Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lost in Abundance Panel – #watershedACT

Watershed Panel

It’s quite tricky to write a blog while sitting on a panel. I tried.

Lost in Abundance put me in some rather intimidating company. Joining me on the panel were:

Our panel was facilitated by the gentle Chris Brain, who was both a member of the Watershed Steering Committee and Implementation Committee. We were kicked off by Chris asking “What under-used resource would you like to see young and emerging theatre artists connect with better?”

Obvious one. Working with people with a disability. People are worried about saying and doing the wrong thing so they just avoid it. Diversity strengthens our practice. – Michelle Ryan

I want to reaffirm what Michelle said. Diversity enriches the process. Diversity in every way (deliberately). It’s a huge resource. Also, be open to the possibility of people you meet being a collaborator in the future.  – Baba Israel

Faith in yourself. It’s really broad and you won’t get a lot out of it initially. – Kirsty Hillhouse

Kirsty touched on how this faith in yourself means something to those who fund you (or invest in you in other ways). Everyone is looking for people with bright ideas – not necessarily with capacity or skill yet, there is a willingness to support and grow from the ideas. Make the most of that and don’t wait until you’re a proven product. Asking inspires people, they want to be part of your awesomeness.

I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I reiterated what the previous panelists had said and touched on the power of our networks with each other and the industry – in particular harnessing the power of tools like social media.

Being a regional artist, I can’t practically pop to and from events to make networks or collect flyers to see what’s on as regularly as I’d like. But what I can do is follow companies/individuals within the industry through their social media profiles and through this have real time access to a wide range of announcements and insights into the industry and work happening across the country (and internationally). I can research and open up a dialogue with companies and people that excite me so that my travel to urban areas can be targeted and well utilized. I can overcome *some* of the isolation I feel through the connections I maintain. Social media has been a fantastic resource for me and has led to offers of paid work and other opportunity’s that I otherwise would not have accessed. Definitely a resource I would encourage other artists from all walks of life to tap into.

David was lucky last and rather than picking just one thing, he reaffirmed everything everyone else had said and shared the following list:

  • Using the internet. Accessing opportunities. Heaps of websites. Google opps for young artists. Research.
  • Travel. Being out of your space and seeing other work.
  • Older artists. Mentors. Asking questions. People whose work you like.
  • DIY. Don’t wait for the offer. Ger in there. The benefit is you start making the mistakes early.
  • Mistakes. They are a resource. Make them early.
  • Seeing more/other work. It’s easy to become a bit insular. See everything you can. Sometimes thing you hate really inspire you to be productive.
  • Playing out of your depth. You SHOULD feel scared, and like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You shouldn’t feel like that every day of course, that’s no good for you. But if it’s been more than a year or two since you felt terrified, go and do it now. Bite off more than you think you can handle.
  • Find inspiration from outside your field.
  • Networking and collaborating. Provoke people around you to be creative. Even if it’s something small and stupid.
  • Talk with funding bodies. Ask questions. They are waiting to talk to you.

I love David. 🙂

The floor was then open to questions. This is where it just got ridiculously tricky to write everything down as I was listening and responding to questions and the other panelists and just couldn’t manage to type at the same type. So sadly I can’t give you a run down of the Q and A in detail.

Many of the questions (though not all) were asked by what I’d consider ‘youth participants’ or ‘aspiring artists’ rather than young/emerging artists. What I mean by this is people actively engaging with the arts through youth theatre and school who in the future want to consider or pursue an arts career but aren’t actually participating in the industry themselves (at present).

I found this a little frustrating, not because they weren’t valid questions, but because the vision for the summit was to be a space for young and emerging artists either completely in or well on their way to transitioning into professional practice. These questions (and the people asking them) were coming from a completely different place, and a place that is valid and important but wasn’t (from the steering committee perspective) a place that was designed to be addressed as part of Watershed. It meant that we were using time (both in this panel and Watershed as a whole) to answer questions that would have been best answered in some cases by Google searches and by attending workshops at school and with their youth theatre company.

Young people engaged with youth theatre, school and other arts as participants is a really important conversation. And one as a result of my personal practise that I am incredibly passionate about, but it is a different conversation to that of young and emerging artists as professional practitioners in the wider industry. Sadly so many people/companies just lump it all in together if you’re under 30 (or 26) which I find really ridiculous. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you want to make work with or for other young people. And just because you love engaging with the arts through youth theatre and school doesn’t mean you’ll move into professional practice.

This issue of specificity was a concern to me across the spectrum of Watershed but I have gone a little off topic from the Abundance Panel, so I will aim to visit this structural issue in a separate blog and take the time to really tease out why it was an issue and why myself and other Steering Committee members felt unsatisfied in certain areas.

