Independent theatre ~ theatre notes

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Independent theatre

A quick heads up for tomorrow's Melbourne Writers Festival panel on independent theatre. I'll be chairing a discussion on our fertile independent scene with Declan Greene, Angus Cerini and Anne Louise Sarks at the ACMI Cinema 1 at 4pm. Details and bookings here.


Daniel Clarke said...

Hi Alison - It was good to be there yesterday and hear the panel share their thoughts about independent theatre and some of the needs of independent artists. I'm an independent artist but also run an organisation that is primarily here to support independent artists - Theatre Works.
I really wanted to take this opportunity to get the word out there about some of the ways we do currently support independent artists. Perhaps artists aren't aware of the number of ways we can support them. As Theatre Works moves forward into the future we aim to deepen the support we can give artists and work more closely with artists on projects from the ground up. Currently though we do offer Creative Development residencies through our In the Works program - giving artists the opportunity to develop work in the space. By the end of the year at least 5 groups of independent artists will have used the space to develop work. Our Selected Works program supports up to four companies to present work in our space on a shared-risk basis. We provide space, technical support, marketing support, a publicist and creative mentoring and producing support as required. Applications for both of these programs close on Friday.
We currently have a grant application submitted that would enable us to pay artist fees for some projects. We can currently however partner with artists to strengthen their chances of getting funding to realise their projects.
In the future we hope to assist artists tour their work interstate and internationally and I am currently investigating ways of making this a reality. We certainly pride ourselves as a national hub for independent live performance and this year have assisted independent artists from Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland develop and present work.
As part of our Musical Works program we are currently supporting two groups of independent artists develop Australian musicals for presentation at the end of 2011.
I've only been in this role since May and living in Melbourne this year and it is inspiring to be part of such a vibrant independent theatre community. Independent artists please get in touch and lets look at ways that Theatre Works can support you!
Info on Selected works and In the Works can be found at

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Daniel - great idea to continue the discussion here, and thanks for letting everybody know. What other schemes are there?

angus cerini said...

Daniel, it would be great if theatreworks could connect with interstate venues that might be in a similar position.

For me, the idea of having a season of works touring together appeals greatly. I'd love to see for instance a cluster of shows, say a triple bill, with 3 states represented. This small touring party then travels as one to the next city. I know Mobile States are doing a little bit of this, but I think that model could be expanded perhaps.

And even better if there was 3 clusters travelling around, so once one has done it's melbourne leg, it travels to Perth. The Brisbane cluster then arrives in Melbourne. The Perth cluster arrives in Brisbane.

The Great Australian Indie Theatre Roadshow!

I wonder also whether by having a triple bill for instance - that is, 3 shows on the one night, that ticket prices could reflect a buy in bulk setting. As in, buy one ticket for $20, buy 2 for $35 or get all 3 shows for $40. And you wouldn't have to see them all in one night, you'd maybe have the week to catch them...

Or make bar sales some focus too, and the thing becomes some kind of indie theatre pub crawl.

On Sunday Richard Watts raised a good question, about bands touring and why theatre couldn't adopt such a model. I think there's heaps of potential in that.

But I think the factor in that would be very minimal tech requirements. I think being in a band, and setting up is a lot less problematic than the same for theatre. Yes I used to drum in a band, and pretty much the thing is read to rock in an hour, and about half that at the end of the night. The suitcase royale were mentioned, but if they were to do a new pub every night, and travel during the day, I'm not sure how that would work. I think after a very short time they'd be completely destroyed.

And playreadings don't really pack a punch either - which seems to be the cheapest, leanest model there is. Yes great for checking out new writing etc, but ultimately the bucks don't meet the costs. You need to have some sort of show.

Perhaps a highy theatrical music/band/pub gig thing? There was this band years ago, I think from Adelaide, they were all dressed as clowns, they seemed to do this theatrical music thing very very well. I remember their gigs fondly. Though the guitarist in my band sniffed up his nose at them. Funny, he's now a computer programmer and I make theatre :)

Dance is also another perhaps easily lean form. Though the element of floor surface is an issue. Plus lighting, important always, but with dance perhaps more so.

But pubs do have great sound systems. And sometimes smoke machines! Ah, Big Fat Allan...

The thing that ultimately problematises things for me is the accommodation angle, as in touring anywhere requires a place to stay. Perhaps it's just me, but having reasonably comfy digs, and ones where I can escape everyone else (especially sometimes others in the touring party :) is crucially important.

Any councils out there or property developers with empty apartments to lease on a peppercorn?

Thanks for letting me chuck up these thoughts. I think it's a crying shame we don't, as a country, take further advantage of our potential to cross pollinate.

angus cerini said...

I think finally, the idea of vast distances being a factor is something of a misnomer. With the advent of cheaper plane travel this isn't really an issue. If freight isn't part of the equation then getting into sydney takes under 3 hours from melbourne, under 4 to brissy. Perth you might need the entire day as with Darwin.

The model in europe seems to be where a number of theatres commission a work. They then each buy the work in, for perhaps a 4 night season. This 4 night season then bodily lifts itself up, and goes across to Vienna, then after its 4 nights there it goes to Antwerp, then to Barcelona, then to Madrid or what have you.

Thing about this is that each of those companies each take a risk on the show. But that risk is divided by 8. So less risk. Then they get a much better show, as the combined budget is far greater. They also get to cough up less for marketing, but with far greater bang for the buck they do spend.

The artists benefit because they get to work the show over say 8 weeks of 4 night stands.

The beauty of this is also that out of a 7 day week, 2 days are weekend, 1 is travelling and 4 are in the theatre.

The theatre company are buying in a show for one week ultimately (after joining in a commissioning).

And if the show they've co-commissioned and bought in is a dog, then it's gone in a week. Beauty!!!

So, the challenge, bring together every major performing arts company (funded by MPAB - ozco) and get them to all chip in some commissioning cash.

Instead of commissioning 2 works, they could actually co-commission double that.

Thanks for letting me have an opinion.

angus cerini said...

Okay, and finally. If say 8 MPAB funded companies commission 8 works (so financially pay for one each, but have a stake in all 8). These 8 shows could tour all together, but staggered across an 8 week period.

Thus, a venue would receive a new show every week for 8 weeks. This would allow punters to buy a package price.

And yes, there may well be production restrictions on the work - to allow for freighting etc.

I have definitely said enough now.

Richard Pettifer said...

where do I sign mate

it would be rockin to have the stuff you describe but often feels like the only ones with these innovative production ideas are artists themselves.

but you are a true innovator on a production level push this idea who wouldn't want to see that

Although what ever happened to just being an artist I mean if you have to pre-package and cotton wool stuff for people doesn't it defeat the purpose and also people love stuff more when they find it themselves they feel ownership