Tuesday, 11 September 2012


I thought I’d write a tad about passion. (It’s Verity here). For various reasons I’ve been in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney over the past six weeks and during that time I’ve seen A Lot Of Shows. It’s been quite interesting to understand that, in nearly all of them, apart from production values in the cases of a couple of big theatre company shows, there wasn’t all that much to separate the work (in my subjective opinion, of course).

In most cases there would be a stand-out performance, or piece of direction or technical-creative work, such as design, costumes or lighting design that would give delight. In most cases there would be an aspect of the production that let the rest down. I only saw one work that, for me, qualified as a ‘compleat’ work, and that was a surprise in that it was a re-mount of a piece I’d frankly rather disliked the first time around. Some shows I liked, one or two I really, really didn’t. (It’s okay, other people did).

But – and this is my point –  in no case could you suspect that those involved had given the effort anything less than their very best shot.

I’ve now (yes, I know, but everyone who is still young will one day find themselves not to be…) lived long enough to have watched people live their whole adult lives right up to their (only slightly) untimely deaths in and of and for the theatre. Some of those people’s work never rose above the level of what a harsh judgment might call mediocrity, but their passion for and commitment to theatre and theatre-making? A-triple-plus. You could say that they should perhaps have found another profession, a kinder one that allowed them to live their later years on their savings as opposed to a pension. I think that one and all of these theatre tragics would have spat on that notion. They LOVED the theatre, and they served it with everything at their disposal. And whatever Theatre In Australia is and becomes these people are as much a part of the fabric of that creation as the most illuminated and illuminating members of the fraternity (unfortunately it IS a fraternity, and we’ll have to keep saying that until every single theatre company presents every single season along gender parity lines. But that’s a different post).

So my feeling is – if there is an Original Sin in theatre it might be that of disrespecting another’s intention in regard to what they offer as art. It may not be what you like, or want to see, but each of us has as much right to the expression of our creative selves as the other. No one is just Putting On A Show. They are Putting On The Show – of themselves and their passions and intentions. And they have as much right to do that as the greatest artist in the world. The greatest artists in the world will get their reward – the accolades, the following, the gratitude of those of us for whom they have, through their art, illuminated some aspect of being alive in a difficult world, but the others, the foot-soldiers of art, well, I think we should thank them, too.

And how to add a picture to this post? Hmm. See picture of Nuala Hafner and Amber McMahon in truly beautiful costume by Mark Thompson, because that, apart from the fact that it’s fantastic, is from my own store, and thus within my capability to post. (Not much else is, it’s very sad, roll on a new brain). It's taken from The Snow Queen, 2003 and 2004.

And how to engage You The Readership enough to provoke, we hope, a comment or two? Well. Digression. (This is my post. I can be as inconsistent as I like…). Okay. Passion. I was trying to think of: (1) a song (2) a visual image (3) a poem (4) a novel (5) something from the Wide World that has engaged me by its passion (6) a theatre experience that has blown me away.

Here goes: (1) is a draw between Kathleen Ferrier singing That Aria from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice and – still, after all these years, sorry – Van Morrison’s version of Carrickfergus (2) Odilon Redon’s Eros (3) Rilke: The Sonnets to Orpheus Second Series, number 4 (Is there a theme emerging? – yes, as it turns out, I am writing something about a journey to the underworld – but, no, there is not a unicorn in it – but is it about 'what is art?' – yes, definitely – how strange it is the way everything bends us to the task at hand)  (4) I’ve just finished Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong. It’s as good as the publicity says so will do for my offering in this form, though my fave ever is probably Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. (5) Just to bring us back to earth, Kevin McCloud writing about colour in a book called Colour Now – it does illustrate the colours from some paints he has for sale, but…it’s okay, you have to find them somewhere and it’s worth it for the ride. And theatre? (6) What have I loved way past distraction? I’m going to avoid really recent works because they may be too present in my mind to have shuffled into their real place. So. Jim Sharman’s production of Britten’s adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (that was an opera, but I’m counting it) (Adelaide Festival 1982); Declan Donnellan’s Cheek By Jowl all-male, Russian-cast production of Twelfth Night; Robert Wilson’s The Black Rider, both Sydney Festival gigs; Tomas Ascher’s  Katona Joseps Company’s productions of Chekov’s Ivanov at the Sydney Festival in 2009 and of Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Adelaide Festival in 1992. There are at least a score more. These are the ones I love tonight. What about you?


7-ON said...

What about me? Well...

1. A song: 'Sorry Grateful' (from Sondheim's COMPANY);
2. A visual image: Peter Kingston's 3-D painted cardboard ferries;
3. A poem: Kenneth Slessor's 'South Country';
4. A novel: 'The Great Gatsby';
5. The wide world: My own passion, for riding down steep roads at night on my bicycle under starlight;
6. A theatre experience... Improbable's 'Shock-Headed Peter.' And can I add a playscript? I've never seen it produced, but I've read it dozens of times and it gets better, deeper, more incredible, with every read: Caryl Churchill's 'The Skriker'.

As you say, Verity, they're my passions for today, at least.

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "No one is just Putting On A Show. They are Putting On The Show – of themselves and their passions and intentions. And they have as much right to do that as the greatest artist in the world."

Performance for performance's sake is not a right. We pay money and we want value. We don't pay money to invest in the industry of theatre – or buy a book to invest in the industry of publishing.

Consumers have passion too… and many of us are running out of time to get value from our willingness to keep funding our passion.

There is nothing worse than sitting through a play that fails to deliver or reading a book that is incomplete. There's nothing worse than thinking you've been dudded by someone's incomplete passion, walking away from the venue, catching the last train home.

There's nothing worse than thinking you've paid money to hear all this again.

Passion has to sing new things; it has to wash the world, refresh our thinking, and not just dull our feelings.


7-ON said...

I agree with you, JK, that 'performance for performance's sake is not a right' and yes, acknowledge that an audience member who has paid good money for an incompletely realised passion on the part of the artists concerned has a right to be frustrated. But – and I think it's a fair one – any piece of work that has been put on in good faith by a professional company has already gone through the process of proving itself to the gatekeepers, whoever they may be. This isn’t an easy, nor a foolproof process but I think it means that whatever then ends up in front of a paying public has a right to be considered an a legitimate offering. Some of those offerings won’t please, for sure, but it isn’t a self-indulgent act on the part of the artists, just an incomplete one. This is a difference, incidentally, between amateur and professional work. Amateur work is fueled more purely by passion, it can often be really good (and just as often not) but it hasn’t had the hard questions asked of it in order to be staged at all, and it hasn’t had people putting their livelihood on the line for it. But that’s yet another argument! Verity