Before moving on though, I do just want to make it very clear that the issues I’m talking about are not in any way a criticism of the very hard work of the Implementation Committee. They delivered the content they decided upon very well, it just happened to be content that didn’t necessarily answer the required questions for a National Theatre Summit for Young and Emerging Artists (as opposed to a National Youth Theatre Summit). I’ll delve into this properly when I get to that other blog.

Going back to the panel, there was some great discussion in response to audience questions and I was super impressed (and super intimidated) by the responses of the other panelists. What really stood out to me is the repeated motif of ‘Just ask. Just do. Just start.’

I was also struck by how the fact of being on the panel, somehow made people assume I was further in my own career than I actually am. It’s an interesting observation in terms of how the frame we put around someone shapes how we perceive and engage with them.

I am still figuring out who I am, both as a person and as an artist and I ALWAYS will be, because I see myself as ongoing project and I have a deep hunger to learn, learn, learn. I want to be better each day than I was the day before.


I have NO idea what I’m doing.

At least that’s how it often feels.

Until I remember that my journey is mine and mine alone. I bring my life experiences and professional experiences and the unique combination of the two. I’m not finished. I’m not an expert.

And that’s okay.

I still have something valuable to say.


Who the hell do you think you are? #watershedACT

What is your brand?

Have you googled yourself? Found anything you don’t like on there?

My first session at Watershed this morning was led by Canberra Youth Theatre’s Artistic Director Karla Conway and in the program promised to strip back the surface layer to delve deep into your art, ‘you’ll be suprised to discover how little you know about yourself as an artist’.

Karla also has a second identity – that of Canberra Roller Derby’s ‘Karlotta Karnage‘ and her session this morning drew on some key lessons Roller Derby can teach us as artists.

Lesson #1 – I was late so I missed the official wording but essentially

Names matter. Pick a good name and cultivate it. This is your brand.

Lesson #2 – Bios should be bad ass

A lot of people are too nervous about pigeon holing ourselves. Sometimes you have to pick something. (I’m definitely guilty of this). It’s not about letting go of what you’ve done in the past but evolving and being present with the work/position you have right now. Karla ran an independent theatre company in WA, she’s been a performer and musical theatre. All of that shapes and informs her current practise. But if you’re too broad no one knows who you are and what you’re doing. So Karla is a director/dramaturg. That’s the work she’s making.

Karla spoke about studying directing at NIDA and never getting feedback from the tutor. We all habitually seek this ‘what did you think’ and turning the question around on to ourselves means that we learn to have our own back. We have to learn to step away from our work to see what is or isn’t working. This also helps to identify the elements that are specifically you.

I could never recreate your work. Because I cannot be you and you cannot be me. Rather than striving to be someone else. Strive to be you. – Karla Conway

Karla also questioned – Do you live in the past or the present in your bio?

We’ve all done things.  Many of us write bios that tie us to what we’ve done in the past. What are you doing now? What’s your aesthetic? What are you excited about? What makes you different?

Biography vs manifesto. Context. What are you using it for? Is this for a funding body or the program of a show? It is for your peers? The audience?

The key here I think is that you’re actually buying me, not my past work. I am the brand. It’s about if the person I am and the way I work is the right fit for you and what you want to do.

This really rang true for me. Karla asked us to spend a minute writing our bio.
Conclusion – I’m not so great at being ‘bad ass’, however that’s not my voice or my language and I’m actually okay with that. Unsurprisingly the words I jotted down was intrinsically linked to my identification as a regional artist and as a parent. This is an important part of who I am as a person obviously but it’s also at the heart of the ‘why’ in the work I have made and want to make.

Karla also asked us to autowrite in response to a series of provocations she presented. Provocations invited us to consider the work we were first exposed to, the work that excites us, frustrates us, inspires us, the work we’ve always wanted to make and what’s stopping us and how we define ourselves through our work.

Again, there were no surprises here for me. I regularly interrogate my work and myself so there was no new information here. My entire universe hinges on me constantly questioning EVERYTHING. But there is always (and was again) a clear pattern of how I betray myself and my skills and my potential with my own fear. I am, and always will be my own worst enemy. And actually fuck me. Fuck me for being the worst kind of coward.

Moving on,

Lesson #3 – Sometimes a girl’s gotta eat shit (this is a Roller Derby Term for stacking it)

If you don’t attempt it. You’ll never master it.

Come at me world. (See above fuck to self)

Lesson #4 – It’s inevitable, you’re going to get injured

Art is a vulnerable place to sit permanently. It’s okay to have a mental health day. It’s okay to rest and recover. You have to reassess and reignite.

