Paul Osuch discusses his alternative to dedicated venues for theatre……

The Anywhere Theatre Festival is a Brisbane based not-for-profit company with a vision to propel a world-wide trend for exciting, engaging, passionate theatre outside of traditional theatre.  We have an unusual goal and marker of success: in twenty years we plan to not exist.

The Anywhere Theatre Festival is a new festival started in Brisbane for performance anywhere but a traditional theatre. The idea is all about creating a simple framework (marketing, box office, logistic support, location assistance, umbrella public liability) for theatre practitioners to easily present work anywhere but theatres and for audiences to be able to easily engage in the work. It is an open access festival so anyone who wants to register and is presenting work anywhere but a theatre can be a part of it.

Why do theatre anywhere?

We believe that the physical theatres create ghettos that are a major reason why less people regularly engage with theatre, storytelling and performance in everyday lives than before the current theatre paradigm. The Australia Council for the Arts “More than Bums on Seats” report asked some questions of the 58 per cent of the population that go to theatre (including dance) once a year or less. These are the top five reasons and what percentage agreed with the statement:

  1. It’s difficult to find the time 54%;
  2. I’m not really interested in what’s on 43%;
  3. It costs too much 41%;
  4. There aren’t enough opportunities close to where I live 28%;
  5. It would be hard to get to 25%.

 

Why do theatres help to create these barriers?

  • They ask the audiences to come to them and operate in such a way that make the ticket price   a special item instead on an everyday one;
  • They also need to turn performances into “evenings” to fully utilise and maximise potential income around their infrastructure cost items;
  • Instead of there being lots of little shows all around there are less shows aimed at larger audiences;
  • They require a support structure that requires high ticket prices and funding to make a profit (i.e.. the London National Theatre employs the equivalent of 184 full time artists but the support structure around it requires 796 people!).

 

If we want to reach those audiences and nurture our independent artists we need to quite literally look outside the box. The long term planning cycle of most venues and the need to appeal to a broad cross section mean it is easier for them to deal with larger theatre companies engaged with a similar level of long term planning and preferably already known product or “talent”. Independent companies that do make it in still find themselves wondering how they can produce a sell out production and still struggle to break even without the artists seeing a cent. This is a crazy situation.

The Anywhere Theatre Festival is all about taking performance to audiences instead of them coming to us. In fact, let me correct that: we’re not about “taking it” anywhere – it’s about performance being created and happening anywhere where people have a story they want to tell, a space and an audience.

We held the inaugural Anywhere Theatre Festival in May 2011 and it exceeded our expectations with more theatrical performances than the Brisbane Festival and a far wider reach of performance locations with a program from Ipswich to St Helena Island. The festival will be returning 10-19 May 2012 and will keep on returning until Anywhere theatre is quite literally happening everywhere and the festival is no longer needed.

We do realise this festival isn’t for everyone, but as a starting point it is for the 58 per cent who aren’t regularly engaging at regular theatres. It is also for the independent and innovative theatre companies looking to produce work anywhere who would rather pay artists before blowing it on the venue and the support structures that go with it.

Paul Osuch is the Festival Director of the Anywhere Theatre Festival.

Image:  Pitisi Hatcher and Peter van der Merwe in Dirty Laundry presented at the 2011 Anywhere Theatre Festival