11/08/2019 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

Was going to write a response to Andrew Bovell’s latest family melodrama Things I Know To Be True down at Belvoir when this whole Playwriting Australia clusterfuck broke out like a rancid batch of facial eczema on the mouth of homegrown theatre. And it’s a tropical turdstorm unmatched since I can recall, leaving the industry reeling and playwrights apparently left to freeze in the wilderness like some noble but otherwise doomed Antarctic Expeditors.

While one cannot speak for all of us; I’m sure my sentiments toward the PWA Board and their touchy public attitude towards the current all-stop sinkhole of inept management shown in recent weeks may ring true for many, that is to say: Fuck This Absolute Shitpile With Your Open Fist.

But before I get to the crux, let us rewind a few months, when the PWA Directorship reins were handed to the eminent and respected playwright Lachlan Philpott under circumstances which in retrospect can only be described as puzzling. This is no disrespect to his suitability for the role, far from it, but given the comprehensive collapse of the organisation in such a short time – something was seriously rotten in Hickson Road before he had even begun.

The recent Artshub article described former Artistic Director Tim Roseman’s exit from PWA as “abrupt”, an odd term to use given his five-year tenure and all-round respect within the playwriting community he has built for the organisation. Roseman’s legacies include the steady continuation from inaugural director Chris Mead’s tutelage, a growing emphasis on promoting diversity within the sector, and a largely consultative method of working across the impossible tyranny of distance which the geography of this country will amply provide. A remarkable feature of the few times I was able to attend the National Play Festival was his approachable and generous demeanour, with a practical attitude towards delegation of decision-making processes; he let playwrights take the lead on the issues that were most important to them, provided the space to tackle some very complex problems and in essence, took us at our word as to the best way forward.

So when Roseman stood down from the AD position it was perhaps surprising for some, but not “abrupt” – five years or so is a decent innings for the contemporary artist, who, after all may have other ambitions; it seemed appropriate to pass the baton onto someone of Philpott’s demonstrable expertise in matters of craft. It also seemed like a bold operational move. Philpott as a writer has been outspoken in service to institutional reform and unafraid to stay in the face of controversial issues when they’ve arisen. At the time, it felt like a really positive step towards a peak body to be run by playwrights, for playwrights.

But that phrasing still haunts me “abrupt resignation”. Like something went on behind the scenes that wasn’t entirely transparent. Like he was pushed. The author of the piece Alison Croggon is hardly someone who minces her words, but it feels like a few pieces of this puzzle have been swept under the carpet. Another article intimates something of a “power struggle within”. I mean… fucking obviously.  You don’t get mass resignations and two patently qualified leadership positions made redundant unless there’s some Shakespearean-Level-Shenanigans going on. I mean we’re Theatre Artists – reading between the lines is our goddamn bread-and-butter.

As power-struggles go, there’s only a small cast of central players from which we can choose to lay blame. The PWA board is only eight members deep, including just three actual theatre artists: Andrew Bovell,  Angela Betzien, and David Berthold. The other five are various CPAs, lawyers and from what little we can gather from their Linkedin profiles, professional board members. You know, the type; they get installed to a theatre board in like 2017 and swan around at opening night guzzling free champers and hors d’oeuvres while congratulating themselves on how great a job they’re doing for everyone. I personally don’t rate this sort of thing, why companies insist to stack their boards with folks who until only a few years ago had perfectly good resume in the field of property management, or agricultural affairs or something. Sorry but who exactly are you “Sally Basser; Government and Policy Specialist” and what the fuck do you want with us?

Let’s rewind even further for a second to examine the George Brandis shaped elephant taking a massive shit in the corner of the room. Now I don’t know who appointed whom to the PWA board or why, but it seems like a pretty massive fucken coincidence that certain members of various boards only seem to pop up on the theatre scene since after the aforementioned pile of Steaming BrandisCrap™ got shat upon the performing arts sector at great velocity. There’s been a dark triumvirate of government policy, corporate meddling and cowardly obsequiousness from certain AD’s allowing the theatre game to become a sort of multi-award-winning joke, at which many have stopped laughing since the ‘Brandis Wars’ took place circa 2015. It’s been a dark time for artists, especially those in freelance or small-medium companies, as the rug and subsequently floor, walls and ceiling got pulled from everywhere around us. Major companies may do well to express “consternation” at recent developments in Australian Playwriting but for those of us left huddling under what was the only literal home for writers around the country? We’re fucking livid.

Because this is not some isolated set of misfortunes occurring at the only organisation dedicated to the support of playwrights at a country-wide level. It’s a symptom of a broad decline in the national conversation around what playwriting is and why it’s important. It’s a decline which has been taking place for decades and despite PWA’s role in many positive steps in asserting the significance of Australian Plays, this decline has been exacerbated by systematic abuse of funding powers, a lazy approach to public debate and criticism, and institutional mediocrity from publicists and MPA Directors cocooned by corporate sponsorship, advised by boardrooms who have next to nothing in the way of real-world theatre making experience, and cowed by subscription driven bottom lines which bewilderingly insist on middle-road adaptations of “classic” plays as their core business.

Brecht would fucking roll in his grave, right?  Do you think down at Company B they’re rehearsing some parable for the fate of the modern artist? Or is their flagship production a nice, comforting reassurance for their base about how I don’t know, climate change is real or whatever. I’m not convinced that Eamon Flack carries enough self-awareness to recognise his personal crusade of mastering “the classics” has probably contributed more to the alienation of Australian Playwrights than Brandis could ever have dreamt. And spare me your feeble rhetorical whimsy about how adaptations qualify as “new Australian plays”, it’s precisely that fuckery that’s enabled a vast undermining of artists who actually do seek to create original work, watching the Andrew Uptons and Tom Wrights and Simon Stones wallow in glory, hoarding the tiny amount of paid work to themselves with an endless parade of Chekhov & Ibsen rewrites  for the Australian vernacular. Piss on that.

Yep, I regard any non-artist on a Theatre Company Board with grave suspicion. It’s just too fucking convenient this takes place under their watch, this steep and devastating collapse of artist’s values, this erosion of trust, this whittling of the public conversation down to nil, that all that’s happened so smoothly while you’re sitting on the board of directors.

J’accuse – corporate finance motherfuckers – you have my attention.

Because here are some things that I know to be true: I stand with artists. And if you know anything about us, you wouldn’t have made the mistake of fucking up our shit.


Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.

a poet, not a political WHAT IS POLITICAL THEATRE?

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