Australian Theatre Forum 2015 Recap
ACCORDING TO A GUY WHO DIDN’T GO TO IT
MKA Creative Directors John Kachoyan & Tobias Manderson-Galvin, Associate Artist Kat Henry and Business Manager Corey Reynolds were all in attendance throughout ATF 2015. They were busy not “buying or selling theatre work” (explicitly banned from the event) but instead having “caffeine” with people, presumably to “share the passions that drive their practices”.
Cos they were too busy with the nuts and bolts of ‘making it’, MKA presents:
MKA Writing Secondment 2015 David Unwin
(who didn’t attend, and we’re pretty sure had never heard of ATF before today)
Look, straight off the bat reader, I have no idea of what happened at the 2015 ATF. I didn’t go. But I know people, and know of other people who did. And I myself once attended a meeting at the office of esteemed University of Melbourne Theatre Studies Academic, Professor Denise Varney. It wasn’t a forum but there was this weird moment when the meeting turned from a normal meeting into this kind of board of directors firing me from University. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were trying to do but I’ve never been fired – and I quit anyway. Suckers.
The meeting involved three of them (academics) sitting around this tiny table with a jug of water with a slice of lemon floating in it. There were only three glasses so I had to do without the opportunity to take sips of water coordinated to emphasise key points. They started taking notes while asking me if I’d read clause 6.3 and something about mise en place. I didn’t know much about either of these things which for some reason prompted Professor Varney to assert that “Theatre Studies is a real discipline” – evidenced by the fact that she had just returned from a (real) conference attended by over 900 (real) people.
Delving further into my ontological (did I use that word correctly?) understanding of her discipline, Professor Varney asked if I thought Theatre (Studies) was “just a bunch of people getting together to talk about theatre?” Her tone and body language implied that the answer was no but that I’d been acting as though the answer was yes. Scribe, Dr David McInnis, seated behind her, assuming I might be an idiot, generously shook his head to indicate the best answer to give was ‘no’. I decided to open up the discussion andsaid yes. After the meeting I received an email documenting my admission that I was not “prioritising my studies”. I didn’t reply.
Whether or not this anecdote has anything or everything to do with the ATF depends on what exactly did and didn’t happen over the 4? days. To get a better understanding of went on behind the giant glass doors of the Seymour Centre I spoke to some industry insiders who did attend this year’s forum.
- “Nothing. I wagged most of the sessions to go drinking with more important people.” I hope government funding picked up the tab.
- “The one before this one, back in 2013 in Canberra, there was lots of yelling and crying. Plus I made out with a girl – hell I nearly had sex in the middle of a nightclub – but the security guard came over and I lost my cool. This time there seems to be less of that.” This confirms Liz from La Mama’s assertion that this year was “less volatile… more mature.” But is also very disappointing.
- “It’s like those things in school where like you go and attend with ‘leaders’ from other schools”. Ok, thank you. I know what it is. I went to a state school which didn’t have a blazer as part of its uniform, but kept a stash of five or six especially for this kind of event. This ensured we all looked respectable despite our low socioeconomic status.
- “A famous Belgian festival director said that – actually I don’t remember if… Anyway, she was foreign. She said that there’s this tendency in Australia, and in fact the West in general, for us to program ‘international’ arts festivals that really are Western Arts festivals, and also, when we do program things of the Orient – and I use that term ironically, it’s done with a kind of exoticist feticism. Like whenever there’s a war somewhere we love to see pictures of some poor women sitting on steps looking grim in black and white. The point is that this art is always for Western consumption. Like no one in Afghanistan has ever seen that photo of the green-eyed girl on the cover of National Geographic. I mean that was a colour photograph, but she did have such beautiful eyes. Meanwhile I still like war art. Balances out my United Color of Benetton spending sprees.” This reminds me that I haven’t had a letter from my sponsor child in quite some time.
- “I fell asleep in a Sydney Festival show. So did all three people I was with. And we were all so tired but also so socially anxious that we all pretended we weren’t sleeping to the other three. Everyone kept doing that jerking awake thing.” Um ok.
I also learned It costs money to go to the ATF. Ninety-nine bucks for independents, $250 for members of smaller companies and the price increases for the larger ones. I’m told that the catering was fine but run with the sort of strict bureaucrazy usually associated with Centrelink or immigration offices. Interestingly, it was neither the money or the catering which kept me away from this year’s forum. I just didn’t, as was said earlier, know this thing existed. Obviously other people did. Looking at the delegate list, and from reports from other attendees, it seems the people in the know were mostly made up of government funded companies, orgs and peak bodies, the government departments themselves, plus a bunch of independent artists who are either gunning to be part of that elite, are still stuck flying solo, and/or are particularly worthy. Meanwhile, there’s little perhaps even no presence from the outright commercial interests eg. Mariners Theatres. No one producing the next juke box musical was in attendance. This is not to say companies like the MTC (The Speechmaker) don’t make commercial decisions and privilege them over artistic ones, actually it seems weird that that fact would be brushed over. By me. So I didn’t.
So there you have it. The understandings and misunderstandings of #ATF2015 from someone who didn’t go and (despite now knowing of its existence) probably never will. Meanwhile, thanks to the cultural amnesia so typical of Australians I’ll probably just hand in this same article in two years’ time after the 2016 ATF. And while this article doesn’t answer the probing question raised by Professor Varney on the nature of theatre (studies) in Australia, it certainly makes for interesting discussion.
David Unwin – MKA