2 March 11:54 am

Kill Climate Deniers Feedback

If you’ve seen the play, we would love to hear your thoughts on Kill Climate Deniers. To keep the conversation flowing, we’ll be posting any considered feedback and comments we receive onto our blog.

To join the discussion simply email your observations to


As someone who works for a climate organisation, the show and its themes resonated deeply with me and I thought you did an excellent job at portraying such a complex subject in an entertaining manner. The acting was sublime and loved how the plot line was used as a vehicle for broader political commentary. So clever.  Also, the section where all the emails from the climate deniers was just so spot on. I felt like you could be reading out our own info@ email account at times!  Thanks for backing such a bold and contentious play. 

– Bek


Tonight’s play, Kill Climate Deniers, was a preview before the opening and hence a little rusty with sound equipment but energetic and already controversial. The title had elicited lots of hostility from those self-appointed Conservatives who were happy to “kill” Julia Gillard but who willingly took offence at a play they had not read and had not seen. Cue here to Andrew Bolt and friends.

Those criticisms were built into the play and the “playwright” kept a running commentary within the play, offering alternate realities, scenarios and providing a constant communication with the audience. This was not a play where you can forget you are watching a play. The scaffolding of the theatrical experience was laid bare.

While didactic and self-consciously so it was also a Surrealist theatre of the Absurd. It was a high octane energetic farce played at speed with many of the cast playing multiple roles. In the sights of this play were politicians, their media advisers, the media and, well, yes, us, for we are too comfortable to see that real climate policies would truly, fundamentally change the way we live.

I wish the show well. It’s brave theatre. It’s great to see risk. It’s great that the Griffin Theatre takes those risks. It is a truly special place!



Having attended the behind-the-scenes session at Sydney Uni, I was excited to see how Lee finally wrangled the ‘script’ into submission. The final production exceeded my wildest dreams. It was awesomely good…so good at times that I had tears in my eyes from the sheer brilliance of it all. Fast-paced, funny, technically superb. Loved it so much I might even go again if I can get a ticket. PS. I don’t use ‘awesome’ lightly

– Trish


It was absolutely amazing!!! The use of the small space was inspiring, and the contrast of style – from melodrama to realism – was done so well! The fight sequences had me at the edge of my seat. Overall it was the best piece of theatre I have ever seen. 
– Sophie 


The bottom line is, this would never convince anyone who did not already believe in climate change, so what is the point?



My guests had a fabulous time and thoroughly enjoyed the play. It was particularly timely because one of them worked on the ABC radio program Science Report and had listened to the broadcast earlier that day with Robin Williams regarding a climate conference in the United States. Her partner, Paul Davies AM is an internationally recognised astrobiology as among other things and is very much into climate science. Both are professors at ASU.

– Jonathan


I wanted to say a massive thank you for my tickets last night. I took my mum and we roared with laughter and absolutely loved the play. I will be telling all of my friends. You have revived my enthusiasm to get back out and see more plays, thanks again.



This has prompted political backlash… The threat to kill in these words even in jest and if said at an airport as a joke would lead to a prison sentence and it is incitement… I think this has caused big issues in the media… There are mad people out there and I am a speaker for Al Gore in Climate Reality and  a green campaigner for many years the last thing we need is negative publicity, from the majority of people who will not see your play and will attribute this kind of attitude to people like me.



I wanted to say, after attending Kill Client Deniers tonight, how much we all enjoyed it. Brilliant piece of theatre – funny writing, challenging topic, brilliant performances and top marks to Lee for the direction. Kill Climate Deniers rates as one of the best plays at the Griffin for ages, and wonderful to see such clever and witty Australian writing. The only complaint we could have is that there is so much going on, between the stage and the screens, that we feel it needs a repeat visit just to appreciate how much there is in it! Congratulations to all involved – on stage and back stage, and thank you for keeping Australian theatre alive and developing. I am spreading the word to friends about this play.



It dealt with the major issue of the environment but the approach of using the education minister and having her back story made the piece so much more relatable, as well as confronting. Although the hostage situation may have seemed a bit over-dramatic, it confronted the audience (or at least me) because it made me think this is really what we are going to have to come to if the government keeps ignoring the problem of the environment. Overall I thought it was an amazing piece and the whole cast and crew should be very proud of themselves because I would go back and watch it again every day if I could.

– Pip

1 March 12:46 pm

A Note from Lee, 1 March

The first play of the 2018 Griffin Season is opening tonight!

Kill Climate Deniers is a wild ride of a theatrical experience. Playwright David Finnigan is offering a vision of the world that is thrilling, frightening and funny.

The production is filled with great Australian talent, made by some of Australia’s best young designers and laced with outrageous politics and passions.

