Theatre notes

1. This gentlewoman of fortune wishes to announce she will be landing on Australian soil next Sunday. Regular transmission will be resumed soon after. These last weeks are always spent primarily in transition and motion.

2. Happiness is (…) finding yourself in a city, and being welcomed by a completely unexpected, unannounced and unplanned for puppet theatre festival. Those of you who know me better know that I love puppet theatre more than anything else in the world, including contemporary dance, cheese and pornography; and those of you who know Australia better know that my itch is rarely scratched. Needless to say, I am spending my last small change on abstract puppetry based on Bela Bartok, Russian puppet shows based on Tolstoy, and similar treats. Some writing may ensue, but I will be happy enough to sit, watch and shiver cold happy shivers of a cold turkey temporarily calm.

3. I have seen a lot of very interesting theatre while I was here (much more than could have been deducted from the sporadic commentary I've offered). I've learned to read German and French, and polished my Portuguese, in order to devour the coverage it generated. Meanwhile, Anglophone commentary was mostly concerned with Edinburgh. Quite short-sightedly. Andrew Haydon, a rare English speaker who grasps the extent of the problem, offers an insight in The Guardian theatre blog:

Maybe Britain's position in European theatre is more integrated than it appears, but I would be very surprised. The fact is that Britain is hopelessly isolated. While my European colleagues happily discuss the work of directors from each other's countries, I feel an overwhelming jealousy.

On mainland Europe, work tours. It doesn't tour exhaustively, but work that proves popular is as likely to be seen in Tallinn, Berlin or Bratislava, as The History Boys was in Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham. It is shocking to think that, along with my colleague Rose Fenton, I could be one of only a handful of Britons who will ever see some of this work. While everyone else talks about the work of “the most important directors working in Europe” – Alvis Hermanis, Jan Klata and Stefan Kaegi – I sit in mute astonishment at the fact that most of the names mentioned have never, to the best of my knowledge, had productions staged in Britain. At the same time, British names are highly conspicuous by their absence. Our writers are doing OK, but then, in any mainland European theatre deemed worthy of consideration, writers don't count half as much as directors.

Melbourne International Theatre Festival, for all the richness of its 2008 program, shows the same aloofness for the wealth of innovation currently happening outside the small Anglophone world. It is fine (and economically sound) to bring Cynthia Hopkins and a bucketful of Tim Crouch, and it's absolutely tremendous how much support Edmunds offers to the local artists. But it's a sort of program that feeds our belief that the world is small, uniform and safe, when in fact it's brimming with powerful, courageous, often violent experimentation.

4. Most importantly, I've come to realise how badly Australia fares in terms of cultivating broad theatre discourse. (Newspaper coverage, of course, is inadequate across the board. Although it's been a shock to realise that, in a small country like Croatia (4.5 million souls), even local newspapers will regularly offer two pages of fairly decent art coverage daily.)

What's more worrying is that Australia has no platform for serious, regular theatre discussions. Apart from RealTime, a bi-monthly magazine covering a range of media and performance arts, there is no serious publication devoting space to discussion of contemporary theatre practice in the country – of which there is much to discuss. That same Croatia, with a much smaller and much less active theatre scene, and infinitely less money for the arts, can somehow support two magazines dedicated to theatre only, one for contemporary dance, and a range of more generally-focussed arts bi-weeklies.

Book publishing is another problem Australia needs to solve. I have been stocking up on books of all kinds: playtexts, theory, interviews and collected essays. While I'm reading a two-volume collection of interviews on new theatre with the key new-theatre-makers in Croatia (often very funny, as they offer gossip, praise and criticism for each other), and organising a delivery to follow me to Melbourne, I am sure that it would be possible to run a series of similarly in-depth, inquisitive yet chatty interviews with Luke Mullins, Simon Stone, Brian Lipson, not to mention comparative giants such as Andrews or Kosky (whose ABC interview was a disappointingly slack, arts-uninterested piece).

While it's certain that Croatia has, for a long time, had a strong theory without adequate practice, it's also certain that the vivacity of the theoretical debates has helped generate a lot of the fascinating developments in the current theatre-making. In Australia, I wonder, how much more could be happening if brave experiments resonated more widely, if only the discussions and responses they generated could be channeled through an appropriate medium? As things are now, it seems certain that every break-through is muted by the small echo chamber it has at disposal. And the tyranny of distance.

Day-to-day newspaper and magazine criticism is not an adequate tool to support the national scene: it is conceived as, and works as, primarily a consumer guide. In order to follow through-lines of formal or philosophical inquiry that a company or a director develop, in order to discuss paradigm shifts and collective changes of direction, in order to propose and denounce poetics and systems of interpretation, in order to argue, we would need a place to come together in peace. Blogs, I need to disagree with Alison, are not enough to fill this gaping hole. Blogs are personal spaces, not meeting points.

5. All of which reminds me: my article on Eurokaz festival in Zagreb is now available, in print and online, in RealTime 86, and can be accessed here.

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