ArtsLab is Shopfront Arts Cooperative’s annual emerging artists’ festival, and each year offers a new, exciting and varied program. The featured artists are given a six-months residency, an industry mentor, professional master classes and a season to showcase their art works for as Natalie Rose, creative director of Shopfront says, “emerging artists need space and time to explore and develop their ideas”. Providing that valuable opportunity is Rose’s passion.
The first offering on the program, Everything Working as Intended, Dad written by Sophie Florence Ward (mentor, Jane Phegan), highlights a place and a series of events which we as a nation need to revisit. Ward’s courageous and provocative theatre piece focusses on the real-life prosecution of Bernard Collaery and “whistle-blower” Witness K after the Australian bugging scandal in Timor Leste. Shamefully, this operation presided over by Alexander Downer gave Australia the advantage in negotiations over the drawing up of a new maritime border and ultimately benefitted Australian oil and gas consortium Woodside Petroleum.
Keeping the audience interested during a complex politically based narrative is not an easy task. Ward leavens the details with a playful presentation which at the same time highlights the hypocrisy and duplicity of the main players in events, a set of photographs helps keep track of the players and the use of a whiteboard clarifies essential points. Flynn Mapplebeck brings a sincerity and conviction to his role of the unjustly persecuted Collaery while Kevin Tran hugging his teddy renders Downer as cynical, duplicitous and unredeemable.
We move from a much needed critiquing of Australian democratic processes to the warm and inviting setting of a family kitchen. Pratha Nagal’s Maa Ki Rasoi/My Mother’s Kitchen (mentor, Zindzi Okenyo) while celebratory of love between mother and a youngest daughter also acknowledges the tensions within immigrant families and between generations. Tender, funny and rebellious by turns, Nagal gives the audience an insight into both daughter and mother – both endearingly performed by Madhullikaa Singth – whose lives are contextually very different.
Her mother’s life is based in domesticity and her value in her own eyes depends upon how well she meets an ideal handed down through generations and symbolised by the success of her cooking of traditional recipes. What happens then if the child – while impressed by the mother’s skill and admiring of her mother’s grace and apparent effortlessness in making meals – does not like cooking? What if she, university educated, having grown up in Sydney and not India, sees domesticity as a means of denying women’s right to personal development?
Paris Nights is adapted from D.M. Crawford’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name and written and by performed by Tom Crotty (mentor, Ashleigh Flanders). Mark a self-described naïve and shy man, ventures from Wollongong to Sydney’s Golden Mile in search of a more adventurous lifestyle and in the hope of finding a compatible and supportive community. As a narrative based on the journey from innocence to experience with its quotient of hurt and disillusionment, Paris Nights is often moving as Mark is appealingly vulnerable and honest but also often amusing as he acts out his various sexual encounters.
As a piece of theatre it was very nicely finessed. The clothes hanging on the wall indicate the phases of Mark’s evolution as a gay man, the music highlights Mark’s emotions and provides an energy that reflects Mark’s own need for adventure and excitement. Crotty made good use of the stage space, both in moving around the space and in shifting audience focus from eye level to floor.
In his program notes, Albert Lin (mentor, Tom Hogan) raises an interesting question about the impact of his spoken word poetry performance. He says that some people think that the main appeal of his poetry performance lies in his charismatic personality rather than in the value of his poems. In Of Stars and Streetlights it is clear Lin wants his audience to enjoy poetry as theatre as he opens with some very entertaining data about his process but as he moves into reading his poems it is hard to resist a poet who is, as he says, “in love with the world”.
In addition, to theatre there are also three innovative artworks. PackRat by Robbie Wardhaugh (mentor, Frances Barrett) is a mesmerising two channel video work exploring gender as a constellation of physical sensations and Frank Dwyer’s Locomotion (mentor, Gail Priest) is an immersive and evocative soundscape focussing on the train journey from Carlton to Redfern. In a series of suspended portraits on organza Zi Xin (mentor, Tian Zhang) sensitively investigates the shifting nature of cultural identity experienced by immigrants in Australia.
See this exciting program for yourselves and know that your support for Shopfront helps to ensure a vibrant future for the arts in Australia.
Apologies to Kobi Taylor-Forder (mentor, Debra Oswald) as a sore throat prevented our reviewer from attending The Place Before the Place.