This afternoon I participated in the democratic process. Sounds very noble and boring, doesn't it? Actually, I joined a whole bunch of other arty types to talk about arts practice in the ACT and government support for it. It was an interesting discussion, although it will be far more interesting to see what our great and mighty leaders do with our input.
The event was a consultation session run by a private firm contracted by ArtsACT to conduct a review of the arts in the ACT. Amongst a little bit of outright whining, there were some interesting discussions about the way in which governments support the arts, and how arts funding could best be utilised to the benefit of the arts community.
There were a few comments about the level of importation of art product, and the proportion of government funding that flows out of Canberra to artists based interstate or overseas. There was also a particularly interesting point made about the lack of support for arts businesses, which are, presumably, one of the most sustainable forms of arts activities.
But I think the most interesting point made, from the perspective of someone who has only been in Canberra for a little over a decade, was that Canberra had a much healthier and more robust arts community in the 80s and 90s. While I was well aware of most of the organisations, what these 'older' Canberrans were reminiscing was an atmosphere of creativity that could rival that of Seattle or Paris. At least one person who had lived through it remarked that she hadn't thought about it for years. It made me sadly jealous of those who have had a longer association with the city.
Still, I can hold out hope that a new era of cultural vibrancy may yet dawn on our little concrete jungle. The group I found myself in this afternoon certainly has more than its fair share of optimism. One of them was so optimistic that she even thought it possible that our elected officials may one day actually take pride in the achievements of creative Canberrans. I'm optimistic, but not that optimistic. As long as the minister for the arts is a lawyer with a strong cultural cringe against his constituents, I hardly see that happening.
What I hold out hope for is a revival of creative energy. I am in one sense thankful that I don't have an older picture of what a creative Canberra looks like, because a new era of that kind of culture is sure to look very different from the old one. I was surprised to learn that Happy Feet was largely created in Canberra. That is certainly a different image of creativity from what must have gone on in the 80s and 90s, but that kind of creative energy is something to get excited about (as long as they can find better script writers, because Happy Feet was crap in the dialogue and plot departments).
At any rate, if you would like to contribute your $0.02 worth to the debate, it's not too late. You can get along to the last consultation session on Wednesday 4 November at Belconnen Arts Centre, or you can complete the survey.
"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause."
28 October 2009
16 October 2009
I am getting a little bored with the whole "let's say nasty things about the Catholic church" thing that our culture seems to have going on these last few years. Being an older play, Ron Blair's The Christian Brothers doesn't suffer from the same simplistic and one-dimensional depiction of Catholicism as its more modern counterparts. It's refreshing.
This one-man play is about an ageing Catholic school teacher going through something of a crisis of faith in the strangely public context of his classroom. Perhaps the most interesting part of this play is how the classroom itself, while occupied by however many students the audience imagines to be there, can be at once public and private.
Veteran of the Canberra stage, Bill Boyd brings the flawed teacher to life brilliantly, eliciting empathy and laughter as we recognise those flaws that most of our teachers probably also had. This is a great production, and an hour well spent.
09 October 2009
I think Dionysus was smiling on me when I rocked up at La Mama tonight without a booking. And to be within those hallowed walls was, as always, a humbling experience. The Danger Ensemble's The Hamlet Apocalypse illustrates beautifully the human inclination to cling to what we know when facing what we fear.
Director, Steven Mitchell Wright, says that "this work is very simply about a group of actors choosing to perform William Shakespeare's Hamlet in the face of the apocalypse, the end, death, finality, loss, whichever it is for you". And while there is an element of simplicity in its performance, there is nothing simple about the way these actors face their apocalypse. Rather, there is an understanding and intense depiction of the very human emotions of fear, anticipation and determination.
Shakespeare's Hamlet is the perfect partner for this story, and its broad plot arc has been deftly interwoven with these actors' story. The cast delivers Shakespeare's dialogue with aplomb, and I may well have wanted to see them simply do Hamlet, were it not for the fascinating development of the actors' characters. As the cast counts down to the apocalypse, their own fears, insecurities and personalities render some of Shakespeare's most profound characters dull by comparison with these performers, whose experiences resonate spectacularly in La Mama's confined space.
06 October 2009
When you go to the preview night for a Bell Shakespeare production, it could be for one of two reasons: either you're too stingy to pay full price, or you're so damn keen you couldn't wait... I fall into both categories.
If you've read any of the publicity about this production of The Taming of the Shrew, you will probably be aware that it sports an all-female cast. Of course the history of the play's interpretation, especially in the last century, is all about its gender politics. And rightly so, since it is a theme that cannot be divorced from Shakespeare's text. But having seen it, I wonder whether the decision to use an all-female cast really entered into the play's production process. I think it felt more like an academic exercise. A valid and interesting academic exercise, perhaps, but not as exciting as Shakespeare can be when he is lifted above the realm of the rational.
Petruchio is the character that stands to lose the most in being played by a woman, but Jeanette Cronin delivers a slightly insane Petruchio with a singularly spectacular performance. Luisa Hastings Edge likewise delivers a fully engaging and well-rounded Lucentio. Unfortunately, in the case of the remaining male characters, their female performers fail to deliver an entirely engaging performance.
Of course, this may be intentional. Perhaps Director Marion Potts meant for the disjuncture between the performer and character to accentuate our modern discomfort with the shrew's taming? Perhaps. But if this was the case, it's unfortunate that it leaves the audience simply uncomfortable and not sure why. Even if the other male characters had been better played by their performers, I still feel that the all-female cast idea would amount to little more than an academic exercise or marketing ploy, offering no enhancement to the production.
I don't mean to be too heavily critical of Bell's production, nor of the other performers playing male roles. Despite the unnecessary distraction of the female performers, the production as a whole is excellent, eliciting plenty of laughter and pathos even from a tired old cynic like me.
I especially liked the setting, which immediately put me in mind of Rooty Hill RSL, until I realised that there is no way there'd be five mirror balls at Rooty Hill, and this must therefore certainly be modelled after Parramatta RSL. The use of Karaoke is a nice touch, and I still have Culture Club lyrics swimming around in my head.
So apart from bearing perhaps a little too much concern for its gender politics, I think Marion Potts should be congratulated on a great production of one of Shakespeare's best comedies.
03 October 2009
How the magnificent Nina Stevenson manages to harness the enthusiasm of more than 30 youngsters to fill a stage and tell a comprehensible story is beyond me, but with Puss in Boots, she has done this and more, because the show is a delight.
I took my own three youngsters (who have the energy of 30), and they sat enthralled, completely engaged by the show's larger-than-life characters, especially the evil ones. And who wouldn't be? There is some fine emerging talent on display, especially in the personages of Rebecca Riggs, who plays the evil sister Rubella, and Adrian Thomas, as her brother Snotty. Even at my age (and with my degree of evilness), I struggle to emit an evil chuckle, but Rubella's cackle sent shivers down my spine. And their brother TJ, played by the engaging Rory Asquith, was as lovable as his sister was evil.
The principal cast is supported by a young ensemble equally noteworthy for their excellent performances; and the whole show is a magnificent showcase for the talents of these young Canberrans, who I expect will be entertaining us for decades.