The last few weeks have been an enjoyable, challenging, enlightening, and entertaining time. No, I haven’t been on holiday. But I have been on a tour of many “new” places in Brisbane—or at least, places that were almost all new to me, and certainly were seen in a new light. Performance spaces I have visited this month included a bowls club, community centre, cafes, rehearsal spaces, pub back rooms, CBD offices, an antiques centre, and a car park. Anywhere. So much so that, when describing the festival to friends, I have taken to describing it as the “Anywhere but” festival (that is, anywhere but a theatre).
For the Anywhere Festival is a great concept. It reminded me of days past, supporting a student show as we scraped together the money for a production which travelled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In a way, the Anywhere Festival is a fringe festival without the distractions of events taking place in the main stage spaces. A chance for those works in progress to build confidence (and contacts), test the waters, and make changes before they fully step out into the world.
I am happy to report that the Brisbane has an arts community that is alive and kicking, as it steps out into the world. In the case of The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret, definitely high kicking. There are a number of talented playwrights, directors, actors, and performers who have spent the last few months in an intensive period of writing, developing and producing shows to bring many of the nooks and crannies across Brisbane to life. And, in doing so, managed to entertain audiences, create happy memories, and provoke discussions and debates that have sometimes continued for many days.
Of course, the 2015 Brisbane Anywhere Festival has not all been local talent. It was great to see that the success of the event has attracted performers from further afield, who have raised the money to bring their shows over to Brisbane. For example, the Perth-based Toy Soldier Children’s Theatre Company brought The Happy Prince to the Parlour at the State Library of Queensland. And I am glad they did, as it appeared to be a perfect transition from family story-time to theatre-going; a charming, gentle, magical event which entertained an enraptured audience.
This was not the only show which took inspiration from history, or from earlier works. The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret delivered on the promise of a “delicious journey through the 20s, 30s, and 40s,” as well as teasing out more contemporary references to the Jazz Age. Students at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts went much further back in time for their inspiration—bringing a highly physical and fast-paced production of a 1743 play, The Servant of Two Masters , to their car park. A number of productions I saw drew on 1800’s. Of course this includes the re-telling of Oscar Wilde’s 1888 short story in The Happy Prince. But also The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy centred on a film re-imagining of an 1899 Parisian cabaret script by Alphonse Allais. And the Flowers Theatre Company production of their new play, The Mayne Effect, also invited us to step back in time; to reflect on the treatment of the Mayne family, and the effect of the rumours swirling around the 1865 deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne.
Many of the shows were new works, often appearing for the first time as works in progress. It’s a brave writer/director/producer/performer who lets us, as audience, take what is almost a look backstage. A time when a new work is taking its first tentative steps out into the world, for feedback and constructive criticism, must be difficult at the best of times. It must be even harder when you have had to put the work together with little or no external funding, prevailing on the support and encouragement of friends and family.
So it was particularly interesting to see that the new works had family and relationships as a recurring theme; what Alexander Bayliss had one of the characters in Learning to Love Gravity describeas “the ones that complete us: our friends, our family…our gravity.” I was lucky to see some great new works. Nathaniel Young’s Arrivederci was probably the funniest show I have seen for a long time. Alexander Bayliss’s Learning to Love Gravity was fascinating, particularly with the use of physical theatre within a theatrical piece. Emily Vascotto’s The Mayne Effect challenged us to think about the nature of the rumours that surrounded the Mayne family—and even whether what we know as history might be ‘true.’ And Sophie-Jane Huchet’s Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted) encouraged the audience to reflect on our how we deal with our own “devil within,” and what exactly is “everything” we have “ever wanted.” They were great shows, and I look forward to seeing future developments of each of the productions. I shall be looking out for them.In saying that, I of course also enjoyed the works based on earlier scripts or stories. It was too hard to pick out just one show that I would want to see again. You’d have to go and see them all yourself, and make up your own mind.
Hats off to Paul, Ruby, Alex, and the Anywhere Festival Volunteers. I hope that the producers, directors, and performers involved in all of the Anywhere Festival Brisbane 2015 shows have had at least as much fun as I did. And are inspired to not only continue developing those ‘in progress’ projects, but to think about where they want to be next. Brace yourselves … all those involved in this year’s event.. I’m going to say it so no groans please…get planning, fundraising and writing now… roll on Anywhere Festival Brisbane 2016.