Theatre - June 2008 closing date - key organisations

This report summarises outcomes of the meeting of the Australia Council's theatre board on 22-25 September 2008.

The meeting assessed applications in the key organisations – multiyear category from the 1 June 2008 closing date.

Chair’s comments

This was a pivotal meeting of the Australia Council’s theatre board. The decisions that we made will shape the theatre sector in Australia for the years to come.

The results of the meeting are listed below. Twenty-five current key organisations applied for funding as well as 15 other companies. We have offered key organisations funding to 25 companies, eleven of whom are new. Of these successful applicants, sixteen were funded at their full request, and most received substantial increases. On average, their funding has increased by 75 percent. In addition, we offered four companies three-year support for their international touring.

A number of remarkable things came together in the making of these watershed decisions.

1. Make it new? consultation process

Prior to commencing as chair of the theatre board in March 2008, I was well aware of the Make It New? process that had been underway since April 2006. It began as a discussion paper and over some two years became an extensive consultation with the theatre sector about new approaches to theatre funding in this country. Although not directly involved at that time (as I had begun to pursue the more solitary life of a writer), I recall watching with great interest and feeling, as many others felt, that this was a very timely undertaking and that the sector was indeed ready and crying out for change. I was impressed with the thorough and open discussion that John Baylis (director of theatre at the Australia Council) encouraged and so painstakingly brokered.

In the third and final communiqué of the process, the theatre board outlined a new model for funding key organisations. This long and detailed consultation with the sector was a very important component in realising the outcomes of the Make It New? process. It was essential that the venture be collectively owned both by the Australia Council and all its key organisation stakeholders.

This was a significant shift in the theatrical landscape of this country, defined primarily by three aims:

  • To make a proactive and constructive response to the tightening economic climate of that time which, although offset by some injection of new funds, will continue to challenge us as a sector
  • To increase funds to companies that were demonstrating a high level of artistic quality, and
  • To create pathways for new and excellent companies to find an entry point in a traditionally constricted environment.

I was honoured to come to the theatre board at this significant time. I believe it was Seneca who said: ‘It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare: it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.’

2. Additional small-to-medium funding

In this round, the theatre board had almost $2 million of extra funding because of the Australian Government’s uplift last year to the small-to-medium performing arts sector. Most of these funds were invested in the key organisations assessed at this meeting.

Through the Make It New? process, we have been very aware of the need for newer companies to be given a chance to compete for key organisations funding, so we invited all those that had previously been on annual funding to apply. We also opened up the competition to companies that had received neither annual nor triennial funding. In all, fifteen new companies applied.

A new framework for key organisations came out of Make It New? that acknowledged the character of theatre organisations. Artistic explorers are the companies that create some of the most exciting and innovative work. Artistic hubs support a wide range of artists or a network of collaborators across their regions or across the nation. National service organisations provide highly valued services to the sector.

And finally, we acted on the low funding levels that companies have been struggling with for many years. This was highlighted in the 2003 report by Ian Roberts, which noted:

The greatest strengths of these companies are at greatest risk—the ongoing output of high quality, innovative and distinctively Australian new theatre works. This report concludes that their future contribution and value is threatened by a looming crisis of investment.

We therefore invited companies to ask us for the money they needed to realise their artistic visions, regardless of their funding history, and we committed ourselves to supporting such bids if they met the selection criteria to a high degree and were based on evidence and realistic costing.

We also introduced new three-year support for the international activities of companies with strong touring records. This allows them both to plan ahead and to respond to opportunities as they arise. It acknowledges that an increasing number of Australian companies operate internationally as a matter of course and that we need to give them as much certainty as we can in a volatile world.

3. Meeting processes and outcomes

We had a rigorous process in place for the September meeting. Five of Australia’s most respected arts practitioners and leaders were invited to the meeting in this last round. I would like to thank Robyn Archer, Wesley Enoch, Tom Gutteridge, Andrew Ross and Fiona Winning for their collective insight, knowledge and wisdom.

Together with the theatre board their voices over the four-day meeting represented many different aspects of theatre-making in this country from contemporary performance practice, circus, text-based work, hybrid work and youth arts. Their contribution was invaluable in assisting the board in the decisions made at this watershed meeting.

I must give especial thanks to members of the theatre board – Annette Downs, Chris Puplick, Elizabeth Butcher, Pam Creed, and Fraser Corfield for their long and exhaustive hours of work and also the endlessly dedicated staff at Australia Council.

