Monday, 28 May 2007

Anxiety and dream substitutions

A compromised confession: this post isn't really about theatre.

I woke the other morning from my first thesis anxiety dream. Not that I haven't been anxious about it (as I've said to many of my colleagues in the corridors: I do a fine line in denial). But I've not yet had the visceral anxiety dream before, much like the ones I get the week before a performance season. You know the ones, you're onstage, you haven't got a clue what's going on, everyone else is in a different play, the AWB lawyers serve you with a writ halfway through.... OK, maybe that last one doesn't apply to everyone but is context specific. Well, subject specific (a certain rower's lawyers were threatening in the same way, but unfortunately not in a dream).

So, for reasons that make sense only according to dream logic, I have had a letter delivered. Its a slightly crumpled piece of lined ring binder-style foolscap paper, covered in scrawled handwriting in pencil that is barely legible. Alternate words are written in capitals. Its a missive from the director (T) of the theatre company that my thesis is about, who I much admire and have never met, saying how offensive he found the thesis and how it fatally misrepresented the company's practice, and if only I had talked to them, blah blah, but now its too late. Bridge burned, no going back.

For reasons that also make sense only according to dream logic, one of the other members of the company (R) is in my lounge room, and over a drink I vent all of my frustrations about the director's letter, saying what a terrible time it was for him to say such things, and couldn't he appreciate how upset I might be upon reading this, and that it was too late to change anything now. If only he had said something earlier, but now is a terrible time. I point at the crumpled paper a lot, and go over particular phrases that I feel are unjust, uncalled for, and generally cause offence. I don't recall R answering - this seemed to be a monologic dream - but we did have a companionable glass of wine or two, probably a Rutherglen Shiraz based on my current cellar. I think then he stumbled off down the street, as he did at 5am that night in Adelaide after we were all thrown out of the dive of a pub down the road from the theatre.

I've recounted this dream to my supervisor, who suggested it should be a preface to the thesis, and also to a couple of colleagues, who were amused. But its only upon writing it down that I've realised the transposition that has occurred - one real anxiety substituting for another, shifting and taking its form, the signs and codes jumbling together to make a mess "that nothing seems to justify" (Bois, Formless: A User's Guide) But of course there's a logic there. Small banal traumas of the everyday, framing themselves about work. Which can get confusing, because work and life are pretty much the same thing.

At the moment I find that everything is about time. Sometimes timing, but mostly just managing to find time for things. All sorts of things. Far too many things. But in terms of time I find myself 2.5 weeks out from PhD submission, 2 weeks into relationship breakup, 1.5 months out from rehearsals, 1 month out from teaching contract finishing, 4 days from next grant application, 4 days late on a residency aquittal, 2 days out from my last new lecture that is as-yet unwritten...... the list continues and proliferates, as lists are wont to do. I'm the pathological type with lists, and will write down new things on a list that I've done, just so I can cross them off and feel like I'm making progress. And I guess I am. But I until I escape the quicksand, the population of this list will undoubtedly continue to form strange dream hybrids, and haunt me as I sleep.

I'll try and write about cultural practice again soon, but I'm sorry, the words are not yet there. Take this as a humble substitution.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Theatre Board releases 'Make it New? Communique 2'

For those of you who are interested in such things, the Theatre Board of the Australia Council for the Arts is inviting comments and responses to the latest installment in their consultative future planning exercise 'Make it New'. Their latest thoughts and provocations to the field can be found here. I promise I'll post my own responses to Theatre Board Director John Baylis' proto-policy paper when my personal and university life settles down somewhat. In the meantime, jump in and make some comments on the future of the Theatre Board's funding of and engagement with the broad field of theatre practice in Australia. Just so everyone is clear on the stakes of this, the first installment of 'Make it New' was preceded with the placing 'on notice' of all of the organisations triennially funded by the Theatre Board, including Melbourne's La Mama, discussed memorably in the blogosphere by Alison Croggon. Big changes in the ways in which theatre practice is funded will result from this discussion, so get your two cents in ASAP or miss out!

Monday, 7 May 2007

Sydney Dance Company appoints Tanja Liedtke as AD

I know it's last week's news, but I too wanted to congratulate Tanja Liedtke on her wild card appointment as Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company. This is indeed a significant decision on the part of the selection committee, a generational and aesthetic reinvigoration of the company that gives the company's work a sense of excitement again. With the choreographer of the exquisite and highly theatrical Twelfth Floor at the helm, I might even start attending SDC productions again after the (in my opinion) tedium of the last five years or so of Graham Murphy's reign (including the truly dreadful Party, and a bunch of other shows distinguished only by the costume design of Akira Isogawa such as the ho-hum Air and other invisible forces).

Good on you Tanja, and all the best with the 2008 program. Hopefully we'll still get to see Liedtke's new work Construct in Sydney in 2007 though...

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

From the archives (a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald July 6, 2006)

In celebration of the launch tonight of Caroline Overington's book Kickback: Inside the Australian Wheat Board Scandal (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2007), I thought it might be fitting to revisit the letter that gave us the title for our current theatre project on the same topic, Deeply offensive and utterly untrue (to open Carriage Works, Sydney August 24, 2007). Enjoy!

Trade and war

Your editorial suggesting the Australian Government went to war in Iraq to protect its wheat market is deeply offensive and utterly untrue ("Trade's cannon fodder", July 5).

Your readers would know this if your newspaper had bothered to report my repudiation of these claims in my comments to the media in Melbourne on Monday. This Government does not make military deployments contingent on trading interests, in Iraq or elsewhere. What we did seek were assurances that, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, the Iraqi wheat market would be open for free and fair competition, including for Australian wheat growers. This is what has happened, and we have been satisfied with that outcome.

Alexander Downer, Canberra

Arts funding continued...

Pursuing the funding discussion thread (for those who are interested), I got a link to official Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on arts funding from a friend (thanks Guy!). According to Guy's reading:

"although the Fed Govt puts over $1.6 billion into arts, heritage and the environment the amount that is taken by "Heritage" is huge in comparison to what gets spent on arts. Performing arts gets a paltry $80 million of the cut in the end, but I doubt whether this is necessarily all to artists per se."

So much for Senator Brandis' statement that "artists have never been happier". Perhaps poverty suits artists, or at least popular conceptions of 'proper' artists, as opposed to members of the commentariat. This might go some of the way to explaining the enduring popularity of the vision of the Bohemian artist in works such as La Boheme, and its contemporary
imitators Rent and Baz Luhmann's Moulin Rouge. Lovable poverty-striken yet passionate artists are OK. Angry, articulate, and intelligent artists are not so OK, not so 'proper'.

I suppose things could be worse. We could be in the situation of English artists, with a
£675m cut to arts funding to directly cover a budget shortfall for the London 2012 Olympic Games...