Monthly Archives: May 2013

….and now a bonfire #ATF2013

Yesterday David Milroy’s session was titled ‘The Burning Question‘  and he spoke about the need for a ‘fire in the belly’. This morning’s session at the Australia Theatre Forum had plenty of oxygen, fuel and the all important ignition source. That the fire keeps burning until it brings space for new growth is my greatest hope.

The morning started with an address from Tony Grybowski, the new CEO of the Australia Council.

(…) Aboriginal people have been here telling stories and creating culture for 50,00 years. The Australia Council has been supporting art and culture for 40 years. I’ve been in the job for ten days. It really puts things in perspective. – Tony Grybowski

Tony had a background as a professional musician (playing the tuba) before falling into arts administration and making it now to the ‘top job’

I’ve got 15 minutes and I’ve got notes here. Feel free to ask a question. – Tony Grybowski

Being new to the job Tony was of course putting his ‘stamp’ on what he hopes to achieve and how he sees the role of the Australia Council moving into the future. Speaking from the bottom, these wider policies and structures feel very far away but the way they shape the culture at the bottom really does matter so I was interested in what Tony had to say (and how he said it).

The usual desire for Australia Council to be a flexible, transparent and vibrant arts organisation was trotted out and the twitterverse exploded with comments asking for and refuting the definition of vibrant. No one bothered to touch flexibility and the likelihood of that in a highly bureaucratic organisation – but perhaps we’ll all be surprised. Everyone talks about reducing bureaucracy and being flexible but does anyone actually do it and what does it even mean in practice?

(NB – if you want to read the Australia Council Bill that was passed in lower house – find it here)

Challenge us, entertain us and enrich us. – Tony Grybowski (on theatre and what it’s for)

There were some excellent questions and answers but nothing particularly of note that I want to add right now. Really just keep watching Oz Co to see what (if anything) new eventuates under Tony’s leadership.

Following Tony, The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma took to the stage (in pyjamas) to provoke and provoke they did. Pavol Liska controlled much of the conversation, inviting a random delegate to the stage and interviewing her (Claudia from Casula Powerhouse) with initially some almost hilarious results:

CC: Sometimes I make theatre.

PL: What do you mean sometimes? (….) Do you like public speaking?

CC: Usually but not now

Pavol and Kelly were impressive provocateurs and the conversation quickly became an open dialogue with the audience. I’m writing this on the fly but tonight I intend to storify the twitter stream from this particular session as the best way to experience it. Come back after 10pm tonight.

For those who were already following along on Twitter or keeping track via Jane Howard’s blog, you would have heard about the #walkout in the latter half of this session.

I’m just one tiny voice and the least qualified and knowledgeable of the many voices and listeners in this space so I have no hope of explaining the why and the what and the how. I will storify the #walkout stream for you as well tonight and you can make of it what you will but here is my subjective and flawed summary:

Candy Bowers the beautiful, powerful warrior that she is spoke straight from the heart TO THE HEART OF IT in our country. The reality is that not all people in this country can be their true selves. Not all people in this country can be safe. Candy specifically spoke on the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with particular attention to the NT intervention, but also referenced the reality of our first peoples across Australia (and IMO, there are other powerful connections that can be drawn)

Candy’s words came from Pavol questioning if our theatre is too weak. If it really changes anything at all? An audience member (didn’t catch his name) responded by saying ‘It’s because in this country we’re safe. No one is at risk of being killed for the art they make‘.

Candy Bowers: SOME people are safe in this country. We have ten year old boys taking their own lives. (….) Right now there is unacknowledged Apartheid in this country.

Candy spoke deeply, articulately and from a heart full of hunger (for better, for more, for answers, for champions, for allies, for everyone to wake the FUCK UP and see racism for what it is in this country today).

CB: I spend all of my time empowering young people to not see themselves as dumb or stupid but what am I preparing them for? (….) I would give up everything for those children to become the poets and visionaries they are.

