creativity, education, Monash, self care, Theatre

on starting your own company and working with friends

It is that time of year where students are leaving us and we are all just really hoping they don’t take our jobs too soon. 

Most years, as they get ready to leave us I send out an email filled with self-care tips sourced from the broader arts community. But this year’s cohort have had me rattle on about self-care a lot and since they are already filled with excellent collaborative teams I decided that this year’s parting email could be crowd-sourced tips on starting your own company. And I thought I would share it here too because the wisdom of the crowd is beautiful, thoughtful and generous. 

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AFTER HERO, photo by Sarah Walker

To kick them off, a couple of tips from me: firstly, talk about money! I think the biggest mistake I made early on was not spelling out what things like ‘profit share’ actually meant: it doesn’t mean we split 100% of the box office takings, we split 100% of the profits, so all the costs of the show are taken out of that. One simple conversation could have made that clear.

I would also advise that you follow up phone conversations with venues and organisations with an email:

‘Thanks for the phone call. Just to put in writing what we discussed…’ Leave a written record of everything.

Now for smart words from some generous artists:

Anastasia Ryan, production manager:

Contracts! Even if you’re doing it with your best mate, just a super simple 1 page thing saying what each persons job is, the expectations and the agreed money (if there is any) helps so much.

Nithya Nagarajan, neo-classical Indian dancer, producer and arts educator:

Go to grant writing info sessions, often hosted for free by City of Melbourne, Australia Council for the Arts and Auspicious Arts. And if you go into arts work, keep your arts administratior and performance maker hats very, very separate.

Rebekah Montague, playwright and (strange combo) financial educator:

Have a separate bank account for your art.

Izzy Roberts-Orr, poet, playwright and artistic director of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival:

Clear communication, structured meetings if that’s your style, and a record – get things in writing (e.g. minutes / letters of agreement / emails clearly stating what’s happening) it feels silly having meetings / agendas / defined roles as you’re starting out, but before you know it you might have actual money on the table and need a bank account or be running projects at a scale where everyone needs to know their role in order to do it. Also if they’re your friends, make sure you have friend hangs outside of work! Plus space as friends to talk about your work practices if needed, and make sure you’re still nurturing each other in both your role as a collaborator and your role as a friend.

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FIGMENT, photo by Theresa Harrison

Tim Byrne, arts journalist:

Try your very best to temper ambition with a tiny bit of clear-eyed perspective. One (or two at the most) little shows a year, honed into perfection, are worth far more than some grand vision of cultural dominance. That ties into money too: the greatest art comes from thinking your way around obstacles, so treat lack of funds as a challenge. Oh, and don’t give all your time to your work, even if your work is your love. Get a walk in there, or some lying about watching trees. Perspective.

Patrick McCarthy, director and playwright:

I’d say most of the problems people run into early on (and even later) occur because not enough time was spent talking in the lead up to the project. Spend as much time as you can talking with your collaborators, about practical things like money, schedules, venues, personnel, marketing, publicity, insurance, etc. But also spend as much time, if not more, talking about methodology. How are you going to work together both in and outside of rehearsal, how will you communicate with each other, who has decision making responsibility around what elements of the work? Have some rules about how your process/room will operate (including things that need to be zero tolerance, even if they seem like they should be obvious). Schedule time to sit down and talk throughout the process, to see how everyone’s tracking and problem solve things that aren’t going well. Eat together. Have alone time if you need it. Have a review process once the season’s done to figure out what worked and what didn’t so you can adjust for the next show. Don’t let things fester.

Mohammad Hash, theatre and film producer, now living in Cairo:

Delve into diversity and create minimal sets that spell big works. Understand grant applications and go to as many arts talks as possible. Australia Council is fantastic support and always look for international opportunities. It worked for me.

Indira Carmichael, visual artist and community arts administrator and advocate:

MOUs (memorandum of understanding) are great if contracts between mates seems a bit heavy. It’s a good way of getting everyone on the same page. Sometimes you don’t realise that your motives for doing a show are different to others until it all falls apart.

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THE DRESSMAKER: A MUSICAL ADAPTATION, photo: Sarah Walker

Goldele Rayment, director and company director:

Don’t be afraid to let projects take time. There is less rush than you think. It’s less stressful and more satisfying to take a bit more time with development and forward planning. Be kind, be gentle, be generous but also learn it’s ok to say “no”. I don’t like that creatively, that’s not for me or please don’t treat me like that.

