The Minister You Have When You Don't Have A Minister ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Minister You Have When You Don't Have A Minister

While our elusive Arts Minister, Mr Peter Garrett, spends his time propping up the pulp mill industry, it's nice to know that at least one member of the Federal Ministry is thinking about the value of the arts.

The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, made an impassioned defence of the humanities in a speech to the Canberra Press Club last week. Announcing a raft of plans to support education and scientific research and development, he pointed to the close links between Research and Development and the humanities in creating innovation.

"They are both part of the same innovation system," he said. "It is obvious that scholars in the humanities, arts and social sciences benefit from advances in technology. Perhaps less obvious is the debt industry owes those scholars, who generate demand for new technologies by building a creative culture – a culture that is smart, curious and unafraid of risk."

Moreover, he claimed the changing nature of contemporary scientific research was making the humanities crucial to their development. And he finished with a ringing endorsement of the value of the arts in themselves.

"I believe the creative arts – and the humanities and the social sciences – make a terrible mistake when they claim support on the basis of their commercial value. Whatever they may be worth in the marketplace, it is their intrinsic value we should treasure them for.We should support these disciplines because they give us pleasure, knowledge, meaning, and inspiration. No other pay-off is required."

How long since you heard a politician say that? He is dead right, too. Science and art make each other smarter. You can read Senator Carr's speech, which makes for interesting perusal, here. And maybe Mr Carr is the one to invite to your next show. According to Nick Pickard, there is probably more chance of his turning up.

In other news today, Performance Space at CarriageWorks in Sydney has announced the appointment of its new director, Daniel Brine. Brine is returning to Australia to take up the position after a decade in the UK where, for the past seven years, he has been with the Live Art Development Agency (LADA). He is presently LADA's Associate Director, and has developed an impressive track record in performance and live art.

Brine takes over from Fiona Winning, Performance Space’s current Director since 1999. After nine years as Director, Winning — having strategically developed and relocated the organization to its new home at CarriageWorks — is returning to freelance writing and producing.

In fact, things are looking up in Sydney, where the Arts are now a Premier's Department portfolio. And the blogging community is steadily growing. The latest member is yet another colleague who has finally made the jump to cyberspace. Sydney crrritic James Waites, formerly of the National Times and the Sydney Morning Herald, has - at last - started his own blog. He promises to discuss many things, so expect shoes and ships and sealing wax as well as theatre reviews. If you haven't met before, you can make your acquaintance with James here.

Meanwhile, an odd note in Martin Ball's Age review of Vamp caught my eye. He claims that "for the first half of the show, the opening night audience sat in bemused silence, unsure where the show was going or what they should be thinking." And adds:

Meow Meow didn't take this indifference lying down. When one dramatic entrance failed to elicit any response, she pointedly remarked "I'm going to try that again", asserting control over the passive crowd. It's what we needed, really, to know our place.

Funny, I thought that was a carefully choreographed joke. And surely part of being in a Meow Meow audience is knowing your place (in the back row, for preference). Were we there on the same night? It was opening night, right? I recall enthusiastic applause and cheers after every song, right from the first number. Was I hallucinating? Was it that wibbly-wobbly time-wimey stuff? I'm curious to hear from anyone else there on that night who experienced this eerie silence...


Anonymous said...

Mr Ball writes like a man depressed.

Born Dancin' said...

"Bemused silence" was laying it on a bit thick. And that repeated entry was clearly a planned part of the routine.

But I was also one of those audience members who found the first half pretty messy, and not the kind of mess I love. Everyone I spoke to afterwards felt the same way. It was cerebrally interesting but not emotionally impactful in the way I'd expected.

Alison Croggon said...

I think I felt right at home as soon as I heard the speech from Salome. But I'm a bit of a sucker for that play.

Born Dancin' said...

I would say DMG is an EXTREMELY literate creator of theatre. But I felt that in the absence of theatrical footnotes (something I'd love to see someone do one day) too much of Vamp will come across as mere pastiche to a lot of audiences. I felt proud to 'get' a lot of references, but then that became a problem for me. What if I didn't know Wilde, Pabst, Keats, the Bible? And how much was I already missing? I was trying to translate the French and German for a while and had to give up. Which meant that eventually it was the pure liveness of the performance which seemed key to the show. I didn't think the performative aspects of the production were as strong as I'd hoped. But then again, this is a really subjective response and I'm sure a lot of other people would love the piece.

