Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University
Hello Quebec: 2 Weeks with Robert Lepage
I always come back to the same old notion that [theatre] is a gathering, a meeting point. A gathering in the sense that a group of artists get together to tell a story, and also the collective audience. – Lepage (1997)
The act of gathering is an important one for theatre-makers, the act of coming together in the rehearsal room signals the beginning of a story. How this creative process unfolds is unique depending on the director, actors, creatives, crew and context and the dynamic that exists between them. Central to the process is the leadership style of the director which influences, and often dictates the manner in which material is generated. The unbridled power that many directors wield, or are endowed with, can inhibit individuals from fully contributing to a creative enterprise. Not so with Robert Lepage.
According to Dundjerovic (2009), “Robert Lepage is one of the world’s foremost theatre directors” (p. 1) and a key contemporary performance visionary. Lepage has produced international, award winning productions for over three decades. For two weeks I observed the leadership style of Lepage in the creative development of 887, at Ex Machina in Quebec to understand how Lepage uses power in the rehearsal room. What I witnessed is what Mary Parker Follett (1924 ) describes as a ‘power-with’ approach. She contends that when “differing interests meet they need not oppose but only confront each other” (p. 156). In confrontation, both views are taken into account and the result is something new and different. This paper argues that Lepage’s leadership style is one where confrontation leads to a creative process that fully embraces the collective creativity of all who participate in it, resulting in a powerful theatricality evident in the lauded work of Robert Lepage.
Gabrielle Metcalf holds a PhD in Theatre Directing from The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts where she currently lectures in Acting and Directing and provides intimacy coaching for students. She has a special interest in leadership methodologies and processes for directors which she has applied to her directing and teaching practice. She has used an autoethnographic approach in her practice-led research to interrogate the position that a director holds in the rehearsal process and has just completed a book, Teaching Drama, commissioned by Beijing Normal University, outlining how drama can be taught in Chinese schools. Gabrielle also works with a variety of corporations across Australia and Asia training leaders in effective communication styles.
Victoria University of Wellington
The Act of Gathering Audience Responses: Surveying at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
In 2019 I ventured to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to gather data on audiences attending New Zealand touring work at the Fringe. I selected five focus shows (Modern Māori Quartet: Two Worlds, Super Hugh-Man, Aunty, My Best Dead Friend and Working on my Night Moves) and enlisted attendees to participate in a survey emailed following the performance. My particular agenda in collecting and assessing responses was to discover to what extent, if any, that national familiarity and proximity was a discernible influence on participant’s self-reported motivations for attending the performance or their interpretations of the performance. I also hoped to gather an expanded record of responses to the work beyond the critical archive: what meanings and identifications might individual audience members produce and report in relationship to a New Zealand work playing at Edinburgh?
Scholars have critiqued the absence of audience voices in theatre and performance studies and argued for the value of rigorous audience research. In this paper I share my reflections on designing and executing an audience research project within the challenging Edinburgh Fringe environment. I consider how I played the role of researcher, acknowledging that my presence and invitation to participate provided an added frame to the performance event. I discuss my interpretation of the traces of meaning collected from respondents produced by both the performance and research contexts. What happened when the researcher met the audience who were meeting New Zealand touring shows at the Edinburgh Fringe?
I will report on my results in the context of Creative New Zealand’s multi-year investment in funding works to tour to the Fringe, and argue that recording individual audience responses provides a counter narrative to the market-driven outcomes often privileged in the Edinburgh context of box-office, critical reception and interest from presenters and programmers.
James Wenley is a theatre academic, practitioner and critic with a passion for promoting the theatre of Aotearoa New Zealand. He is a lecturer in the Theatre Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. He completed his Doctorate at the University of Auckland, investigating the performance and reception of New Zealand drama toured and produced internationally. He is the editor and founder of NZ theatre reviewing website TheatreScenes.co.nz and makes theatre for his company Theatre of Love. A monograph on Aotearoa New Zealand theatre in the Global Marketplace is forthcoming from Routledge.
Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington
Acts of Encounter: Mapping the Touring Networks of Australian and New Zealand International Arts Festivals
International arts festivals have traditionally facilitated making contact with and encountering others through cultural transmission and exchange. Since its inception, the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) has increased the level of theatrical visitation of Scottish – as distinct from British – performance to Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, often via the network/s of festivals within and between these two countries. As a relatively recent and discrete case study – the NTS’s first started producing work in 2006 – what do the touring patterns of the NTS reveal about the nature of the Australian and New Zealand festival network/s?
The NTS is famous for being a theatre “without walls,” owing to its lack of dedicated performance venue, and is charged with showcasing Scottish culture at home and abroad. Its international tours of productions such as Gregory Burke’s Black Watch (2006) and Rona Munro’s The James Plays (2014), were funded by the Scottish (nationalist) Government but produced in collaboration with the British Council and the National Theatre of Great Britain respectively. Ariel Watson has therefore argued that these international tours perform dual (and paradoxical) roles in undertaking state-sponsored British cultural diplomacy while promoting Scotland’s “autonomous identity as a nation” (2014: 241). Moreover, these tours have tended to favour regions of “shared linguistic identity,” colonial history, and are often sites of Scottish diaspora (Watson 2014: 241). How are these productions, which carry multivalent messages of national identity formation, cultural diplomacy, and empire, received by host audiences? This paper examines the circulation of Scottish theatrical productions within Australia and New Zealand festival network/s to interrogate their impact as cultural imports. While acts of gathering hosted by international arts festivals are curtailed for now, understanding the recent history of cultural exchange in our region points to the broader cultural work these networks perform.
Sarah Thomasson is Lecturer in Theatre at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. She writes on contemporary theatre and performance practices with a focus on international arts festivals and their fringes. Sarah works as an Editorial Assistant for Contemporary Theatre Review and is Treasurer of ADSA.