Sunday, 30 April 2017

2017: Platform Paper 51

Posted by Frank McKone
May 1, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE Monday, 1 May 2017
Missing in action: The ABC and Australia’s screen culture

Kim Dalton, respected leader in Australia’s screen culture, decries the ABC’s lack of transparency, cultural leadership and external creative collaborations in a powerful new Platform Paper from Currency House.

Mr Dalton’s insider account – as former ABC Director of ABC TV (2006-­13) – questions why earlier ABC achievements to significantly increase levels of local drama, comedy, documentary, Indigenous and children’s content, as well as expand vital partnerships with State and Federal funding agencies and independent production houses across Australia, have all been reversed.

The problem, he says, is a lack of governance, an inadequate, outdated Charter and the ABC’s lack of engagement with Australia’s public policy on screen content.

In his essay, Missing in Action: The ABC and Australia’s Screen Culture, Kim Dalton suggests Australia’s foremost cultural institution has used its independence to isolate itself and reallocate its resources according to its own purposes.  The government has no mechanism whereby it monitors or establishes requirements for the ABC’s performance in regard to its Australian content offering or its engagement with the independent production sector.

Using its status as an independent statutory authority, it now disregards transparency, accountability and engagement with public policy objectives and instead pursues an internal agenda and its own priorities.

Kim Dalton has worked in the Australian and international film and TV industry since 1973 in production, distribution, investment, broadcasting and public policy. As CEO of the Australian Film Commission from 1999 he led the policy debate on Australian television content. As Director of ABCTV he increased funding for Australian programs and steered it into the digital era.

Launch of Missing in Action by actor & MEAA Federal VP (Equity) Nadine Garner, followed by an industry debate
When: 6pm – 8pm, Tuesday, 2 May 2017
Where: Upstairs, Tilbury Hotel, 12-­18 Nicholson Street, Woolloomooloo, Sydney
All welcome. Free. Essential to book on

Delivering on the Promise: The ABC and Cultural Leadership, an address by Kim Dalton at the Currency House Creativity and Business Breakfast
When: 7am for 7.30 to 8.45am, Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Where: Quayside Room, Museum of Contemporary Art, George Street, The Rocks, Sydney

Media welcome. Tickets for public $65 available at

Media enquiries to Martin Portus at or 0401 360 806.

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Saturday, 29 April 2017

2017 Avenue Q

Avenue Q.  Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.  Orchestrations and Arrangements by Stephen Oremus

Supa Productions at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 28 – May 13, 2017.

Director – Jarrad West; Choreographer – Pierce Jackson

Musical Director (Keyboard 1) – Elizabeth Alford
Band: Matthew Webster (Keyboard 2); Caleb Ball (Reed); Jason Henderson (Bass); Dylan Slater (Guitar); Ron Tito (Drums)

Designers: Set – Chris Zuber and Nick Valois; Lighting – Hamish McConchie; Audio – Dillan Willding; Puppets – The Rehearsal Room.

Cast: Riley Bell – Brian; Jo Burns – Mrs Thistletwat; Josie Dunham – Lucy T. Slut; Joanna Licuanan Francis – Gary Coleman; Joel Hutchings – Rod / Newcomer / Princeton Alternate; Emma McCormack – Kate Monster; Kate O’Sullivan – Bad Idea Bear; Dave Smith – Nicky / Bad Idea Bear; Robert Stankov – Trekkie Monster; Niña Wood – Christmas Eve; Nick Valois – Princeton

Photos by Craig and Stephanie Burgess.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 28

For people who like comparisons, I previously reviewed the Supa production of Avenue Q of September 30, 2011 (on this blog and at ).  I began “Isn’t it great? Isn’t it fun?”, and now I’ll say it again.  Supa is as Super does.

In fact, I think this year’s show may be even better than before.  Here’s John Griffiths’ photo from 2011 and a rehearsal photo from this year’s program:

What’s the difference?  No worries about the two casts and their obvious enthusiasm.  It’s the set design that’s different. 

In 2011 I wrote, “The set designer Jeremy Bailey-Smith doesn’t get a special mention in the program, but he should for a clever arrangement of movable units which kept our interest at each set change, all smoothly done.”

In 2017, Chris Zuber and Nick Valois get their proper credits, and so they should.  Instead of movable units, which – even when clever – can slow down the action as scenes change often in this musical, they have opted for the concept of a simple street – as in the reference to the original Sesame Street.  So Avenue Q is low status with all the rented units terraced except for a partly visible utility back alley, with a garbage bin for Nicky to sleep behind when he becomes homeless. 

The Empire State Building pokes it head up over the top of the roofline, for Kate Monster to wait for Princeton and drop his penny when he fails to show up.  Moving downstage a little takes the characters into an upmarket streetscape without any need to make this plain in the set – ready for the penny to drop on Lucy T. Slut.

