Australia Theatre Forum with Oz Asia – About Time – 3 Oct 2017

Eva Sifis

oday began my decidedly artistic sojourn in fair Adelaide. It was the first day of the Australia Theatre Forum at the under-construction/renovation Festival Theatre. Grinning tiredly (new bed/hotel room/little air) from ear to ear, I greeted friends, both ‘new’ (Scott Gooding, Victorian Theatre Network), ‘old’ (PJ Rose, Nick Hughes, Pat Rix), my Sync buddies and loved connections from the SA disability arts field. I breathed in the sweet Adelaidean air, basked in the sunshine, so different to that of Melbourne’s and rejoiced in my element.
Life is good, truly.
Following are snippets of the lead up, by Steve Mayhew, to the 4 keynotes that opened the day’s series of discussions and interrogations.

The almost full Space Theatre heard the regal Her Majesty’s Theatre on Grote Street is actually the last Tivoli Theatre standing in Australia, built in 1913.
There were strong First Nation voices throughout the day with the forum held on Ghana land, reflecting white fulla’s ‘warped honesty’ in saying “we tolerate you all”.
Today was a case for being there with the right people to meet. There was the full realisation of how valuable this “access to the Arts” is with the opportunity to ‘walk with someone else’ through the “dissemination of knowledge” that “we have both inherited and keep building”.

We heard a little introduction to the Performance Encyclopaedia from Toronto, Canada. Their closing sentence stuck with me – Thanks for having us in your crisis here.
Crisis indeed.

The first keynote was from the UK artist Jo Bannon. To work with her is the reason I have come to Adelaide so I was eager to hear her keynote “We are Fucked”
Her investigation into ‘how performance can save us’ as a society/species rushing headlong into extinction was thought provoking and pause inducing. She spoke about how the term ‘disabled’ made her feel uncomfortable; by defining something by it’s lack of something else. And it does doesn’t it?
How CAN art unfuck the world? Can the world be unfucked? Perhaps not. However perhaps Desire is the best chance we’ve got. We have to use Desire as a weapon. ‘Female desire’ in the ‘messy business of sex’ and how ‘agency in the bedroom reflects agency in the world’ shows how ‘Art can fuck it right back’.

Andy Field, brought to the Forum by the Melbourne Fringe Festival, is one third of the organisation ‘Forest Fringe’. He gave us a snap shot of life and exhaustion at the Edinburgh Fringe, regaled us with levels of commitment shown by the artists and told us how addicted he was to the seductive cardboard glamour; that the fairy tale phantasmagoria signalled the ‘ends of sleep’. Andy went on to speak how ‘sleep is a world outside of capitalism’. How once we would 10 hours a night and now on average we sleep 6, lit by the screens of our smart phones.
[This issue is close to my heart as I have never been a sleeper, last night particularly restless – strange bed, strange airflow, horrible soft pillows. I am looking forward to attempting tonight!]

Next keynote was Ivan Heng from Wild Rice Theatre in Singapore. A country 1/5 the size of Adelaide with 5 times it’s population that values preserving the status quo above all else, it has had 3 Prime Ministers in 53 years with a politically apathetic population that criminalises homosexuals. Ivan spoke about how public rebellion is fodder for theatre where we arrive as strangers and leave as community. How issues such as Race, Identity, Sexual Orientation arise and where we can question what society we want to have. Where we can be tapped into the zeitgeist and one of his last lines – “theatre embodied embrace in a logo driven world” is a keeper for sure.

Ending the opening collection of keynotes was Linda Kennedy, a Yuin woman from the South Coast of NSW spoke of the need for black people in the Arts for access and that everywhere ‘your land is black fulla land’. Hailing from Wollongong Dreaming, she and her ancestors are grounded in that space. As an architectural designer and design activist she spoke about how architecture has been used to colonise her people. They see themselves as custodians of the land with a need to shift the messed up concepts of ‘ownership’ the white fullas have brought.
“I get paid, you don’t” is a concept people with disability can relate to very personally. By respecting country and respecting community she used art to connect with country through design.
So impressed was I by Linda’s free and easy manner. She used no notes yet said it all so succinctly and perfectly within her allotted time.

A few more choice quotes from the day are as follows;
The timeless Lorcan – “I want to learn more how to get fucked”
Jo Bannon – “The shape of the vaginal canal is NOT the same as an inverse penis”
Teila Watson – We need to make the future stretch as far in front of us as it does behind us”
Vanessa Lee – “Health is about who and how and where we’ve been – our footsteps that have led us here.

Distress. Privilege. The power of art.

There is something to be learnt from being uncomfortable

Until the morrow friends….x