Alison Croggon said...

I can't understand French at all, but German's ok - at least in song lyrics. But I think the oomph of the show carried it for me, with the allusions enriching the texture of the experience, and giving me something to chew over afterwards... fwiw, I took my son, who got very few of the references, aside from Radiohead of course, but was (well, he is 20) completely seduced. I suspect it's a show you can take on many levels.

Footnotes, kind of like surtitles?? It will no doubt be done...but what's wrong with an informative program? And what other responses can you have, except subjective ones?

TimT said...

I remember seeing a uni production of Aristophanes' The Frogs where every now and again all the actors would freeze and someone would come to the front of the stage and explain the topical reference Aristophanes was making. That was kind of stupid AND patronising, because there was no way they'd be able to do that for every single obscure reference made in the play - and since they weren't able to do it for every single reference, why bother doing it at all? If the audience were sufficiently interested in finding out about the play and the references, they could just go to the library, or buy a book. So that was a form of verbal footnoting that was vastly inferior to the sort of footnotes you'd get in books.

It would be a cute idea to have some form of footnotes for a show though. You could have someone in costume wander across stage carrying a strip of paper with the relevant footnote on it. Or they could be done like surtitles. Or indeed a more successful form of verbally footnoting the play could be found; a recent example that comes to mind is in that Malthouse production of Tartuffe, where, I think, someone came out at the beginning of each act and announced the time. (Could be wrong about that, the details are a bit hazy.)

On Stage And Walls said...

I don't recall silence as such; the songs all went over very well. After she began to use the audience more and more, like Dame Edna at full cry (that gag about googling Ballet must have been thought up on the spot) had the house rocking so much that what had passed before probably seem like silence. I'd always considered Salome to be a fairly fruity play hampered by very purple prose (even seen than Ken Russell film "Salome's Last Dance"?)and Meow's closing speech was done with real power.

Alison Croggon said...

I never saw Salome's Last dance. I did see Ken Russell's film on the Romantic poets by Lake Como, which involved a suit of armour approaching Mary Shelley with a huge and very metallic erection. Everyone in the cinema burst out laughing, which I don't think was the intended response. Russell's excesses tend to get a bit cheesy, so I shudder to think what he might do with Salome. While Wilde's poetry can be a bit full of Victorian poesy for my taste, I think Salome holds up. He wrote exquisite prose.

Didn't Brecht invent stage footnotes?

Geoffrey said...

Ken Russell's film was called "Gothic" and I believe it was based on (well, at least it mirrored) Howard Brenton's marvellous play "Bloody Poetry".

Alison Croggon said...

That's right, Gothic - my memories are very hazy (there were breasts with eyes and things as well, but otherwise I hardly recall anything about it) but I did think it was pretty crappy at the time. I don't know Brenton's play at all, I guess I should track it down. Though often I find plays about poets can be pretty dreadful. I found Edward Bond's play about Basho (Narrow Road to the Deep North?) hard to take. Though there's that fascinating portrait of Milton in Howard Barker's Victory, that's pretty cool.

But I'm babbling on now. It's been a long day.

On Stage And Walls said...

"Salome's Last Dance" was an imagined performance of Salome in a brothel for an audience of one (Wilde). Alfred Douglas played John, the brothel owner played Herod and a famous actress (I think it was supposed to be Lily Langtree (played by Glenda Jackson!) was Herodias. At the end the tart/chamber maid who had been roped into playing Salome was killed for real and they all got arrested. Typical Russell I suppose.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Michael. I wonder what it was like? Russell's flaw is a crass sensationalism that tramples all over what's really interesting. My kneejerk reaction is that Wilde didn't deserve that, but hey, Glenda Jackson.

On Stage And Walls said...

The film was totally crass sensationalism. I was working in the cinmea that originally screend it here and saw it afew times. It had its moments good and bad. Jackson, as usual, transcended the material and would have taken on the job for a laugh and for old times sake (Women in Love) but it was close to the point where she gave up acting for politics, so it's odd choice for a farewell. Like most of his films it is impossible to get on DVD and is rarely screened (someone has th rights and won't allow them out from the looks of things).