This design is much more efficient and more imaginative than movable units and keeps the musical moving along at a cracking pace, yet also allowing more time for mood pieces.  Props can come and go as needed, such as Princeton’s boxes as he moves in, or the bed for the Kate Monster / Princeton sex scene without the need for large scale set shifting.

The one addition which provided a context for this otherwise insignificant street was the electronic billboard above everything, even higher, I think, than the top of the Empire State Building.  That definitely came up Trumps at the appropriate political moment, between the spurious ads.  Just like using Google.

So I think this time around the satire is strengthened, adding a sharper edge to the fun.  Making this critical view of America even greater again.

And I suspect that this year’s characterisation seemed sharper, too, because the timing is more concentrated when performing in this set.  I honestly could not pick out anyone beyond their colleagues, nor pick on anyone.  So I’ve put the rest of the rehearsal photos in, which look well up to the mark of what I saw on opening night.

And, finally, the band was excellent, too.

Josie Dunham

Dave Smith

Joel Hutchings
Emma McCormack
Niña Wood and Riley Bell

Joanna Licuanan Francis
Nick Valois / Dave Smith
Nick Valois

Kate O'Sullivan
Happy Ending?

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

2017: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker.  Shake & Stir Theatre at Canberra Theatre Playhouse, April 26-29, 2017.

Co-Adaptors Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij
Director: Michael Futcher
Set Designer Josh McIntosh; Costume Designer Leigh Buchanan; Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright; Sound Designer Guy Webster; Fight Director Nigel Poulton; Dramaturg Michael Futcher; Hair Designers Lyla Clare; Make Up Designer Alex Ouston; Photography Dylan Evans

Ross Balbuziente – Seward; Tim Dashwood - Jonathan Harker; Nelle Lee -
Mina; Ashlee Lollback – Lucy; Nick Skubij – Dracula; David Whitney - Renfield / Van Helsing.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 26

The set design, costume and make-up, lighting and sound design are the best reasons for seeing Shake & Stir’s Dracula.  The atmosphere of dread is literally terrifically well done.

Bram Stoker’s story is dreadful, probably the most misogynist piece of writing imaginable.  It’s presented by Shake & Stir as ‘Gothic’ literature, accompanied by a 38 page Teacher’s Resource Kit for Year 10-12 students, which in a way justifies the effort because the attraction for young people of this psychologically twisted genre has been an important part of popular culture, especially since the Punk movement of the 1970s found black to be the new black, decorated with chains, safety pins and other items perforating new areas of skin.

Despite the excellent quality of the acting, especially the movement work, in the generally more adult audience last night it was not possible to contain laughter at certain moments, despite the powerful horror effects.  One that comes to mind was when Dr Van Helsing announced that Lucy’s head must be cut off, as well as having the wooden stake hammered through her heart to make sure she is no longer ‘undead’.

From that point and through the long story of Dracula capturing Mina and the three men chasing Dracula back to Transylvania, disinfecting dozens of boxes of Dracula’s ‘earth’ in the last minutes of daylight, the dramatic tension dissipated, until the final fight to kill Dracula with Christian symbolic crosses and suddenly acquired very large kitchen knives.  I thought that was not a good look, considering recent press stories of domestic killings.

I have been highly supportive of Shake & Stir’s previous productions of works like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, but I really feel unsure about the value of giving Bram Stoker an equivalent imprimatur.  I think a century of so-called Gothic (he died in 1912) is enough.  Or maybe the problem is that he remains undead, and needs a wooden stake through the heart.  I’ll provide the hammer.

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

2017: The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields

The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields at Canberra Theatre, April 25 – 30, 2017.

Mischief Theatre (London, UK) presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises and ABA International Touring.

Director: Mark Bell.  Australian Cast Director: Sean Turner.  Designers: Set – Nigel Hook; Costume – Roberto Surace; Lighting – Ric Mountjoy; Composer – Rob Falconer; Sound – Andy Johnson; Technical Consultant – Alan Bartlett.

Cast – The Play That Goes Wrong (Murder at Haversham Manor):

Darcy Brown – Jonathan Harris (Charles Haversham)
Francine Cain – Maggie (Understudy Maggie)
Adam Dunn – Trevor Watson (Lighting/Sound Operator Trevor Watson)
Luke Joslin – Robert Grove (Thomas Colleymore)
George Kemp – Dennis Tyde (Perkins)
James Marlowe – Max Bennet (Cecil Haversham / Arthur the Gardener)
Jordan Prosser – William (Understudy William)
Brooke Satchwell – Sandra Wilkinson (Florence Colleymore)
Nick Simpson-Deeks – Chris Bean (Inspector Carter)
Tammy Weller – Annie Twilloil (Stage Manager)
Matthew Whitty – Lincoln (Understudy Lincoln)

Rear L to R: Darcy Brown, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Luke Joslin, Adam Dunn

Front L to R: George Kemp, James Marlowe, Brooke Satchwell, Tammy Weller

in The Play That Goes Wrong

Photos by Jeff Busby

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 25

May the farce be with you.

