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…