 (in answer to Pavol asking ‘Would you give up art to change it/make it better?)

Pavol asked if anyone disagreed with Candy’s words.

No one did.

Except.

Then.

Someone called Leon spoke up in defense of the NT intervention, justifying it (and his words) by saying he works in ‘Indigenous Communities’ and has seen what it’s like. I can’t remember his exact words but the sense I had from them is “Aboriginal people need us to come and fix them with education (a white lens institutional education was implied). Candy positioned the fear of controlling alcohol, drugs and pedophilia against the reality of all these things happening in Canberra right now (and no one doing anything about it) and called Leon out:

I’ve spoken to you before Leon and you’re a racist – Candy Bowers

I couldn’t tell you if  Leon said anything further or what anyone else said in response but a figure stood up and exited the room quickly and quietly. Other people called out comments I can’t remember and then the microphone passed to Lee Lewis (Griffin’s AD) who asked how we could keep talking when Wesley Enoch (Queensland Theatre Co. AD)  had left the room. Lee articulated how important that symbol was, how his leaving said something important.  Another audience member pointed out that Wesley was on the next panel and perhaps he was going to prepare. Pavol, still at the microphone said “As he walked past me, he caught my eye and shook his head” and Kelly added “and he mouthed, I can’t

So I don’t think he was taking a phonecall – Pavol Liska

What are we choosing staying in this conversation? Lee Lewis (before handing the microphone over and following Wesley by leaving the room)

And so people chose. Some walked out and some left.

Nicole Smith on twitter said

I get the walk outs on principle but you can’t further the conversation if you’re not here. Come back, we need your voices! #atf2013

I walked out.

I walked out to live my values. To stand by the song in my heart. And because I didn’t want to sit in an audience sobbing. I was not offended. I was not trying to prove anything. I was not trying to jump on the bandwagon. I was choosing the space and the people I wanted to be with in that moment. So I left. I walked out of the session. Hugged someone I knew and then sat on the stairs and sobbed my little heart out for all the deep scars in our stories that I have no words for.

I’m sorry I can’t explain it. I’m sorry this blog post does no justice to the great, proud and leading voices that were in the room. I’m sorry that my voice and my actions are so small.

*

I’m sitting now in the foyer writing this, I’d planned to go t0 the afternoon session

“Kyle: What is Aboriginal Theatre? Isaac: Whatever we say it is.”

But on approaching the door, volunteers turned the white away with the words ‘This session is now only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.

And my thoughts winged their way back to this morning and the last question asked of Tony Grybowski from the Australia Council by Jason Tamaroo. He challenged the Australian Council Policy that requires Aboriginal people to prove their Aboriginality with a certificate….

So I wait here today. I wait to hear what answers the closed doors may bring back to us.

I wait with hope. And with faith that there are great minds and cultural leaders behind those doors asking the questions I don’t know how to ask and teasing out the answers we all hunger for. I wait knowing that my desire to ‘help’ is something I need to manage, not force on others and make them accept.

And I write. With my own small voice.

To tell you, this matters to me.

Reconciliation, not as a Government token, but as a living celebration of culture and the potential for us to create something beautiful together. To evolve into something none of us seem to have the power to imagine.

I’m doing a terrible job of most things. There is so much I don’t know. So much I’m not good at. But please, please keep making me cry. Keep holding all of us but especially me accountable. Keep demanding that we do better. I want that, for the blue eyed little boy waiting for me back in South Australia. He and EVERY ten year old Australian deserve that we get this shit right.

