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My internal monologue whilst I sat on the panel for NSW Writers’ Centre Playwriting Festival’s Fringe Benefits panel.

“Life on the fringe. The audiences, the laksas, the reviews, the poker machines next door and the life of the play afterwards … With Leland Kean from Tamarama Rock Surfers, Drew Fairley and Augusta Supple. Chaired by Duncan Graham.”

OK. So I’m on a panel in the Patrick White Room at the NSW Writer’s Centre. It’s a big room, I really didn’t think that we’d get this many people – wow that’s a lot of people. I have no idea in which capacity I’m supposed to be on this panel – reviewer of Fringe or practitioner of Fringe. After a while I surrender all identity crisis, throw caution to the wind – because you know what? I’m not representing anyone but myself – I am truly independent – and I always have been. I am not pushing a politcal agenda or squabbling for funding -I’m not there to promote my work. I’m sitting there on a panel to encourage people to be proud of their work and to encourage them to generate new ideas.

I don’t like the word “fringe.” Makes me think of carpets, and the silly decorative bit of a carpet. Also makes me think of frayed tempers.

I prefer “independent theatre” and “alternative arts” – but mostly I prefer the term “artist-lead theatre.” And I specialise specifically in playwright-lead projects.

I’ve been very active over email with the chair Duncan Graham – who has no idea who I am or what I do. I don’t blame him. I rarely know who i am or what I do… We’ve never met. I think until recently he was Melbourne-based. I have reviewed a show of his: Cut. You can read it here. And he’s now one of the lucky few in the Griffin Studio…

So we have:
Drew Fairly – Darlinghurst Theatre.
Leland Keane -Old Fitzroy Hotel/ Bondi Pavillion
Duncan Graham – Griffin Theatre
Augusta Supple – no fixed abode (I am currently a venue-less gypsy… but this may not be for long…)

He reads my “title” from his i-phone:
“Augusta Supple is an independent theatre director, playwright, creative producer and avid blogger best known for her mulit-playwright projects Brand Spanking New, Stories from the 428, and her work with 7-on Playwrights ‘I Contain Mulitudes.’ She is a passionate advocate for new Australian plays and playwrights.”

Yep. I wrote that. I feel embarrased that my title can’t be summed up in relation to a building or a company or a venue. I feel pretty shy (and like a dork, actually.) It’s clearly the first time he’s read it out loud and he might as well be reading a foreign language because none of it means anything to him. Fair enough, really… probably means nothing to the audience either…

Except there’s a stack of bloggers and writers I’ve worked with (and I admire and have reviewed and know and love) and some new writers I’ve just met in the morning to whom it may mean something. This is my community I’m talking to. And I know them because I go to their shows, I reply to their emails and I read their work and I direct their work.

Duncan is focusing on Leland Kean and Drew Fairly – he feel more comfortable talking to them clearly – I decide it’s because they are linked to a venue. Or it must be my dress. It’s pretty wonderful – polka dots.
I’m overdressed and yet homeless.
Or it could be the fact that I don’t have a venue I’m easily linked to. But I think that makes an even louder point about the alternative/indie theatre scene (let’s not call it “fringe”, OK?) Ad it’s clear he’s an outta towner – there ARE no more Laksas at the old Fitz. Their kitchen was shut down and re-invented in the last 6 months.

Leland gives us a history lesson on the TRS. Yep. Started by boys who wanted to do theatre and hunted for space. That was years ago. Most of his contemporaries are now famous. Or at least known enough to name drop. Joel Edgerton, anyone?

OK. Then more about Drew. He talks about touring shows. He’s also representing Darlinghurst Theatre…

I squeeze in. Well muscle in really – all the questions are for the venue folk. I’m there to talk about artists. I’m there to not give a history lesson but to talk about what is happening right here, right now in the world of Indie theatre.

I think it’s pretty clear that TRS (especially now with the addition of the Bondi Pav under their curatorial control – in addition to the Old Fitz Theatre) AND Darlinghurst (now taking over the Burton st Tabernacle) are mid-level companies. Especially since Leland is referencing the private chats he’s had with Lyn Wallis at OZCO and the Arts ministry of NSW… AND the funding he receives.

Ahhh, hate to break it to you boys, but you’re no longer “fringe” – you are operating within mid-tier, government supported commercial theatres.

Where the new work is happening is in Pop-up venues like serial space, Fraser Studios, lounge rooms and living rooms of playwrights across Sydney. Artists are turning to creating site-specific works as they can easily by-pass the heavily curated “seasons” of these venues. Additionally there are DIY groups everywhere – Penguin Plays Rough, ISM, 7-On Playwrights…

There is also a huge trend towards playwriting collectives. Leland disagreed. But I had to tell him, he’s wrong. In response to productions being very hard for playwrights to access – especially when the mid-tier companies are looking for full supported and funded indie shows that come with their own producer and production team – they are banding together. They are finding creative solutions to the problem of producing new Australian work within a highly controlled and curated and conservative creative field.

But you know what? We all started talking about the wrong stuff – we were talking about the past and talking about venues… and I wanted to talk about the present and the idea of alternative theatre practice.

I felt ignored and dismissed during the panel. Mainly because I didn’t have a venue or a memory of a car trip with other surfer dudes like Joel Edgerton. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be silent. I was going to softly and sweetly push my way into the discussion anyway I could. Duncan may not have known who I was or what I do before hand – but I was going to let him know by the end of the session exactly what I think and what is going on right here, right now in the Sydney indie scene.

Here are the main things I wanted to say to the writers in the room –
There is more to the independent sector and alternative arts sector than a wish to be on the mainstage… or the idea that those spaces are a stepping stone to a grand career.

There are non-traditional performance forms that are looking for writers – I refer to the work of Shh centre for Hybrid Arts http://shh.org.au/

Playwriting collectives are on the rise including one I’ve just initiated WriteHereWriteNow – http://augustasupple.com/tag/write-here-write-now/

No great art movements were ever started or discovered on the mainstage theatres nor in fully funded government institutions.

Not all art is commercial. Nor should it be expected to be.

Altruism is important in the creation of art.

If a theatre won’t have you – find an alternative space – I used the example of Cut Snake which used a patch of grass outside the Seymour Centre… and has since travelled to Melbourne and been acknowledged with a swag of Green Room Award nominations.

Always budget to 25% house capacity – expect to lose money and expect to work 14 hours a day on your project.

Be choosy about who you work with and be clear on why and how you want to work.

Don’t underestimate online spaces. I may not have a physical venue made of bricks and mortar but I do have online spaces – my blog, my email and facbook and twitter where in writers are collaborating and pitching work to me and where we are developing spaces and work. Just because I am utterly indie – doesn’t mean I should be ignored on a panel or watch as the boys are asked questions.

As I stood there post panel writers came up to me and introduced themselves. Writers I didn’t know or just met. They thanked me… and asked me if I could read their work. I, of course, said yes. One writer whispered “Well done, Gus, it seems the patriarchy is still in full force.”

It hadn’t really occured to me – that I was the only woman. It occured to me that I was really the only one with out a venue identity.

And though I do think it is undeniable that more men are in positions of artistic control and have more programming control than women, I didn’t realise that my silence was being read as a gender battle.

Some said they had to leave the session because they were embarrassed for me being overlooked because I was a woman.

And the patriarchy might be alive and well, but I had the best looking dress, even if I am homeless.