Colombia

July 15, 2013

In June, I had the pleasure of visiting Colombia for AMAIC 2003, the International Conference on Arts and Cultural Management. I confess that Colombia has never been on my “must see” list partly because it’s so far away (32 hours travel time from Melbourne to Bogota) and partly because of its history of political and drug-related violence. But I’m glad I made the effort. To recover from the long flight I had a weekend in the warm, colourful, historic town of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea.

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It’s both the classic tourist town, full of churches and museums, forts and restaurants, but also a town that felt as if it still belonged to the people who lived there rather than peripatetic visitors like me.

Whilst Bogota shared some of the historic buildings and colour, in La Candelaria, the old town, it’s a large (8 million people) sprawling metropolis and not a wildly attractive one. It’s full of graffiti and men with guns. Not a combination that appeals to me. But the hospitality of the staff and students at the Universidad de los Andes and the local people who attended the conference was warm, even towards incompetents like me with not a word of Spanish. The conference traditionally provides a strong cultural programme and this year as well as some great galleries, the highlight was music. You’d be surprised at how many meek cultural academics have a salsa soul.

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I co-presented a paper on Co-Leadership in the Performing Arts (email me if you’d like a copy) with my partners-in-crime from previous years, Kate Macneill from the University of Melbourne and Sarah Reynolds who is now the Performing Arts Co-ordinator at the Burnie Arts Centre. Kate and Sarah had done most of the hard work in terms of the academic content of the paper so I just provided the colour and movement. Whilst I enjoy the AIMAC conferences, I always feel that they look back rather than forward, analysing what companies and artists have been doing. I’d love to find a way of bring practitioners and cultural researchers together to choose topics of exploration that could inform the future.

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In addition to the wonderful people that I met and the conference itself, my favourite moments in Colombia were:

  • Wandering the history laden streets of Cartagena
  • Swimming in the warm Caribbean waters
  • Museums such as Museo del Ora, Museo del Santa Rosa and the Museo Nacional
  • Art graffiti (as opposed to the endless depressing tagging and paint balling)
  • Looking out over Bogota during day and night from Montserrat peak
  • The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.

A short stay but a rewarding one.

Vietnam

April 30, 2013

 

In March I had the privilege of working with Jo Caust, Jane Haley and Thuy Do to co-present workshops on Income Generation in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The workshops, jointly funded by the Vietnam Institute for Cultural and Arts Studies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, were designed to give practical tools as well as inspirational stories on all sorts of ways of raising income including audience development, business partnerships, philanthropy and fundraising activities.

 

The audience was made up of cultural managers, artists, academics and government officials. They were amazing in their concentration and their interest. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy  – giving up 3 days’ work to spend hours in a room listening to presentations in translation. Their responsibilities and interests included theatre and circus, public and private museums, cultural centres and arts management programs. One of the most wonderful parts of the seminars in both cities was when the participants would perform – sometimes it was to provide some inspiration on the day, sometimes to illustrate a case study, sometimes to thank us and sometimes just for fun. I haven’t been to any other training programs where art was such an integral part of the process.

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The challenge for Vietnamese Arts Managers is that in difficult economic times, the government is pushing them to become more self-sufficient but the policy and taxation framework isn’t yet there. One thinks of Australia 20 years ago, before Abaf, before the Cultural Register, before Prescribed Private Funds, where the culture of giving to arts and cultural organisations existed but wasn’t wide spread. And of course each country will have its own traditions when it comes to donations. In Vietnam, people clearly donate to temples and churches but they also have to provide financial support for the health and education of family members. So one suspects that cultural giving will be low on the list in the current economic climate.

We met some inspirational people during our time in Vietnam but I just want to mention two in case you are going to Vietnam and have a chance to visit their museums. The first was the director of the War Remnants Musuem in HCMC, Huỳnh Ngọc Vân, and the second, Vu Duc Hieu, established the first private cultural museum in Vietnam, focusing on the art of the Muong people.

http://warremnantsmuseum.com/

http://muongvill.com/home

And if you happen to be in Hanoi and don’t think that the Water Puppets are quite your thing, try the Tuong Theatre in the Old Quarter. It combines live music, dance, story telling and comedy and is a great way to spend an hour before dinner.

http://www.vietnamtuongtheatre.com/Default.aspx

Other cultural experiences that are worth exploring include:

Women’s Museum, Hanoi: http://www.womenmuseum.org.vn/en.html

Temple of Literature (and antique shop), Hanoi

Cultural Village Tour, Hanoi e.g. through Intrepid’s Urban Adventures

Fine Art Museum plus all the small art galleries that are on the same site, HCMC

Mekong Delta for village life, homestays, markets, food manufacturing e.g. Asia Trip Advisor: http://www.asiatouradvisor.com/

 

Honours

March 14, 2013

The last week has had two momentous moments for me and they have only come about due to the generosity and thoughtfulness of others. And both have been acknowledging my work which again, has only been successful because of others.

