Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theatre in Australia's National Capital

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theatre in Australia's National Capital

Article excerpt

The theatre divides its public and divides itself.

Pierre Bourdieu1

I don't believe you can be international until you are national: or national until you are regional. And perhaps you can't be regional until you are parochial.

Robin Love-joy2

This comparative analysis of the arts in Canberra. Australia's national capital city, is informed by what I perceive to be a valorisation of the visual arts over theatre. Further, within the performing arts themselves in Canberra, amateur theatre appears to dominate and professional performance appears to be marginalised. In order to understand why professional theatre has been relegated to the fringes of Canberra's culture. 1 provide historical and political explanations. It could be argued of course that, nationally, the marginalisation of performance in Canberra is of no significant consequence given the notable theatre work throughout Australia as a whole. However. I am interested in the symbolic meaning of this choice, conscious or not. of cultural representation within Australia's national capital. I am inspired here by Baz Kershaw's observation:

[T]heatre is an especially telling practice, because as an institution it has to conform more or less to the discipline of the market in order to survive, but as an arena for creative performance, it always offers the potential for a radical critique of the social (and its economics) as a disciplinary apparatus. This tension provides another reason why theatres are especially relevant to our understanding of struggles about the nature of democracy in any particular time and place.3

In Australia, there are three tiers of government arts funding. The Commonwealth Government oversees national arts policy through the Department of the Environment. Water. Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). This Department's main agency for the implementation of arts funding is the Australia Council for the Arts. In addition, state and territory governments also maintain their own arts funding organisations. Further, within the stales there are local councils which may provide support for arts projects. In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), in which Canberra is located, since being granted self-government in 1988. the territory government fulfils the role of both "state' and municipal governance tis there are no local councils. The ACT's arts-funding and advisory body is arts ACT .

The collection institutions located in Canberra - which comprise part of the DEWHA portfolio - are Old Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia. National Film and Sound Archive. National Library of Australia and the National Museum of Australia. By no means till of Australia's significant collection institutions arc located in the ACT. For example, the Australian National Maritime Museum, in Sydney, is also responsible to the Minister of the Environment. Heritage and the Arts. Similarly, not all of Canberra's significant cultural organisations fall under the Federal Arts portfolio. The Australian War Memorial, for example, is responsible to the Minister for Veterans- Affairs and Canberra Glassworks is funded by the ACT Government. Suffice it to say that despite, or because of. the fact that these institutions belong to different government departments, they tire all based on the aesthetic of the displayed, visual object: objects dependent on modes of preservation which have the potential to endure through time. However, in terms of status, there is no equivalent theatre presence in Canberra. This is not to say. of course, that there is no theatre in Canberra.

The Canberra Theatre Centre is a member of the Incorporation of New South Wales (NSW) and ACT Performing Arts Centres and thus is host to touring productions from interstate. In relation to locally produced performances in Canberra, the theatre scene is dominated by amateur performance. Caroline Stacey. Artistic Director/CEO of The Street Theatre notes over eighteen amateur theatre groups in Canberra. …

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