Sarah Thomasson – Acts of Encounter: Mapping the Touring Networks of Australian and New Zealand International Arts Festivals


Sarah Thomasson

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.