The neon sign over the 1st floor bar in the Southbank Theatre has been turned on. It’s a beautiful turquoise sign and I love it. I’m slightly embarrassed by it but I’m also amazed at the number of people who are jealous and would trade their AOs and AMs for one. So thank you to Derek Young and Brett Sheehy who made it happen.

Another honour came because of Pam Kleemann’s kindness of spirit. Pam’s an art photographer and friend who, amongst other things, has taken MTC rehearsal photos for years. If you want to know more about her work, see:

http://photo.tokolonga.com.au/

She nominated me for the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and I was inducted into that list last night (12 March 2013). I had a university lecture to give that night so Pam represented me at Parliament House. I presume that the website will be updated with the 2103 list of inspirational women from all works of live but here’s where to find previous lists:

http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/about-the-department/news-and-events/news/general-news/victorian-honour-roll-of-women-2013

It’s a great idea and if you have any Victorian women who you think should be nominated, go for it. Whilst there is a great collection of scientists and health workers and people working in the social sciences, there seem to be few if any artists/arts workers.

 

Farewells

January 21, 2013

I’ve been having far too many farewells in the last week. All I seem to do is blush because people are being overly generous with their words and deeds because ultimately, I’ve been the lucky one. As I said in response to some kind words last week:

I love going to theatre. Always have. And suddenly, I had the opportunity of getting a job where someone paid me to go. Can’t get much better than that.

Over the next week, I’ll find a way of thanking you all individually, because I can only do my job if you do yours. Put simply, I wouldn’t have stayed at MTC if it hadn’t been for you. Whether artist or artisan, whether from finance or marketing, whether front or house or back of house, you make this a wonderful place to work.

Years ago, one our volunteers came up to me and told this story. She’d been in the workplace from leaving school to when she retired but, she said, she’d never been in a workplace like MTC. I asked her what made it different – and she said because there was laughter in the building.

Can you imagine working somewhere with no laughter? Admittedly, sometimes the laughter is hysterical. And sometimes it’s in relief at the end of a long day. But it’s never at some else’s expense. Because you look after each other.

So I want you to take that spirit forward in the years to come. Look after Brett and Virginia and Sam and Leticia and Chris, the new guys on the block. Look after the actors and directors and designers that make our great theatre. And look after yourselves and your families.

And that really has been why I stayed at MTC so long – the art and the people.

Summer

It’s been a month since I finished at Melbourne Theatre Company.

People keep asking how it feels and the answer is – I can’t tell because  I’m on a summer holiday. The first two weeks were spent in Perth or rather Fremantle with the hottest run of temperatures since 1942, averaging about 39 degrees for 6 or 7 days in a row. That sort of heat is bearable if you:

(1)    Are close to a beach

(2)    Have air-conditioning

(3)    Have access to a pool

(4)    Don’t do very much apart from lounge around, catch up with friends and have lots of cool refreshing drinks.

Which we did.

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Port Beach, Fremantle

On returning to Melbourne, the third week was spent sorting out all those boxes that I’d bought home from MTC and undertaking various Ikea projects in order to fit in the management books and the leadership research papers plus the ghastly task of trying to ensure that all the computer bits matched and worked. The biggest challenge was trying to transfer my mobile phone to a personal account with Optus. Whilst the people were all individually very helpful and pleasant, the process took over 6 weeks.

Anyway, apart from the irritating Apple Store message that pops up erratically on my iPhone and iPad using my old email and which no-one in Apple Customer Service seems to be able to remove, I am in contact with the world.

The fourth week felt slightly more bizarre. I was taking my niece, Katerina, to a music camp at the Victorian College of the Arts so every day I drove the route I would normally take to work and every afternoon I picked her up outside the Southbank Theatre. But I resisted all temptation to visit either building (yet).

Now it’s time to be slightly more focussed about how to fill my days. Projects so far include:

  • Seeing some shows in the Perth and Adelaide Festivals for the Helpmann Awards
  • Teaching Advanced Arts Management at the University of Melbourne
  • Developing a training program for Arts Managers in Vietnam with Jo Caust and Jane Haley
  • Giving presentations at various conferences
  • Trying my hand at writing an arts management text book.

