NOT THE AUSTRALIAN THEATRE FORUM #ATF2015
Tonight at the Seymour Centre, an engaging talk awaits on “Art and Democracy”. It’s as broad a subject one might hope to transgress (short of “Some Things That Happen”), but this correspondent is greasing up his chops for some sparkling post-panel chatter.
This is in lieu of being able to attend the Forum itself, with only one-hundred independent spots made available (the rest are allocated for theatre companies) one might be forgiven for a spot of jealousy surrounding the semi *exclusive* nature of the impending series of talks over the next few days. The delegates are neatly fit into three categories: 100 independent artists, 100 small-medium companies, and 100 representatives from the “Majors” (as well as a handful of industry barnacles, ozco junketeers and the occasional arts journo).
It should be noted that the author submitted to attend at the reduced “independent” rate way back in August or something, was refused with a slightly backhanded quip about “missing out on the opportunity to network”. When one receives bad news and a clueless consolation one refrains from sending a nasty email suggesting that using the ATF as an opportunity to cosy up to the big players is COMPLETELY MISSING THE FUCKING POINT.
Before I elaborate – here’s a couple of thoughts.
Economics of scale aside, the number “100” is a feeble representation of the diversity and scope of our National Sector. There are thousands of independent theatre makers in Sydney alone. Tens of thousands nationally. For whoever is responsible for allocating these delegate positions is effectively saying:
“Here’s your national conference. Only 1% of you can attend. Enjoy.”
This number feels familiar somehow…
99% of our creative artists and performers left without a voice, without a presence, without a place at the national table. Is this good enough? Would we settle for 98?
It comes down to a matter of funding, of course. Which is a matter of priorities. And if the point of the ATF is a chance to network – then it follows that about 100 independent artists in attendance is about as much as the industry could bear. It’s not as though the eight companies filling their seasons could manage more than a few independent productions each year, so if *the point* of the ATF is to help these companies reach out to the smaller players then sure… the other 99% are going to have to figure out “Making It” on their own steam anyhow.
A conference of about three hundred is probably all we can manage for now, given these things are run on the whiff of canapés and the sweat of an oily volunteer. But what if the point of the ATF is not about schmoozing and junkets, but something else entirely. What if the point of the ATF is about figuring out who we are as a creative community, and concreting foundations for a more accepting, expressive, diverse and lively sector. If reports on last year’s event are anything to go by, this seems to be the more impactful raison detre of such a thing – the actual, real impact of developing practical ways to address cultural protocols within a diverse community.
Consider this. The eight or so major companies who are highly staffed and resourced, also have a range of platforms with which to engage with the theatre community at large throughout the year. Some of them, if they wanted to, could run their own four day theatre forum. If the people who run them really wanted to make a real effort to engage across the sector, and not just network with the people privileged enough to attend this kind of event, at a bare minimum, some of them, if they really wanted to, could join twitter.
It’s what I would do. The word “Forum” even implies that this conversation needs to be bigger, more inclusive, more open ended. I’m not an historian, but did the Romans only meet four days a year? And yet there is no permanent place for this to take place in a meaningful, inclusive, productive way. Is there live streaming? Will there be podcasts? Is this Australia, 21C? I’m still waiting for answers on these questions from last year.
Notably, the ATF crew have made an effort to select the delegates based on a cross-sectional paradigm so as not to exclude specific cultural groups. A good thing too – although this could lead to a kind of complacency around issues of representation. It would be churlish to think “oh we have a Muslim in the audience, a disabled person, a gay …(etc) therefore we have all these voices represented.” It’s not as though the gay writer goes back to all their gay writer friends and reports in. It’s not like the UN or something. If the UN was gay.
Besides, defining people strictly by their heritage or queerness or gender is pretty fucking crass, let alone patting yourself on the back for your largesse in giving a brown person “the opportunity to network”. Good intentions are fine but no medal just yet, please.
So I just left the panel event on opening night and the vibe is pretty hot. Some really excellent discussion and a fascinating Keynote address which delved into the history of Indonesian Theatre and some of the aesthetic and radical choices being made in the name of resisting a particularly notorious authoritarian regime. The take home message is that Australian Theatre is not political, that we’re at heart a bunch of luvvies with a chip on our collective shoulder about being *good enough*. Meanwhile people are dying.
We’re gonna need a Bigger Forum.
Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.