of theatre writers in this state.  For this blog we will concern ourselves with the writer and companies who credit a writer in their process and on publicity.  So…is the funding dollar going to new writing? Who is doing it? Do we have enough? and who are our State’s writers?  We decided to take a closer look.

Starting with …The Jill Blewett Award

Jill Blewett playwright’s award is worth $10,000 and in the words of Arts SA … “supports the creative development of a play by a South Australian emerging writer with the assistance of the State Theatre Company of South Australia. The play can be from a broad range of theatrical genres including musicals, works for children and youth and cross-artform collaborations.”  It is awarded every two years around Adelaide Festival time.

Here are some past winners

2008 “Merger – art, life and the other thing” by Duncan Graham

2006 “This Unchartered Hour” by Finegan Kruckemeyer

2004 “Beautiful Words” by Sean Riley

2002 “Small Faith” by Josh Tyler

2000 “Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?” by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela

Currently the State Theatre Company negotiates terms and conditions of the creative development with the successful recipient and while State Theatre Company is a significant partner in the creative development of the play, it is apparently not bound to the play’s production.

In the past some of these pieces were developed by Brink, in the case of Kruckemeyer’s “This Unchartered Hour” and by Oddbodies, Sean Riley’s own company for his “Beautiful Words”.  Both these two works actually found an audience, saw the light of day and success in their respective productions.  Unfortunately State Theatre has not programmed Duncan Graham’s recent work “Merger” despite his success with another work “Ollie and The Minotaur” here and in Sydney.  We know that Duncan has another excellent piece, “Red Moon Rising” developed through a residency in Mt Gambier but for some strange reason Duncan has not been able to present work here in Adelaide since Ollie premiered here in 2008.

Whilst we are on the subject of departing South Australia, now native Tasmanian Finegan Kruckemeyer’s work is still seen in South Australia due to his participation in Slingsby’s creative team, we wait for their “Man Coverts Bird” to premiere at the Adelaide Festival.  Actually Finegan has no less than 11 World Premiere’s in the UK, USA and Australia of his works in 2010, which is quite a feat.  Well-done Finn.

Josh Tyler’s “Small Faith” to our knowledge was not performed in South Australia or anywhere.  Josh now lives and works interstate.  The 2000 winner “Who’s Afraid of the Working Class” was not actually produced in South Australia but by the Melbourne Workers Theatre sometime in 1998 or 1999 when the award had slightly different criteria to our memory (ie: the work had to be shown in SA – Reeves and Bovell however could be described as South Australian.).  It was an excellent piece of writing and has since been turned into the movie “Blessed”.

For more information on the Jill Blewett Award go to… http://www.arts.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=213

Playwriting Australia

Prior to the establishment of PlayWriting Australia, responsibility for script development at national level, besides individual theatre company commitments, fell primarily to two organisations: the Australian National Playwrights Centre (ANPC) and Playworks.

In 2006 the Australia Council for the Arts took the decision to consolidate its investment in script development in a single, new organisation and both the ANPC and Playworks were subsequently wound up.

Arts SA funds PlayWriting Australia $6900 per annum / on a triennial basis.  Since the new body has formed two SA based scripts have been produced in South Australia through the organisations various development mechanisms;

  • Maestro by Anna Goldsworthy (VIC) and Peter Goldsworthy (SA) Produced 2009 by State Theatre Company of South Australia
  • Helly’s Magic Cup by Rosalba Clemente (SA) Produced 2008 by Windmill Performing Arts

Neither were blockbusters or set the world on fire but for that small amount of investment (from Arts SA) and we assume a very large investment from the companies themselves, (given to them from Arts SA and the Australia Council) you could possibly argue that South Australian’s were getting bang for their buck.

http://www.pwa.org.au/

Australia Script Centre

Recently the Australian Script Centre (ASC) was recommended for funding through Arts SA’s Industry Development Fund.  It aims to support Australian playwrights by increasing the accessibility of unpublished play scripts to theatre makers and educationalists, both nationally and overseas.  ASC currently holds plays by 27 South Australian playwrights.  It received $2625 in the last round

http://www.ozscript.org/

Carclew fellowship ($15,000)

Established in 1988, This rather particular but no less worthy fellowship is open to writers for young people working in the genres of fiction, drama, poetry or screenwriting. It has rarely been awarded to a playwright in this time to our knowledge.

