Visit to Oz

29 Jan

Back home in the US!  34 hours travel time took me back half-way round the world, hurtled from Southern Hemisphere summer to northeastern US winter…. Brrr!!  I think my brain froze on the drive home from Boston to Providence.

The distance between my countries (Australia & US) can also be measured in the word “Oz”. Colloquial Australian for the country itself, in the US it conjures camp images of Dorothy and Kansas. I don’t even use the word to refer to Australia when I’m State-side, its self-evidence sliding backwards to prove (as if it needed proving) that in the US, local fiction is closer than far-away geography. (If you think this is garbled, you’re right but I plead jet-lag and life-lag—yesterday Bondi surf, today Rhode Island snow flurries. Gaaak.)

Still, there are impressions stirring through the mental fog of an exciting new time in Oz (you know, the continent). A Labor government and whale mini-dramas in the Southern seas–I’d say “cautious” or pre-cynical optimism is the local mood. One of the things that most stayed with me was perhaps a small shift in theatre thinking, a move from an AD/ auteur model as company head to more of a curatorial model. One example: Jane Fuller, the incoming head of Vitalstatistix national women’s theatre in Adelaide (where I had one of my best-ever production experiences with My Vicious Angel) is to be titled “creative producer” instead of “artistic director”. Her current position is Creative Producer of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. In meeting briefly with her, she explained that she saw her role as a curatorial one–bringing together artists and projects from different media to create “experiential” theatre.

I heard this shift echoed in several conversations—the move towards at least considering a curatorial model for heading theatres, in acknowledgment that “artistic director” often bespeaks a painful contradiction for the individual so named—chosen for their artistic work, yet forced into administrative and curatorial work far more than actually practicing their art-form.

This move towards curating or stewardship, rather than the auteur stamp of the Visionary Director, seemed to be echoed in conversation with Nick Marchand (incoming AD at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre). He spoke of a writers’ theatre which would serve the varied visions of the writers it produces by seeking the best possible production partnerships for each of them, rather than stamping a house vision on work that reflects the producer’s view of theatre. And the cross-media, cross-artist connection theme was reinforced by Chris Mead, director of the new flagship body Playwriting Australia, whose new programs include a national script reading and referral service, and State Exchange funding opportunity so far-flung artists can work together.

I’m not yet well-informed on these beginnings (in a short visit) but they sound very promising. It’s just encouraging, in and of itself, that people are thinking in a lively way about different theatre-making models and trying them out. And of course, as Elaine Avila (Canadian playwright) often points out: ARTS FUNDING changes the landscape and the discourse, prising open the door of experiment whereas the need for financial survival tends to glue it shut. Without some kind of supported space for experiment (and noble or even dismal failure), we have the US scenario of the ironically titled “not for profit” theatre caught between the grant-speak of supporting new and experimental work, and the commercial imperative to find the next (safe, saleable) hot new thing. Is it completely Utopian to think that real “arts funding” might become a genuine possibility, something worth fighting for, in the U.S.? So many dedicated and amazing artists working under such dire pressure here, it amazes me that people keep going sometimes.

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One Response to “Visit to Oz”

  1. jane fuller January 30, 2008 at 1:58 am #

    Hi there
    Great sentiments, and I am pleased that Vitals holds such a stronghold in your theatrical heart, and hope we can explore together at some point.

    Thanks for the copy of Trojan Barbie, have yet to read it, but chewing through Slow Falling Bird. I met with Maude and that was GREAT, she sends her regards as I spoke of our meeting.

    Jane x

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