 

Other Blogs touching on the #walkout:

“Official” ATF Bloggers

Augusta Supple

Jane Howard

Other bloggers

Candy Bowers

Morgan Little

 

A Papermoon to see by #ATF2013

Inspiration is a compelling pursuit. (….) We can’t see the fox and maybe we never will. But we know the idea is there and well keep chasing. ATF is an opportunity to chase the tail. – Alicia Talbot

The Australian Theatre Forum ‘sold out’ before the program was released. We didn’t know what the days would hold but each of us trusted (or wildly hoped) that it would be worth a few days (or week for some) out of our work and other lives. Alicia Talbot has curated the program being presented to us and I don’t know how they all got in my head but gee #maketrouble

The outlaws and the boundary riders are the people who make it happen – Aicia Talbot

ATF in Alicia’s words is an opportunity to find the space to have the burning conversations. She was also impressed that people managed to not punch anyone this morning (during the Q and A after David Milroy’s keynote)

Alicia wished us the “best of half finished conversations“.

And then, and then. We had the pleasure of meeting Ria Papermoon from Papermoon Puppet Theatre. Ria is the founder and Co-Artistic director of Papermoon Puppet Theatre and visiting Australia as an international cultural visitor (via DFAT).

Like David, Ria’s spirit is something I could never hope to capture here. Her words were warm, welcoming and with the slightest hint of endearing nervousness.

I think some of you may have been to Indonesia. Like Bali. But you should ‘click’ come a bit further. – Ria Papermoon

Papermoon didn’t start as a puppet company, it was originally a free studio for children to engage with visual and performing arts until everything changed when over 1000 people died in serious earthquakes. People kept their kids close to them and stopped coming and Papermoon searched for and transitioned into something else.

Starting out with very simple object based puppets (found objects with eyes on them), Ria and her husband, the Co-Artistic Director of Papermoon

He is my husband so he has no choice (laughs) – Ria Papermoon

reached out for something more. In Indonesia, Ria explained there isn’t really a formal system or training to ‘become’ an artist, it’s very self identified “I’m artist. I’m artist. I’m artist. Just like that.

People thought Papermoon’s puppetry would be shadow puppetry (the traditional form in Indonesia) but Papermoon started exploring something different, something contemporary and something that no one else was doing in Indonesia. In the truest sense of DIY, Ria and her husband (and others that came along for the ride) did (and do) everything and had to learn from scratch how to make and build the puppets they wanted to create. They quite literally just started Googling things and giving everything a go.

During the process they discovered that puppet theatre could be for adults too and could explore darker territory so they’ve making work now for both children and adults.

(Worked with puppeteers from Germany and Australia including Snuff Puppets) Exchange learning that puppetry is not just for kids. Shakespeare dark gloomy stuff. Is this puppet theatre? Oh great, we can do this. – Ria Papermoon

Indonesia also has limited funding available and what is there is difficult to access so Papermoon has to find other ways to make things happen. They embody ‘doers’.

There is no other puppet company like us, because we can jump around and do whatever we want. But it’s also sad because I want to be sitting in the audience and seeing other things. – Ria Papermoon

Ria spoke about some of the specific shows they’ve created which Jane Howard covers in depth in her blog here so I won’t reiterate. Like David, earlier in the day Ria was equally inspiring, although in a wholly different way. Her willingness to ‘not know’ and to just try (and the willingness to admit it!) and the impressive list of collaborators they’ve worked with from across the globe struck a chord with me.

We learnt from the almighty Internet and google. We don’t know how it will work on stage. We just try. (…) It was sold out. – Ria Papermoon

I  love the idea of cross cultural collaborations but am scared that really I’m just a bit too boring/will say something/am too inexperienced/etc/etc/etc. Ria really highlighted the value of residencies and reaching out to potential collaborators and mentors which was a pertinent reminder for me.

For us Art is a medium to communicate with people. (…) We’ve survived until now because of the audience – Ria Papermoon

Also one of the Ria’s collaborators has been the fantastic Mr Ben Fox (the elusive fox from Alicia’s intro?) who is steering the ship for #RAA2014. Seriously cool.

Did I mention I’m writing #tinytwitterpoem (s) during #ATF2013? Inspired by Katie Keys #tinylittlepoems (aka Kate Larsen, Director Writers Vic) during Kumuwuki (when I was first ‘exposed’) and other events.