Pippa Bainbridge, venue manager and production manager:

Values. Interrogate what they are for you, and make sure they are aligned with those of your collaborators and of each project you work on. Values. Articulate them, share them, uphold them, tend to them…and you’ll never be disappointed with what is returned.

Mike Greaney, animator:

I think the thing that is really important to work out early on is set in writing the structure of ownership over the venture. Have the hard conversations at the start when you are talking about % ownerships of nothing, because once money and ego get involved down the line, those conversations become very difficult. Talk about these things with your collaborators as well, and make clear what they are trading their time for/ getting out of working with you.

Stephanie Speirs, producer, production manager and venue manager of the Fringe Hub:

When you agree to anything (a new venture, the mission/direction of your project, helping someone out, donating stuff/money/time) be explicit in what that agreement entails. If you can’t stomach writing things down yet, at the VERY LEAST make sure you’ve all said out loud what you understand by what’s been said, and clarify exactly what that means to you. Any project will possibly mean hundreds of hours of work for those involved – so be sure that everyone with a stake understands WHAT those hours of work are and WHO has agreed to do them. (Or if NO-ONE wants to do the work, then the project shouldn’t happen!)

Libby Klyse, performer, writer, manager:

Know who is the boss for each project. Someone needs to be the director and/or producer, with the ultimate decision-making and budget control.

Georgia Carter, performer:

Understand budgets and pay attention to the numbers. You need to have someone that understands it… and audiences don’t just happen. They take work and strategic planning is essential.

Ramona Barry, artist and writer:

Written agreements – I’ve seen many a friendship fall foul of business mistakes. Even if you are the very best of friends get it all in writing

Natalie Wadwell, arts administrator:

Get a shareholders/partnership agreement, friends don’t always make best business partners and skill sets should compliment not duplicate, talk about money. To add to that really talk about your personal and business values. Where do they see themselves and the biz in 1, 3 and 5 yrs time? Do it separately and then discuss. Have an exit strategy upfront and a plan of what milestones you need to hit to maintain working together.

 

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ALL THAT IS RIGHT, photo: Sarah Walker

Individually, these are great tips for professional practice. As a whole, they mean something even better: they mean that all of these artists want to see you succeed. They want to see you build partnerships and careers that are sustainable, caring, productive and healthy. It is easy to think that you have to fight your way into the industry (and it is a tough industry) but remember that people wish you well. Great artists support artists, advocate for artists, mentor artists and enjoy the successes of artists. Remember you’re not alone out there. Hold onto the relationships you have made and get ready to meet some amazing new people who are excited to see what you make next.

Wishing you all the best,

Fleur

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education, Theatre, thoughts

on expectations, assumptions and empowering your audience

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Suzanne Chaundy for my conversation series when I made a statement that was blatantly untrue. I was talking about the difficulty of working with and exceeding the audience’s expectations of opera: “More so than in theatre, audiences arrive with an image – an expected aesthetic – an idea of What Opera Is. How do you cope with that?” I am paraphrasing. It didn’t make the final cut for the blog and I am writing this on a borrowed laptop so I can’t go back and check the extended transcript. The point is I said this wasn’t an issue for theatre and as the words left my mouth I realised this was a lie.

Today, a neighbour bemoaned the lack of arts funding in comparison to sports. She was doing this in solidarity with me and I appreciated it but I found myself saying this in response:

I sort of understand it. We inside theatre know what theatre can be and know the value of it but so many people never see live performance. The image they have in their head is probably Laurence Olivier, declaiming Shakespeare to a model skull fifty years and a globe away. They don’t see how that could ever be relevant let alone entertaining. They don’t see how something that archaic and elitist could ever justify funding. I think the arts needs a re-branding campaign to explain to the general public why we are worth investing both time and money in; that we are not just making work for a select group, educated in decrypting the mysterious noises we make, but that we have something to offer to Australia as a whole.

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I have touched on this before: who makes up an audience? What a rare find a First Time Theatre Goer is. Roderick Poole (playwright, composer, performer and founder of street theatre company, Strange Fruit) summed it up beautifully in an email exchange:

“I left working in the theatre about 20 years ago when I looked around and saw what a huge proportion of the audience was made up of my friends, colleagues and family. I decided to take up street theatre – taking the mountain to Muhammad.