Before we go on…

Let’s take a quick tally of how much Arts SA (not Carclew) solely puts towards new theatre writing each year before we include the companies and project groups efforts below.  $14525.  This may seem a reasonable amount to the untrained eye but in fact it is just over the Australian Writers Guild going rate for one commission.

Everybody Else – Recent Past

Since the demise of State Theatre’s development arm under the leadership of Rosalba Clemente, which produced Holy Day, another Andrew Bovell piece, a lot of nothing seems to have been developed properly.  To be fair though State Theatre Company under Adam Cook’s stewardship jumped into bed with Brink for Andrew Bovell’s “When The Rain Stops Falling” (2008 Adelaide Festival) and they also pulled out another Goldsworthy gem “Honk If You’re Jesus” for the 2006 Adelaide Festival.  Without significant investment from this major company these pieces could possibly not have come into being with such clarity.  We are not including Marty Dennis’ Lion Pig Lion or The Duck Shooter (another co-production with Brink) work as we are solely looking at SA based writers at this immediate juncture.

Everybody Else – Recent Future

A quick survey of 2010 offerings however it seems the onus on development has returned to the small to medium sector to pick up the slack.  Next year includes the aforementioned Slingsby production of a Kruckemeyer, Castro / Stone’s “ Superheroes” and another Kruckemeyer, “ Ruby Bruised” will be presented by The Misery Children and Vitalstatistix.  The inSpace development program has Caleb Lewis’ “ Rust and Bone” and another new Duncan Graham piece “ The War In Between” (let’s hope this one gets a full production in South Australia sometime in the near future).  We understand, possibly given their recent experiences, and given the current economic climate both State Theatre Company and Windmill have chosen not to feature an SA based writer next year.  Brink has not released their 2010 program yet.  We also haven’t included in this list any work that may be written through a group development process or that hasn’t so far credited a writer, such as Ladykillers new work “ Based On A True Story”.

Because a lot of our writers have moved interstate it could be argued that most of the ones mentioned above are not South Australian but we know deep down in their hearts they call South Australia home… well at least on Arts SA grant applications.  Furthermore does it really matter if they aren’t based in South Australia?  Technology has blurred the state borders to a point where playwrights write works all over the place no matter where they are based and quite often they are transient beings with at least two commissions and a part-time job on the go.  It seems our writers are getting far more exposure elsewhere and causing many ripples in their own way.  See the following link about Caleb Lewis and the recently announced Philip Parsons Award…

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/news/publishing-and-writing/tahli-corin-and-caleb-lewis-win-parsons-award-179972

Finally we at CWTP think someone or some company (arts or non arts) needs to initiate an established playwrights award in SA.  This gesture could at least pave a pathway that may guarantee playwrights to keep returning and maintaining a presence in SA.  It could possibly ensure more SA based companies major, medium and / or small, maintain a new work in development every year.  What is for certain is that a full production of the winner of the Jill Blewett needs (re: is required) to be staged the following year it was awarded and the State Theatre Company should throw their subscribers aside just this once, and instead of timid gestures, be brave and be the first to commit and show leadership to ensuring the resources are available to fully stage the winning piece.  A winning playwright deserves to have their piece performed because leaving it on paper means it is actually only half-finished.

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Barnaby Joyce shadow minister for the Arts?

Senator Joyce has told ABC1’s Insiders, he has taken advice from several people before making his decision on becoming a member of the oppositions front bench.

“I know what I’m going to be doing because I’ve had that discussion with Tony, but I’m going to leave it for Tony to announce it. I can tell you it won’t be the Minister for Arts,” he said.

Oh and we thought you’d be an excellent Min for us Barney!

Oh well we will just have to settle for Bronwyn Bishop.

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Amateur vs Professional, Part I

As you might know, we at CWTP have been paying keen attention to the recent debates about venues in Adelaide, and given all the lobbying from community and amateur sorts regarding the Union Theatre, it has cast our minds back to another debate triggered at the memorable Adelaide Critic Circle Awards in 2008.

Like some CWTP readers who may have also been there, we vividly remember the infamous comment from David Grybowski (the sometimes reviewer, sometimes amateur actor) who declared that “the only difference between amateur and professionals is that professionals get paid” to the invited audience. It certainly wasn’t a crowd pleasing comment. We also remember vividly a response called out from the disquiet in the crowd from one of Adelaide’s well-known theatre directors: “how about training!” Grybowski was about as popular with the professional set as Kayne West was with the 2009 MTV Awards audience.

