Jul 1, 2019 | ArtSpeak, News

In a filmed interview, photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto gives some advice to the young: My advice is to look for some other jobs before trying to become an artist. At first, you should expose yourself to many experiences – because you must have a profound experience in life to be an artist. He goes on to say that there’s no need to become an artist when you’re young, and that: I didn’t really ask for advice from anyone- and I didn’t want to get any, either.

It is deliberately somewhat perverse ‘advice’, for what better time to create than when you’re young? When you have the energy, the stamina, and before both self and external limitations create the kind of boundaries that can limit possibilities. Though boundaries in art as in life are vital at a certain point: another one of the paradoxes of which the artistic life is full. But there is truth as well as provocation here. Young artists want and need pathways, mentors and opportunities; at the same time as demanding autonomy, the right to experiment and the need to revolutionize, to create “new forms”, to destroy the old order.

In Sue Rider’s ARTSPEAK discussion about pathways for emerging artists, Sue, among her other important insights and points, shares the observation of Aaron Dora, a young emerging artist, commenting on the pathways from university into industry. She says: But there remains the challenge of getting started in the first place, or, as Aaron puts it ‘[finding] your way into an industry that seems so hard to crack.’ Aaron rightly says that pathways from university are not clear, and that ‘you have to go beyond your studies to actually get the skills you need’. In fact, this is in many ways the nature of the industry.

Sue makes the important point that the theatre world and artistic life have few pathways: Let’s be frank: just as there are no clear pathways at the start, there are none throughout a theatre career. This can be daunting, but also liberating.

Liberating because you are free to discover your own path, daunting because the life of any kind of artist and of theatre artists in particular is a battle to survive, to “make it”; and luck, contacts, bloody-mindedness and perseverance have as much (or more) to do with ‘success’ as talent.

Of course luck or chance is not blind, connections even less so, and who gets a chance is often gendered, has to do with appearance, race, sexuality and class. New pathways for directors, actors, writers and theatre workers who had been previously automatically excluded based on identity are now being forged, and need to continue to be expanded and strengthened.

Apprenticeships, mentorships, help, advice, space, time and encouragement are what one generation can give to the next and what has always been given where cultural ecologies are strong. When this help is equitable, addresses systemic disadvantage, and questions power dynamics, both culture and the business of making art can flourish.

A bit about Robert The Cat

As full-time educators and freelance artists, as well as directors of Robert The Cat Collective, we are in the unique position to actually help to address this issue of the ‘not clear pathway from university into industry’ for our young theatre practitioners.

Robert The Cat (RTC) is our latest ‘pathway’ initiative. An alumni collective set up to provide our graduates of TAFE Queensland with a professional platform to continue their theatre practice, and to take their work, and ours as directors, out to the broader community. We have for the past 10 years at TAFE Queensland staged an annual season of work, plays and performance pieces from across our three student years for the general public in our black box theatre, recently renamed the Norman Price Theatre (NPT), after the passing of our colleague Norman, original co-founder of the acting program. However it has been difficult to attract industry to view the work. Perhaps because our program does not sit inside a large Queensland based university with decades of operation and lineage?

Our graduates however are very active in the industry, working in film, stage, writing, and most importantly developing and producing their own theatre work.  RTC provides us with the further opportunity to present their talent and skills to the broader community and industry under our directorial vision.

We have developed numerous initiatives in supporting our grads. After graduating they have access to rehearsal space, mentorship and the NPT to continue to develop and present their original work. This year a group of our young performers, formed the Switchboard Collective, and returned to produce and program the week long Brisbane Sci-Fi Theatre Festival in the NPT. The first ever Sci-Fi Theatre Festival in Australia! This will continue as an annual event, and the Collective hope to grow the festival and support and program new work from all over the area, and beyond.

