info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

maximising emergence

caroline wake: interview, cat jones, julie vulcan, pact

Caroline Wake trained with PACT in 2006, performing in Whistling Man and then touring with The Speech Givers to Bremen, Germany and Brisbane. She recently completed her PhD in theatre and performance studies at UNSW, where she also works as a sessional tutor. She is currently RealTime’s Online Producer.

Cat Jones and Julie Vulcan Cat Jones and Julie Vulcan
THOUGH YOU MAY NOT HAVE SET FOOT IN SYDNEY’S PACT CENTRE FOR EMERGING ARTISTS, YOU HAVE DOUBTLESS FELT ITS INFLUENCE AS ITS ASSOCIATES ARE NOW WORKING AS ARTISTS, PERFORMERS, PRODUCERS, WRITERS AND LECTURERS AROUND AUSTRALIA. PACT CAN’T TAKE THE CREDIT ENTIRELY AS MANY OF THESE WERE ALSO TRAINING ELSEWHERE, CHIEFLY AT THE UNIVERSITIES OF SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES, WESTERN SYDNEY AND WOLLONGONG, BUT IT HAS BEEN A SIGNIFICANT MEETING POINT AND CREATIVE HUB, ABOVE ALL FOR EMERGING PERFORMERS.

Unsurprisingly, former and current associates feel a strong sense of ownership and follow its activities closely, so when artistic director Regina Heilmann retired from PACT in mid-2009 all eyes were on her successor Cat Jones. This year former associate director Chris Murphy has also moved on, with Julie Vulcan recently replacing her. I spoke with Jones and Vulcan about their plans for PACT.

a meeting of minds

Prior to joining PACT, Jones was working as creative co-producer for the inaugural Splendid Arts Lab and before that as the co-director of Electrofringe and a staff member of the Theatre Board of the Australia Council. In addition to these producing and curating credits, she has also worked as a devisor or performer (she originally trained in performance at QUT) with pvi and The League of Imaginary Scientists, among others, as well as on her own catgURL series. Like Jones, Vulcan has worked across many mediums. She originally trained in video art at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, exhibiting in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. From 1993 she worked as a co-devisor and performer with Icarus Performance Troupe, Frumpus and Unreasonable Adults, touring nationally and internationally. More recently, she has been working on a series of small solo works.

Jones and Vulcan first met in 2002 at the Time_Place_Space 1 hybrid arts laboratory which both agree was a pivotal moment in their respective careers because of the collaborations that resulted. When I ask them about how their practices fit together eight years later, they identify four areas of overlap. The first, says Jones, “is that both of us have really diverse backgrounds artistically,” working with “a really broad palette.” The metaphor itself speaks to their second common characteristic, which is what Jones calls a curiosity about “the link between the visual and the performative.” Both are interested in devised performance rather than more conventional forms of theatre and, last but not least, they have a strong interest in audience interaction though they can’t agree what to call it: the friendly to and fro is obviously the key to their creative partnership.

Lucy Watson, Unsettlings, PACT Lucy Watson, Unsettlings, PACT
photo Matthew Duchesne, © Milk & Honey Photography
ensemble thinking

Central to PACT’s program is the Ensemble (formerly called the imPACT Ensemble), which provides professional and creative development for up to 20 emerging artists aged between 18 and 30 years. Successful applicants undertake physical and vocal training and develop and produce a new work, which runs for three weeks at the end of the year. This year, says Jones, they have kept the ensemble program largely intact “because it’s the first year and we need to test it out as close to its original form as we can; we need to know where we’ve come from in order to know where to go.”

Yet Jones has already started to make changes: this year’s program is shorter, the cohort is smaller and the creative process more intense. Whereas in previous years training commenced in May, Jones says that this year’s participants “have only been meeting once a week from August and that only stepped up to twice a week from October.” Jones says that the shorter program was necessary because, as Heilmann and Murphy reported in their RealTime interview in 2008 (RT90, p19), students now, for a variety of reasons, “struggle to commit” to extended development periods. Ensemble 2010 is also slightly smaller group—12 as opposed to the usual 16 to 20—and the group started developing their final show from their very first session, instead of roughly halfway through the program.