You may also remember, particularly if you are on Facebook, the debate that followed – actor Michael Habib called for professionals to boycott the awards, and Samela Harris was quick to respond on his wall with her view of the importance of amateur theatre in SA’s history. Our old friend The Advertiser and its sibling the Sunday Mail also developed a strange fixation of subtitling their reviews as either ‘amateur’ or ‘professional’ – we assume to make the difference clear to their readers. Yet a couple of professional shows were labelled ‘amateur’, apparently, according to our source near the Advertiser, because those companies didn’t work ‘full-time’ (what is ‘full-time’?: as they didn’t have full-time employees? Or didn’t have a ‘full-time’ annual program? Or perhaps weren’t funded to equity minimum to employ people full-time?) And perhaps also some amateur shows may have been labelled professional? We are not sure. Needless to say, The Advertiser’s classification has provided less clarity, rather than more, of what exactly the definition of the two is.

So we at CWTP have been wondering: what exactly is amateur and what is professional? Is the only difference between amateur and professional payment, as Grybowski claims? If that is the case, if a group of professionals work on a profit share project, is it amateur because its not paid? If an amateur group hires a venue like the Dunstan Playhouse, associated with professional theatre, could its work be classified as professional because of the context? Or (as Adelaide is quite fond of) if you engage a mixture of people who have professional experience with a mixture of those who have amateur theatre experience to perform together … well, what is that? And how does this blurring of amateur and professional play into this whole debate about venues in Adelaide at the moment?

Well we thought it might be time to open up the trusty Oxford Dictionary and check out the exact definition of amateur. The noun Amateur includes two definitions:

-a person who engages in a pursuit, esp. a sport, on an unpaid basis.

-a person considered contemptibly inept at a particular activity.

Well Grybowski definitely gets a point for that first part of the definition – amateurs are definitely working on an unpaid basis, and professionals are not. But it’s the second definition that makes things a bit more tricky, particularly given that is far more subjective: “contemptibly inept at a particular activity”. Ouch. No wonder Grybowski may have skipped over that part when flicking through the Oxford preparing his speech.

So, is one of the differences between amateurs and professionals ineptness or adeptness at theatre? Perhaps in other arenas, it’s a bit more clear. We don’t know if Grybowski plays recreational tennis, but if he does, we doubt that he’d regard the only difference between him and Rafael Nadal is that Nadal gets paid, and he doesn’t. It would seem extremely obvious that Nadal would be far far more adept at tennis – and Grybowski inept in comparison. However, when it comes to acting, he obviously thinks differently – he (and other amateurs) are in his mind equally adept as professionals. Given that the skill of acting is often viewed as nebulous (ie ‘you either have it… or you don’t’ etc etc) it makes things harder to judge.

There is some pretty objective data that would show that Nadal is without doubt much more adept at tennis than Grybowski (Despite our lack of knowledge about Grybowski’s tennis skills, we’re pretty confident about that one. Unless Grybowski has another talent that he is yet to reveal to Adelaide). But with acting, we don’t have this kind of solid, objective data to look at. It ends up, unfortunately, being highly subjective – left to the reviewer, acting teacher or peer to judge if a person is adept at acting.

Maybe the term ‘amateurism’ helps out here – it’s a derivative of the same noun, but in common usage doesn’t have anything to do with payment. Amateurism is definitely tied to definition number two – “contemptibly inept at a particular activity” – and unfortunately, we see way too much professional theatre that fits this definition. In fact it could be argued that there has been some rife amateurism at the State Theatre Company of SA in recent years – and yet this is South Australia’s largest professional company. Payment certainly has nothing to do with the difference between amateurism and professionalism – which is defined as: “the competence or skill expected of a professional”. Would this concept be music to Grybowski ears? Amateurism at our largest professional theatre company?

We are sure that there’s instances of great professionalism in amateur theatre (competence and skill) even though those involved are not professional, and very certain of some of the great professionalism in profit-share work by professionals who are getting paid very little, or not at all. Equally, there’s plenty of amateurism in some of our profit-share work, and plenty in the work of professionals in Australian theatre too. Perhaps we’ll explore all of that in Part II.