The GP is scared stiff of the theatre. A lot is to do with etiquette. How to dress? How to behave?”

This is a problem. A massive one. But right now it doesn’t feel insurmountable. A few weeks ago I had a beautiful conversation with Robert Reid and Sayraphim Lothian (which I’ll be transcribing and posting in the next few days) about why they make art that is joyous and accessible; art that you don’t need to study before experiencing; art that sometimes has no purpose but to make the day brighter for the single person who experiences the work. Listening to them helped solidify many thoughts that had been bubbling away in my head for some time.

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Pop up playground promo image by Sarah Walker

I think that in the arts community we can be quick to dismiss things that are meek in their intellectual aspirations. Music theatre is a wonderful example of this. How many of us have rolled our eyes at the thought of yet another Gilbert and Sullivan operetta being staged? A Cameron Mackintosh? Who needs another Les Mis? Well, clearly the audience does because they keep buying tickets enough to justify another remount. This is art that is relatable, not isolating; art that asks you to experience on a purely emotional level rather than an academic one.

Now this is a tangent but it is an interesting one so I’m going to run with it: I read a paper this year by Caroline Heim (and again, I’m not in my own home so I can’t chase down my notes) which stated that the traditional post-show forum dis-empowers the audience because it sets up the artist as expert and the audience as pupils. It practically invites the time honoured ‘how do you learn all those lines?’ questions. ‘What’s it like working with So-and-so?’ It exaggerates rather than narrows the divide between audience and artist. We become the ones with the answers and they, the note takers. The paper suggests that a forum should be replaced by a conversation in which the theatre company seeks to learn from their audience. They might kick off the session by asking something as simple as ‘what did you say to your friend when the lights came up?’ and go from there. Allowing themselves to be led by the group and elevating them in that moment from spectator to collaborator.

These are all wonderful thoughts for big, established companies (and it got me ridiculously excited when I read it) but the majority of the conversations that happen, happen in foyers and at bars. This is where we as individual theatre makers can really make a difference to a newcomer’s experience of a night.

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The La Mama Courtyard, Melbourne

I think it is important to be confident talking about negative responses to shows and talking about them in such a way that the other person does not feel that the night was a failure because they didn’t enjoy the art they spent money on.

‘What did you think? … Oh it wasn’t your thing? … Yes I did enjoy it. Quite a lot! … Don’t be sorry! I want to hear about your response. What didn’t work for you?’ And then ‘what was the last thing you enjoyed in a theatre?

I think this last question, or something like it, might be the crucial one. Once you’ve talked about what didn’t work, ask about the last thing that did work for that person and then suggest a show, an artist or a company that they should check out. It is hard to convey tone here and I am fully aware of how patronising and formulaic this could sound but this is the thing: we need to become advocates for our industry. No one will do it for us. We are our spokespeople. Seek to pair a hesitant theatre-goer with a work that they will enjoy. Something that will make them want to return for more. To spread the word. To start taking some risks. To become part of our community.

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The Malthouse’s ‘Shadow King’ (photographed by Jeff Busby), was one of the many works this year that blew my mind with its humanity and its beautiful complexity.

I am not advocating an intellectual dampening of our industry. I fucking love the work that I am seeing at the moment because it is sophisticated, demanding and requires interrogation. I am not writing this to tell you to drop your current project and stage Mama Mia instead. Rather, what I want to suggest is this:

Make 2014 the year that you look around you in the audience. Make it the year in which you critically ask yourself ‘how many people do I know here?’ Make it the year that you seek out strangers in the crowd, turn to them at interval, catch them at the bar or in the line for the toilet and ask what they thought. Make it the year in which you genuinely want to know someone else’s opinion, not so that you can correct or educate them, but so that you can both share in each other’s experiencing of the work. Make it a year in which you empower your audience.

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conversation, education, Theatre

in conversation: on brick walls, uncertainty, fear and joy

Ingredients: White whine, beer, Monash University students Joe Brown, Anna Burley, Kevin Turner and Tess Chappell at 1400 meters altitude in Falls Creek where we were staying for MUST camp. Myself, Sarah Walker, Roderick Cairns and Jack Beeby were there as guest artists. The photos I’ve used throughout were taken by Sarah as part of the camp. 