This short time span caused Jones and Vulcan to engage working methods to develop the group’s creative shorthand very rapidly. “Even before we started working with them,” says Jones, “we had a night where we brought everyone together in order to set up a dialogue…We talked about definitions of ensemble and performance and we started on the first round of creative tasks.” Vulcan also compiled a list of YouTube clips of contemporary performance, which included “everything from Forced Entertainment to Guillermo Gomez Pena to Spalding Gray.” Not only did this establish what Vulcan calls a “visual and shared language” it also enabled them, as Jones puts it, “to show the ensemble some of our influences without actually showing them our work, because the whole process isn’t about us as individual artists, it is about them.”

Jones and Vulcan are contemplating several changes to the ensemble and the wider program which could be summarised by the prefix inter-: interdisciplinary, international and interactive. Currently, says Jones, “the base model is all about producing performative outcomes from everyone in the ensemble. We’re talking about an ensemble that will also include a designer or other creative practitioners to expand the entire collaborative process.” While this obviously reflects Jones’ and Vulcan’s own interests and practices, it also stems from Vulcan’s observation that “there is a dearth of up-and-coming show designers—there’s very little place for them to grow. We’re thinking ‘Well, why can’t we nurture that as well?’”

a growing presence

Beyond increasing its already interdisciplinary approach, PACT is also looking to grow its national and international presence. This year the program was advertised nationally, included interstate auditions for the ensemble and several interstate artists in the program. Next year and beyond, for the wider program, Jones and Vulcan are looking to incorporate their own international networks in order to supplement what is happening locally. This will affect both “process and outcomes,” says Jones, so that some collaborations will happen via “remote hook-ups” and other “projects might have a physical realisation here but will be web-streamed overseas.”

Though the ensemble is key to PACT’s mission, its other activities are also important because they provide ongoing opportunities for working and networking. Jones and Vulcan are taking a varied approach to these programs, maintaining some schemes, formalising or augmenting others and then adding some new programs of their own. One of the programs they plan to maintain is Vacant Room, which offers emerging artists the opportunity to develop an idea or a project with the support and mentorship of the company. In addition, PACT will also remain the central point for the Erskineville Performance Art Festival (currently known as Tiny Stadiums) which not only provides a forum for emerging curators but also for emerging live artists with the entire event peer-programmed.

Jones has also introduced a new venture called The Space Program, which effectively formalises what was already happening on an informal basis whereby PACT provides subsidised space for creative developments for emerging artists. In addition, Jones is also seeking to augment the PACT Presents…program, which Heilmann and Murphy started in 2008 with Janie Gibson’s Whale Chorus and then continued in 2009 with Georgie Read’s The Paper Woman and Sally Lewry’s Back of Bourke. This year, PACT has presented as many shows again as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival (see p37), and next year it will present a total of eight shows, including dancer Matthew Day’s new show, Cannibal, which is part of the 2011 Mardi Gras program, and Grit Theatre’s production Us. But perhaps the most exciting development of all is that PACT is commissioning six Indigenous artists—all of whom worked with Wayne Blair as part of the Incubate program in 2009—to create a work during May and June which will then be performed in July for NAIDOC week.

Commissioning artists is an expensive endeavour and it has only become possible through a combination of new money, new team and new structure. Restructuring had already been under way to make the Artistic Director and Company Manager positions full-time and a Communications Coordinator role has been added. PACT’s first triennial funding from Arts NSW means that staff hours will be able to increase further, as will the company’s ability to support and encourage emerging artists. These are exciting times in Erskineville and PACT’s impact looks set to reach even further afield.


PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Erskineville; www.pact.net.au

Caroline Wake trained with PACT in 2006, performing in Whistling Man and then touring with The Speech Givers to Bremen, Germany and Brisbane. She recently completed her PhD in theatre and performance studies at UNSW, where she also works as a sessional tutor. She is currently RealTime’s Online Producer.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 31

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top