Theatre peers

Mary Anne Butler

Mary Anne Butler, QLD - Theatre Peer

What is the best and worst thing about being a peer assessor?

Best thing: Getting to know more about the range of truly exciting, innovative, diverse and fascinating Theatre projects being created, developed, produced and presented by Australia’s talented theatre practitioners. From scripts, to circus shows, to touring productions – regional, urban and remote. It gives me great heart to understand more about this country’s extraordinary talent and determination across the entire theatre sector.

Worst thing: The heartbreak of seeing so many excellent projects having to go unfunded - not because of their lack of talent, innovation or worth; but purely because of the current economic climate. That side of it is devastating.

What should potential peers know before becoming an assessor?

There’s a space for notes on your online assessment form for your private feedback. No one else sees this, so you can notate away freely. Definitely make it your business to get your head thoroughly around the applications before the meeting, and make clear and concise notes to remind yourself what decisions you’ve made about each application, and why. Robust and intelligent conversation flows thick and fast once you’re in there, so the more clear dot points you’ve notated for yourself on your form, the more poised you’ll be to argue your case clearly.

For first-time assessors; don’t be afraid to put your case forward to the group – even if your perspective seems poles apart from everyone else. Sometimes an alternate perspective generates interesting debate, leading to new insights into the application. So if you have a point which hasn’t been raised and you feel it will further the debate, then don’t be shy. Raise it.

Tim Stitz

Tim Stitz, VIC - Theatre Peer

What is the best and worst thing about being a peer assessor?

The best thing is learning about the richness of artistic activity across the country. It is invigorating and inspiring - though you do feel a hefty weight of responsibility contributing to such a competitive process. Reading about new projects coming into being and existing projects about to embark on exciting new trajectories is deeply inspiring. It is also empowering to feel that you can utilise your expert knowledge and awareness of your state or territory in helping the team of peer assessors contextualise specific applications, sub-sections of your art-from, individual artists and companies. Another great thing is meeting a network of peers you may or may not already know - the intensity and passion of the meeting is certainly a bonding experience!

The worst thing - well I’d rather say ’the hardest thing’ - is the process of ranking at the pointy end of the meeting; knowing that only a small percentage of applications will be funded. Being in the business of regularly writing grants myself I know the feeling of disappointment, the feeling of the success, and generally the many hours spent preparing materials and arguing your case. There are always more incredible projects to support than there is money to go around (the ‘unfunded excellence’), and whilst peers do not know where the actual funding line will fall - this is determined just before applicants are notified to ensure the maximum budget/pool of cash is drawn upon for the round - the ranking is critical, rigorous and as you can imagine, emotions run high.

What should potential peers know before becoming an assessor?

It takes a considerable amount of time to thoroughly read through grant submissions and read/watch/listen/absorb the relevant artistic and other support materials. And given the efforts that go into penning applications, you want to ensure that you have the space to appropriately give over to the task of assessing. All in all I put around 30 minutes aside for each application.

Obviously some submissions are shorter, some are longer and have more materials to comprehend than others, though it’s like any skill, practice and technique improves the more you do it. I wish I could read faster!

A definite up side of being a peer is that it most definitely makes you a better grant writer.

Susannah Day

Susannah Day, WA/VIC Theatre Peer

When did you think that you could contribute as a peer?

For a good portion of my career I have been fortunate to hold advocacy and support roles in the service of independent performing artists. When a colleague of mine forward the peer callout, I felt given my breadth of understanding of the WA performing arts sector, I could accurately advocate for them in a panel context. I'd also sat for a term on the DCA panel so knew the experience would be rewarding.       

Does being a peer give another dimension to your practise?

Absolutely. As a committed producer and arts manager, it gives you a great insight into the curiosities, breadth and trends of contemporary performing arts practice in Australia. 

If you could give one tip to someone being a peer for the first time - what would it be?

It can be an overwhelming experience. The bulk of reading can at times feel unmanageable- but don't sweat it. Refer back to the well-curated selection criteria when scoring and verbalising your critique in the room. This ensures the process is fair for each applicant, standardises feedback and ensures the ranking is as objective as possible. 

What have you learnt from being a peer?

I've learnt that there aren't as many West Australian artists applying as there should be. Knowing the strength and uniqueness of performing arts practice in WA, I would encourage artists with a confident practice and projects brewing to consider federal Australian funding as a viable option. 

Simon Spain

Simon Spain, TAS - Theatre Peer

When did you think that you could contribute as a peer? Does being a peer give another dimension to your practise?

I’ve been involved in and seen many arts projects over the years, in different continents, and think I can almost smell a good project or proposal. Being a peer gives me the opportunity to contribute to the sector as an elder and to situate my practice within a broad range of creative endeavours across the country. It is a privilege to be part of the process of providing grants to artists and organisations representing my peers with integrity, experience and knowledge.

If you could give one tip to someone being a peer for the first time  - what would it be?

I think the single most important thing to remember is to think beyond the individual projects and consider the sector. Strengthening the sector is critical and so, for me, applications need to have this big picture approach where the applicants really consider the impact of their work beyond tomorrow. This means, as a peer, looking for meaningful dialogue, reflection and connection to contribute to a national picture of the arts.

What have you learnt from being a peer?

I’ve learnt there are plenty of great projects out there that don’t contextualise themselves in the

landscape of arts in Australia and that points to a weak sector of individual projects rather than a really impactful movement. I’ve also learnt that there are plenty of great peers out there and I’m learning how to listen to others expertise.

Jon Halpin Jon Halpin, SA - Theatre Peer

When did you think that you could contribute as a peer?

That’s a tricky question to answer as it was never something I consciously thought about or aspired to.  Nor was there a particular moment where I felt I was now ready.  In 2002, I received my first board appointment and that very much made me feel I was recognised by my peers as having sound judgement and experience – at least at a local level in Brisbane. 

Does being a peer give another dimension to your practise?

Being an assessor allows you a deeper insight into the thought processes, development approaches and underlying artistic philosophies of your colleagues and peers than you would get from just viewing their work.

I’ve had the opportunity of sitting on other panels assessing different artforms, and although I’ve found it difficult comparing apples and oranges, it’s given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of artists working in other mediums.

If you could give one tip to someone being a peer for the first time - what would it be?

I’m going to cheat and give two!

First, begin immediately and pace yourself.  There’s usually time to comfortably get through all of the applications if you start straight away and do 2, 3 or even 4 or 5 a night.  Personally, I’ve found in the past my assessment skills are compromised if I’m trying to do too many in one sitting.

Secondly, set aside time to closely look at the support material.  It’s what can separate the applications that are fairly evenly weighted, and can even sway your opinion of the whole application when you see the standard of work the artist or group has been producing.

What have you learnt from being a peer?

I’ve learnt how tough and competitive it is to receive funding, but also, how resilient, responsive, inventive, intelligent and supportive our artists and arts organisations are. 

It feels like we’ve entered a pretty tough time in the arts at the moment, and I worry deeply about the future of many organisations and artists, but I also feel we’ll get through it if we keep making our voices heard and keep creating great work.

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