The independent theatre scene continues to gain momentum in Perth with the introduction of a new Independent Theatre Festival at Subiaco Arts Centre, presented by the Perth Theatre Trust.
The festival showcases six unique works from across the spectrum of Perth’s vibrant independent theatre and dance scene. Each of these works has previously been presented in other forums over the last year, including at The Blue Room, at Fringe World 2013 and in pop-up theatre spaces.
This is an exciting initiative for Perth’s theatre makers. In many cases, the independents tend to present pieces that get seen by their own industry circles, but have trouble breaking through to a wider audience of theatre patrons. The Blue Room and Fringe World certainly continue to bring in audiences from outside the industry; Fringe this year saw hundreds of thousands of tickets sold city-wide and The Blue Room provides opportunities year-round.
However, the once-a-year creative hit that Fringe World provides is not enough for Perth’s theatre junkies, which is why this new festival initiative could be a boon to the industry. If Perth Theatre Trust and Subiaco Arts manage it well and get good numbers across the board, the introduction of a third marketplace for independent performance artists will certainly strengthen what already seems to be a strong independent movement in Perth. Subiaco Arts Centre has been eager to fill their Studio space with suitable shows this year; finding companies and groups with budgets that allow them to hire the enticing Studio space seems to have proved difficult.
General Manager, Jessica Davey, may well have found a way around this problem by creating a festival. A rigorous application process saw ten productions chosen for interview, each of which had been staged in the past.
As Davey says, the hope is that we “will provide the next step in their professional development”.
This requirement of already-produced works, most of which have received awards, award nominations and excellent reviews, ensures that the standard of production is already at a certain level, reducing the risk for Subiaco Arts and Perth Theatre Trust. It also offers presenters the chance to re-mount an already successful show – a rare thing in Perth theatre. More often than not, a work is developed, produced and shelved, never again to see the light of day, or should I say, the spotlight.
“The Festival will provide exposure and opportunity for local independent theatre and dance companies, which may not otherwise be available to them”, says Davey. and this is the key to why this festival could become very important to the performing arts scene in Perth. But the new festival on the block could also be a good way to come down from the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) and Fringe World frenzy that starts the year.
“To give this work a second life is invaluable”, says Jess Messenger, writer and director of The Standover Man, one of the works in this year’s festival.
“You work so hard on a production, then after its initial season it tends to disappear. It is has been such a pleasure to revisit this work, making it more of what it could be, and having the opportunity to engage with a wider audience.”
Clearly the opportunity to revisit a work is an attractive prospect for most artists. Adam T Perkins says of his show The Guys, “I don’t think we were done with it. It was a good fit for the festival and to get the chance to do it again in such a great venue, we jumped at it.”
“This festival is brilliant in that it offers a chance for work to have a new life, something very rare in an arts landscape dominated by funding rounds and grant applications”, says Brooke Leeder of Dancers Speak Volumes, another piece selected as part of the inaugural festival.
“This is a great platform for us to access a wide audience, redevelop pre-existing works and keep the creative process alive”, she said
The ‘anything goes’ kind of atmosphere that Fringe has cultivated is hard to sustain for more than a few weeks and the public still crave entertainment, so the Independent Theatre Festival might just manage to carve a cozy niche for itself. Subiaco Arts Centre’s facilities are top-notch and theatre-goers can still make a pleasant, if not more sedate, night of it along Rockeby Road before or after the shows.
First up in the festival season is The Guys by Anne Nelson, which is produced by Classic Works, directed by Paula Coops and features Anna Bennetts and Adam T Perkins. The production was originally mounted at a pop-up space in West Leederville called The Crafty Swine. which sounds like a twee English pub, but was actually a warehouse-turned-photography studio. The production has been nominated for Equity awards in four categories, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Production. It runs from 12-15 March in the Studio space and is a two-person play about a fire captain and a writer who meet on an afternoon just after the events of September 11, 2001.
Dancers Speak Volumes
Following The Guys in the Studio is Dancers Speak Volumes, produced by Brooke, Linton and Louise. This is a contemporary dance piece that features spoken word and is choreographed by the aforementioned trio, who are joined for the performance by Tony Currie. Of the piece Leeder says, “We wanted to be able to explore how we interact as humans, all our various idiosyncrasies; how we react to each other, the dynamics within a friendship or developing relationships, in a way that would appeal to dancers, theatre makers and anyone with an interest in human relationships …so everyone!” This runs from 19-22 March.
The Standover Man
After Dancers Speak Volumes comes Jessica Messenger’s The Standover Man from 16-29 March. “The Standover Man had an excellent first season at Fringe World 2013, with great reviews and positive audience feedback. We were able to build on that initial success, applying for development funding and working with Stages WA and Somersault Theater Company’s From Scratch Program (Sydney), to refine the initial script”, says Messenger.
“The Standover Man also has a wide audience appeal, set in a seedy criminal underworld full of shady characters and back door deals, yet still with room for romance, redemption and magic. It’s the kind of play your boyfriend will want to go see and it packs a powerful punch.”
Shane Adamczak’s Trampoline follows from 2-5 April; the show initially ran at The Blue Room in 2013 and garnered great reviews. It features Adamczak, funnyman Ben Russell and Amanda Woodhams and tells the tale of a ‘dreamer who meets the girl of his dreams.’ As to why he wanted to be involved in the festival Shane says, “I am a big fan of the venue and it seemed like a great opportunity to have our show reach a new audience that might not have seen it in its initial run. I am extremely proud of this new work and love all the team involved. Trampoline is the first major ensemble piece I have written in a few years and the critical and public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I want everyone to see this show; everyone.”
The Little Mermaid
In the festival’s closing slot at the Studio space from 9-12 April is Ian Sinclair’s The Little Mermaid, a Blue Room award-winning production from 2013 that adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. “I felt this was the perfect time to revisit The Little Mermaid and see where we could push the story and images further. This version will be a little darker, a little longer, and have way more bubbles … maybe an excessive amount”, says Sinclair. Regarding the festival itself, Sinclair adds, “This type of festival is so important in Perth; beyond The Blue Room Theatre and Fringe World, it really provides artists with the opportunity to showcase innovative work and to expose them to a new audience.”
But wait! There’s more! Running simultaneously with Trampoline and The Little Mermaid is James Berlyn’s Crash Course, an immersive/interactive performance piece going up in Subiaco Arts rehearsal room. Crash Course “takes the form of a language class gone wrong, [where] both performer and audience members are on a 60-minute sink-or-swim journey of adaptation and resilience in this English-free, pre-digital classroom experience”.
One of the most enticing things about this festival is its variety. “I think all the shows in the festival are a clear cross section of what the independent scene looks like in Perth. From the more performance-based side, such as James Berlyn’s Crash Course, an interactive show that kind of takes you back to school, makes you laugh, cry and question your own education, to Shane Adamczak’s Trampoline, which is so charming, with lovable characters and really wears its heart on its sleeve”, says Sinclair.
Indeed, the Independent Theatre Festival is a promising expansion of the independent theatre and dance market and it’s a good sign that the creative sector is healthy and thriving in Perth.
Jess Messenger puts it all in a nutshell when she says, “I think everyone is watching closely to see how the festival will go. It is important for the independent arts sector in Perth that opportunities to access affordable production spaces are created. We are in danger of creating a ‘Fringe’ culture, where people only leave their house in February. But if Fringe has taught us anything, it is that the people of Perth are excited about the arts, and I think that this festival could go a long way towards creating space for Independent Artists to engage with a wider audience all year round.”
Independent Theatre Festival at Subiaco Arts Centre 12 March to 12 April