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Do Canberra Audiences Know Anything?

By simbo - 22 September 2008 18

An article in the Canberra times this weekend by Dr Adele Chynoweth, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University School of Humanities, seems to have got a couple of local theatre heads (or at least the ones I hang out with) out of joint a bit – largely because it argues that Canberra is too dominated by the amateur theatre scene, at the expense of developing a more professional theatrical industry here.

Two of the pertinent quotes read as follows:

Kate Shearer, artistic director of (the professional) Jigsaw Theatre Company, notes too that in Canberra, “The market is incredibly saturated with amateur theatre companies and Joe Public doesn’t really know what he’s buying.”

Caroline Stacey from The Street Theatre also says, “In Canberra, people are unable or unwillingly to distinguish between professional and amateur theatre and it runs from practitioners, spectators, right through to media. The distinction is important because without it one can’t have a dialogue. It’s about how one talks about and creates work. Talking about work as a social activity versus a serious investigation of various methodologies is a completely different dialogue. People are not willing to engage in that. There has not been enough on-the-ground development in professional practice for a long time.”

Well, there’s nobody more Joe public than a Riotact Reader, so… I’d like to know – do you think that you as a member of Joe Public do know the difference between a professional and an amateur theatre production? And are you able to or willing to distinguish between the two? And does it really matter whether the guys in front of you are being paid or not as long as they are producing good quality, committed, interesting work?

What’s Your opinion?


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18 Responses to
Do Canberra Audiences Know Anything?
Whatsup 1:57 pm 23 Sep 08

Theatre is great and you generally get what you pay for. The exception is amateur productions that can give you far more bang for your buck than what you expected.

I think Canberrians appreciate a good performance, the payroll of the actors isn’t something to get hung up about.

So to Kate Shearer… put on a great production and people will pay more money for it and they may look out for your companies productions in the future. If you can’t do a better job as a professional company than the amateurs, take a long hard look at yourselves.

New Yeah 1:16 pm 23 Sep 08

Most amateur theatre I’ve been to has been because I know someone who is in the show. I like to support their efforts. Sometimes the show is a bit rough around the edges, but so what? That can be what really makes it memorable.

The difference between amateurs and pros? Price, props and maybe a biggish name or two.

I’m more likely to be disappointed by an expensive show rather than one put on by students/thwarted thespians/enthsuiastic suburban folk.

I-filed 12:41 pm 23 Sep 08

People are not so much ‘unwilling’ to distinguish, as there’s little or no distinction between “pro” and “am” other than a bit of a cash component. In an environment where there is masses of enthusiasm, knowledge, discipline and talent, the “amateurs” can often outshine tired old pros doing a hack thing.

Thumper 12:40 pm 23 Sep 08

Kate Shearer, artistic director of (the professional) Jigsaw Theatre Company, notes too that in Canberra, “The market is incredibly saturated with amateur theatre companies and Joe Public doesn’t really know what he’s buying.”

Well Ms Kate “i’m so far up myself with self importance” Shearer, why don’t you ensure that Canberra gets to see every major professional gig currently touring the country? Something that doesn’t happen.

Or start paying amateurs?

Or is it that the amateurs are proving to be annoyingly talented and therefore taking paying customers away from the professional gigs?

harvyk1 11:12 am 23 Sep 08

Given that we are lucky to get a professional show through Canberra more than a couple of times a year I amateur is really the only way to go to the theater in Canberra. If you want an example of what I mean, look at the Phantom of the Opera, it was in Sydney for quite a long time, and many Canberran’s traveled up to Sydney to see it (including people I wouldn’t have thought would be fans) and yet Canberra didn’t even get a single day here.

The really funny thing is that when a professional show does come through Canberra apparently it’s patronage is far higher than in both Sydney or Melbourne (it could be because in Canberra it runs for a week if that, in Sydney and Melbourne the shows will usually last for a few months).

Just my observations, based on no facts other than what I’ve seen.

Woody Mann-Caruso 10:18 am 23 Sep 08

I know the difference, and it isn’t on the stage. I’d reject any notion that “social activity” and “a serious investigation of various methodologies” are mutually exclusive. Anybody who has been involved with passionate amateurs in any sphere – open source software, motorsport, theatre, whatever – knows that they’ll go to the ends of the earth to get something right, to do it better. The idea that once money enters the equation things are suddenly better is laughable – if anything, commercial interests can only serve to muddy the waters.

tylersmayhem 9:02 am 23 Sep 08

I definitely prefer amateur productions a lot of the time. There’s often more at stake for the actors and the quality is often even better than the pros. Add to that the previous comment about $40 difference is also bang on.

The most recent example I can give was the performance by Stephen Berkoff at the Canberra Theater last week. It received a couple of rave reviews, so I thought I’d check out “Victor Maitland” in the flesh. I was also keen to see a long time actor who has global notoriety.

I was left cold, disappointed and confused…and $65 lighter after the 90 minute (including intermission) show. It was more of an opportunity for those who’ve seen his more serious work over the years, to come and laugh at him carrying on like a year 10 drama student. I have seen quite a bit of stage in my time – and have been left speechless by the quality and power of some performances, but not this time.

I may not be an avid or experienced theater performance fan, but he could have at least delivered the classic lines out of Beverly Hills Cop: “I don’t think you have the slightest idea who you’re f**king with”.

DarkLadyWolfMother 8:10 am 23 Sep 08

Having seen my fair share of both professional and amateur productions, I’d agree with Thumper.

To an extent, all a professional production does is put more polish on the production. Curiously, I’ve found that’s sometimes to the detriment of the it. Perhaps I just like that more ‘raw’ edge you get with some amateur productions. It seems to give it more energy and make it more entertaining to me.

Perhaps Canberrans do know what they want, and it’s not the professional scene? It’s amazing they never think of that kind of answer…

Thumper 8:01 am 23 Sep 08

Some of your good amateur productions are indistinguishable from the professional ones.

If anything the canberra amateur scene should be encouraged as it is very, very good, no, excellent.

Nukezone 1:00 am 23 Sep 08

Amateur theatre is raw, gritty, and gives up and coming actors the chance to have their talent seen and heard. Art is of the last bastians of creative freedom we can enjoy as the commercialisation of society becomes more widespread.

Pandy 12:47 am 23 Sep 08

I don’t like amateur shows like Cirque de Soil that is fer sure.

pptvb 12:33 am 23 Sep 08

The difference ?
About 40 bucks

jamesmcp73 12:17 am 23 Sep 08

I think one problem is that Canberra is too small a place to support a professional show. There are simply not enough people to sustain a show and cover the immense costs associated with a pro production.

Morgan 11:39 pm 22 Sep 08

Canberrans are very casual about the theatre, even evening performances are dress-down affairs.

The Street Theatre person sounds like one of those people who would label anyone who won’t sit through “The Birthday party” without falling asleep a philistine anyway.

Granny 11:17 pm 22 Sep 08

It doesn’t matter to me as long as I enjoy the show. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t know whether it was amateur or professional in Canberra unless I was familiar with the theatre company or somebody told me.

Quackers and I did join Canberra Rep but we haven’t been along to any Happy Hours or anything yet.

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