Ria inspired a number of #tinytwitterpoem (s), take a peek here. One of the lovely writers from the Riverland Creative Writing Group, which I facilitate has also joined in with her own #tinytwitterpoem. Yay!

DFAT Debunked (or not) at #ATF2013

Beverly Mercer from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) gave a quick overview of the Department’s Public Diplomacy program and most specifically how showing off Australian cultural content is part of the deal.

The essence of the session was really:

Are you doing something overseas? Or planning to? Talk to DFAT an talk to them early to hook in with other things that might be happening and leverage support of our Embassies and Public Diplomacy programs.

That was really the whole session. Oh and go explore the website for information about funding through DFAT or any of the councils, institutes and foundations that service particular exchanges as well as stalk priority areas. Take a look here.

Apps for the DFAT funding usually close in February with max grants up to $40,000. The sense I came away with from the session is that they are looking for tour ready products with ‘wow’ factor rather than grass roots exchanges, which is fine but just something to be aware of it you’re thinking of applying.

There is also a festival/showcase type program with a different focus country every year. Last year was OzFest in India. This year is Vietnam (with Bangarra as the key organisation opening the festival) and next year is Indonesia – hence Ria Papermoon as our cultural visitor at ATF.

Also for your future planning:

2015 – Turkey

2016 – Brazil

Take away messages from the session:

  • If touring overseas get in touch with DFAT early so you can leverage the possibilities.
  • They can put you in touch with their embassies and public diplomacy officers. People on the ground. Insider information. Local organisations to work with.
  • Help with publicity though their own networks. Website, Facebook page and twitter to promote to. Contacts working in the same area, venues, local orgs etc.
  • Pacific is a priority country. They get very few applications for there. Pacific islands ie. Solomon. Vanuatu.
  • Note to self. Tell people what you’re doing because they do want to know what’s going on and they might be able to facilitate it.
  • We talk about culture in terms of public diplomacy. Showcase excellence in Australian arts and culture.

 

While I was in the DFAT session. Jane Howard was sitting in with David Pledger here.

 

Don’t forget to follow #ATF2013 on twitter for live tweeting and opportunities to ask questions. It’s a full day tomorrow so there should be plenty of food for thought and all that.

The Burning Question #ATF2013

Like many other stranded travellers this morning, the Sydney and Canberra fog delayed my morning flight (6 times in total) so I missed the opening keynote and welcomes. Instead my 2013 Australian Theatre Forum journey began with David Milroy’s keynote.

The most important thing to know about David is that he was fabulously warm and intelligent and nothing I write could possibly capture the real spirit and generosity (and demand) of his words.

David is a Palyku Man and Western Australian (Theatre Boom and FIFO dramaturgs for the future anyone?) and was the first Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre as the ‘last man standing’. He came to the arts late (in his 30’s’s) initially as an actor, where he realised two things.

1. He couldn’t act.

2. The power of theatre.

David was asked to provide a provocation for ATF and it was one framed by David’s own sense of place, both physical and cultural and his journey thus far as an ‘old and submerging playwright’.

David spoke eloquently about and around cultural misrepresentation, meddling and the recurring question of just what exactly is the definition of Aboriginal theatre? Can a non-Aboriginal person write an Aboriginal play? (this applies equally to Torres Strait Islanders but David focused specifically on Aborignality so I’m referring to Aboriginal theatre here)

We all know ‘the winners’ (NB: no one really won in the colonisation of Australia, current and past generations have all been robbed of something deeply precious on both sides IMO) write history, so it’s no surprise that Aboriginal stories have often been told through a white (European) lens in the distant and recent past. David asked “Who is telling our story and why?” and it’s a question that I’m constantly asking myself about all the stories I write and engage with as an audience member. And the who and why of my own Aboriginal history (through my Nana’s father) that I have no access to explore/track down. These severed ties haunt me. The hunger to know and the fear of never knowing and having no avenue to pursue haunt me – these lost stories and all their echoes. All the things I’ll never know but want to know. Who will tell me those stories and how and why? What stories will I tell and why?

