Carly O’Neill – Exit Stage Left: Mid-career transitions of female stage managers in Australia


Carly O’Neill


Exit Stage Left: Mid-career transitions of female stage managers in Australia 

In the course of their work, stage managers are across many different elements of the performance making process – however, at its most fundamental, the key function of the stage manager in the realisation of live performance is the management of change (Ionazzi 1992). Stage managers are critical participants in the Australian live performance industry that generated $2.2 billion in revenue in 2019 (Live Performance Australia 2019) and Australian census data indicate that this industry is being serviced by a disproportionately young, female workforce (ABS 2011). This paper will discuss the findings of a study that characterised the career transition experiences of professional female stage managers in Australia and explored the variety of career development challenges experienced during mid-career and prompt premature exits from the profession. The research presents the experiences of professional female stage managers who have worked within Australia’s peak performing arts companies (AMPAG 2019) and makes recommendations regarding workforce retention strategies, educational models, psychological and social support mechanisms and organisational and sectoral strategies that will lead to increased sustainability within the profession. One of the key findings of the study was that the precarious nature of the work is one of the major factors that drives stage managers out of the profession, and this has never been more relevant in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on those working in the production arts.

Carly O’Neill is the Lecturer in Stage Management within the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Technical Production) at QUT. She has 20 years’ experience as a professional freelance stage manager working across most live performance genres, with particular specialisations in classical and contemporary music, and ballet and contemporary dance. Carly was the Senior Stage Manager at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 2004 – 2013 and has extensive regional, national and international touring experience. Carly has been the lecturer in stage management at QUT since 2009 and was Technical Production coordinator from 2012 – 2014. She is currently the Study Area Coordinator for the BFA (Technical Production) and continues to freelance as a stage manager and show-caller. 

Madeline Taylor – “Does this work?”: A close study of collaboration in performance making


Madeline Taylor


“Does this work?”: A close study of collaboration in performance making

Collaborative skills are recognised by educators, economists and creative industries practitioners as integral to 21st-century employment. This capacity is considered especially vital within the performance industry, which is regularly positioned as an inherently collaborative art form. However, outweighed by the ever-present need to “get the show on”, to focus on the product rather than the process, when collaboration is discussed – if at all – it is generalised into aspects such as trust or good communication, aspects that don’t talk to the unique and material nature of performance making. In the absence of specifics about the collaborative process, collaborative skills are learnt and practiced tacitly, ingrained through observation and repeated practice, rather than explicitly communicated as part of a practitioner’s skill set. This research attempts to answer not only: How does collaboration work? but also make clear the emotional intelligence and creative judgement required by collaboration in performance making.

This research subjects costume design realisation and the collaborative partnership of designer and technicians to a detailed examination. Through close linguistic analysis, combined with the application of design theory from a broad range of fields, of 22 weeks of ethnographic research in the costume workshops of Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre, this research identifies several consistent mechanisms of collaboration. It argues that creative relationships and a shared understanding of the performance world are created simultaneously in an active collective process, that tacitly relies on collaborative mechanisms, or structures of behaviour. It further argues that explicitly understanding these mechanisms allows for a smoother, more cohesive production, knowledge that has implications and applicability far beyond the costume workshop.

Madeline Taylor is a creator, researcher and teacher in theatre and fashion. A lecturer in Fashion at Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD candidate at University of Melbourne, her research focuses on contemporary costume practice, the interpersonal dynamics of collaboration, and fashion performance. During her 15 years’ experience as a practitioner she has worked on over 85 productions in theatre, dance, opera, circus, contemporary performance and film around Australia and the UK. She is a co-director of The Stitchery Collective, a Brisbane based design group, and was Australian Editor for the World Scenography Project Vol II – 1990 – 2005.

Sarah Austin – Facilitation, Collaboration and Unexpected Encounters: Designing a ‘holding space’ for a diverse ensemble of emerging artists


Sarah Austin

Victorian College of the Arts

Facilitation, Collaboration and Unexpected Encounters: Designing a ‘holding space’ for a diverse ensemble of emerging artists

Responding to the conference provocation of Acts of Gathering, this paper draws on my experience working with a group of diverse emerging artists in Melbourne across the course of four months, and specifically examine the notion notion of a ‘holding space’ (Winnicott, 2006) which may be capable of traversing and transforming aesthetics, politics, dramaturgies and methodologies of performance. 

This paper will present a critique and analysis of an ensemble project called Let’s Take Over in Melbourne, Australia now in its second year. On this project, I am tasked with the job of Creative Facilitator, a dramaturgical role designed to foster encounters and dialogue between a (gender-diverse, culturally diverse, politically-diverse, inter-faith, socio-economically diverse and ability-diverse) ensemble of ten emerging artists aged between 15 and 25 years. The ensemble (who refer to themselves in the local indigenous colloquial vernacular as ‘mob’) meets weekly across the course of five months each year with a focus on curating and programming a one-day performance event held across at the Northcote Town Hall arts space in inner-North Melbourne. The event itself reflects the urgency of the unexpected encounter, foregrounds the artists’ desire to establish a ‘post-colonial paradise, and invite the audience into a disruptive, immersive and interactive artscape’. 

Drawing on the psychoanalytic concept of the ‘holding space’ (Winnicott, 2006) as productive territory for interrogating how I perform the role of (not) care as group facilitator, I will use the paper to articulate what strategies of creative triage foster an environment in which a dynamic assembly between bodies, places and things can occur that supports new possibilities of collaborative practice that respond to the crises of care facing our world. 

Sarah Austin is a an award-winning artist and Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she recently completed her PhD investigating rights-based approaches to working with children in contemporary performance. Sarah was the 2018 recipient of the ADSA Veronica Kelly Prize for Best Postgraduate Paper.