It certainly was with the literally shrieking audience filling the main Canberra Theatre auditorum with continuous laughter, or with shock and awe reactions as more and bigger bits fell off the set. 

So I will seem somewhat curmudgeonly to say this is not the best of farce as farces go.  But first, before my farcical analysis, I must praise the professional theatricality on stage and off.

In the first place, I’m guessing, credit must go to Mark Bell and Sean Turner from London.  Mark trained at École Internationale de Théâtre, Jacques Lecoq ‘and runs regular weekend and summer courses in clown....’  Of the ten (or is it eleven?) actors, only James Marlowe is an original from Mischief Theatre, George Kemp trained in London but works in Australia and Adam Dunn comes from New York, while the other eight are Australian trained.

Just imagine Lecoq at work, and you will know what I mean when I say you can see that French tradition in mime, movement and sense of absurdity in ordinary actions coming through.  It’s then very much to the credit of the actors that everyone has found the style, timing and teamwork needed to make the laughter flow – whether from wild physicality or from sustained stillness.  It’s their skill that makes the show so successful.

In the second place, I’m sure Nigel Hook must have been pleased to have the services of the Head of Technical Design from the Royal Shakespeare Company, engineer Alan Bartlett, as consultant.  I was amazed to see how complex the set design and construction has to be, especially considering this is a touring company.  Everything has to fall to bits in exactly the right way at the exact right time – the exact opposite, of course, of what the play’s title implies.  I must say I had dire thoughts of OH&S issues, so I hope it all continues to go right on the nights from here on. 

It was a bit worrying to note that Matthew Whitty is listed in the cast in the $20 Program, but is not present on the Media Release for the Canberra Theatre season.  Whatever happened to him?  Is it only the program that’s gone wrong?

A bit on the side, now.  I stole the word ‘curmudgeonly’ from well-known Canberra Times columnist Ian Warden with another of his ideas in mind – the Faculty of Inconsequential Studies at some unidentified university.

I’ll get there shortly, but first I just mentioned the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon, where by chance I am booked to see Antony and Cleopatra in May. 

I’m paying AUD$80 per seat, while for tomorrow night (April 27,2017) at the Dutchess Theatre in London I could have got in to see The Play That Goes Wrong for AUD$40 if I’d booked early enough.  There are still some $90 seats left, as well as quite a few at $133.  So I wonder about value for our money when the cheap seats at the back of B Reserve in Canberra are $90 – though it’s true that the dearest only go up to $120 (so long as you don’t count the extra $4.95 booking fee!)

My mentioning this is not a criticism of the production of The Play That Goes Wrong in Australia, of course.  But the comparison with the quality of the play at the Royal Shakespeare takes me back to the question of inconsequential farce.  I have seen two plays in Sydney in recent weeks, both reviewed here, which are excellent farces – The Rasputin Affair by Australian Kate Mulvany (Ensemble Theatre, April 11) and Hysteria by English writer Terry Johnson (Darlinghurst Theatre Company, April 22).

Ensemble ticket prices range from concessions at $25 to a top around $70; Darlinghurst’s ticket prices have had to go up this year – ranging from $44 to $54.

Top class actors appeared in these shows (just as, for example Brooke Satchwell appeared at the Ensemble in David Williamson’s Jack of Hearts. also reviewed here on March 5, 2016). 

But though The Play That Goes Wrong is excellent for its production values, it is no more than slapstick.  It is a clown show – highly entertaining but with no further significance.  There’s value, of course, in a good laugh, but there’s more value in farce designed to reveal something more than that.

Brooke Satchwell in action
in The Play That Goes Wrong

So I wondered what The Play That Goes Wrong could be ‘about’, and the only answer I could see is that it makes fun of amateur drama societies.  I have acted in, directed and chaired  such societies in my time, and it seems to me that at least in Australia the kinds of ‘going wrong’ made so much fun of in this play had a bit of truth maybe into the 1980s, but since then the standards across the board in drama teaching and performance mean that professional quality is common in amateur and pro-am companies nowadays.

So I wonder if it’s just an English thing.  Are there still Cornley Polytechnic Drama Societies for laughing at over tea?  Or, as Peter Sellers said years ago about Balham – Gateway to the South, ‘Honey’s off, dear.’

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Sunday, 23 April 2017

2017: Talk by Jonathan Biggins

John Waters
Program cover photo: Hon Boey

Talk written and directed by Jonathan Biggins.  Sydney Theatre Company at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, April 8 – May 20, 2017.

