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It’s well after the fact but I thought I would write a little note about MINTO: LIVE – not really as a means of review – but to raise awareness about performance which happens where you least expect it. It’s not a press-sexy topic really is it? I think the daily telegraph did a pre-show feature: But largely this style of work is often left out of critical debate, or even discussion… but then again, arts commentary in Sydney, if not Australia is relegated to a very minute slice of the print press pie (is it 350 words for the Blake’s reviews) and unless it features the glossy stars of film, TV or theatre of yore – you won’t find a huge amount of coverage or commentary on community theatre, or performance made by and for and about specific communities.

The first of the misconceptions with community theatre is that it is amateur theatre- that it’s reasons for being made, are the same reasons that amateur societies exist. This type of work has a purpose to bring the community together whilst celebrating the community’s attributes. Often this work is generated under the experienced eye of professional artists. In the Minto: Live project, curator Rosie Dennis brought together local and international professional artists to work with members of the community.

Interestingly, the Sydney Festival website under Minto:Live includes some mixed responses to this concept and the placement of such an event in the Sydney Festival program including “Can it get much worse than this??” and “My god” – responses which have provoked other nationalistic and supportive comments such as “wow its just so hard for you to be positive….maybe it would enlightening for you to go out and live amongst those that are …positive I mean….and enjoying life…as we know it ..a free society in a wonderful country like AUSTRALIA !!!” and “Minno’ rocks, y’all know it’s true…” It is interesting to note these responses as a means of gauging how Sydney Festival punters see the sydney festival – for some it has been the platform to see the best or most provocative works from overseas, for others about superstars or grand scale spectacle – for some its about seeing work they wouldn’t usually see.

I was not asked to review this show. I doubt that many reviewers (online or otherwise) would review it – mainly because it is a free event (and therefore the role as reviewer of assessor of ticket price worth) and possibly because it seems unfair to review something in the context of professional productions when it is made by and for an untrained community. The question often asked of creators in this field – what should come first – community or the art. John Oram of Claque Theatre, UK had once told me that “Art should always come first and community will follow.” The role of the reviewer or the critic is often that of judgment but also i believe to put a piece of art in contexts – historical, artistic, cultural and social contexts. And it is because of this that I thought I would write a small something on the project.

I attended Minto: Live with the staff of Shopfront Contemporary arts centre, where I am on the Board of Directors. I had recently been involved with the recruitment process of the new Artistic Directors who were included as artists on this project – Caitlin Newton-Broad and Howard Matthew. I have also been an artist on a large scale community project and so it seemed fitting I should attend and check it out.

Congregating in Minto car park as many do on a Saturday – we were handed an envelope containing over-sized hand made postcards made by Kurnow Craig and Mickie Hender spruiking the hidden talents of the local community. Before long, we were welcomed by a local indigenous elder (unnamed in the programme), some songs by choral ensemble Sweet Tonic Singers and an array of Street Dance – where throughout the streets and cul-de-sacs of Minto several individuals and families danced or moved without music. Most surprisingly was the family in the middles of the street – Jasmin, Georgina and Jaspal who filled their front lawn with Bollywood dance telling an anti-drink driving story. On a dry grass hill in the middle of Summer, artist Nicole Barakat is knitting the threads of linens, curtains and material donated by the people into a large rug. After an hour of witnessing spontaneous street daces, live art and songs, there is a dinner break where rugs are supplied and a salad roll ($5) is available for a quick snack. Before long a blast of trumpets standing on an incline start to play a range of songs via Trumpetwest – a collective of brass players. We then are treated to a portrait of Hetain Patel’s desire to fully understand his ancestry and identity with the assistance of Charlie Fruean and Nikki-Tala Tuiala Talaloloa. Finally, projected onto large white screens around the park, Caitlin and Howard’s Waterhole project – created with and by the class of 3/4J Sarah Redfern Primary school – a series of short films mixing animation, performance and visual art into possible worlds below the surface of Minto. Last of all we gathered as we watched international festival “performer” Gwendoline Robin with her piece Instant no.6899 in which she sets her head/self on fire in a moment of controlled combustion – then walk off into the darkness.

It was perhaps the last performance which seemed the most incongruous to me – and in the curatorial shape of the program, did not engage or speak to or about Minto or it’s residence specifically. Ten by Hetain Patel, was a very long work/portrait which seemed to under utilize the Minto inhabitants assisting them. And it seemed to be under a different brief from the rest of the program.

The question is often then asked of projects like Minto: Live – then what? Now what? And though the community value is very clear and evident – the artistic value can be seen as more on the “worthy” side of things. For me, as an evening of exploration of new ideas, multiple cultures and various genre’s I found it to be a fun diversion from the usual, earnest and pretentious money-making ventures of art consumptions – sometimes you just want to be a part of a community event – like a fair or a sports carnival – that brings people together in a specific place and time to reflect on assumptions about community and identity. And in this case it made me think about entertainment, art, performance, criticism, programming, curation and community – not bad for an evening worth of wondering around the streets of Minto. I reckon.