Theatre Australia (Un)limited: Australian Theatre since the 1950s

Article excerpt

Geoffrey Milne, Theatre Australia (Un)limited: Australian Theatre Since the 1950s (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2004)

Though the situation is changing, texts about the history of Australian theatre practice are still few and far between. Most that are available, as Milne states in his prologue, focus on playtexts and playwrights. Whilst these works are important in their own right, without available information about the broader social and political context of production, studies that examine particular moments in isolation risk being selfreferential and cumulatively contribute to mystifying Australian theatre history. In the last few years a number of publications have appeared that have broadened the range of available information, such as the work of Michelle Arrow on women writers and Julian Meyrick on Nimrod Theatre Company. Cumulatively these studies provide the potential for a deeper understanding of the practices of Australian theatre beyond the mythologies and denials that are part of the residual cultural cringe and the legacy of imperialism and colonialism.

This book by Geoffrey Milne is the tenth in the 'Australian Playwrights' series. As the title of the series suggests the initial focus was on studies of authors. Since Veronica Kelly became the series editor, it has been expanded to include historical, thematic and theoretical studies. These include Our Australian Theatre in the 1990s (1998), Body Show/s: Australian Viewings of Live Performance (2000), and Playing Australia: Australian Theatre and the International Stage (2003). Milne's text, focusing on the advent and practices of government subsidy to the performing arts, is an historical study. It provides a detailed and comprehensive overview of the history of the development of the theatre industry in relation to government funding and policy in Australia since the 1950s. It is a national study in two senses. Milne examines national organisations and institutions as well as state and territory organisations in all regions across the country. The focus is on institutions and funding practices and the essential development of infrastructure.

Using the organisations and genres that national and state funding bodies include under the heading of theatre, Milne examines an impressively broad range of companies as a unified field. These organisations include companies that primarily produce spoken word drama, as well as other theatrical practices such as music theatre, circus, puppetry, community theatre and physical theatre. The range of companies he includes is extensive, encompassing small, medium and large companies, those based in both capital cities and regional centres, and companies that are subsidised and unsubsidised. As part of his focus on theatre as an organisational or institutional phenomenon, Milne also examines the dramatic repertoire and its writers in some detail in the context of the companies and organisations that nurtured and produced them. The book contains, as an epilogue, a systematic analysis of national repertoire patterns from 1968 to 1998.

Milne draws on a broad range of resources for his comprehensive study. These include archival sources ranging from published print materials such as articles included with published plays, press reviews and articles, books about drama and dramatists, theatre and art magazines such as Theatre Australia and RealTime, government reports and web-based resources such as Ausstage. He also draws on personal archives and those of theatre companies for ephemera such as company brochures, mission statements, program notes, relevant correspondence, and pictorial records. Some of the photographs from the pictorial record are included in the book. This extensive archival research is further extended by Milne's personal discussions over a twelve-year period with hundreds of company directors, arts bureaucrats, theatre managers, journalists, playwrights, actors, designers, puppeteers and other theatre practitioners based all over Australia. …