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Tess: I think it is difficult when you study theatre. You’re being assessed on it. It is part of your academic thought. You’re trying to write essays and it can become hard to step out of that and look at theatre as the recreational thing that you loved so much before you went to study it.

Anna: I find that the more I study a book, the more I love it. Some people feel that if you bash away at it you lose the joy of getting immersed –

Tess: Yes, that the intimate connection between you and the author is broken.

Anna: Education gives you this paranoia: ‘Oh god! Now that I’ve learnt that, there is so much more that I don’t know!’ But would you prefer to be out of the education loop and think ‘I know everything’ or be inside going ‘look at all these ways that I’m insufficient’?

Kevin: When you make art, you have to embrace that you have no fucking idea what you’re doing. That’s where the joy comes from. This course isn’t like an engineering degree where you come out and say ‘I can definitely build a car now’.

SFB: The interesting thing about your degree is that it turns out incredibly diverse grads. Maybe not as many makers as a course like the VCA, WAAPA or NIDA but you have some amazing grads doing really interesting things with their skills.

Joe: Yes, they said that very early on in the course. ‘This is not an acting degree. Not a directing degree. We wish to equip you with the tools.’

Kevin: I know what I want to do. I’m going to make as much fucking work as I can. That is a choice I’ve made.

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Jack Beeby

SFB: Can I take this opportunity to steer the conversation away from the degree?

Kevin: That’s what I’m trying to do!

SFB: Yes, thank you! I appreciated the segue! So, taking that as a starting point, what do you want to be doing in five years’ time?

Kevin: Yes! Fucking A. To me Melbourne theatre is a brick wall – any theatre is a brick wall – and I think theatre-makers can break brick walls with their heads by just beating against it over and over again until finally they hit on something good. Jason (Lehane) said in a workshop the other day that the only thing we can do is make work and refine our skills by making work.

Joe: The person who made me think this way was Yana Taylor. Yana is respected and has been working for a long while and she said ‘I don’t know where my next pay cheque is coming from’. I took that very much to heart. I would love to have a family one day. Does anyone else feel this fear that I feel? Anna put up her hand. I don’t want to have kids and not be able to support them. Not be able to give them all the advantages and privileges that I was so fortunate to have. I’m thinking of people who don’t even exist yet. They exist purely in my mind. Should I start to work towards this end game?

Tess: I knew from when I got into the BPA (Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash) that I wasn’t going to finish my education with that degree. I transferred into the Law/BPA double degree in my second year. I am a very cautious person. I love theatre but I cannot live with the risk of not knowing where my next pay cheque is coming from. But I’m seeing all these people my age who are making works for the Fringe Festival and travelling and taking their work overseas and writing all the time. I’m asking myself ‘why aren’t I doing that?’ I should be making work now when I feel free and passionate! But then I also want to get good marks in law! I don’t want to go to a law firm when I’m twenty-five and have them look at my grades and say ‘you were just getting passes!’ ‘But I made really good theatre! I’m a great stage manager!’

Joe: Jason said yesterday ‘I quit theatre for eight years and then it pulled me back’.

Kevin: Yes, my response was ‘I’d rather not quit theatre for eight years.’

Everyone talks over each other.

Joe: It pulled him back so I say ‘fuck it! I’ll just keep going if it is going to pull me back either way.’

Anna: I don’t have a safety net outside of theatre. My fall back is makeup school, which is hugely over-populated too. That freaks me out. I don’t want to do one thing. But I worry that I’ll find myself just doing people’s wedding makeup or something. I want to be part of something bigger. I like theatre because it is part of this big network and I want to be someone that has lots of different avenues to create work with.

Joe: Maybe it is our generation. We want to define ourselves.

Tess: We’re supposed to have something like six careers in our lives.

SFB: What I’m getting so far is a lot of quite understandable fear and sorrow that this  –

Joe: So much angst! Just say it’s angst!

Anna: Middle-class angst.

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Anna

SFB: Sure, angst that this thing that you love so much is going to practically sentence you to a life of poverty and struggle and no family and I fucking feel for you. But in all that sorrow, why do you want to do it?

Anna: Because it will leak out of us.

Joe: With the musical (Aesop’s Fables at Monash University) it was four months of agony but then someone laughed and cheered in the first show and it was all okay again. You need that affirmation. Maybe it is some sort of terrible personality flaw.

