Peter Brook in his most brilliant writing
identified a "rough theatre" as a necessary though not
sufficient element in the creation of cultural and artistically valid
work of theatre.
"Salt, sweat, noise, smell: the
theatre that's not in a theatre, the theatre on carts, on
wagons, on trestles, audiences standing, drinking, sitting on tables,
audiences joining in, answering back; theatre in back rooms, upstairs
rooms, barns; the one-night stands, the torn sheet pinned up across
the hall, the battered screen to conceal the quick changes - the one
generic term, theatre, covers all of this and the sparkling
chandeliers too." (Peter Brook, THE EMPTY SPACE , 1968, Pelican
1972 page 73)
As much as academics and some theatre
elites have tried to debunk Brook and his articulated paradigm for
theatre practices, his ideas and observations shine through and can
be supported by the experience of theatre on most parts of the world.
The more legitimate it becomes, the less successful it is as a medium
of imaginative stimulation. While some would point to the phenomena
like Lloyd Webber and the Lion King to disprove this point, it
is certainly true that in the periods of greatest artistic
advancement and vibe, it was in the unsanctioned arena that the
spirit of development and generosity of artists have come to the fore.
Domenic Mico's contribution to such
development in the ACT is virtually unparalleled. Now in partnership
with "boots and all" and "fuckem all" Jorian
Gardner, there is a dynamic at Smith's Alternative that has both
credibility and a basis for genuine stimulation and shaking up of the
cultural and artistic universe. The point is, art doesn't always have
to be successful, liked or appreciated. Only a small percentage can
ever be truly historically significant. The mistake is to chase the
tail of the artistic dog in the hope of finding the NEW big hit . . .
the funding bodies love these dogs. But it is on the streets and in
hiding (sometimes illegal) spaces that genuine creativity and
achievement is seeded.
ALTERNATIVE is totally legal. It has a unique history in
Canberra as an alternative bookshop and venue for those seeking
deeper questions and less establishment literature and communications.
When I first came to Canberra in 1980, I
had coffees at Smiths and bought interesting books I couldn't find
elsewhere. It is one of Canberra's institutions that has survived by
its commitment to challenge, diversity and difference. Such words
could define both Mico and Gardner who now operate Smiths Alternative.
David Finnigan performing at Smiths'
Alternative in front of an eclectic audience
So it was very thrilling to be part of the
first Bunch Of Fives presentation in five years! The
enchanting roughness and directness of the event provided an exciting
dynamic. This is where theatre is forged. For me, it is the heartbeat
of theatrical development and presentation.
I came to theatre with virtually no
experience in amateur theatre. In 1965 I was a teen in the Villanova
Players youth group. My father was part of that company in the 1950s.
But I never came to understand nor accept the Amateur theatre
fascination with English Repertory or American Musicals. The thought
of doing hack versions directed by well-meaning directors (usually
Lawyers, Teachers or Public Servants) of Oscar Wilde or Bernard Shaw
or, later, varieties of Tom Stoppard, Terrance Rattigan, early Pinter
or Neil Simon was a nightmarish proposition. As an education officer/
actor at La Boite Theatre with the Theatre In Education Team (ie. the
ECDP) in 1977, I was challenged to see theatre as part of a wider
cultural context; part of the way in which we shape our cultural
understanding and identity . . . there was no "darling that was
wonderful" around La Boite's professional elements in those days
(can't say the same for the amateur wing of the theatre). In fact,
our team was prohibited from ever complimenting people on performance
. . . it either worked or it didn't. It was assumed we were competent
to put our work before an audience; but if it didn't work (and it
often didn't) we needed to re-evaluate and revise what we were doing
. . . and in a most fundamental way. This experience was forged from
the days when Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was also the Arts
Minister and promoting the idea of the necessity of culture and arts
for the betterment of all!
Such an idea is so alien to the tunnel
visioned Julia Gillard concept of basic literacy devoid of cultural
impact and artistic inspiration. The Gillard and Howard years have
separated Arts and Culture from the mainstream of priorities. Their
views are functionally reductionist. And this has been reflected in
theatre and arts practices which define themselves in reductionist
terms of pre-defined "outcomes" (a notion that flies in the
face of artistic venturing) and "strategic partnerships".
So now to SMITH'S ALTERNATIVE!
WITHOUT A VOICE
When offered the opportunity to present a
work for BUNCH OF FIVES, I drew on ideas that have been haunting me
for some time. Reflecting on the different worlds of John Lenon's "Imagine"
and the reductionist thinking world of today led to drawing upon
current scientific theories about "the selfish gene" (late
1970s) and post-modern ennui. To shape the work, I felt I needed a
fresh approach to both challenge me and open new ways of linking
ideas to theatre.
Re-considering Anne Bogart's and Tina
Landau's work on "Viewpoints" as a means for refreshing
performance and creating compositions, I applied key principles to
the writing and performing of his new work. While
"Viewpoints" is attributed to considerable physical theatre
work, it also has a profound possibility in the use of verbal and
sound shaping of content for performance.
"Without a Voice" is more an
ironic title for work that is very heavily vocal and reliant on
words. But this short sketch used the tensions and feel of a piece of
music to focus and shape both writing and performance.
Working with the music of two composer
musicians from Potsdam, Aaron Priest and Caro Wurlitzer, the piece
was constructed phrase by phrase with the rising and falling
of the music as the score. This led to a most energetic and tightly
focused performance which also used the audience and the ambience of
the venue to assist the delivery and further development.
Anne Bogart's imploring people to create
theatre anywhere and everywhere is inspirational. It reduces the
dependency on sanctioned and expensive staging. It makes it more than
legitimate to see venues, rare as they are, like Smiths
Alternative as the very hotspot in a wifi of scattered potential.
After working in theatre and education for forty years, such
endeavour can still provide an exciting regenerative process that is
shared between actor, artist and audience.