02/11/2012 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment


While there are a number of talkfests in the theatre sector all year round, at all levels; this is the only national event that’s free, gratis, and open to all & sundry. Especially sundry. This year the discussions ranged across the burning issues of our industry featuring a range of panelists invited to share their experience and expertise with those canny enough to listen.

First up was the obligatory panel on representation. Obligatory because yes, we still need to talk about this and no, minorities are not getting a fair shake on the national stage. Neither are women, for that matter. Which, given the vast spectrum of cultural influences happening throughout the land is pretty crass of an industry which is supposed to reflect the society and audiences what pay for it; you know, self-aware and shit. Hey folks, audiences are multicultural and diverse, why aren’t you?

This is changing, slowly, and the best thing we can do is keep a firm ear to the conversation and insist on diversity in casting and production policies whenever we work. Every time I have attended one of these panels I have learned something; and I’ve been listening in on discussions on gender politics and class & racial discrimination since before the turn of the century. Never feel as though you’re across this stuff, because there is always something else. Besides nothing’s worse than a smug fucking feelgood PC acolyte when they’re white and middle class… But perhaps that’s an issue for another day.

The gender gap is quite apparent, whichever way the spin goes statistics tell the story, and so until there is even a semblance of parity across our mainstage seasons this kind of conversation will continue. For the record, any white, middle class bloke who reckons he’ll lose out on a gig here or there because of some backwards view that theatre programmers might want to be seen to be doing the right thing – go fuck yourself. This is much bigger than you or me, and besides, boo hoo. What are you the centre of the fuck’n universe? THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. Discrimination has been rife for decades and you’re worried about one piece of work not getting picked? Besides which I think most AD’s and Literary Managers these days are aware of the problem, and the contradictions that come with balancing ‘Artistic Merit’ *cough* with the ever looming issue of Box Office Return so it’s pretty rich to think they aren’t also engaging with this stuff, even if they don’t seem to turn up to the public conversations as much as they might (with a few notable exceptions). A terrific turnout for a Friday afternoon in Newcastle, but worth nothing that perhaps some of the folks who should be listening to this conversation more closely simply weren’t there. It’s a National Festival fellas. Get in there.

What’s worrying is within that kind of self-centred attitude is the sort of latent misogyny that seems to be more and more apparent when you start looking closely at some of the behaviour in the industry. The next day’s panel; for the most part a fairly light look at the world of blogging and criticism – had some startling revelations that some female blogger-critics had received thinly veiled or direct threats of violence with respect to their work. While (for one reason or another) this was not addressed in detail; it is extremely concerning. What, exactly the fuck, is going on here?

You may have read or heard about some of these stories throughout the year. It’s a subject I have specifically avoided, because of a concern that should the threats be more than cowardly verbal attacks (as I suspect they are) it is not my place to exacerbate them. But nobody ever seems to threaten me, do they… sometimes I wish they would, so I could give them my home address and suggest they “bring it”.

This is Art we’re talking about. Nobody’s life is at stake.
Grow the fuck up.

In Sydney alone this year I have heard tales of at least two fairly prolific theatre-scribes (both independent) being hassled or bullied into putting down their pens. What’s Going On? meanwhile the mainstream critical discussion is like a wading pool – lacking depth and full of piss. Do we want the media and Government to take us seriously? Do we want this National Cultural Policy to have some fucking swag? Then let’s encourage a vibrant discussion, this industry is big enough to take a bit of public criticism. As I pointed out at another panel – the industry is only as small as it is small-minded.

It’s all related. For example; when we talk about inequity – and a comment was made on the representation panel that the main selling point for just about any play is the actor involved – it’s no coincidence that the vast majority of these Box-Office drawcards are of an Anglo-Saxon heritage. And the following day we talk about how the bulk of theatre PR and public discussion surrounds said actors; but those inclined to discuss the work as distinct from the hype surrounding the celebrity of the artists are discouraged, not invited, not recognised, snarked at or gossiped about in backrooms (it all comes back you know) or worse still – threatened – the public discussion stagnates around the superficial.

And when the public discussion remains fixated on the cult of personality, it’s no surprise that Box Office Returns become so dependent on big-name-drawcards; or the aforementioned block of white, middle-class artists we all know and love. It’s called ‘the gap’; and I don’t mean a place to buy a nice t-shirt. So as an industry it is up to us to enhance the public discussion so that mainstream audiences can be permitted to engage more freely with the work itself, as publicists and critics we must set the tone of the conversation away from artist centric marketing and bring the conversation back to the audience, who are much more diverse (and interesting) than the people on stage.

Now you might begin to see why exactly I am on this mission to broaden the scope of the public discussion around the arts. It’s the most obvious way to shift the narrow celebrity-driven culture into a wider, inclusive discussion about who we are as a society and why we make this stuff in the first place. It’s not just about getting famous, is it?

Or maybe it is…

sancz out

post script
Next time we put up a panel on bloggers and critics, remember; I’m pretty much the only one who reports on this stuff… quite a few people asked me why I wasn’t included on it! As to that I have no idea, and I’m not worried about it either. But it’s nice to be recognised.

Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.


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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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