FEATURE: Valuing Adventurous Work
Valuing Adventurous Work
Feature by Brianna McCarthy
When I tell people that I’m a theatre maker, a lot of the responses I get reference popular musicals, ask if I have seen the current spectacular playing at the Capitol Theatre or if I can hardly wait for the latest appropriation of Shakespeare in film. Tickets to classics in drama and musicals sell like hotcakes and when I look to see what’s on at the movies I see titles of films that I could swear have been made before. What I see are shows that allow an audience to already know what to expect. The characters already exist and are well liked, so the box office is approached without caution. Seeing cannons of existing stories grow excites us, myself included.
As September rolls around and the Sydney Fringe Fest takes off, it’s a very exciting time for a lot of emerging artists. The festival allows artists to try out a new idea or build something from the very ground. I’ve seen a lot of first developments and brand new shows of experimental and innovative types this year and should be honest enough to say that sometimes they can be a little crunchy. The superficial things might underwhelm us (often because of budget restraints) and the content isn’t quite perfect yet. At times these shows need two or three tries to get it right. New experimental works can be hard to build up from the ground and what’s often emerging from it is a gem of an idea, that’s taking it’s time to unfurl and show itself to us. Even when the product isn’t immaculately executed, it’s precious when the hard work and rigour is palpable in the show. New works are ultimately valuable, but when it comes to filling seats we find a lot of people are instead next door watching Mamma Mia.
In Sydney especially, adventurous new works can so easily go undiscovered. Audiences already know what they like and will go to the theatre to see what is a sure fire bet of satisfaction, where the stories are already well received, the characters are already liked and understood. The ground underneath the shows metaphorical feet is already strong. Of course I do this too. I will keep buying and reading and watching Harry Potter until the cannon is dense enough that I am really living at Hogwarts. But what’s being lost as I explore the familiar places is community, democracy and change. Theatre has always been a way to communicate with people in an exact place, to share physical space with a piece of work and to communicate something in real time. New works, especially local new works, are offering an opportunity to strengthen our ties with people who are here with us, emerging like us and actually alive in this place, responding to it right now. On a good day, the work can express to you a whole new idea, a way of seeing that we’ve never heard of and strengthen even our conceptions of life. New work, in any field, is what keeps us growing.
In thinking about this, I had a word with Q Theatre’s Director of New Work, Nick Atkins:
“I’m thinking about diving and belly flops. When a diver takes on a high degree of difficulty and fails to stick the landing we’re disappointed. But there’s also a satisfaction in knowing what the attempt was. We present and produce a lot of different work through Q Theatre and The Joan. The hardest to build an audience for tends to be work that is unknown, new, challenging or innovative in its form. To counter this, we’ve been exploring ways to build an appetite for the attempt and risk involved in these works. This might take the form of ticketing prices, language around work and the venue for a start. We want audiences to be part of the dive and be prepared to endure a belly flop because the prospect of a smooth landing is worth holding out for.”
This September, Playwave has a huge selection of new works showing in the Fringe Festival and I’d like to challenge readers to take themselves to something that’s a little odd or different to their usual. Maybe it will be a flop. Is that a problem?