Michael Gow

Michael GowAfter nearly eleven years as Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company, Michael Gow says it’s time to put his energy back into writing.

His decision to step down at the end of August comes after a year that included productions as diverse as David Williamson’s romantic satire Let the Sunshine and the explosive Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome.

Now that the dust has settled, Gow describes Titus as “a kind of dummy spit.”

“It was a reaction to the pressure to make theatre ‘accessible’ on the one hand and somehow ‘cutting edge’ or ‘innovative’ on the other,” he explains.

“It was largely a series of first ideas mashed into an event that was confused and confusing, to see if something might still emerge that might have at least intermittent meaning, which I think it did.”

Gow says his next project with the Bell Shakespeare Company will be “a lot more considered.”

“The departure will be the approach to the text,” he explains. “It will be a move away from performing actual plays and working on a piece that has a collage or assemblage of text, image and music around a theme.”

Gow admits this is not a new idea, but that it is something state theatre companies aren’t used to doing. “It's something of great interest to me,” he says.

When asked whether audiences are looking for more challenging theatre than is currently available, Gow puts the emphasis on the various kinds of audiences that file into theatres on any given night.

“It was interesting to me that so many people said Let the Sunshine was the best thing the Company had ever done,” he explains. “That's one kind of audience who want to see themselves or people they know on stage, going through things they are familiar with.”

At the same time, Gow says there are also audiences looking for theatre that is new, unexpected, and even difficult to read. He maintains some audiences want an experience that is “intense and disturbing,” something that “leaves them exhausted and drained and incapable of speech.”

“The Black Lung, an exciting Melbourne-based company, is coming to Brisbane to start a piece that in style, content and process will be unlike anything people in Brisbane are used to,” Gow reveals. “I think there's a real hunger for not just pushing boundaries but marching over them as they lie smoking in a heap.”

In leaving his role as Artistic Director, Gow can finally take a break from the challenges of theatre funding – something he describes as “a tango we have to be good at to make it all work.”
{xtypo_quote_right}I think there's a real hunger for not just pushing boundaries but marching over them as they lie smoking in a heap{/xtypo_quote_right}
“Governments know some cultural activity is important so they do their best, but keep having to find justifications like ‘accessibility’ or education,” he explains.

“With sponsors it's just as difficult,” Gow adds. “They need something they feel comfortable bringing clients to.”

But what if funding were taken out of the equation – what kind of production would Gow bring to Australian theatres then? He happens to have an example in mind: Ulrike Maria Stuart, a production by Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek.

“She combined the story of the Baader-Meinhof Gang with Schiller's play Maria Stuart about Mary, Queen of Scots,” Gow explains.

“It was like a rock concert at times, at times classical theatre,” he says of the Hamburg show. “At one point, the actors handed out water bombs to the audience and we got to throw them at photos of German politicians while the actors got naked and rolled around in mud screaming ‘Deutschland ist Scheisse!’”.

If that couldn’t be organised, Gow has an alternative: “Heiner Müeller's production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Berliner Ensemble. An amazing performance by an actor called Martin Wuttke as Ui, who played it like a mad dog.”

While Gow is leaving his current role at the QTC, it’s expected that he will stay connected to the Company as a freelance artist. Let’s hope there are still a few mad dogs and water bombs waiting in the wings.

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