There’s that feeling just before a meeting or a launch – where I feel different. My skin feels thin, sounds seem louder, my eyes are keener and dart around examining everything. I am ultra aware, ultra wired, ultra ready. Tonight before the meeting I had been slammed with text messages, emails, facebook messages all sending their apologies and offering assistance and their support for whatever was suggested or offered – a willingness to join in, to offer, to work, to develop – and that is, I must say, an utterly humbling thing. As the texts bounced in, I had a serious feeling of dread – what if no-one turned up? What if I was left talking to the packets of Arnotts assorted creams and the tea bags by myself?

And like all good guests, the independent theatre folk started to arrive- what I thought may be 10 people, blossomed into 40 and soon we were shifting chairs and shuffling on couches. Soon they were gesticulating and talking amongst themselves, offering introductions and biscuits. ACTORS, WRITERS, PRODUCERS, DIRECTORS, PUNTERS… huddled around the mismatched furniture in the Fraser Studios warehouse. I waited… and then… we began…

I am going to paraphrase here in an overly writerly way – I can’t remember precisely what I said but here is the gist –

“Thank you for taking the time to be here – as there are a thousand things you could be doing – yoga classes, combat courses, spending time with your family, or the Griffin for a cheap ticket to Silent Disco… I wanted to invite you along to an event which was not held in the comfortable seats of someone else’s theatre, where artists are offered a day to air their ideas, are offered falafel and then ignored. I also wanted to start a conversation with you about the Independent theatre sector, in particular reference to my true love, new Australian playwriting. And there are a few things I wanted to get out of the way –

Firstly, I don’t believe there is one person here whose work, writing, talent I have not seen, heard about/read/reviewed or engaged with. The fact that you are here is incredible – and testament to your passion and dedication. You do not have to compete for status or recognition – please assume you have it anyway. Secondly I am not an arts organisation -I have no money. The number one complaint from the independent sector is about money and the need for it and why isn’t there more. We all agree, we all want money. And I don’t have any to give you… and this isn’t what this meeting is about.

It has come to my attention that there is some movement about – namely there are at least two theatre spaces that have the potential to be inhabited – and I wanted to ask you what you wish and want. This is a meeting to talk about what you want – what would help you make the best work possible. Surely when you have been up at two in the morning finalising that draft, or selecting your headshot or re-formatting your CV there has been a wish, or a dream you’ve had where you’ve thought – “if only…” Well, I want to hear it, now is your chance. I want to hear what you have to say which is why I have hired this venue, bought you biscuits, and invite you to tell me…”

The conversation was steered in many directions –
* the desire for a collective independent theatre’s blanket public liability and workers comp agreement…
* the desire for a place for people to gather and share ideas
* a theatre
* a theatre with a bar where regardless of the time of day people could have a drink and develop ideas
* a place where writers could feel supported and heard and welcomed
* a place dedicated to new Australian writing development and production
* a theatre that offers people an opportunity to skill up via practice
* an artist run space
* a shift in thinking that independent theatre is a rehearsal for the mainstage
* an alternative theatre to the current models available
* a safe place with good working equipment
* a non-curated theatre
* a theatre which is run via committee
* a venue that is under a co-op model
* a theatre with a rehearsal space attached
* a membership based organisation
* a hub where resources and theatre contacts can be shared (especially in the production of new work)

And I offered up a re-thinking: what if we no longer referred to artists as emerging or established, but instead referred to their WORK (ie their play) as emerging (early draft) vs established (has survived many re-drafts/developments and workshops and is now stage-ready)?

There was lively discussion and debate about what theatre is, what it should be, if we had a venue – what would it do/have?

I told three small stories about the history of Sydney theatres – a 6 sentence version of the history of the NIMROD theatre (abridged from Merrick’s See How it Runs), the early years of PACT in the 60s and the starting up of Shopfront Theatre’s co-operative in the 70s. At the heart of all these ventures were some committed brave artists who were willing to part with money, time and do the hard, dirty, ugly work together to make it happen. And tonight was a request for people to start thinking in terms of what people are willing to do for what they want – but more importantly -to ask them to think outside what is, and think about what could be…

The fact of the matter is this – theatre folk are extremely resourceful, energetic, passionate, brave, resilient, creative.

And despite one email I received which claimed that Australian writing gets enough support – I know there is a need and interest and passion for new Australian writing – and we need a space/company that is soley dedicated to the new: the development, support and production of new work.

I offered a very preliminary model with the idea of bridging the gap between development and production – and a series of structures to assist all artists to engage with developing new work and supporting writers.

It is now time to stop being subservient or passive in what we want for our audiences, for our art and for ourselves. I invite everyone to talk, disagree, dream, dismiss, create, build. And I invite you to do so here.

The question is: if you had a space, what would it look like? What would you do? How would it run? What would it offer you? How is it different from other venues, organisations and opportunities? WHAT DO YOU WANT?

And after 2 hours of chatter and argument a couple of things were resolved –
1. For the conversation to continue and for ideas to be offered and discussed.
2. A facebook page to be created for discussion and for people to be kept in the loop. (Yes it’s been set up already you can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_210888062277355 )
3. Conversations should continue and not be confined to the group – if you need to set up a theatre with a bar – do it.
4. Continue to dream big so that you can make excellent work.

And then there was a thank you and one voice asked
KATIE: Gus, how much was it to hire this space?
GUS: Um, $60
KATIE: I think we can all leave a couple of dollars on the table, can’t we?
ALL: Yes, of course.

And with that the coffee table was littered in gold coins, five and ten dollar notes… and I was left stunned and astounded and proud to be a part of such a community…

And to quote an email I just received from a beautiful playwright – “I left with a spring in my step…”