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Tom Tom Club Tom Tom Club
courtesy of Strut & Fret
FOR ALL THE AUSTRALIAN TOURING THAT TOOK PLACE IN 2007, SUPPORTED BY PLAYING THE WORLD AND INCLUDED IN SEASONS LIKE OZMOSIS AT THE BARBICAN IN LONDON OR THE FESTIVAL OF AUSTRALIAN THEATRE IN CHINA, THERE ARE NUMEROUS NEAR-MISSES OR UNTIMELY REVERSALS WHICH GO LARGELY UNREPORTED.

Restless Dance Company withdrew from a project with Shanghai’s Special Olympics this year due to a lack of focus in the artistic program at the Chinese end. Marrugeku lost the second venue on their 2007 tour at the last minute, salvaging their ZurichTheaterspektakel presentations only by turning them into a showcase. Other companies such as Lucy Guerin Inc report invitations from across the globe which they have been obliged to turn down because they cannot be connected into a viable tour. Performer Moira Finucane sums it up thus, “International touring is an enormous amount of logistical and creative work, across currencies, travel arrangements, freight, borders, customs, different venues, languages, cultures and varying expectations.”

marrugeku

Complications aside, Australian artists report a genuine enthusiasm for their international experiences, whether they are fresh to the fray or old hands. Companies like Stalker and Marrugeku have been working on the international circuit for over a decade. In 2007 the company was commissioned to create Sugar for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. This major production involving artists from Burkina Faso, Liverpool, Marseilles and Australia and supported by a variety of European funds, was a huge project to pull off. Artistic director Rachael Swain says, “We have been touring for over 15 years. It’s how we survive. We make work to sell internationally but we still rely upon grant support. We were recently invited into the Australia Council’s Export Development Initiative which had the pre-requisite that companies would become self-sustaining within three years of investment into international touring. We had to give up half way through and return the funding. We did make great progress in terms of advocacy and profile by using this investment to travel and network, but it costs us $60-$70K just to take a show overseas. It’s unrealistic to think we can make a profit like that.” Swain speaks from the privileged standpoint of working with one of the most highly regarded European agencies, Frans Brood. Despite her admiration for the work of its director Guy Baguet, with whom she has collaborated for 12 years, she is concerned that there is currently, “less scope out there, even with the bigger festivals.”

strut & fret

If scale is perhaps the double-edged sword upon which Stalker and Marrugeku’s international profiles rests, smaller companies, newer to the business are more gung-ho about their international opportunities. Scott Maidment at the Brisbane-based Strut & Fret Production House has had an unprecedented year with three massive hits at Edinburgh’s Fringe festival. Men of Steel, Tom Tom Club and Meow Meow all received rave reviews and added extra shows to sold out seasons. Maidment has been overwhelmed with interest from producers and is currently negotiating a Broadway run for Tom Tom Club and overseeing a seven month international tour for Men of Steel. Maidment took a team of 17 people to Edinburgh—“a huge investment” for his small operation. Yet he says, “We got more work done there than in three months of emailing.” Maidment’s leap of faith was informed by research into other production houses overseas and investment in travel to European festivals such as Avignon and Chalon dans la Rue. Whilst he says there are “no role models in Australia for what we want to do“, Maidment is already seeing the returns on largely unsubsidised trips and building a sustainable business strategy out of hard work and risky decisions.

circa

Yaron Lifschitz, artistic director of the Brisbane-based physical theatre company Circa, shares Maidment’s entrepreneurial approach, citing “focus, strategy and luck” as the motor driving Circa’s recent prolific touring. From a single showcase in Korea in 2005, Circa have toured to North and South America, the UK and Europe and are contemplating a raft of invitations for 2009. Lifschitz says that Circa has been driven overseas by the “huge competitive disadvantages we struggled against in Australia”; “the income and recognition we have gained internationally has increased the cultural value of Circa in Australia...We had to get famous to survive.” Lifschitz repeats Swain’s comments about commitment, but is more aligned with Maidment when it comes to priorities. “We have three criteria for whether we tour”, he says, “strategic, financial and logistical. If two out of the three make sense we will do the tour.” He pauses before adding a fourth criterion, “Fun. If it is likely to be fun, we are always going to consider it.”

