Slightly bigger carrots ~ theatre notes

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Slightly bigger carrots

More on the Federal Budget in today's Age. The arts did unusually well this year, but there's some justice in Opposition spokesman Peter Garrett's claim that it's "nothing more than repair and rescue" after years of neglect. Though, frankly, whether Labor would do any better is up for grabs. And, to keep some perspective, it's very small bikkies when you think of the $3.5 billion that's been strategically handed out as sweeteners to various interest groups, or the $5 billion extra that is heading towards universities (albeit with steel strings attached), which represents some serious pork-barrelling.

As well as the $19.5 million towards the small-to-medium performing arts sector, $24 million extra is to go to the major performing companies, which in Melbourne theatre means the major beneficiaries are the MTC and the Malthouse. Again, this sum addresses the fiscal slippage which means that budgets have not met the rising costs of making theatre. Late last year, several companies - including the STC, Company B, Belvoir and Circus Oz as well as the MTC - made an unprecedented plea for a 25 per cent increase in funding, after announcing they faced collective losses of $1.5m, and a survey by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group found that funding in real terms had declined drastically, with major effects on programming.

There's been some intense lobbying behind this decision, which reportedly was very last-minute. A jubilant insider told me last night that, to their astonishment, they got everything they asked for - an unusual feeling for arts persons. For audiences, the most important implication is that the MTC might throw off its straitjacket and climb out of the theatrical doldrums. As Artistic Director Simon Phillips says in the Age today, "It means the belt that we have been tightening for the past few years now can be eased back a couple of notches so we can do those big-picture plays and classics that enrich the theatrical diet." That sounds very cool to me: and I'm putting in my bid for Ibsen and Strindberg now.

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