If I told you the references for making the show were Die Hard (1 & 3), The Thick of It, Magic Mike, The Terminator and Mission Impossible 3, would you be excited or scared?

This is the kind of play that Griffin is made for—the plays that cannot and should not start at a State Theatre Company but absolutely must be on an Australian stage.

So put your adventure hat on and grab your tickets for a show like no other.

See you in the foyer!


Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

15 February 1:18 pm

A Note from Lee, 15 Feb

Every week during rehearsals, we have a production meeting where everyone working on the show updates the team on their progress towards getting into the theatre. The meetings are usually early in the morning.

Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, we had a production meeting for Kill Climate Deniers, which goes into the theatre next week. This was the report given by our Audiovisual Designer, Toby Knyvett:

Roses are red, just like beef jerky
I’ve got 5 out of 6 projectors and screens working

Roses are red, carnations are dapper
I just need a HDMI over CAT5 transmitter and a dual link DVI adapter
(Which Kirby already brought so that one is off the radar)

Roses are red, romance or sex?
Waiting on the video capture box to be delivered by Startrack Express

Roses are red, I love Outkast’s ‘HEY YA’
At the office they should expect a delivery in my name from Videoguys Austral-ya

>if delivery is done

(Roses are red, oh yeah booyah
Thanks for letting me know, what a fast courier)

Roses are red, pasta is al-dent
By the end of today we’ll have some content

Roses are red, I could go a ke-bab
I’ve started to create a master showfile for Khym to trigger in QLAB

Roses are red, the tech week is loomin’
With that QLAB file I need to work closely on cue points with Steve Toulmin

Roses are red, I hate roller derby
That’s all to report, back to you Kirby…

Hands down my favourite moment in a production meeting, ever! We preview next Friday – grab your tickets and get ready for a wild ride.


Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

1 February 2:11 pm

In Conversation: David Finnigan

Bombastic, sharp, and urgent, Kill Climate Deniers is our first Main Season production of 2018. We sat down with playwright David Finnigan to chat about his many influences and what went into the writing of this audacious script.

Image by Sarah Walker

A play is a night out. It’s an evening of entertainment for people who could just as easily be at home. When I’m writing something I’m always asking myself, why would people want to be at your play rather than living it large in their house?

I think, what would make me want to come along for a night at the theatre?

The answer is usually some combination of: good music played loud, explosions, great costumes, some kind of story, dancing, knife fights, more music, and friendship. And you structure it the way you’d structure a party. It starts with a lot of talking, it builds until the dance-floor is heaving and euphoric, and it ends in a chaotic, exhausted mess.

People talk about playscripts like they’re a kind of literature. And some plays are!

My scripts tend to be more like a heated letter to the director, designer and actors, instructing them what to make, prodding and provoking them with challenges and obstacles, and distracting them with lists, asides, comments and questions.

Most of my playwriting influences are people I collaborated and experimented with—Chrism Lloyd, Adam Hadley, Nick McCorriston. Later on people like Jess Bellamy, Declan Greene and Nakkiah Lui for their melt-it-all-down approach to genre.


I was reading a lot of Anne Boyer while writing Kill Climate Deniers (and before, and after—always read Anne Boyer). She’s a US poet, one of the wellsprings, a voice I keep turning back to in my writing. I was so conscious of how her poetry is constantly contaminated by politics, how her politics is constantly contaminated by poetry, how she turns this scorching but compassionate awareness on the world and especially her own self, and I want to think some of that aesthetic made its way into my script. Or maybe I just want to tell you to go read Garments Against Women.

But I really learned to write, once you tally it all up, from Jeff Noon. When I was a teenager I devoured his sci-fi novels, then later his experiments in form—Mappalujo and Cobralingus—even (especially) his few essays on writing process, his playlists of songs that he listened to in the writing of various works.

It was Noon that laid out how you might go about applying the tools and techniques of electronic music to making a written work. How you might sample, mix and remix a piece of work into being the way a DJ would lay out a live set.

In one piece of writing, Noon broke down a minimal techno record (Decks, EFX and 909 by Richie Hawtin) and showed how you could craft a written work using the same format:

“The CD consists of 38 pieces of music, with two or three records being played simultaneously. Hawtin includes a diagram on the CD’s sleeve, which depicts where each record begins and ends.

The DJ also employs the other two devices mentioned in the title, a special effects processor, and a Roland 909 drum machine. With these various elements, Hawtin produces a coherent musical narrative. I use the word “narrative” without compromise. Anybody who has enjoyed a good DJ set in a nightclub will attest to this sense of a story being unfolded through the music.

With this in mind, we could use Richie Hawtin’s CD as the template for a novel. We need to create 38 stories, which then blend into each other using the CD’s diagram as a guide. As one story comes to an end, another story, or two other stories, are mixed into it. These new stories are then carried on, until further stories are added to the mix.