Lesson #5 – Don’t cut the track

Limitations and boundaries can be your friend. Don’t be repressed by your limitations. Set the boundaries and then operate as violently as you can to create the best work you can.

Lesson #6 – Some days will bring wins.

Keep them in perspective

Lesson #7 – It’s all about the fans

What are you making for the audience? What is their experience? Always be thinking about the audience when you’re making the work.

It might be a cool idea – but why does your audience want to see that?

And yes, there is an audience for everything. But why are YOU making this? What does it mean? Why are you doing? Why are you connecting with that audience? And what would they be interested in?

Lesson #8 – Fight hard for your position on the track.

You have to be disciplined and invest in your craft. Constantly evolve. Know what your place and context is and work on that.

Lesson #9 – Persevere. Because at some point when you least expect it, magic happens.

Lesson #10 – At the end of the day we are all on the same team.

We grow our art by supporting each other. Go and see each other’s show!!

Look forward, not back.


Watershed – Keynote – Baba Israel

Today (April 11th 2013) is the opening day of Watershed, the second National Theatre Summit for Young and Emerging Artists happening over the next few days in Canberra.  Coinciding with both National Youth Week and Centenary of Canberra Celebrations and in the lead up to the Australian Theatre Forum, Watershed has brought togther 50+ young artists (under 30) to connect/inspire/challenge/interrogate/consider/share.

After a very brief registration period and welcome from the implementation committee here in Canberra we launched straight into Baba Israel’s keynote.

A google search for Baba Israel reveals all kinds of interesting things. Links to various youtube videos (many well worth checking out) and various articles and profiles about his life and work.

None of them are as interesting as the man himself in the flesh. Baba fills the space and his interactions with an openness of spirit, a deeply caring masculinity that is refreshing and very special me thinks. Right down to his endearing orange tee and cap and improvised spoken word response to our desires for Watershed (#watershedACT on twitter in case you’re wondering).

At the heart of it, Baba is a storyteller and his keynote shared the story of his artistic life starting from his earliest years as the child of deeply artistic parents (raised by parents who were core members of The Living Theatre), Baba was present in the rehearsal room as a baby, being held by Directors and other creatives in room as his parents worked. Like many young people, he had a period of rebellion,  attending a science high school – that didn’t work out – but the arts remained an integral part of his life and way of engaging with the world.

Baba touched on the value of this early exposure to the arts, which I really agree with, although my own road into the arts was quite different, much later in life and more accidental. I wonder how much this early exposure and immersion in an artistic life/community shapes the confidence to explore/experiment/fail that I often struggle with. Thought for another day perhaps

Anywho – Baba honed his skills as a street performer with a lens on creating and reclaiming space (a nice link to my recent adventures at Creating Spaces). Baba spoke a lot about the power of improvisation in this early days and as his career continued to develop. The importance of enjoying and being present in that moment – responding to what is actually happening around you. Again this repeats themes from Creating Spaces and leads into a deeper discussion about having a willingness to try and fail and try again. Yes, universe I know. I know.

I don’t need lights and a stage. I can explore and express anywhere – Baba Israel

Through travel, accidental discovery and connections with others Baba discovered hip hop and hip hop through theatre as a tool for community development and education and from what I can find on the interwebs, this is *some* of what he’s best known for now (as a hip hop and spoken word artist).

Baba also spoke at length about play back theatre, which dovetails quite closely with fourm theatre/theatre of the oppressed and I am interested to learn more about play back theatre myself over the next little while.

There was so much shared actually that my notes are a little bit of a mess. I will curate this blog post a little better tomorrow when I’ve had some sleep but in the meantime…..

Some of the key questions/ideas I took away:

  • Creating spaces where people have agency is where the youth sector shines
  • As an artists you are constantly ’emerging’ and rediscovering yourself
  • We are all resources for each other. How can we best connect and tap into those resources. #tapthat
  • I (Alysha) really do love spoken word.
  • What are the reasons that a particular community doesn’t or can’t connect with theatre/performing arts
  • Professional doesn’t always involve money. It can be about commitment
  • Diversity doesn’t always happen accidentally (in fact it rarely does). Diversity often needs to be deliberate.
  • How do you maintain longevity in a company context – the importance of developing a shared language
  • Research can deepen one’s practise. It’s okay to have a break from ‘making’
  • A lot of theatre spaces usher young people in and then usher then out. How do we create spaces that young people can own?
  • Local. International. National. Instead of Local. National. International.
  • I should learn more about tele presence

You can find Baba here and here.

Also – YES, YES and YES to Contact’s board hearing the veto of their youth panel on choosing the next Artistic Director. If it’s a youth theatre company, all the major decision should absolutely be informed by and made with the young people of the company. So glad to finally find someone else that gets this and can articulate it the way it feels to me.