Over the Labour Day long weekend in October, young Adelaide artists from ActNow Theatre for Social Change are bringing together members of the established and emerging, mainstage, independent, and community arts communities, politicians, and members of the public together under the one roof for RightAct ’10 – Theatre for Social Change Conference.
I sat down in a Hindley Street café with RightAct ‘10 Coordinator Kym Begg and cups of tea to talk about ActNow, RightAct, and the arts in Adelaide.
ActNow is an Adelaide-based youth-lead professional theatre company, which grew out of a collection of young artists wanting to make a street-performance piece in protest to the imprisonment of terror-suspect David Hicks in Guantánamo Bay. They have moved away from their street-performance roots, and in 2010 have run a 24-hour theatre challenge, a season of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and are gearing up for their third RightAct conference.
This year’s conference will be an amalgam of panel discussions, performances, and a workshop series, where participants will work with leading professionals in the arts industry to explore the tools of theatre as a technique for social change.
The conference, Begg says, is about combining leading professionals with “young people doing shit-hot things.” Free, public panels will cover the topics Woman and Theatre, Theatre and Social Change, and Youth-led Projects and Creative Campaigning, and the public will also be invited to the workshop showcase, and performances of Seven Jewish Children and Expect:Respect.
In addition, over three days, 25 workshop participants (“there are still places available!”, Begg announces) will explore Writing Political Theatre, Directing Political Theatre, Performing Political Theatre, Forum Theatre, Theories of Change, and Pitching Projects.
As we ease into the interview, it is clear Begg has been working intensely on the project for a long time, repeating back every piece of the media release back at me. The culmination of a year’s work, he says “I know what politicians say about babble now.”
Over the four days, Begg is most excited about the Woman And Theatre panel. Stemming off the Sydney theatre scene around the launch of 2010 mainstream theatre programs bereft of women in key creative roles, the discussion of roles and support for woman in theatre in Australia is a conversation which has travelled the country. “I haven’t seen or heard of discussions based in Adelaide with Adelaide theatre practitioners on the discussion of equal opportunities,” Begg is enthusiastic to see the conversation actively placed to the local community.
Also of particular interest, he says, are the “discussions between mainstream artists and community artists” which will arise from the panels. In particular, the Theatre and Social Change panel will bring together Geordie Brookman, Associate Director at the State Theatre Company, with PJ Rose, Artistic Director of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability. Hopefully, “a very interesting collision of ideas and discussion.”
Taking place at Format, a low-budget youth-lead artist collective, zine-shop, gallery and event space, brings with it some challenges. Over three levels, the space in which the panels will be occurring are not wheelchair accessible. Normally a concern, in the case of RightAct it is especially so, as panel member Hon Kelly Vincent MLC, from Dignity 4 the Disabled, is in a wheelchair. Begg says they are still working out the logistics of how that panel will run, but it can feed into “an interesting conversation” in the panel itself: should they pick somewhere more accessible for disability access, if that makes it less accessible for some in terms of cost and public transport?
A youth-lead theatre conference taking place at a youth-lead arts space also brings with it distinct advantages. Begg ardently says “the great thing about ActNow in places like Format is they are given a platform to create work. Being youth lead, they have a chance to set the agenda about what sort or art is made.”
Begg has been with ActNow since their first performance, and has stuck with the company in artistic roles, on the board, and in administration. About to start studying directing at Flinders University, he facilitated the 2009 conference, and has been working on the 2010 conference since that ended. It is “healthy” and grown each year he says. While speaking with great enthusiasm for the conference and arts in Adelaide, he admits there has been “a lot of work stringing it all together,” and, with a little hesitation concedes “it’s only going up hill.”
As the interview progresses, we are joined by Sophie Bruhn, one of the people who has been involved in planning the event. She is most excited about “seeing our planning come to life, and seeing the effect that the workshops have on people and their views.”
So how did this planning occur? Begg and his team (“Thank sincerely Angela Ann Cresswell, studying theatre tech at AC Arts, and Sophie Bruhn,” he asks me to include) brainstormed (with the original list including names such as John Safran), until they “whittled down a list and approached local industry until we ended up with who we got.” They all received great support from people approached, with Bruhn happily describing the “industry was prompt and supportive.”
While being facilitated by a youth-lead company, both Begg and Bruhn are keen to convey that the conference should not be seen as being only for members of the youth sector: “the first two are not about young people,” says Begg. “Young people are nurturing discussion with industry.”
This discussion, the pair hopes, will leave participants with a “hunger for more”, as Begg describes it. Bruhn interrupts to say she would love to see the four days “creates passion and work”, and Begg agrees that an ultimate goal is to see people “go on to new work”: the event gives the forum to create networks of people, and political activists.
With passion, Begg imparts his belief that “theatre is fundamentally political. It’s a point of view. Theatre has the power to present a diversity of cultural tales, allowing for socially marginalised communities to tell their stories to the wider public,” and he hopes that this conference is another context to bring these ideas to the forefront.
“I strongly recommend anyone to come along and play,” Begg promotes. “It’s not about being an artist, it’s about creating a dialogue and discussion.”
“It's not just about theatre, it's about making a difference.”