David referred to many experiences during his career where Aboriginal actors were on stage like ‘puppet theatre’ with others behind the scenes pulling the strings. And other experiences where individual Aboriginal artists were expected to be the sole cultural advisor and then when things went wrong in the project were left with the fall outs in their communities. In the early days of Yirra Yaakin, funding bodies had trouble working with the company because the company didn’t neatly fit the model of a theatre company. The scope was broader with a strong connection to cultural community (I don’t have first hand experience of Yirra Yaakin, but I expect in a similar way to Big hArt and the long term and deeply layered engagement with community as part of developing any of their projects). The existence of the company and its practise was and still is political.

How can it not be when we live in a world that continues to be so intrinsically racist? When people have to live with closed doors, stereotypes and missed opportunities, the work really couldn’t be anything but political.

David raised all this and more with candour, humour and warmth. People like this being in the world make me want to #maketrouble (It’s a twitter thing). What do I mean by make trouble? They make me believe that together we can shake the ugliness out of these systems and that we can build something better. They make me want to be better. They make it okay to ask all my stupid questions.They make me want to be braver and shout from the rooftops all the simmering rage that sits beneath my rib cage, so that together we can turn this world inside out and build something that does have the strength and room for true colour blind casting.  For a spectrum of individuality in culture, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. For stories that can be told and reshaped by all because they’ll be so deeply embedded in cultural understanding, respect and pride that we won’t need quotas or closed doors anymore. I know this is a long way off, of course. It may never happen even in my lifetime, but people like David and Racheal (who commanded attention in the Q and A following David) make me believe that it is possible. They make my heart sing with joy.

As a side note, I was personally fascinated that Yirra Yaakin started as a youth theatre company initially before growing and reframing itself. Young people are so much at the heart of everything I think and do as the both the building blocks for the future and the responsibility of our present.

I believe in and completely support the need for Aboriginal peopleto tell Aboriginal stories. For Aboriginal writers, performers and directors to reshape the narratives of Aboriginality and what that means in a traditional and contemporary world. I believe that quotas (for gender, ethnicity and culture) are not the whole answer, but I do believe they are somewhere we need to start to wade through this muck and filth (racism, stolen stories etc). We need to put in place these structures and fight for them so that eventually variety can become the norm to the point that we won’t need the structures (quotas) to support it anymore because everyone will automatically demand it because it will be mainstream for a good actor to play anyone and for good writers to write anything.

On another side note – for those that don’t know – this week is Reconciliation Week, and it does matter. It should matter to all of us. Not as one week where we give ourselves permission to care, but rather as one week that symbolises and builds the commitment we all need to make to strive towards reconciliation with the land and with each other. It shouldn’t be a token government effort, but an opportunity for all of us to pause a moment and take stock of how far we’ve come and how much further we all have to go and to recommit ourselves to the fight.

Going back to David’s keynote.

What is the definition of Aboriginal Theatre?

There is no one definition. But it’s not enough to tick the boxes. It’s not enough to rely on protocols (although they should of course be part of the conversation), we need to seek and consistently build meaningful collaboration.

Not everything written about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is correct. And not everything should have been written down in the first place.

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. – David Milroy

A well meaning writer can cause a lot of trouble by not working collaboratively. There is no such thing as a ‘generic Aboriginal’. Individuals are tied to community and country and they will be the ones to cop it if something goes wrong. It’s also kind of creepy to have generic characters who aren’t connected to country (to place). Why are they even there?

The Q and A post David was engaging, lively and passionate. Filled to overflowing with dozens of people more knowledgeable and talented that I can ever hope to be. People who are changing the landscape with the power of their words and their work. I was doing too much listening and not enough note taking, but this most of all stayed with me:

An actor should be able to play anything. That is an actor. A good actor has a range. And a cultural range as well. Get away from putting on white middle class theatre.