Designers: Production – Mark Thompson; Lighting – Trent Suidgeest; Composer and Sound – Steven Francis.

Valerie Bader – Belinda Steele; Helen Christinson – PC Fowler; Page Gardiner – Danielle Rowesthorne; Peter Kowitz – Taffy Campbell; Lucia Mastrantone – Claudia Bennett / Andrea Kerr; Kenneth Moraleda – Ashley Jarman / David Senridge; Andrew Tighe – Max Gardner / Darren Paisley / Peter Davis; Hannah Waterman – Julie Scott; John Waters – John Behan; Ben Wood – Di Cochrane / Rhys.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 22

Charlie Turner, wrongfully accused of molesting a young girl, under physical attack by protesters stirred into action by shockjock John Behan, shoots himself in desperation.  It was his ‘personal choice’, proclaims Behan, live on radio.

John Waters as John Behan in Talk

The central concern of Talk is the deep moral earthquake in our society, the shift from the assumption that we each have social responsibility towards other people, to the extreme liberal position that we each have responsibility only to ourselves.  There is no justice for Charlie Turner because society has no interest in truth or justice for an individual.  His story is no more than a profit-making drama for radio, the twitter-sphere and the rapidly declining print media.

Radio 2 MD Studio in Talk: John Waters as John Behan, Helen Christinson as PC Fowler,

Lucia Mastrantone as Police Media Manager Claudia Bennett

Andrew Tighe as Darren Paisley and Valerie Bader as Belinda Steele

The court and police ostensibly work for ‘proper process’.  Behan faces an arrest warrant for having announced that Turner is a paedophile.  Turner’s case is abandoned by the DPP since he cannot now have a fair trial, but Behan locks himself in his studio and takes over the radio station to conduct his campaign on talkback, including announcing Turner’s location at his mother’s address.  Social media combines with talkback radio to create a protest at that address which turns ugly.  We hear his mother live on radio, the noise of rocks smashing windows, the gunshot, her attempts to save her son, the arrival of medics and police.  We see the radio station owner ecstatic.

Helen Christinson as Police Constable Fowler, Andrew Tighe as Radio 2MD Owner Andrew Paisley,

and Valerie Bader as Radio 2MD Producer Belinda Steele, in Talk

Derryn Hinch gets a mention.  The fictional John Behan tries to make a scene of being arrested, after he announces Turner’s death, and is bailed.  He hopes to be jailed for the publicity.

While all this is happening we see not only the radio station on an upper stage. but also on the lower stage, technically right (ironically left from the audience's point of view), an ABC radio journalist, Taffy, on his last day before retirement, partnered by a new young woman trained in internet platforms who takes part in what’s happening via twitter, against his principles as a professional journo.  

Set design for Talk by Jonathan Biggins
Photo (from Daily Review), by Brett Boardman

On lower stage, technically left (more obviously, right from our viewpoint), we see the new woman appointed as acting editor on a Murdoch paper, who must do anything to reduce the slump in sales and hopefully keep her job (another 30 editorial staff are about to be dumped). Like Taffy, her journos raise ethical questions about their role, which she can’t afford to contemplate.

Paige Gardiner as Danielle Rowesthorne and Peter Kowitz as Taffy Campbell

ABC Radio office in Talk

Peter Kowitz and Ben Wood as ABC Radio reporter and producer in Talk

Hannah Waterman as Julie Scott (Murdoch acting editor) in Talk

Fairfax gets a derogatory mention in the Murdoch office, but (interestingly, I think) we don’t see their journalists at work on this story.

This must be the most complicated plot and especially set design for a 100 minute play that I have ever seen.  For the first ten or fifteen minutes I felt a bit lost in the confusion – I suppose that’s just the real world of media in action – and there were laughs to be had all round for a while.  Until we heard the shot.  Then we understood shockjock perfidy. 

We are not left with any easy, or even difficult, answer.  The play is shocking, as it needs to be.  But we are left with only our own conscience to sustain us in a deeply unconscientious world.

All the cast are excellent, of course, but I have to say John Waters is embarrassingly exactly right as radio talkback talent, John Behan.  This is not just because of his skills as an actor but, as for all the roles, it is Jonathan Biggins’ ability as a writer in reproducing the exact language for each character that makes this play strong.

Talk is more than just talk.  It’s a great new play about our depressingly modern society.  Unfortunately, you shouldn’t miss it.

John Waters as John Behan in Talk
All production photos by Brett Boardman
© Frank McKone, Canberra

2017: Hysteria by Terry Johnson

Hysteria by Terry Johnson.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company at Eternity Playhouse, March 31 – April 30, 2017.

Director – Susanna Dowling

Designers: Production – Anna Gardiner; Lighting – Daniel Barber; Sound – Katelyn Shaw; Video – Raine Paul; Cinematographer – Julian Tynan; Hair and Makeup – Martelle Hunt.

