seeing through the dust storm

flightI wrote this piece for the inaugural Flight Festival of New Writing, which is being produced by Theatreworks in association with VCA. Check out the festival magazine here.

We are living in extraordinary times.

Greece is imploding. The United States has legalised same-sex marriage. The surviving Chibok schoolgirls are still missing.

Meanwhile, Australia is being submitted to a manufactured national crisis. Flags are multiplying. Boats are being turned back. Budget belts are tightening.

This tightening is being felt keenly by the arts sector. 

In May, it was announced that $104 million had been diverted from the Australia Council for the Arts to George Brandis’ National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). It was quickly realised that the vague indeterminacy of “Excellence” was directly matched by the concrete reality of this diversion. Multiple avenues of funding from the Council were immediately frozen. The spate of end-of-financial-year emails requesting tax-deductible donations acquired a newfound urgency.

The dust of this overhaul is yet to settle. What is important is that in this dust we do not lose sight of art’s power to illuminate who we are. What is important is that we remain willing to engage with this process of illumination.

The FLIGHT season here at Theatreworks is a key example of this willingness.

Creative Producer Dan Clarke has created FLIGHT as a public platform specifically for the work produced from the VCA Masters of Writing for Performance program. Recognised as a national leader in its field and led by acclaimed playwright Raimondo Cortese, this program is producing the next generation of Australia’s theatrical voice.

In his keynote speech at the 2014 National Playwriting Festival, Andrew Bovell was at pains to point out that the stories we choose to tell are those that are commissioned, developed and produced by our theatre companies. The economic imperative hinted at here now stands in stark relief as, one year later, Brandis breathes down our collective neck.

Bovell was also at pains to advocate the importance of new writing. The temptation for companies to revert to programming canonical work in hard times is easy to understand. Produce a ‘sure thing’ and you can not only bankroll your riskier unknown work but also potentially safeguard your company’s future. However, Bovell argued that new writing must be foregrounded as it gives expression to our “national conscience by reflecting the society in which we live in all its complexity.”

It is this complexity that is representative of the five new plays that make up the FLIGHT season.

Chi Vu’s site-specific work The Dead Twin takes the postcolonial gothic tradition that has developed over the last ten years (outlined recently in Andrew Harmsen’s article for The Conversation) to explore the bicultural identity of refugees. Bridget Mackey’s Kindness and Patrick McCarthy’s Grief and the Lullaby both investigate the spaces between people – how they grow, dissipate, and reemerge. Morgan Rose’s Virgins and Cowboys responds to the American recession through a suburban Australian lens, and Fleur Kilpatrick’s Yours The Face considers the ugliness of perfection. These five plays are deeply diverse and are united only by their formal inventiveness and their interrogation of our need for human connection.

They are all new, they are all about our society as it stands today, and they are all making sure that we do not lose sight of what is important in the midst of our government’s economic duststorm.

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