So if you have any interesting short term work that you’d like me to do, I do have some time (excluding mid-March to mid-April) between now and September when I plan to head north to explore the Mediterranean.

 

Leaving MTC

At 4pm on Thursday 20 December 2012, I walked out of the MTC HQ for the last time as its Executive Director.  But MTC will always be part of my life.  I saw my first MTC production in 1969 (Shakesepeare’s Henry IV Part 1 directed by John Sumner, starring Robin Ramsay at the Octagon Theatre in Perth) and as part of my reward for long service, I can see MTC shows into the foreseeable future. I spent 50% of my working life with the Company so my stories, my friends, my travels are all intimately connected with MTC.

 

As well as the Board, staff and members of the theatrical community, there are also thousands of MTC subscribers who know me. Just a couple of days ago as I was walking through Southgate, one called out to me, gave me a generous hug and wished me well for the future.

 

In addition to the silver pass that gets me into the theatre for the next 40 years, two of the other farewell presents will continually remind me of MTC. The staff all donated towards an amazing ring made on special commission by local artist Joanne Huang with the architecture of the Southbank Theatre in mind:

Joanne Huang

When the Southbank Theatre was opened in 2008 I started a running joke to the effect that having lost all the colour in my hair and my waistline through the stress of getting the theatre built, the least that could be done was to name one of the bars after me.  And finally, they took me seriously. At some point this year, you’ll find my name in lights in the theatre.

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MTC Christmas Party

For many years Melbourne Theatre Company has a staff Christmas party and depending on the tenor of the year and the enthusiasm of the organisers, there may be a theme. Because both Aidan Fennessy and I were leaving, it was a very simple theme – but one executed with great panache. The theme was “A”. We had Aardvarks and Audience members; Alice in Wonderland and all her friends as well as the Addams family; Amigos and Angels; members of ACDC and Al Qaeda; Angelina ballerina and captain America. But the person who received my personal vote for most brave performance was the Chairman of the MTC Board Derek Young.  The Board usually isn’t invited to the Christmas Party. It was felt that they would put a dampener on people’s overall silliness. But because this was my last one, and after appropriate consultation (!), we said they could come. Derek’s take on “A” was to come as….me. A pair of brightly coloured glasses, a large sparkly brooch and a colourful scarf and the transformation was complete. It was a gesture that still brings a smile to my face as I think about it. How many other Board Chairs would be as witty and bold?

MTC Top 10

November 27, 2012

When I was asked to put together my 10 favourite Melbourne Theatre Company shows, my first response was to say “no”. Just imagine how many members of the theatre fraternity would I insult if I didn’t list the show they wrote, directed, acted in, lit, designed? However, having been discrete for 18 years, it’s probably time to break free so let’s be bold. The one thing I haven’t done is put them in any order because each was as good as the other for different reasons.

1. Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare directed by John Sumner

This was the first MTC show that I saw. It was part of the Perth International Arts Festival and one of the shows that opened the Octagon Theatre on the campus of the University of Western Australia in 1969. I was a teenager and won a ticket to see it. I had a centre aisle seat and has absolutely thrilled to see Robin Ramsay star of TV’s Bellbird live on stage.  It was a show that stayed with me for years even though I had no idea it was an MTC production until I joined the Company.

2. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler directed by Robyn Nevin

Much as I enjoyed Neil Armfield’s production of the Doll this year, I still have to put Robyn’s version in my Top 10 list. Set in Tony Tripp’s wonderful naturalistic set, the performances by Genevieve Picot, Frankie J. Holden, Steve Bisley, Valerie Bader, Sophie Lee, Lois Ramsey and Fred Whitlock were compelling. I remember going to a dress rehearsal with low expectations: an old play, I thought, and one that I knew. But like every generation that discovers the emotional and lasting power of the Doll I was blown away.

3. A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim directed by Roger Hodgman

Roger worked with Tony Tripp (designer) and Jamieson Lewis (lighting) on many shows but this was the one that absolutely captured the heart of the play and the audience. It had an extraordinary cast including Ruth Cracknell, Helen Morse, John O’May, Pamela Rabe and Greg Stone.  The show sold out within days and we eventually transferred it to the Princess Theatre where the production looked as if it was made for that elegant old space.

4. Julius Caesar or Comedy of Errors or The Tempest or Richard III or Hamlet by William Shakespeare directed by Simon Phillips

Yes, I know. That’s cheating. But Simon is such a brilliant director of Shakespeare that I just can’t decide. What’s your favourite?