Miranda Daughtry – Jessica; Michael McStay – Dali; Wendy Strehlow – Abraham Yahuda; Jo Turner – Freud.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 22

[Copyright on painting unacknowledged]

Dream-interpretation must seek a closer union with the rich material of poetry, myth, and popular idiom, and it must deal more faithfully than has hitherto been possible with the relations of dreams to the neuroses and to mental derangement. So wrote Sigmund Freud in the 1911 Preface to the Third Edition of his 1899 work The Interpretation of Dreams.


So Terry Johnson wrote in 1993 his interpretation of Sigmund Freud’s supposed dream in his final sleep in 1939, in which he is visited

 by the Jewish academic Abraham Shalom Yahuda (1877–1951) (who in reality objected to Freud’s intended publication of his last work, Moses and Monotheism, showing God is merely a fiction created by the brain as imagination, and that Moses was probably an Egyptian);

 by the artist of Guernica and the melting clock, Salvador Dali (who also in reality visited Freud in London in 1938);

 and by the maybe imaginary daughter, Jessica, of one of his ‘hysteric’ patients.  (In the spring of 1897, Freud wrote his friend Fliess about a new patient, a young woman with hysterical symptoms. "It turned out that her supposedly otherwise noble and respectable father regularly took her to bed when she was eight to twelve years old and misused her…"). 

You may not expect this material to be the source of farcical comedy, but that may be just a slip of your imagination.  Johnson’s play is (like the new play by Kate Mulvany The Rasputin Affair reviewed here April 11, 2017) a tightly structured wild romp of a farce, with equally relevant messages for modern times. 

An essential element of the dream, of course, is surrealism.  So not only are the characters caricatures – especially Dali – but so are their make-up and costumes, their actions and finally the set itself.  It was a wonderful idea to make the rear wall of Freud’s room angled out of kilter, like a representation of those illusions which appear to make a person small or large according to where in the room they stand.  The two doors in this wall, in conjunction with the normal French doors into the garden and another secret panel in the opposite wall fully satisfied the necessary injunction for farce – as many odd and interesting entrances and exits as you can manage.

Add huge zoomed-in projections of nightmare images, and terrific thunder and lightning, and we are in for a theatrical treat.  Funny as all get-out, you might say.

Yet when Jessica furiously confronts Freud with the fact of her mother’s abuse by Jessica’s grandfather, the story of her father’s virtual denial of the young Jessica’s childhood, and the account of her mother’s suicide in a mental institution – after Freud’s apparently successful treatment of her ‘hysteria’ – everything hits the fan.  It was Freud’s denial of the truth in favour of the fiction of young girls’ fantasy of seducing their fathers that sent her mother hysterical. 

This was the most farcical point in the play, as we see the absurdity of Freud being accused by his own imagination in the form of Jessica.  But the laughter stopped right there.  And we could almost feel a little empathy, if not too much sorrow, as Freud left us in silence to sleep, presumably never to dream again.  While we identified without doubt with Jessica’s justifiably righteous anger at the abuse of young children, made all the more intense by our ongoing Royal Commission.

This production is great credit to Darlinghurst Theatre Company and director Susanna Dowling “who came to us with a compelling and wonderful vision for the production, Hysteria” to quote Executive Producer, Glenn Terry.  I agree entirely.

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Sunday, 16 April 2017

2017: At the National Folk Festival, Canberra

At the National Folk Festival, Canberra.  Easter April 13 – 17, 2017

The Roar of the Crowd – Australia’s Hidden Republic by Cloë and Jason Roweth. []

The Mission Songs Project by Jessie Lloyd. [] []
Also at Yirramboi Indigenous Arts Festival, Melbourne, May 2017 []

Amulet – Fiestaville Multicultural Arts in association with Georges River Council’s Discovery Festival of Community Arts (Sydney) [Fiestaville Choir coordinator:Trish Tuckey, Australian National Choir Association]

Commentary by Frank McKone
Sunday, April 16

As usual each year, the National Folk Festival puts on far more performances than could ever be reviewed in one sitting.  I’ve selected these three because they represent new work extending our understanding of the value of folk music. 

The Roar of the Crowd – Australia’s Hidden Republic puts together songs, poems and speeches, centred around the writings of Denis Kevans, covering European Australia’s class warfare from the Irish rebellion of the early 1800s to the recently appointed secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Sally McManus, who introduced herself to the general public by stating she supported breaking the law if the law was bad. 

I have a brief personal connection to this show, since I stood on a street corner in Sydney, probably in 1961, singing alongside Denis Kevans the satirical ‘LJ Hooker Song’ to the tune of ‘Click Go The Shears’ about corruption in the real estate business.  Nowadays we speak of the housing affordability crisis.  I no longer have the words, unfortunately.  Jason Roweth tells me he is aware of the song, but he too has not yet found the words we sang.  But this show is brand new, and the Roweths plan much more research and additions to their present double album CD.  I suggest filming a live performance which I think would rapidly spread if not ‘go viral’ on Youtube.

