So said Marion Potts, Artistic Director and CEO of Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, as she reflected on what makes a strong theatre ecology.
‘It has to be said that a lot of the works that independent artists are creating are high risk. That’s what artists do. They perform these triple somersaults with a degree of difficulty of 9.9 and I think it’s our job as Majors to give them a safe platform from which to leap so that they can perform daring feats.’
Malthouse is renowned for nurturing new talent and Potts explained the many different pathways that artists can take within the company.
For example, residencies. ‘We’ve had a company-in-residence for a long time, and have now transformed that opportunity into a number of residencies for individual artists.
‘Next year we have Ash Flanders, Nicola Gunn and Victoria Chu doing residencies with us and having their work performed within the program.’
Malthouse also runs its Besen Family Artist Program which offers ‘short burst’ professional development opportunities whereby ‘artists can get to experience the day to day running of the company through an attachment on a particular show, depending on their art form’.
‘We very much encourage a cross section of disciplines such as lighting design, set design and building, sound design and composition, costume design, directing and dramaturgy.’
‘And then we also do remounts of shows that we feel deserve a second outing and deserve to be exposed to a broader audience base.’
Since the 2012 Australia Council’s Women in Theatre report found a glaring dearth of female directors and writers in Australian theatre, some theatre companies, including Malthouse, have introduced a female director-in-residence program.
‘We’ve had a fantastic bunch of women through over four years now—Anne-Louise Sarks (2011), Adena Jacobs (2012), Roslyn Oades (2013) and Clare Watson (2014)—and we’ve just announced that Samara Hersch will be female director-in-residence in 2015.
‘All of those women have gone on to create work but also to have much stronger visibility in the sector.’
Jacobs and Sarks were appointed as Resident Directors at Belvoir in June 2014. Oades has just had a hit with her production ofHello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday, which was a co-production with the Melbourne International Arts Festival. And Watson snared a place in the Melbourne Theatre Company's inaugural Women Directors' Program in the same week she was appointed as Malthouse’s female director-in-residence for 2014.
Potts also cites Malthouse Theatre’s Helium program as another pathway for artists. The Helium program, set up in 2012, curates a collection of Australian independent performance work.
‘You can really see a clear trajectory for independent companies—for example, the Rabble (an avant-garde visual theatre company) went from a production in the Tower [Malthouse’s intimate theatre space] through Helium to the company-in-residence here. And now of course they’re being programmed by other companies like Belvoir.’
So is it all about the shock of the new?
‘It is a fine balance between developing new work and deepening relationships with established artists,’ Potts said.
‘I think, in the end, if the aim is to create a richer, more sustainable culture, then it’s a matter of recognising that you can’t just go after the next new thing.
‘You can’t just have a “bright shiny object” approach to stuff. You have a responsibility once you’ve identified those artists to keep providing them with opportunities or at least a dialogue.’
And what about the role of audiences in shaping theatrical programming?
‘I like to believe that audiences have a far greater appetite for risk than we give them credit for. And I know that so many of the audience members who are loyal to Malthouse are exactly that because they are adventurous as well—they are our fellow travellers.
‘At the heart of every project we’d like to think there’s a strong provocation about the world that will inform our understanding of it.’
It is that provocation that can get her blood pumping—and not always in a good way.
‘I often find the white knuckle moments are pretty stressful. But as I said before, it’s a risky business—and there’s nothing I don’t like about it!’