It is only fitting that our current RTC actors have a voice here. This is some of what they have to say about their experience as emerging artists leaving the ‘nest’, words of ‘love’ and ‘information’:

Bridging the gap between student and professional actor has never been simple. However, there were a couple of things that our University course at TAFE Queensland made sure we had plenty of to ensure this transition into the professional acting world: gumption, a skill base that allowed us to create our own work, and a strong sense of community. In my experience, this has been the key into the industry. Only after I discovered a community of alumni that wanted to create work did I begin to feel like I was getting places! – Chelsea O’Brien

Walking out the doors after graduating in 2009, I thought I was ready. And I was, to act in a place like Berlin. Not Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I was stoic, passionate, prepared. I was not prepared for people to look at me like a caged animal. Who is she? What is she doing? Why can’t she just act like a normal person? It took me a very long time to let go – while keeping close all the hidden gems taught to me by my father and mother of the arts, Norman Price and Lisa O’Neill – and start my own journey. I escaped the city of bridges (and the monkeys scratching each other’s backs) and saw the world. I fell in love. I watched people and learned from them. I relaxed, regathered my strength, and started reaching out to my peers to collaborate – to start fires! I started writing. My two big supporters in Brisbane, in terms of creating my own work, have been Metro Arts and Playlab. I will be forever grateful for every opportunity they have given me. They have helped me speak my truth and nurtured my passion for telling stories. – Katy Cotter

A bit about Love and Information by Caryl Churchill

Robert The Cat features graduate actors from across the years, the oldest having graduated exactly 10 years ago in 2009! So we also view our up and coming season of Love and Information at Metro Arts, as a 10th year anniversary celebration of our acting program.

Caryl Churchill’s remarkable play is a theatrical puzzle: in form it certainly mirrors our media saturated, information overloaded and attention deficit disordered world and media landscape. So far, so current: cue a production full of “media”, fast paced, chaotic colour and movement for the supposed short attention spans and shallow world view of ‘young people today’ – (but climate strikes, anyone?).

Yet when we look at the actual content of the scenes perhaps another approach is more appropriate. The play itself explores a surprisingly narrow range of experience: that of the “middle classes” from the low to the high ends. Form and content seem disjunct. As some reviewers have noted, there is little that is profound or even particularly original in any of the short scenes, though the conversation is observed and written with hyper-real accuracy. You want the play to describe the whole world, and at first, the range of experience seems so overwhelmingly large that it seems to do so. But on closer inspection the focus narrows to a band of characters that, no matter what the given circumstances one puts them in (and the play demands that one does that), are a very particular slice of a particular society. The society: our industrialized ‘First world’. The slice: the part that tends to go to the theatre; the reasonably well off who can afford it! And this despite all those important and ongoing efforts to attract different audiences: youth, the “underprivileged” the workers, efforts that don’t seem to be always entirely successful, the price of tickets of main-stage theatre and the convenience and increasing quality of TV being what they are.

So Churchill very deliberately holds up a mirror to her audience, the people likely to be at a play, and specifically at one of hers. She looks at them, their children, parents, their concerns and fears, at the seemingly banal surface of their lives. And at the ordinariness that sometimes conceals hidden depths of tragedy, of drama; or the ordinariness that achieves a tragic dimension by the context in which we, as members of a privileged society in the world find ourselves: victims and perpetrators at the same time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and even more so now than in 2012 when the play was first written.

Churchill demands that actors and directors act as co-authors. We need to complete the work not simply as an exercise in creative collaboration or post dramatic technique, or to make theatrical sense of the text, but to make sense of and take a stand on our world, with its often invisible (to us at least) privileges and assumptions. That it will be so revealing not just of the audience but of its makers is what makes it both exciting and frightening.

Alongside the political aspect is another one too, and one that draws together Love and Information with a seemingly unlikely work: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Separated by nearly three quarters of a century, both are experimental, even post dramatic. They share a poignant feeling of the ineffable minutiae of life and its fragility, the million random events, words and feelings that make up a single human existence, as well as its absolute social dimension. For we literally cannot exist alone, we only make sense in society, in dialogue (and isn’t that what all plays affirm and explore?) And the fragile words we speak can have enormous though in the grand scheme of the universe, never lasting, effects.

A quote from Jeanette Winterson’s novel Frankissstein perfectly sums up Caryl Churchill’s play (and we hope the effect our production will have on the audience):

“Only in the living of it does life seem ordinary. In the telling of it we find ourselves strangers among the strange.”

Anatoly Frusin and Lisa O’Neill
July 2019


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