The Mission Songs Project has a similar backbone, this time about European Australia’s Indigenous race warfare presented through Jessie Lloyd’s collection of songs, written and still sung from the last 100 years by Indigenous people held in ‘missions’ – that is, all those places where people were forcibly herded together, such as the infamous Palm Island, Jessie’s family home.

Her show came to a powerful sad ending with the farewell song, ‘Now is the Hour’.  Originally written by a missionary in New Zealand as a prayer to God to help find one’s strength in faith, it was reinvented by Maori as a farewell to their cultural history across the sea, going back to the time before arriving in Aotearoa in the 13th Century.  For Australia’s Indigenous people in the 20th Century, the song in English and sung with Torres Strait Polynesian-style harmonies became a song of farewell to country, and again to stolen children. 

To my mind, if there’s one reason for maintaining our continuing support for the National Folk Festival it is precisely because this is an essential celebration of the true core issues for all of us in Australian society.  I am impressed with the Australian Capital Territory Government’s positive role, and in the case of the Mission Songs Project, the practical input of the Federal Government’s National Library of Australia.

I just only hope our political and business leaders on the far right, right, left and far left come and experience our history and what it means in this encouraging positive atmosphere of music and song.  So to finish, I must mention Amulet.  In this multicultural choir program, each woman tells her personal story of an ornament with special significance in her life, interspersed by folk songs from the many cultures they represent.

These three events represent the theme throughout the National Folk Festival.  No matter our origins, we are all equally human.

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 13 April 2017

2017: Yirramboi Indigenous Arts Festival, May 2017, Melbourne, Australia

Wednesday, 8 March 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
by Jacob Boehme.

Posted by Frank McKone, from Currency House Media contact Martin Portus

As new director of the First Nations Yirramboi festival in Melbourne in May, Jacob is sharply critical of the limited artistic control, vision and opportunities experienced by indigenous performers, and the limited exposure to indigenous arts recently revealed amongst Australians.  But in his address he’s defiantly hopeful about what to do about it!   Jacob Boehme’s life is an interesting blend of themes, as a gay, indigenous and contemporary artist.

Long an advocate for dance that expresses real social issues, Jacob was at the recent Sydney Festival with his show Blood on the Dance Floor

Martin Portus
Phone 0401 360 806
March 8, 2017

Good morning and thank you for being here so early. I’d like to pay my respects to the people of the Eora / Gadigal nations on whose lands we are gathered today and to acknowledge their Elders past, present and future and to also acknowledge First Nations peoples and their Elders, representing nations from across our country, here in the room today.

Thank you Karilyn for being here this morning and taking up the invitation to provide such a warm and generous introduction. Karilyn Brown and I only met two years ago. But it has been a meeting of the minds, hearts and passions that has made this friendship seem so much older than it actually is. Thank you for being here Karilyn. It’s important to me that you are here today and important too, that I get the opportunity to acknowledge and state publicly how much I value you, your support and friendship: as a colleague, as an accomplice and dear friend. Thank you

I would also like to thank Katharine Brisbane and Currency House for the invitation to speak here this morning.

My name is Jacob Boehme. I stand here today as a member of the Narangga and Kaurna nations of Yorke Peninsula and Adelaide Plains in South Australia, with Irish, English and Finnish heritage. I was born in Fitzroy on Wurundjeri country and grew up on the lands of the Boon Wurrung in Newport. I call and consider Melbourne my home. First and foremost I’m an artist with a background in theatre, dance, playwriting and puppetry. Currently I am the Creative Director of YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival, presented by the City of Melbourne in partnership with Creative Victoria, gathering creative visionaries from across Victoria, Australia and around the world in Nairm-Melbourne, this coming May.

When I accepted the invitation to speak here this morning, there was much discussion around the various ways in which I might approach this address and of the topics that I might talk to and experiences that I could share with you. Whether it be from the point of view of the artist: Aboriginal and under-represented. Or of the Aboriginal contemporary choreographer and the myriad of questions, assumptions and complexities those three words together evoke for enquiring or skeptical minds.

Or could I talk more broadly about the consistency of challenges and problems encountered by the Indigenous arts sector, across Australia? And on a good day, to each of those topics, I could bend your ear for hours and hours and hours. There are the ever-present issues of equity and authority to still be angry about. There is data and statistics to bring about concern, rage and shock (we’ll get to that in a minute). A ton of information I could stand here and impart: of us as a nation of nations, of the diversity of our cultures, traditions and peoples: as both practitioners and sovereign citizens. Or of the complexities, anxiety and threat we face internally, within our communities, arts and cultural sectors, when asked to prescribe to a paradigm that requires us to define ourselves as either traditional or contemporary.