But for now, lets turn our attention back to the topic of the moment: venues. We’d like to have a look more closely at three venues in Adelaide we’ve discussed in an earlier CWTP post: Bakehouse Theatre, Holden St and Higher Ground. These venues are both linked to Adelaide’s amateur theatre scene, and to Adelaide’s independent professional theatre scene ­(sort of). These three options represent some of the only options for the Adelaide’s small-to-medium professional theatre sector outside of the Festival Centre and near the city.

As we’ve said before – we think these venues make a fair fist of it, but all are marred by weak, haphazard programming that has certainly stopped them becoming the hubs for professional work that they should. They certainly house their fair share of amateur work, and in fact are probably closer to being hubs for amateur work (and in some instances amateurism) than professional work. Like any hall (or space) for hire in Adelaide, they are packed with a range of work during the Fringe – as is any space that can be set up as a venue. Lets look then at what they doing outside of this time in Adelaide.

The Bakehouse site has a long history in Adelaide of being a place for independent and alternative theatre – Troupe, Red Shed and even some of Brink’s early work was there, and the work presented and programmed by these companies was risky, inventive and daring. That all changed once Peter Green took over the venue – renaming it Bakehouse – and removing the yeast that made the daring theatrical bread rise. The programming was largely dull, often self-serving to Green, and became a hall for hire for amateur work.

All three venues are funded by Arts SA, based on their potential as spaces for professional work. Interestingly, Arts SA has a clear policy that it does not fund amateur theatre – the 2009 Arts SA handbook states “Projects without professional arts outcomes, such as amateur productions” are ineligible for funding. And yet, the Bakehouse Theatre presently programmed by Pamela Munt, an amateur director who runs amateur company Unseen Theatre Company in residence at the Bakehouse. Munt and Unseen Theatre Company are not direct recipients of the funding – but she is being entrusted with programming professional work. Munt has written (in bold) on her web page that they house two professional groups, five.point.one and Accidental Productions. While its great that some collectives of young professionals are being supported, we are extremely dubious of Munt’s capacity to program professional work given she lacks this experience. We think that a venue like Bakehouse deserves (and requires) some professional programming and vision, and should be surrounding these emerging groups with exciting professional performance rather than amateur stagings of Terry Pratchett and Star Trek. Its unsurprising that this venue can be a turn off for much of the exciting independent artists and companies in Adelaide.

Higher Ground is now located in its third venue, in the former Night Train Theatre Restaurant space off Light Square. Dush Kumar and Suzanne Merrall certainly seem to have a fascinating background as a previous programmers of a venue in the Edinburgh Fringe, but perhaps the open-access, anything-goes Fringe style programming model has been the thing that’s stopped the venue from realising its potential in Adelaide. We feel that Higher Ground suffers from its lack of curation (as the Bakehouse does in a different way) which means that there’s wildly inconsistent work to be found there. The haphazard anything-goes approach might keep its head above the water at Fringe time when the sheer volume of work will lead to higher chances of both exceptionally good (and exceptionally bad) things coming through its doors. But outside of this time in Adelaide, some curation and programming vision is needed to bring the right kinds of works together. After 5 or 6 years of Higher Ground in town we have seen little sign of change and we at CWTP certainly aren’t holding our breath that they will change to reach their potential. We also hope that Arts SA doesn’t cast a blind eye to what’s not working there forever.

Finally there’s Holden Street Theatres, a cluster of buildings near the Entertainment Centre including an old church space and a small black box venue. It’s programming is a strange cocktail of amateur, professional and youth theatre and we do not think we like the way it tastes. Programmed by Martha Lott – an actor who works on both professional and amateur stages – has followed her double interests through having had amateur companies such as Chalk Farm and Mixed Salad in residence, alongside youth company Urban Myth in residence (oddly so given the company’s location and history in Unley). Like Munt, Lott has housed professionals through programs such as Directors Choice at the venue, but they have faded in the background to overloaded, entrepreneurial Fringe programs and very little in the way of professionals in the in between. Ultimately another hall for hire for independent professionals, its inconsistent, mixed programming means that its also failed to become the professional hub that it should be. We at CWTP imagine that the haphazard programming will not change with Lott at the helm of the venture, so don’t hold much hope for it to become much more than it is.

We guess this discussion has focused on what these venues are doing for professional artists, rather than amateurs – why do any of these venues have to be focused on professionals, or program professional work? Can’t these spaces have a focus on amateur work? Don’t amateur companies and audiences need venues and spaces too?

