It has been weeks since Brand Spanking New 2010 and I have some of the distance of time to reflect on what has been a wonderful season. It is no secret that a lot of work goes into making a project like Brand Spanking New happen… and it’s success relies on each person on the project imbuing their work with a sense of purpose, focus, enthusiasm, time, pride, generosity, flexibility to make it happen. In week 2 of Spankers – that is 9 directors, 9 writers, 6 crew, 35 actors – and it never ceases to amaze me the collective energy of artists.

When I was designing the application form and process for Spankers in 2008 – I wanted a combination of invitation and open access – so that anyone keen could have an opportunity to audition, apply, submit a script. I wanted to make sure that writers didn’t have to pay to apply- and that directors had to apply answering some tricky questions (who are three Australian writers you would love the opportunity to work with and why… what are three productions that have inspired you and why… why are you a director?). Largely applications show me the level of interest, knowledge, enthusiasm, investment and personal goals of the participants… and for me its a starting point for what will be a long-term working relationship/creative conversation with artists.

Unlike previous years of Spankers, this years programme did not receive any financial assistance from government or a funding body. Somehow I was very lucky to be approached by Leigh Russell who coordinated partnerships to ensure that the artists on board the project were supported via in-kind donations (Crumpler gave satchels and Campos gave coffee cups and Penguin gave books for the writers, Fruit and chocolates were delivered for actors, City of Sydney gave rehearsal space to directors, South Cape Cheese for the opening nights, Wine for the directors etc.. it’s easy to say she did a stunning/gob-smacking job). The generosity that was demonstrated towards the pursuit of new Australian writers came from every corner conceivable – local, corporate, personal, artistic, industry and punters alike. It was a huge joy to look across the seats of the New Theatre and see a full house most nights… and filled me with great disappointment to have to turn people away.

For some writers, this years Spankers was an opportunity to be given much wanted stage time, for others there was the challenge of writing to spec, or appearing in a suite of plays with their favourite colleagues or established writers, for some it was the opportunity to work with a director they had always wanted to work with – or to write for actors they’ve wanted to write for… whatever the motivation or impetus – writers gave much of themselves- and risked big.

For actors, Spankers gave the opportunity to network – to flex their actor-muscle on stage – to engage with fresh material – to look at script and character from each angle, to play. For directors the opportunity to have their work produced and supported without having to source, supply scrounge (ie produce) themselves. Some directors sought feedback during rehearsal – using the opportunity to hone skills. To try something new, to work with new actors.

In June this year, I gave a talk at The University of Sydney, and someone in the question section of the talk asked me how I measure success of a show – is it box office or in the reviews. I said, “Neither. I think a show is successful when every single person on the project is proud of their work – when they have made something they are proud of, when they surprise themselves, when they know they have given and done their best.” If i measured success by reviews – I would have a devastating time – mainly because none of my shows have attracted reviews from likes of The Australian nor The Sydney Morning Herald. To them and the readers that rely on their opinion- this work doesn’t exist. (I’ve been told newspapers don’t like short runs… and frankly, I think my work is better suited to the immediacy of onliners who are sitting forward ready to catch the brightest shooting stars.) Also I often find that when someone is proud of their work – proud of the people they work with – that translates in attendance (a better measure than box office – as box office doesn’t not represent the industry comps that come to peruse the works).

Spankers isn’t a closed house either – a large part of an event like this is for foyer talk – for other practitioners to talk to and approach each other. I recently received a very heated angry phonecall from a director demanding access to my contact list… I replied that if was keen to approach someone I’ve worked with to work with him, that he should approach them in a foyer (much the way I have built up my network)… and that an event like Spankers is very conjucive to that style of approach. I don’t generally provide open access to everyone I’ve got contact details with – I will pass on recommendations and email addressess of individuals – but checking with them first – and usually after they have asked me to put them forward it i hear of anything coming up. I always think, if you want to work with someone – you should see their shows (and that will give you an indication of if you are justified in wanting to work with them.)

Anyway – What I want to say is how immensely proud I am of all the pieces in Spankers (each piece had their fans and their foes in equal measure) and to all the artists who were brave, bold and gave their all to create a very special event celebrating new Australian writing. For those who missed it below is a selection of beautiful photography by the very lovely Leah McGirr, of Week 2 of Spankers 2010 – the performance and the foyer…

Matt Young and Kenneth Moraleda

Suzie Miller’s Extra Curricular

Alison Rooke’s Apples and Onions

Me and Tim Spencer writer of The Pursues, the pursuing, the busy and the Tired…

Caleb Lewis, Emma Jones and me…

Alana Valentine, Arabella Macpherson, Scott Selirk and Kellie Jones

Awesome crew – Zandy, Ali, Miles

Donna, Ned, Vanessa and me…

Miles and composer extraordinaire – Rosie Chase

The whole gang from week 2…. (missing Selkirk – he was in Melbourne)

BSN Week 2 (Photo: Tim Andrew)

BSN Week 2 (Photo: Tim Andrew)