And either directly or indirectly, I will speak to each of these topics, but the ‘issues’ and ‘problems’ will not be a point of focus today. Today, I would like to talk to you about hope: as an essential ingredient when taking or calculating risk and, more specifically, how hope has been a key driver in my approach to my new position as Creative Director of YIRRAMBOI.

In August 2015, the Australia Council for the Arts released research titled Building Audiences Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, examining models and strategies around audience development for Indigenous arts in Australia.

It starts by outlining in the introduction, statistics that demonstrate the vast gap between interest and engagement in the Indigenous arts. 92% of respondents to the survey considered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts an important part of Australian culture. 64% expressed a strong or growing interest in arts created or performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, only 24% had actually attended an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts event or activity in that year.

The research also used word cloud techniques to illustrate characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts that resonated most strongly with members of the arts ecology, its audiences and potential audiences. The most common words used to describe perceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts by potential audiences: Didgeridoo, Dots, Serious, Spiritual and Storytelling.

In September 2016, the Australia Council released further research into the situation, this time with a focus on presentation opportunities for Indigenous artists in the country. Titled Showcasing Creativity: Programming and Presenting First Nations Performing Arts it revealed, through national mapping of the programs of 135 Australian presenters, that First Nations performing arts made up only 2% of the 6,000 works programmed in 2015. Just as shockingly, half of the Australian presenters are not programming any First Nations work at all.

Currently, programming decisions for major arts venues and festivals throughout most Australian cities and towns are made by non-Indigenous administrators, with limited networks and/or knowledge of the Indigenous arts sector or of the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal (and urban) cultures.

In Melbourne, where I am based, we don’t have a dedicated Indigenous Arts venue or space for live performance, either owned or managed. At present, we have one mid-career Indigenous arts worker who holds an executive position at a ‘community arts’ organization. And at last count, we have eight Indigenous Producers of live performance, working across Melbourne, with no programming authority or capacity.

There has been much investment over the past decade in building capacity for Indigenous Leadership in the arts, with initiatives such as Treading the Pathways (now known as BlakDance) becoming the peak body for Indigenous contemporary and cultural dance in Australia; the Emerging Producers program, generating over 30 Indigenous producers now working in small to medium and mainstream organisations across the country; and the British Council’s ACCELERATE Indigenous Leaders Initiative, with an Alumni of over 40 emerging leaders, building dreams and standing in their own truths, throughout our states and territories.

We all understand the need for self-determination, not just for our community but many communities across the country. But even known allies are sometimes paralyzed with fear when a conversation about Indigenous leadership and First Peoples First, turns into action. The unproven fear of losing power, authority and control far outweighs the opportunity to gain new knowledge.

The lack of Indigenous leadership in the sector is not just a consideration from the point of view of representation. It also means that the content and ‘acceptable’ narratives for Indigenous creative expression on Australian main stages – assuming that they get to presentation – are shaped by other, more dominant narratives.

Faced with this reality and armed with these statistics, one could assume that the situation for Indigenous artists and the Blak arts sector in Australia, is hopeless.
In 1994, Simon and Schuster published The Psychology of Hope by Professor Charles Richard Snyder. Throughout his career, Snyder published six books and 262 articles about Hope Theory and the impact hope can have on all aspects of our lives.
Snyder argues that there are three main things that make up hopeful thinking:

 Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way
 Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve our goals
 Agency - Believing that we can instigate change and achieve these goals

In The Psychology of Hope, which grew out of his own 15-year struggle with chronic pain, he explores two aspects concerning our ability to shape our own futures:

 Will Power - the will to shape our own future, and
 Way Power - our ability to see ways to shape the future

He explains why a normally positive person can feel confused if they feel depressed when facing a particular challenge. They still have a strong will to solve the issue, but cannot see a way to find a solution. However, once they see a way through the problem, the cloud evaporates and their sense of hope returns, feeling reinvigorated to tackle the challenge. We all know the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But this phrase can be turned around to say, “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.”

Snyder also analyzes the significant events our first 18 years of life contribute to the development of hope. Through a variety of clinical cases, he explores how hope is often destroyed in children and in adults. He shows how neglect, abuse, parental loss, unrealistic expectations for the child, and inconsistent parenting can erode in different ways the child’s ability to envision goals or their ability to develop strategies to reach them. Now, if we, just for a second, substitute the words ‘child’ and ‘parenting’ for ‘artist’ and ‘administration’, we get a fairly clear and concise summary of the chaos the arts community, as a whole, is facing today. For the Indigenous arts sector, there is a lot to be (potentially) less hopeful about.