We have a racist industry, whether its by accident or complicit. It’s there. This is stifling all of us! – (I missed the name of the speaker but I think it was Fred someone? If anyone can enlighten me, please do so I can find/follow and love his work online)

In the end we should all be able to play everyone. But we have to break the racism and the white monopoly on Aboriginal stories. It might take fifty years. It might take a hundred. And in the meantime white people need to sit down and shut up and listen to the people who are saying “We have been oppressed and this is our story.”

Meaningful collaboration is essential when dealing with our (Aboriginal and shared) history. Is it really so hard to sit down and listen? To ask questions? To be brave?

Lets have some respect for the population that has struggled to have its stories heard. – David Milroy

Thank you David. And everyone like you. You’re making the world a better place for me and mine to live in. I hope I do it justice. Keep demanding that I do.

PS – to the person who interrupted Candy Bowers. You suck. Never interrupt Candy Bowers. She is the epitome of what it means to be a powerful woman. A place shaker. A trouble maker. One of my favourite people to admire from afar. Shhh, you interrupting person, you.

Also, for a more in depth and less subjective account of David’s keynote, visit Jane Howard here.

Jane and August Supple are both blogging from ATF2013 and can be relied upon for all the good stuff. I just get lost in figuring out my sense of place and who I might want to become. I like things a little messy. A little personal. Stay with me too if you like.

x

The Hunger #willieverbegoodenough?

 

Psstt…..I put in an entry to SOYA this year.

Loads of other way more qualified and talented people have as well, so please go over and take a peek and support my entry so I don’t feel so small and alone….

 

Take a look here – http://www.soya.com.au/entrant/alysha-herrmann/

 

Voices Project

 

PS – Also don’t forget you can buy a copy of The Voices Project (here).

Late Night Poetry – #reallyshouldbesleeping

I don’t want to live in a world like this

A world with no sorry. No goodbye.

Just slipping and tripping and saying like this

A world with fences

Bubbles

Soft, smooth toys

I don’t want to live in a world like this

A world with boundaries

And risks too terrifying to face.

I want to live in a world

With breath

Freedom

Courage

Smiling children

And

This

This thing we call responsibility

No one else is going to take it away from you

Rise for you

Be you

Just you

 

 

I want to slip

Slip

Into

And

Out of

This

This aching, sweeping, needing hunger

I want to turn it off

And turn in

Tune myself to another station

And not see

What I see

What you put before me

I want to sweep all the joy in

The laughter

And leave behind

Those

Those

Things

Strings

Toys

Made of Men

Made of sorrow

 

 

 

@filmlifeproject Blogging Competition – Drumroll please

So I’ve been a little slack super busy the last little while and still haven’t finished updating my Watershed blogs or shared this teeny bit of news.

 

Waaaay back in February I wrote a blog called One Life? as part of the FilmLife Blogging Competition. The competition was to write a 300-800 word blog which could help spark conversations about organ and tissue donation in support of DonateLife Week 2013.

Annnnnddd……. I won!

One Life Winning Blogpost copy

The lovely Carly Findlay was one of the judges and she had these lovely words to say on her blog:

In deciding on a winner we were asked to consider whether a post inspired conversation about organ and tissue donation, whether it showed creativity, whether it was well written, whether it was presented creatively and whether it had any “x-factor” in capturing and using the theme in an unexpected way.

Alysha’s post scored high points against all criteria.

…………The piece adopted a poetic voice, mixed with a more conventional descriptive approach that demonstrated versatility and skill from the writer. Over three cleverly structured “acts”, each in a slightly different style, Alysha set out her case. We found her post beautifully written, and attractive on the page. Its compelling imagery and energy propelled us forward, and kept us involved to the end.

Read the rest of her comments here about half way down the page. You’ll also be able to watch the winner of the FilmLife Project short film competition(at the top), which is a fabulous parody of Gotye’s ‘Somebody that I used to know’.

And you can read some of the other blog entries here.