We did not come to any of these decisions lightly. It is a good time to remember the exceptional contribution made to the theatre sector over many years by all the companies and organisations who applied for funding in this round. Each company has at some time or other given us extraordinary work to remember and celebrate.

From the outset, the underpinning priority to Make It New? has been to strengthen theatre as a vibrant contemporary artform. It was widely acknowledged that the only way to truly achieve this was to recognise that the performing arts environment had in itself the ability to change. We had to be responsive or risk losing the capacity to support infrastructure that was ‘open ended and responsive and has renewal built into its very design’. It was this very impulse that drove the strategic new direction of funding this round, the creation of new categories and new criteria that would allow this impulse to be realised in this new era for the sector.

While some organisations have not received funding, it is important to remember that new companies have been funded. We also look forward to the emerging key organisations who will be applying for funding in June 2009.

We particularly want to thank the sector for all their input into the consultative process. It is the ongoing commitment and talent of artists that makes change possible. We know that change is hard, but we also know that it brings new opportunities. No one knows or demonstrates this better than the artists who have proven time and time again their capacity to rise to challenge and bring new growth to the sector.

Rosalba Clemente
Chair, theatre board

Grant recipients

A full list of approved grants from this meeting is below.

Key organisations - multiyear
Closing date: 1 June 2008

Arena Theatre Company Vic  $840,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Australian Children's Performing Arts Company (Windmill) SA  $450,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Australian Script Centre Nat  $600,000
Key organisation – national service organisation 2009 – 2011

Australian Theatre for Young People NSW $450,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Back to Back Theatre Inc Vic  $990,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011 (includes $100,000 per annum for international activities)

Brink Productions Limited SA $450,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Griffin Theatre Company Limited NSW $1,200,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

HotHouse Theatre Vic  $600,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Just Us Theatre Ensemble Qld  $600,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

La Mama Inc Vic  $750,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People NSW  $510,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Not Yet It's Difficult Incorporated Vic  $600,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

PACT Youth Theatre Inc NSW  $390,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Patch Theatre Company Inc SA  $1,173,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011 (includes $100,000 per annum for international activities)

Performing Arts Centre Society Inc (The Blue Room) WA  $375,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Red Stitch Actors Theatre Ltd Vic  $240,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Rock 'n' Roll Circus Inc (Circa) Qld  $1,200,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011 (includes $100,000 per annum for international activities)

Snuff Puppets Inc Vic  $381,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre Inc WA  $450,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

Stalker Stilt Theatre Inc NSW  $1,200,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011 (includes $100,000 per annum for international activities)

Terrapin Puppet Theatre Ltd Tas  $600,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

ThinIce WA  $480,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Urban Theatre Projects Ltd NSW  $750,000
Key organisation - artistic hub 2009 – 2011

version 1.0 Inc NSW  $450,000
Key organisation - artistic explorer 2009 – 2011

Young People and the Arts Australia Nat  $450,000
Key organisation – national service organisations 2009 – 2011

Other initiatives

Legs of the Wall NSW $200,000
Development as an artistic hub 2009

Statistical summary

Program

Apps received

Apps approved

Rate

Requested

Approved

Key organisations - multiyear

40

25

63%

$31,853,822

$16,179,000

Other initiatives

na

1

na

na

$200,000

TOTAL

$31,853,822

$16,379,000

Note that the following organisations are also in receipt of key organisations – multiyear grants for 2009.

Performing Lines Ltd  Nat $348,570

PlayWriting Australia Nat $259,960 (co-funded with the literature board)

Meeting participants

Theatre board members: Rosalba Clemente chair (SA), Elizabeth Butcher AM (NSW), Fraser Corfield (Qld), Pam Creed (Vic), Annette Downs (Tas) and Chris Puplick AM (NSW). Board member Matthew Lutton (WA) did not attend the meeting.

Participating advisors: Wesley Enoch, Tom Gutteridge, Andrew Ross, Robyn Archer and Fiona Winning.

Theatre staff: John Baylis Antonietta Morgillo, Ann Petrou and Maria Stevenson.

Key organisations staff: Atul Joshi, Carin Mistry and Michelle Hall.

Other Australia Council staff: Ben Strout, Andrew Donovan and Amanda Macri.

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