I met the opportunity to take on the role of Creative Director of the then Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival with an equal measure of excitement and terror. This new role posed challenges – namely, raising the profile of Indigenous arts and culture, inspiring participation, challenging perceptions and developing the next generation of Indigenous arts practitioners. It is more than just a role, it is a responsibility.
To play a role, with contractual obligations and clauses, to me implies that one can hand over, delegate down, even opt out. A responsibility, however, ups the stakes. It requires of you to hold space and to take action.

Did I have a goal? Many. Could I identify pathways toward achieving those goals? I wasn’t sure, but I had a budget. Did I believe I had the agency to achieve, for my community and myself, the hopes and dreams I held for our sector? At first, this wasn’t clear either, but I had a vision of our future and the will to fight for it. I just needed to find the way.

I’d inherited a consortia model that consisted of mostly non-Indigenous organisations, without Indigenous representation within their companies, or a commitment to Indigenous arts as part of their core business. A model whereby potential presenting partners were of the assumption that they, knowing their audiences and in protecting their brand, bound by board rooms and bottom lines, would feed this first time Festival Director lists of shows and ideas and I, as the good novice, would curate these into one cohesive thread under the guise of an Indigenous arts festival. And when I looked at the list of shows I’d been asked to consider, what I’d been given was a collection of serious, spiritual storytelling with lots of dots and, you guessed it, didgeridoos. This just wasn’t gonna work.

After many frustrated and failed attempts at early negotiations, a bold and potentially risky move needed to be made.  A vision became a philosophy and a philosophy became a framework. A framework, which delivered a set of four non-negotiable curatorial principles, that hopefully we could all be guided by:

1. Indigenous Leadership – ensuring that every production, exhibition, concert and idea must have Indigenous creative as the lead.  That each event be conceived, choreographed, curated, written and directed by First Nations talent, placing First Nations authority and decision making first.

2. Visibility and Dialogue – seek out, provide and support new platforms and contexts for presentation, whilst simultaneously and rigorously creating space for new language and dialogue to emerge around how we perceive and talk about Indigenous contemporary arts.

3. New work and Ideas – supporting artists to present work, at any stage of development, that seeks to go beyond acceptable narratives and comfortable known outcomes. Not as a matter of innovation, but integrity. Supporting artists bringing 60,000 plus years of performance making dramaturgies and methodologies to the fore of their practice and process, rather than performed cultures on stage.

4. Collaboration and exchange – to create and facilitate a gathering space that not only promotes exchange between our mob and First Nations internationally, but encourages contemporary arts exchange and collaboration, nation to nation within our country

Still a little shaky in my new shoes, I again hit the pavement, this time with a will and a way. But would they go for it?

I wasn’t just pitching programming choices this time. I was suggesting that together we not so much reinvent the wheel, but at least change it. For as we know, the wheel is broken, the cart it fell off is now best used as firewood and the horse pulling the cart, is practically dead, poor thing.

And it has been through an act of hope that a will and a way forward has been paved by the collective efforts of our dedicated team at YIRRAMBOI, the City of Melbourne, Creative Victoria and all our presenting partners. Sure, we lost a few along the way, whether it be from fear of the unknown, a matter of bad timing or a clash of ideology – some of us like things just as they are. And that’s ok, because it created space for new allies to emerge.

Our responsibility as curators, presenters and programmers of arts venues and of festivals, is to facilitate space: for the individual and collective voice. Indeed, this is the responsibility of all arts organisations – to pave the way for expression and facilitate the civic engagement of new voices. These may not always be voices we agree with, at first. But unless they are given the opportunity to be heard – on their own terms, in their own language, or form, experimentation or discipline/s – we lose the chance to experience those moments when a singular voice becomes the will and the vision of the collective. This, as a curator or presenter, requires courage, hope and a fearless embracing of risk - because it makes anything possible, and allows any voice to be heard. 

YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival is more than just dots and didgeridoos.

A 10-day feast of contemporary arts and events, YIRRAMBOI smashes through perceptions of Indigenous arts in Australia.

Showcasing creative visionaries from across the country and the world, YIRRAMBOI celebrates the diversity, individuality and creative risks of First Nations artists leading contemporary 21st century arts practice.

We are more than just serious and spiritual storytellers.

YIRRAMBOI challenges current language and old notions around what Indigenous art is, creating opportunities for new language to emerge and a new dialogue to begin.

What started as a flickering ember and the dream of one voice, and then a few, by nation and by continent, became the vision and hope of many, spreading like bushfire. And we, along with many First Nations cultures visiting YIRRAMBOI in May, have been working with fire for over 60,000 years.

Fire is the essential element in Land Care and cultural practices spanning thousands of generations across what is now known as Australia. Fire is used to eliminate danger, to heal, to encourage new growth and abundance. And when managed with over 60,000 years of knowledge, a controlled burn off could be exactly what this fragile system needs.