It’s been ten days since I struggled into a car with coat and scarf and bag and laptop and heart and flustered hair and buzzing ears and lots to say and nothing to say and fingertips fizzing from live-tweeting the Australian Theatre Forum 2013.

It’s taken me sometime to digest the forum as a whole: to find out what actually happened at the forum- what worked, what was valuable and to find out what is the value of going to an event like that.

So, to back track somewhat, some months ago when it was announced that the ATF was open for registrations it was revealed that there was limited spaces for independent artists and they needed to apply to attend (as everyone does). There are limited spaces. The forum happens in one place at one time. As one disgruntled tweeter pointed out that the ATF was not following it’s pledge from 2011 which was to ensure that the ATF was webcast live – and it wasn’t. (Not sure if we perhaps were being a little over zealous in 2011 about the state of the NBN…)

The matter of who is at the forum and who is not at the forum has a lot to do with time and resources. I know for a fact that had it not been for Fiona Winning tapping into the rise of the theatre blog in 2011 that the ATF2011 would not have experienced so much online content and discussion. (In 2011 I wrote nearly 14000 words in 3 days and yes I was a mess by the end of it)…. in 2011 I was trying to figure out how to blog about a Forum: I’d not been on assignment before as a blogger: Reviewer, yes. Arts commentator? Yes. But official forum blogger? No. This time around I committed to writing about the forum as much as I felt like it, I had been approached in an official capacity – but my multiple hats can weigh heavy on my head – and I didn’t want to over commit or burnt out…

(**Insert hysterical laughter here**)

So I thought I’d approach the task a little differently – providing a live feed or Tweet stream of key points – for live interaction across the nation and the world – which worked. Worked so well that by midday on the second day I had been locked out of Twitter for using up my tweet allowance in a 24 hour period.


Augusta + ATF + Heated/heady discussions about theatre = Broken Twitter

Once I had rejoined the online world again, I had realised that there was a huge (unrealistic and unfair) expectation on Jane Howard and I to provide live and full and current accounts of everything happening at the ATF. Unfortunately I’m not a stenographer and sometimes my thinking about an event or an issue takes time to be properly thought through. So though live tweeting (averaging a tweet ever minute or so) I committed to giving an overview of what lead to my thinking over the course of the ATF. (Check out the online conversation via Twitter #ATF2013)

Because really, let’s face it – no piece of art is engaged with in a void, no conversation is without social context – everything is an accumulation of that which has preceded this moment.

And that is why history is so important.

We forget our past/the past at our peril.

The difficulty was the premise of the Forum was set up as a brokering of conversations – and the conversations I had were largely online or via twitter or about blogging or about arts commentary… what were the other conversations that I had?

Um… I think I was asked my opinion on the food… and about gender politics… and I talked a bit about what’s happening at Casula Powerhouse… and I gave my thoughts on youth theatre… and my opinion on indigenous theatre… and I talked a bit about microbreweries in Canada… and about the dangers of being led astray by Lachlan Philpott on a late night “cultural excursion” in Canberra (AKA King O’Malley’s)…

I may have also seconded a disappointment in the disposable cups and plates being used at the forum.

So I threw a few opinions about.

But I’m not sure there were conversations going on by the end of things: there was a bit of overload, a bit of burn out – in fact there was an instance or two where there wasn’t a conversation, but one-sided expression. There was definitely a moment where the conversation broke down.

And “theatre” couldn’t fix it.

This platform for ideas and conversation and discovery and compassion couldn’t figure it out.

So, I’m not sure that “conversation” did rule the forum.

And what of the constant stream of provocations?

I do love a well-thought out provocation: Malcolm Gladwell, Alain De Botton are at all times at the ready to provoke me into new inspirations.
Did I feel inspired by the provocations.

Personally, no.

The forum itself was a large discussion on Australian politics with a firm focus on funding and strategic directions.

This wasn’t a forum about art, or making or process or inspiring product.

This forum spoke directly to the heart of a very specific style of theatre and provocation.

Some points of discussion missing from the forum included:
1. Playwriting and dramaturgy
2. Globalisation of theatre and what that means to the Australian identity
3. Queer theatre
4. Opera (sustainability of…)
5. philanthropy, crowd sourcing and alternative funding
6. Criticism, blogging and reviews
7. Content being created in the youth and emerging theatre sectors.

I mention the last point as is was only 2 years ago that Kevin Ng (From Shopfront) stood up at the ATF 2011 in Brisbane and asked for a show of hands of those in the room who were under 40, under 35, under 30, under 25… and a small spattering of hands remained – “this is who the future of theatre is.”

And there is no doubt about it – there were missing voices in the room – and though this is the nature of all conferences (and indeed theatre itself is a platform which requires people turning up for things to happen) – I just note it as I missed some voices that could have contributed.

The dilemma with this is huge – the forum itself is exclusionary- theatre is exclusionary by nature, and the more I have thought about this, the more I have felt the disappointed that theatre doesn’t have a wider reach.

Which brings me to the next line of my thoughts: that what bothered me the most was the feeling that emerged online through a few interactions that I was (and Jane Howard too) were privileged in our position as bloggers, and that somehow we had a duty to write about specific aspects of the forum within specific time frames. The truth of the matter is this: blogger, though a part of the theatrical “ecology” (see how I used that word?) are not respected as writers, nor artists, nor contributors generally: and for all the complaints about “funding” – there is not yet to be a stream in the Australia Council funding program which looks after critics or bloggers or arts commentators.

Largely this work is done for free.

And as an independent writer: you are without the safety, security, direction or support of an editor or a team of writers: it’s you fielding the abuse, the name calling, justifying what you have written when you write. And the provocations offered up in blogs (arts criticism or reviews or reflections) are often not engaged with – or when they are they are of an ugly and unproductive aggressive tone.

We’re not good at conversation. Clearly. We’re not practiced in being fair and critical with each other. We are not practiced in listening and sharing in equal measure. And that has been the greatest reveal that this ATF has demonstrated to me.

And it devastated me, for I believe if anyone can create conversation which is inspiring, transformative, elevating, progressive, collaborative… surely, SURELY that would be the theatre makers of Australia?

And of course… whenever I feel like it’s too big, too difficult, too much… I look to another artform to inspire, re-direct and re-set me… Signing off from the ATF with Hunters and Collectors…