Tess: I want to make something and see it evolve and know that I’ve been a part of that. I think theatre is a great medium because you can take a message you feel so strongly about and communicate it in a really effective way to other people. Some ideas and emotions you can’t really articulate to people when you’re talking to them but you can create a piece of theatre which immerses the audience in those ideas. Seeing a live performance change someone in an hour and a half is truly amazing.

Anna: I was struggling to get my point across and then in high school I finally realised that the message could be me.

My visual art felt like quite an intellectual pursuit but what I do in theatre seems like it is more directly related to my body, to my personality. It is so inextricably linked to my own self.

Tess: I feel the most alive when I’m onstage. I can feel myself living. I’m more of an observational person. I live in my head and the way that I can get out of there is to be onstage.

Joe: I never sleep, I never see my girlfriend and it is hard, genuinely hard to work with that but I get to go home and sit down at the dinner table and say ‘I did a show. In an actual theatre. And people I didn’t know paid to come and see me performing – ‘

SFB: And took something away from it.

Joe: I don’t know if they took something away from it. I hope they did. I was in a Pink Panther costume so… (He is referring to The Well by Robert Reid.) I get to go home at Christmas and I say ‘let me tell you about what I’ve made’. I’ve gone through months and months of bad diet and cheering and happiness and stress and this array of emotions that nothing else can really compare to.

SFB: Can you just say your name and something about you? So ‘I am Fleur, I am a scruffy red-haired playwright and theatre director and I hope to do this for the rest of my life.’

Anna: I’m Anna. I have blue hair and I’m wondering if this is all a sick joke I’m playing on myself.

Joe: I’m Joe and I’m so horrendously unsure.

Tess: I’m Tess. I trick people into thinking that this is my natural hair colour. My favourite people are my mum, my dad and my three younger brothers and I don’t know where I’m going but I’m pretty excited about it.Image

Thanks again to my amazing proof-readers, Sarah Walker and Roderick Cairns. As a dyslexic writer, it is a bit of a team effort.

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education, Politics, Theatre

on monash, outcry, success and upcoming guest bloggers

Monash BPA update:

I just want to do a quick update (as quick as I ever get; ‘concise’ isn’t my strong point) on what is happening with the Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash University. Thank you for the huge response to the letter I wrote. It was incredibly gratifying to be reminded of the support that institutions like this have in the wider arts community.

I went to the school meeting on Tuesday where Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths spoke to the students about where the degree was heading and this comes from the notes I made there.

Essentially this week has seen the best possible outcome for the department. Unfortunately, the identity of the course has changed and new students will no longer be graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts. Rather, they will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in theatre and (if they chose this particular stream) a minor in performance. There may perhaps be less of a practical component in the performance minor but the theatre major is working to actively blend theory and practice within classes that had previously been just one or the other. No redundancies will be made. It is a unique degree and, at the moment, it will remain unique in all but name. It is sad to lose the identity of the course in this way but I want to put down here what I said at the meeting.

Look. I was at the Victorian College of the Arts when the Save VCA protests were in full swing in 2009. There was a 10, 000 strong march down the streets of Melbourne. ABC News, Channel 9 and Channel 10 were all there. Geoffrey Rush, Julia Zemiro, Noni Hazlehurst and a string of politicians and arts activists spoke on the college’s behalf. Students camped out on campus for a week and ended up on very friendly terms with the police who checked in with them daily. There were flash mobs across the city: ballet exercises on Flinders Street Bridge, a mass performance of R+J’s balcony scene at Southern Cross Station and semi-nude men running through the city covered in slogans each morning. It made no difference. Melbourne University had decided and the changes went ahead.

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What this weekend has proved is that Monash University is terrified of bad publicity. A facebook page was liked 1100 times in a single day and an outstanding protest song sprung up and was shared around. This was a terrifically swift response and yet so tiny compared to what would have come had the Administration not responded and it was microscopic compared to the Save VCA protests of 2009. Monash underestimated their students and their alumni. On the most basic level, they underestimated us to such an extent that they did not believe I had written my letter, presuming a lecturer had penned it. Well yes, I did have help: a first year BPA student proofread for me. (Thanks, Ari.) Dyslexic Fleur needs some help with commas. Mind you, I spelt the Vice Chancellor’s name wrong so you would have thought that would be a give away.