5. Inheritance by Hannie Rayson directed by Simon Phillips

MTC has produced over 200 Australian plays and this was a commission. Simon asked Hannie what she really wanted to do and she said “write a big play”.  He said yes and she did – a cast of 12. Hannie spent months researching the state of the land in regional Victoria and created a sprawling, vibrant play that audiences adored.

6. Dinner by Moria Buffini directed by Julian Meyrick

It’s a battle for dinner table moments between this production and Simon’s Festen. And it’s an equal battle between Pamela Rabe in this one and Jason Donovan in Festen. Ultimately it came down to the way the Fairfax was used in Dinner with the audience on every side, sharing the meal.

7. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee directed by Simon Phillips

I went to see this musical in New York reluctantly. It contained all the elements that I loathe – adults playing children and audience participation and about a subject that doesn’t appeal – spelling. And I walked out of the theatre with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Next day, I raced into the writers’ agent to ask for the Australian rights. On returning back to Melbourne, I presented Simon with a fait accompli: it had to be in our next season and he had to direct it. Having not seen it, he was reluctant but succumbed. And the result was smiles all around as the season ran and ran and ran.

8. Metamorphoses adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman

Usually, we get the rights to a show and then give to an Australian creative team to develop a new production. In the case of Metamorphoses Mary Zimmerman, an American writer/director, had created such a magical work that we asked her and her team to come to Melbourne and re-create her great vision with a group of young Australian actors. We created a shimmering pool of water in the VCA’s Space 28, provided towels for the audience members in the front row so that wouldn’t get too wet in the middle of winter and let the tales of Ovid speak for themselves.

9. Bombshells by Joanna Murray Smith directed by Simon Phillips

Caroline O’Connor has the trifecta: she can dance and act and sing. Under Simon’s encouragement, Joanna Murray Smith created six wonderful characters full of life, warmth and humour for Caroline to play. With the exception of one night (Opening Night audiences are sometimes too knowing for their own good), Caroline played to standing ovations – In the initial season; in the return season; in Edinburgh and London too.

10. Sylvia by AR Gurney directed by Roger Hodgman

For those who didn’t see it, Sylvia is a play about a dog. I’m more of cat than dog person but I fell in love with Sylvia, realised to perfection on roller skates in the initial season by Rachel Griffiths. We invited lots of vets to see the show and the word spread wide and fast about what an engaging production it was. Two years later, it toured all over Australia with Genevieve Morris and Mary Coustas playing Sylvia and I saw audiences fall in love with that very special dog in Alice Springs and Sydney, Toowoomba and Hobart.

The shows that I had to leave off this list go on for pages but in case you were wondering, my next 10 would be:

Angels in America Parts 1 and 2 – for its power and currency

Private Lives – for capturing Coward’s essence so well

The Sapphires – for its exuberance and heart

August: Osage County – a great narrative

Cyrano de Bergerac – a profoundly poetic adaptation by Andrew Upton and a stunning performance by David Wenham

Don’s Party – Peter Evan’s production made the story sing over 30 years on

Sweet Bird of Youth – Guy Pearce acting his heart out in silk pyjamas

The Drowsy Chaperone – a cast to die for

Songs for Nobodies– Simon’s idea to combine the writing skills of Joanna Murray Smith and singing skills of Bernadette Robinson

The Importance of Being Earnest – as the words of Wilde found a new audience.

And I should confess to the one that I hated the most….

During the process of creating the 2007 season, I read Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Whilst I admired the sheer genius of the writing, I loathed the content and said to Simon Phillips that if he programmed it, I was going to take a very very  long cruise to avoid having to see the playAs it turned out, I didn’t get my extended holiday because my mother came to the rescue. She had a fall and I spent weeks travelling to and from Perth and in the process managed to miss the dress rehearsal and miss the previews and miss the opening night and miss the closing night and never did get to see what people assured me was a great production. Even now, there are people who suspect that I actually caused my mother’s fall just to have an excuse to avoid the Pillowman.

This list doesn’t contain any of our Education shows, our Lawler productions or shows that we bought in from other companies but that’s for another day.

 

 

Welcome to my website

November 13, 2012

Although I haven’t left Melbourne Theatre Company yet, I thought it was time to prepare for the big wide world by having my own website. It does feel slighly ambitious to be out there singing my praises to the world when all I really want to do is have a holiday. But once I step away from MTC I may be out of sight and out of mind. So thanks to Kitka Hiltula’s design skills and my obsession with brightly coloured smarties, here we are in full public view.