Yes, amateur companies do need venues to present their work, and in theory if any of these venues doesn’t want to focus on professional theatre, then they should be able to. The problem, however, is that each of these venues receives funding from Arts SA to operate – and given that Arts SA doesn’t fund amateur work – we should be seeing these venues producing some strong outcomes for professional artists. We at CWTP feel that Arts SA should either be encouraging, guiding, or perhaps even instructing these organisations to install a level of curation and professional programming within these venues in their funding agreements – and we feel (unfortunately) the kind of change needed is only likely with outsiders coming in and doing so. Or if the change needed isn’t viable, maybe Arts SA needs to forge a new venue venture focused on the independent professionals – which doesn’t seem to be a consideration at present in Mike’s Film and Entertainment Centre vision for new venues. We’d love to see a venue arise that can successfully draw together professionals (and professionalists) through good curation and programming.

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Hill vs Redmond 12.11.09

Yesterday the Arts Industry Council of South Australia invited all good arts bods along to a fora at the Mercury Cinema featuring a unique opportunity to hear the Honourable John Hill, Minister for Health, Minister for the Southern Suburbs, Minister Assisting the Premier in the Arts and Mrs. Isobel Redmond, Leader of the Opposition, discuss their Governments response to arts industry concerns and their Governments position on the Arts in South Australia as we head up to the 2010 state election in March.

We at CWTP were there and thought we should give a little insight into what they talked about but also score the two on their performance.

First we’ll look at John Hill.  Now we at CWTP like John infact we like him far better than Mike because we think he gets the arts.  However in our humble opinion we thought that John Hill, who spoke first, mostly in Isobel Redmond’s absence, did not fair as well as we thought he would – his summation of what has happened in the arts across the state in the past 7.5 years was just that, a summation.  He sort of told us everything that we knew already because hey, guess what … we were the ones that were actually involved doing it in the first place!?!  John displayed a good broad knowledge across all of the arts sectors from regional to urban, from the big institutions to the little, from film to theatre, right through to the recent venues debate.  We actually congratulate this administration as they haven’t done too badly.  Much thanks must go however to the good peeps at Arts SA keeping the ecology smoothly running on the crumbs left over from bailing out Festival Centres, building film hubs and turning virtually every festival annual.  John mentioned our festivals often, as they are the platform where his government likes to concentrate, as these are the places where a mass of arts / public interaction can and does occur and we concur … to a degree.  We were however a little disappointed that there was very little future visioning on his behalf. If his party were to be re-elected we would have to wait until mid 2010 for a review of the State’s Strategic Plan to possibly and hopefully contribute to and then find out just what future directions the state labor goverment has in store.   John did mention that if the new RAH was to go ahead and be built over the existing west end railyards then he’d be certainly interested in seeing the old RAH site in the east end turned into some vauguely exciting freshly plumbed and electrified new arts hub / outside space where the Garden of Unearthly Delights could be housed every year.  Excuse me John but the Garden is not South Australian run, it’s a pox on our Fringe and in our opinion they can just piss off!  Delivering an exciting future vision of the arts to an in house arts crowd of about 50 or so does not get you any media coverage what so ever so we forgave the Min’s relatively lacklustre “steady-as-she-goes-everything-will-be-alright” tone and sent him on his way to launch some Northern Territory / South Australian health communication system thingamebob that he seemed far more excited in … Score 7.5

Next was Isobel Redmond, funnily enough this time in John’s absence – it was sort of like witnessing a couple not bearing to be in the same room as each other as they negotiated their divorce papers!  This opportunity was most of the gathered’s first experience of the state Liberal Party’s potential new minister for the arts and their first ever possible Premier and Arts Minister in one.  And you know she didn’t do too badly.  Isobel’s interest in the arts might come from having a daughter who’s into amatuer musicals and wants to get into NIDA and a son who works at BASS and plays in a heavy metal band but she is involved in State Theatre Company’s Dramatic Women so she must be familar with that particular company’s work and their utterly artistically void opening nights.  Isobel admitted that as she is in opposition she isn’t privy to all the information the current administration has BUT she did make a good attempt at trying to convey her understanding of arts ecology – possibly mentioning a newly learnt buzz phrase “grass roots community” a few too many times but enough for us to realise that she was trying to get her head around it.  Although we were a little worried at her distinct dislike for and inability to pronounce “parkour”, she did however strive to answer all the questions that the AIC provided her, something that comfortable John did not.  Isobel thinks that the  RAH should stay where it is with a saving of 2 billion dollars and be close to it’s feeder schools and amenities and instead over the west end railyards build a newer cultural precinct close to the Festival Centre.  That sort of makes sense but she’s very vague as to what this cultural precinct could actually entail – we think it might look a little bit like a football stadium … Score 7.3

