The Politics of Theatre

Politics is occupying my head space!  The current Australian political climate requires attention and action, but with so much going on to be concerned about, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless as an individual.  Can theatre make a difference?  I suspect it can to some extent, and one reason I think so is that our Government has recently decided to transfer a significant amount of arts funding to a new “entity” operating at the discretion of the Minster for the Arts.  Apologies for the number of quotes in this post, but many theatre-makers, much more significant than me, have a lot to say about this.

“Since the time of the ancient Greeks a democracy has depended on its philosophers and creative artists. It can only flourish by continuous probing, prodding, and questioning of the social conditions under which man exists and tries to better himself. One of the first moves of a dictatorship is to stifle the artists and thinkers who have the ability to stir up dissent from any prescribed dogma which might enslave them. Because the artist can arouse the curiosity and conscience of his community, he becomes a threat to those who have taken power.” – Uta Hagen, A Challenge for the Actor, 1991

Last week the Australian Senate called for a Senate Inquiry investigating the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts. The Inquiry is accepting submissions from anyone wanting to have their say on Arts funding. The submission deadline is 17 July 2015.

See here for details on how to make a submission.

If you’re not really sure what it’s about or want some facts to include your submission, you can read more here.

And for those who’d rather not think or talk about politics …

Brecht long quote

Rather strong, some might think.  But it might raise the question about the role of theatre (and other arts) and artists in Australian society.  As a nation, I don’t think we’ve yet reached the maturity to understand the value of the arts to a free and democratic society.  We probably approach it purely from a consumption view point, and judge it on its entertainment value.  I want it to be more, and I want to contribute more as an artist.  Will I change the world through my arts practice?  Most definitely not.  But I do want to give voice to important things.

At this year’s Australian Theatre Forum, Frie Leyson, Belgian festival director, gave the closing address and hinted that theatre may have lost its way in Australia.  One of the things she said was …

‘Art should not please. On the contrary. Art has to show where it hurts in our societies, in our world. We urgently need the courage back to pick up this role of disturbers again.’

You can find the full transcript of Frie Leyson’s address here.

How does this all relate to my Internship at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists?  PACT is one of the small to medium arts organisations that will potentially lose it’s funding through the Australia Council for the Arts and may have to compete for funding through the new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts.  One of the things PACT does is support individual performing artists to produce new work, often experimental in nature, providing rehearsal and performance space as well as artistic input into a creative development.  Senator George Brandis, Australia’s Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, doesn’t believe in supporting individual artists, as he stated in this interview in 2014, “Frankly I’m more interested in funding arts companies that cater to the great audiences that want to see quality drama, or music or dance, than I am in subsidising individual artists responsible only to themselves.”  Keith Gallasch in Realtime Arts 126 gives a pretty in depth response to these recent decisions.

As an emerging artist, I feel discouraged right now, about my own future and how I will be able to access funding to create work, and about the future of small festivals and companies who provide platforms for individual artists and independent collectives, and at the thought that there may be fewer places where I can experience new, innovative, challenging and experimental works.

For artists and audiences alike, the Senate Inquiry into arts funding is an important opportunity to tell the Federal Government how changes to Federal funding and the cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts will impact you.  Please consider submitting … Australia’s artistic future depends on it!

I know this is a long post, and if you’ve made it to the end, I thank you for hanging in there!