rosie dennis

This trend of quietly investing in travel and research is borne out by individuals such as Sydney-based Rosie Dennis, who has been overseas three times in 2007 [RT81, p15]. Dennis’ solo performance tours have been funded by the Australia Council and Playing the World, but she has also self-funded some of her travel and added side-trips to each gig, to network and develop her relationships with one or two other markets where she finds a response to her work.

back to back

Geelong-based Back To Back Theatre have been equally successful in Europe in 2007. Executive Producer Alice Nash says, “We feel privileged that there has been such strong support for the work. In 2007 Back to Back toured Small Metal Objects, to six international cities and in 2008 we have six presenters in North America confirmed. The hardest parts have been working out how, as a small company, to structure ourselves to deal with it, and giving ourselves permission not to do every little thing ourselves. And we’ve had to determinedly allow space for the development of new work for the future. Of course, we will hope for international commissions in the long-term, but it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves too. We are an idiosyncratic company and we are learning how our practice sits in different contexts. We hope to engage in dialogue that makes artistic sense for us and for those who present the company.”

australian art orchestra

Nash’s account of juggling is repeated by Australian Art Orchestra’s General Manager, Ann Moir. She says, “It takes a lot of time, patience and belief in the program. Things outside of our control have to fall into place. Logistically it is a case of putting in the hours and getting all the plans worked out before starting out.” AAO’s four city tour of India in 2007, in collaboration with Indian artists, is the result of an investment in India which began in 1996 with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade support. With 25 artists on the road, AAO is not an easy company to tour and Moir has few expectations of global domination, preferring to select partnerships for the long-term which will reap rewards for the company.

urban theatre projects

These long-term objectives are shared by Urban Theatre Projects whose first serious dialogue with an international presenter began at APAM [Australian Performing Arts Market] in 2006. Harbourfront Theatres invited the company to create a Canadian version of their Back Home production in Canada in 2007 and are now discussing a major new work to be made there in 2009. General Manager Simon Wellington recognises that this relationship has changed and will continue to change the nature of the UTP which, “up to 2003 was still in the cycle of making large community participatory work.”

branch nebula

Meetings at Arts Markets crop up frequently and reinforce the importance of networking and discussion between artists. Whilst some see immediate returns, such as Branch Nebula, supported by Performing Lines, who pitched Paradise City at APAM 2006 and subsequently toured to Brazil in 2007, others start lengthy dialogues which may or may not lead to touring and commissions.

chunky move

Chunky Move have been exploring international markets for several years, but it took the hugely successful solo, Glow, to really ignite sustained interest in Gideon Obarzanek’s work. Glow’s small scale and large impact has opened the UK, US and Asian markets for Chunky Move in 2007 and North America in 2008.

adt

The power of a production ideally suited to touring is something which Australian Dance Theatre can attest to, as their recent UK tours of Held and Birdbrain demonstrate. Serving to break into a market and establish a profile, signature productions can forge the way for more complex presentations, as ADT have proven with Devolution touring to Paris’ Theatre de la Ville. ADT are not resting on their laurels and have secured an international commission from the Joyce Theatre in New York and the Southbank Centre in London for Garry Stewart’s forthcoming production G, a response to the ballet classic Giselle, and Stewart was recently commissioned to make a new work for London’s prestigious Ballet Rambert.

right product, company & attitude

The right product with the right company attitude and the consistent investment in international relationships clearly bears fruit. Witness William Yang’s repeated international touring, Taikoz’s return trips to Japan and Finucane and Smith all over Europe in 2007. Whilst there is no magic formula and luck crops up in almost every conversation, it is clear that Australian companies large and small are reaping rewards internationally which pay dividends at home and that this looks set to continue.


For reviews of Circa and Back to Back
performing at PuSh, Vancouver see p8 and p10

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 32

© Sophie Travers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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