An Arts debate at this level of politics in this day and age is mostly full of platitudes or in John and Isobel’s own words it’s “bipartisan”.  It really does seem crazy to us that any discernable difference between our two parties boils down to the positioning of a new hospital .  Go figure!?!

We await with more interest.

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Look at those same old same old silly artists!

1998

We at CWTP have noticed a very repetitive pattern stemming from our beloved ’tiser.  This is by no means a recent observation, in fact we suspect the trend has been with us since the rag has been our beacon of arts reporting from the very beginning.  But it comes into very sharp focus whilst viewing their recent ‘Look back at 50 years of the Fringe” feature on the adelaide now website.

http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/gallery/0,22613,5060874-5014003,00.html

On viewing these photos we noticed a lot of similarity and a distinct lack of originality in how the ’tiser photo journalists view the arts through their lenses.

So we took a quick tally.  Out of the 70 odd photo’s featured we’ve divided them up into the following categories of non originality, here are the scores.

  1. Show Pics (Happy) – Mainly pictures of artists from a show; sometimes on set, however quite often not, and instead taken on the street or in a grungy looking alley way, depicting silly looking artists (ie: with mouths open, pulling funny faces, leaping in the air, looking silly) – TOTAL 17
  2. Show Pics (Serious) – Mainly pictures of artists from a show; sometimes on set, however quite often not, and instead taken on the street or in a grungy looking alley way, depicting silly looking artists looking serious (ie: faces painted, with masks or faces obscured looking silly but making serious art) – TOTAL 12
  3. Opening Night Parade  / Crowd – Hardly any shots of the actual parades that the community (re: ’tiser) seems to so dearly love.  It seems the photographers retire before the parade even starts so they take a photo pre-parade with a selection of artists, detatched and out of context from their shows, often looking silly (happy version), often on a street or in a grungy looking alley way – TOTAL 11
  4. Poster Artist With Poster – Often an unimaginative shot of the person who designed that years poster holding his or her poster – sometimes shot is taken with silly looking artists in the background – TOTAL 9
  5. Silly Looking Artists on the Street – Can you see a pattern forming here?  This category is put aside just for those artists who are actually busking on the street and should be looking silly.  This is opposed to the artists who are photographed on the street or in a grungy looking alley way, detached from their sets and props, that put their oh so silly, funny and just plain craaaaaaazy antics into context. – TOTAL 9
  6. Award Photos – An interesting selection of self important photos reaffirming the significance of our beloved rags awards.  Often shot is of a journalist giving an award to someone who is not an artist anymore. – TOTAL 6
  7. Fringe Venue – Shots of creatively decorated Fringe Venue’s often depicted with silly looking artists looking pleased with themselves. – TOTAL 3
  8. Lano and Woodly – Yes they are silly looking but the Advertiser must like them so they get their own catagory. Brian Nankervis (now of SBS’s Rock Kwiz) also appears in two photos as well but he isn’t as identifiable.  We also spotted once SA based artists who have now become interstate paper pushers (ie: Virginia Hyam and Kym Hanna)  – TOTAL 2
  9. Fringe Director – There are two shots of current Fringe Director Christie Anthoney looking silly – we know it’s got nothing to do with the Fringe and everything to do with the way ’tiser has no imagination.
  10. Politician with Silly Artist – A curious shot of then premier John Bannon with a silly looking artist. An obvious attempt at making the politician appear voter friendly.  It’s a wonder Media Mike hasn’t taken up the opportunity recently.  Oh that’s right he only does FILM. – TOTAL 1

So there you have it.  We actually can’t wait for the 50th celebrations of both the Fringe and Festival proper in 2010.  However lets hope in the next 50 years the Advertiser’s photo journalists can actually come up with an original photographic concept and if you do happen to be featured in one of those future photos we implore you to try and not be persuaded to look silly … just good!

1992

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