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So they underestimated us and were very surprised and they scrambled to respond. Right now, the course has been saved in all but name but arts’ funding and arts education is always in danger. We can never relax. It is now up to the students to watch the transition into the new course and monitor that it is up to the standard that you have come to expect from this wonderful University. Current students will be able to finish the degree they started but check in with your new first years: ensure they are happy with the way their course is unfolding. Tell them how you fought for their right to be a part of this degree, that you have amazing staff dedicated to giving you the best possible education. Tell them how fast their university responds when faced with potential embarrassment.

But enjoy this! This truly has been a wonderful outcome and I am thrilled. The staff are amazing and the love that students and alumni have for the BPA is so special. I know the name is a loss but this is an industry in which you don’t just hand over a slip of paper and get employed on the basis of where you went to school. In every interview, when your degree comes up, it will be your job to say ‘this is what I got from my time at university and this is how I can use it in a professional context. This is what makes me unique.’

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A programming note:

I am currently in full-time rehearsal and in the final two weeks of my Masters course so I will be writing a bit less in the coming weeks. For this reason, I will be bringing in a few more guest bloggers and I am so excited to have the opportunity to bring you the words of some outstanding artists. Talking with some amazing people and may also be running a few interviews. If you are interested in writing something as a guest for School For Birds or know someone you would like me to interview (or that you would like to interview), please contact me here, on facebook or at fleurskilpatrick @ gmail.com.

Posts for this blog should not be criticism, (there are critics for that) rather the posts should be written by artists, for artists in a way that continues the conversation rather than declaring itself to be the final word on a show. They can also be thoughts on art, theatre or audiences in general. Posts should be personal and not claim to speak for all.

If you are interested, I would suggest you check out my first guest blog ‘After Simon Stone’s The Cherry Orchard (after Anton Chekov)’ by Bridget Mackey. It is a completely unique response to the work, rather than a judgment on it. I’d also send you to the post that I feel has been my most successful so far which was my response to Teenage Riot, where I simply recorded teenagers talking about adolescence. I love things that are a step sideways from a show. If this interests you, please let me know as I am scheduling myself down to fifteen-minute slots right now and would love to keep this blog as active as possible in these next few weeks.

Also a thank you and shout out to Jane Howard, one of my favourite arts writers in the country. Thank you for giving School for Birds a nod at the Wheeler Centre’s Criticism Now panel. I have so much regard for your work and it made my year to hear you say that. Thank you. Be sure to check out Jane’s work in publications such as The Guardian but also follow her blog where she posts delicious, long-form responses to art and our industry.

All photos for this post were shot by me in 2009. I’m not sure why I de-saturated the middle photo but I have no time to go and find my original to re-edit.  

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education, personal, Politics, Theatre

a letter to the monash vice chancellor, professor ed byrne

Dear Vice Chancellor Professor Ed Byrne,

I am writing to express my deep shock and sadness at the news that Monash may begin phasing out the Bachelor of Performing Arts as early as next year. I write to you as a graduate of the course. I wish to tell you about my experience of completing this degree, what I have done with my skills since graduating and what I have observed of the department’s growth in the last few years.

Back in 2005 I knew that I wanted to be a director and playwright, and I knew that Monash was the degree for me. I auditioned for no other programs and went into the BPA with complete confidence. I loved the way it was both academic and practical, and the way in which these components were not separated but intrinsically linked. As a nineteen-year-old aspiring theatre maker, I knew that I needed to ground myself in the heritage of my medium and look to where it was headed. This course provided me with all this and more. It introduced me to stage management, and being a theatre tech. By the end of my second year I had stage managed a professional production and was working at The Alexander Theatre, teching shows and maintaining gear (with much support and guidance from the wonderful staff on campus). These skills also enabled me to assist other directors and be in the room throughout their unique creative processes. In third year I assistant directed for Suzanne Chaundy, and it was based on the recommendations of Suzanne and the staff of the BPA that I was accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts Post-Graduate directing program straight from my degree along with another of my peers from the course, Cheyney Caddy.

