of Drama can be puzzled by the strange advocacies of their teachers.
Their peers have mostly seen the subject as a loose distraction from
academic subjects. The focus on marks and coarse scores makes the
passions of expressionist and experimental theatre practitioners
somewhat absurd and bemusing. It's a puzzle. To this point, the
students associate drama with building confidence, self esteem,
learning to express oneself, develop good diction and generally
having a good time. They play games. They read a few scripts.
IMPROVISATION is taught as if it is a sacred art form of its own.
Drama is fun. So what happens when they are confronted with a course
and an attitude that flies in the face of all those comforting and
re-assuring things associated with school drama?
I worked on a theatrical adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel Devils,
using multi-media, live music, large installations, dance, simulated
riots and acting performance. My role was limited, though I wrote the
successful funding application and played a peripheral part in the
development of the production conceived and directed by David Branson
and written by Wayne Macauley.
(as it was re-named), derived its focus from Dostoyevsky, but drew on
contemporary history for its inspiration. Branson had to fight to get
his way with the production. In some ways the work risked being the
antithesis of Dostoyevsky's novel. There were tensions between
writer, director, cast, visual artists and the original director (me).
it finally took place! And Canberra's Street Theatre never looked so
good. Huge projections on walls; cars upturned and set on fire; giant
eyes in the sky ... murders in the courtyard! It once again
demonstrated the amazing power and personality of one of Australia's
most extravagant and dynamic theatre practitioners, David Branson.
Wayne Macauley, was critical. The play didn't successfully resolve.
Some fantastic things happened. One woman in the audience wanted to
tell me how seeing the action through the glass window of the theatre
foyer made her see the rest in a totally different light. She was a
theatre goer. But this was different.
of the students saw it. It took place over the holidays. They missed
an experience that sounds ridiculous in the telling. Arguing its
merits in a class room is a waste of time. Yet such a production
creates vital and engaging experiences for both audiences and
participants. It takes us into the world of metaphor and symbols;
into the world where artists died for their work and history was
shaped by the visions of artists and philosophers ... and is still
being so shaped, even if the artist is a marketer or clinical psychologist.
so my thoughts fade into depressions.
corrodes into night leaving the artistic vermin only the cracks in
the cell. The radical non-conformist artist risks hanging or death by
attrition from advocates of the red terror or the white terror; from
the left or the right; from the conservative or the nihilist.
absurdity of social existence overwhelms any sense of social
responsibility and order. Students brought up on Sesame Street and
Disneyland conceptions of the world are apt to feel morbid about
anything that isn't sugar-coated with sentimentality. The Disneyland Little
is preferred over the original Hans Christian Anderson version.
Disney lets her live to make a Little
The Hans Christian Anderson version of her death and spiritual
release is just too complicated ... too morbid for the illusory world
of the Marketing Director and artistic outcomes made to order for the
corporate engineers of culture.
is mostly supported by, and supportive of, a confirming art:
confirming of cultural precepts. The resultant music, painting,
architecture and fashion become at one with such precepts ... even
adding to the way of interpreting the culture. Religion, a close
relative or sub-set or foundation stone of culture, appropriates art
and the minds of artists to give shape and form to metaphors and
beliefs so that they might be experienced by masses of people.
the other side, experimentation in art and theatre subverts and
undermines culture. It gives creative imagination primacy over
mimesis. This means creating new forms which articulate an otherwise
incoherent experience or vision; going beyond the reproduction of
forms already there; emphasizing creation over imitation; or simply
giving new shape to cultural precepts as seen from a different stand point.
step outside the known and imitative precepts that affirm one's
cultural life and understanding is dangerous and frightening.
Paradoxically, this means stepping inside oneself. But following the
impulses that follow the act of experimenting in form and content may
well lead away from the desired and preferred outcomes of cultural
and religious guardians or even the high priests of the art world...
the recent withdrawal of Telstra from its sponsorship of the
Adelaide Festival. The use of Hitler in the advertising was deemed
offensive. This was apparently in spite of Hitler's image being used
as a symbol and not as an icon as used by the Nazis. The difference
may be subtle. But corporate culture requires a stable universe
without disturbance. Change and diversity must be managed. It is not
the intent of corporate sponsors to unleash uncontrolled responses
resulting from artistic exploration.
too in the case of religious control. Salmon Rushdie is probably the
highest profiled example of the clash between artistic symbol and
religious icon. The death sentence for invoking such a symbol still
has not been lifted.
and culture have mainly supported art over the centuries. The
Puritans and the Taliban are obvious exceptions. But that support has
demanded that its sponsored subjects reflect the attitudes and
teachings of the particular religion and/or culture. Like Telstra,
they have little need for sponsoring art that is beyond the scope of
their control or influence. Who will support such art?
the teacher, like Don Quixote, continues to tilt at the ideal of an
art beyond cultural control. The students mostly recognize the
absurdity and so they mock or show their incredulous feeling. After
all, why should they take up the sword of some dubious art in the
face of cultural force fields?
are no marks in subversion. One learns to affirm the status quo and
reap the benefits. So let the Demons play its merry rout for the
amusement of its small audiences and creators. It has little
sentimental value. Thus it is unlikely to make it on to the screen.
And in the end, why bother? Who cares? The culture of the Demons
is outwardly morbid. The characters most sympathetic to the ideals of
the creators are the most moribund and flawed. The older guy keeps
something of his idealism alive only to succumb to his youthful lust
in his old body.
size of the project prohibits completely professional payments to
its collaborators and participants. Discussing its merits is only
likely to draw scorn and derision when confined to discussion of outcomes.
like the cockroach and the rat, the experimental artist scampers
around the scraps from the cultural table: creating a kind of honor
among fellow cultural thieves. They are the new demons in our midst
spinning the other side of the artistic coin and planting doubts and
confusing ordered souls. They are the shadows through the cracks. The
brighter the lights; the more defined the shadows.
the face of political cynicism now perpetrated at new levels of smug
audacity, there is an ever-increasing need for these demons to scurry
amongst us with urgent fury. While a Prime Minister can peg his
political ambitions on the murder of thousands of people and the
potential murder of many more, and the press and shapers of public
culture and society are complicit in this act of extreme cynicism,
then all such demonic shadows need to rise from the depths and add
contrast to the light of cynicism.