Crack Theatre Festival – Q&A



Continuing our series of festival chats – we talk with Finn O’Branagáin and Hannah Strout, Co-Artistic Directors Crack Theatre Festival, 2014, which is on right now in Newcastle as a part of This Is Not Art – due to a miracle of scheduling this post was accidentally going to go live next week after the festival closes but we got in just in time so you have one more day to get the heck down to Newcastle to check it out!

What does your festival see as the role of the arts in supporting (or otherwise) diverse representations of Australian culture?

The Arts have a responsibility to look further, think harder and hug longer. We see the Arts as an important way towards education, inclusivity and thinking outside the sphere of our own experience.

While Australian culture on the ground is as broad and hard to define as the millions of people who make up our enormous nation, in the dominant forms of media and entertainment, our culture looks pretty conservative; able-bodied, mentally well, white, slim, attractive, straight, and if not male then binary gendered. Any face outside of these parameters is ‘othered’. If we only ever see the same types of stories with the same faces, told using the same forms, we will surely stagnate – which is stinky metaphorically, as well as dangerous, as we are seeing in recent distressing news stories.

Crack Theatre Festival is a platform to showcase and develop underrepresented and experimental artists and art forms. We are excited by works that challenge perceptions and cross boundaries in duration, ideas and content, delivery and presentation.

Challenging works like these are not usually given the opportunity to be produced in curated festivals, or in seasons beyond the individual artist’s own independent productions. For 2014, our challenging content includes talking about hidden or non-dominant cultures, sexuality, mental illness, disability and body image.

We believe that by nurturing works that run from a little odd to the completely risky, we give air to ideas that might not otherwise become fully formed. By presenting a different perspective from traditional forms, we allow artists to respond authentically and genuinely to immediate and contemporary impetus – starting conversations that are in the zeitgeist and that feel urgent.

We want to keep the water moving, and hear from all different types of people, and give them an opportunity to be seen and heard, and meet people who are just as exciting as they are.

Can you give us a brief overview of the festival and what it offers Asian Australian audiences in terms of programming?

The 2014 Festival theme is ‘Get friendly, it’s the end of the world’, which kind of happened organically, based on the amazing amount of must-programme applications that were about beautiful, fragile human connection and/or THE APOCALYPSE.

Given the diversity of content and form in our programme, we’re not looking for any one audience – we’ve got something that will appeal to most people, and we hope that everyone will challenge themselves to find and try something new.

From an End of the World Preparation Workshop, to the last musician on Earth, to a show about the slow yet sure reclamation of the planet by native flora; our Artists are telling their stories in any way they can – through circus, interactive poetry, durational performance and even pre-recorded vinyl record.

Audiences can hear the wishes of locals in the Three Wishes audio tour (Josephine Were, SA), contribute writing to the formation of The Frankensteined Monologues (CJ Fraser Bell and Ciella Williams, NT), and sing their hearts out in The Evolutionary Straitjacket: Climate Change Karaoke (Selena de Carvalho, TAS).

There will also be a series of panels and forums hosted by independent theatre touring and production gurus Critical Stages, performance artist Eugenia Tzirtzilaki, Psychoanalyst Richard Hill, and digital genius Daniel Flood.

We’re not catering for any specific demographics in our programming, but offer and welcome all humans an eye-opening festival full of risky, intelligent and unique works that challenge the dominant culture and ask audiences to think about the world they live in and are helping to shape. Check out the full Festival program here.

Do you actively seek representation from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or other historically marginalised groups in your programming committees/board/staff/volunteer teams?

In programming we do encourage applications from culturally and linguistically diverse artists, as well as historically marginalised groups such as the LGBTIQ community, people living with mental disorders or disabilities, people who are geographically isolated, as well as keeping an eye on gender equality in our programming and staff.

While we seek representation, we don’t always get high levels of interest from these groups, and this is something we’d like to see increased. It may represent a larger problem in Australian theatre, even in the independent sector, where there are even fewer monetary opportunities for people outside of white, ‘middle class’ Australia.

While we certainly have artists that identify as Asian Australian, and are conscious of diversity and inclusivity in our programming, we don’t specifically ask our artists about their cultural heritage or to tick a box identifying themselves as a minority group. We focus more on the questions they ask through their work, what risks they are taking, and how they are stretching the boundaries of the dominant culture.

For our staff and volunteers, given our very limited resources and tiny team, we actively seek representation from everyone! Throughout our staffing, curating and presenting processes, we do consider what opportunities might usually be given to applicants, and keep in mind a vision of a diverse and inclusive festival both inside and out. We welcome input and representation from whomever would like to join us. So get in touch!

Have you ever solicited or received feedback from CALD or other historically marginalised groups in terms of your festival?

While we don’t solicit feedback from any demographic in particular, we encourage constructive feedback for the artists from their audiences and peers about their shows.

Through our new initiative ‘Crack Family Dinners’, we invite the Festival audience every night to be an impromptu panel and join our artists in conversation about topics that are prevalent in the work of our programmed artists. We are proud of this initiative as it not only makes use of the incredible talent and ideas in our programme beyond their productions, but also stimulates conversation and sharing in a non-threatening and informal way. We had noticed in recent years attendees ‘sitting with their own friends’ so to speak, and we wanted to enhance that exciting ‘meet new people, talk till 5am, stay friends forever, make life-changing work with them’ aspect for which TiNA is famous. We also hope that these Dinners give people who may be usually marginalised an opportunity to speak up and be included.

We are adaptive, and are constantly in conversation with our artists and audiences around how to grow. We are ultimately for them, and encourage their input.

Above all, as a free-to-attend festival, we aim to be open and accessible to all and to engage with the broadest range of people possible. Our audience and artists are from all across Australia, are in all stages of their practice, are trained and untrained, sometimes they don’t even call themselves artists. We welcome everyone into the Crack Family!

Editor’s note: Eleanor Jackson was a featured artist at the 2014 Crack Theatre Festival.


Author: Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. Eleanor Jackson is a former Editor in Chief and Poetry Editor of Peril and currently Chair of the Board.