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I want to tell you about the last eighteen-months of my career. In this time I have worked with Bell Shakespeare and Red Stitch as an assistant director. In these roles I found my ability to switch between the practical and the academic invaluable. For Bell Shakespeare in particular I was regularly called upon to read mountains of critical essays and distill them into something immediately applicable to the rehearsal room. I did this with ease thanks to Monash. I wrote essays for their program and for their subscribers about the historical context of the work and our process. I am currently directing a beautiful new work to be staged at Forty-Five Downstairs in November and December. I secured this job because of connections made through my under-graduate degree and the production has employed BPA students as stage managers. My career as a playwright has also leaped forward in the last eighteen-months. This year I was short-listed for the Edward Albee Scholarship and I am currently in the process of completing my Masters in Performance Writing at the Victorian College of the Arts. One of my plays, Insomnia Cat Came To Stay, directed by another Monash Graduate Danny Delahunty, has toured five cities, including being a part of the prestigious Brisbane International Arts Festival 2013. The literary manager of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Chris Mead, is also mentoring me in dramaturgy and script assessment. I write about and for theatre constantly.

I am artistic director of Quiet Little Fox and have also written for Attic Erratic, a company made up almost entirely of graduates from this degree including Danny Delahunty, Celeste Cody, Sarah Collins, Tom Pitts and Giuliano Ferla. None of these artists were in my year but I keep gravitating towards Graduates of the BPA because they throw themselves into all facets of theatre with such willingness. They move seamlessly between back stage and onstage. They work without ego and with total commitment to their art. They are truly inspiring artists and Melbourne is all the more vibrant for the work they do.

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But I do not say all this in order to claim that the graduates who are actively creating theatre are the only ones worth celebrating. One of the joys of this degree is the multitude of ways in which its alumni use their skills. I have met alumni who now teach theatre to intellectually disabled men and women, empowering them as individuals and as a collective voice. I have met outstanding drama teachers who use their degree every day to inspire and educated their students, and I have had the pleasure to work with equally outstanding stage managers and techs that have come through this course. The degree has turned out many impressive academics that are adding to the intellectual landscape of our industry and pushing practitioners to continue to strive for new ways to make sense of the world around us through art. These academics exemplify what is so unique about this course and why it is so worthy of preserving: they bring to academia an acute awareness of theatre as a live art form, not merely as a sub-species of literature (which is where so many other universities have placed such academics). Theatre is not just a place in which we preserve and marvel at beautiful old words on a page; it is always about the world around us and the audience in front of us, and that is a lesson I learnt from this wonderful degree.

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Since graduating, I’ve been able to watch the course evolve and change. For example, this year I was in the audience for an outstanding display of Butoh created by second year students under the guidance of renowned practitioners Helen Smith and Peter Fraser. It was a stunning display of everything this course is about: introducing students to a rich and vibrant global history of performance by intrinsically linking the theoretical and the practical. I have also been able to watch the course change from the inside as I have been brought in as a contractor twice to direct first year students. Most recently I directed twenty-two first years in a production of Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and it is no exaggeration when I say that it was one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I’ve had this year. Aside from the creation of the play itself, it was a chance to talk with a group of passionate, vibrant, and intelligent eighteen and nineteen-year-olds about theatre as protest over the course of the Twentieth Century, the events leading to the Holocaust, and why such protest plays are as crucial today as they were in 1938. We talked about the ease of referring to The Final Solution and World War II as ‘inevitable’; something that was always going to happen but how artists like Brecht never accepted this. Brecht tells us today what he told his countrymen in 1938: that this wasn’t a ‘disaster’, for that would speak of something tragic beyond human control, the Aryan Earthquake. It was a disgrace: human, shameful, ugly and stoppable. It was so exhilarating to talk through such things with these students, most of whom were fresh from high school, and to hear them make the links between that time and ours. At their final assessments, one after the other they told us why such work was still so crucial and how it changed not only their understanding of history, but also their understanding of their own voices in the current political system.

I never stopped being grateful for what this course gave me. Every day I use the skills and the theory that it instilled in me. It is deeply embedded in my artistic practice. I understand that this decision is being made on the basis of the university’s budget but I want to tell you that the closure of this course would leave a massive hole in both the academic and performance landscape of Australia’s theatre community. It would be the university’s loss. It would be Melbourne’s loss. It would be theatre’s loss, academia’s loss and Australia’s loss.

Thank you for your time and please re-consider your decision.

Regards, 
Fleur Kilpatrick

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My blog is currently not letting me add captions to these stunning photos but they are all from past Monash productions. Photography is by Sarah Walker, David Sheehey and myself.  

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