Hawtin will return to the same record twice, or to a different remix of the record; we can use this technique to allow our various stories to reappear at different places in the narrative. The special effects and the drum machine elements can be interpreted in their own ways, according to the individual imagination. There are no rules, only opportunities. Above all, imagine the pleasure gained from following the various stories through the mix.”

Maybe a playscript is really actually a mixtape, a recipe for a dancefloor trip with just enough story to contextualise the heat / the energy. And Kill Climate Deniers especially is wired straight from those late-80s / early-90s House and Techno tracks where snippets of movie dialogue or spoken word are sampled and dropped in to shape the mood.

This was such a focus in the development of the script that it led to DJ/producer Reuben Ingall and myself producing a Kill Climate Deniers album for Clan Analogue. The record is straight techno bangers in the vein of classic rave circa 1988-92, overlaid with samples from the play. (Listen to the record on Spotify if you like, or try Music to Shoot Climate Activists To for a taster.)

Image by Sarah Walker

So: take the overloaded-night-out-party aesthetic, blurt out years of fury and despair at the absurd collision between climate science and Australian federal politics, and weave it together like it’s a DJ set from 1992: that’s the script.

But that’s just the start. Then Lee and the other creatives take that script and a playlist of outstanding dance music into the rehearsal room, and burn the whole thing down until it’s a live experience. I don’t know how they’re going to do it but I’m excited, worried, charged with that nervous euphoria rush.

1:18 pm

A Note from Lee, 1 February

When you work on a play, the play inevitably works on you. You have to let it into your life and so all the questions it raises in the fictional world become questions you start asking yourself in the real world.

I’m in the rehearsal room for David Finnigan‘s Kill Climate Deniers and it’s making me really uncomfortable. This is the story of a climate science activist and his struggle to get through to the world about the battle he is fighting. It’s a cry of rage. I mean, he screams in a comic way so it’s fun to do and to see (’90s techno is inherently funny, yes?) but the underlying questions it asks about our extraordinary capacity to ‘forget’, ‘misunderstand’, ‘bury’ and ‘silence’ our history, our difficulties, our pain, our errors, our humiliations, our massacres, our lies… well let’s just say thank god I’m in a room with some great actors.

So you have to come and see it.

And if you know Andrew Bolt… you have to invite him.

2018 people! It’s here!


Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

18 January 1:48 pm

A Note from Lee, 18 January

Greetings from hot and beautiful Katherine!

Yes, I am way up north on a development of a new work. It’s too early to talk about the story yet, but one of the great things about working up here is that a break isn’t a quick trip to Messina – it’s a swim in the pools at the bottom of a waterfall. Leliyn (Edith Falls) in the Nitmiluk National Park is perfect in the hot, hot, hot afternoon. As I float in the current I’m thinking just #ChangeTheDate. And I am thinking that log looks like a crocodile.

Monday will see me back in the Sydney rehearsal room for the first day of David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers. And I might just sneak into the theatre Monday night to see FAG/STAG again, which is proving to be a great festival hit.

If you are coming back from holidays, welcome back to the best time of year in Sydney – there is some great theatre to see. If you’re sneaking in a few more days before the end of January, good luck to you… I hope you find a great waterfall to sit under.

With love from the land of Paul’s Iced Coffee,

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

10:39 am

Two of Us: Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs on FAG/STAG

After winning a bunch of awards at Edinburgh, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe festivals, festival favourite FAG/STAG has arrived in Sydney. We talked to co-writers and performers Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs about where FAG/STAG  begun and all the places it’s taken them. 

Where did you two meet?

Chris Isaacs: We met around 2006 at The Blue Room theatre — an excellent performance hub for artists in Perth.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler: From there we knew each other through the same circles of theatre makers in Perth.

CI: We worked together on a few shows, but really became much closer since the forming of The Last Great Hunt and the collaboration of making FAG/STAG.

JJF: Our friendship was a long-time brewing.

Who are your main artistic influences?

JJF: Tricky one.

CI: I’d say we get influenced more by individual shows than by artists.

JJF: We were influenced by a spate of confessional storytelling shows that we’d seen a few years ago, and started to wonder what would happen if we played with two unreliable narrators rather than one.

CI: Recently we were influenced by Richard Nelson’s The Gabriels trilogy, though that probably plays more into Bali than FAG/STAG.

JJF: Also we both saw a show in Edinburgh this year called On Ice by Suzanne Grotenhuis which deeply moved us both and has given us something to think about for further works. She quickly shifted a simple story about fake ice rinks into a plea to take care of the planet so effortlessly it was shocking.

How do you go about writing a play collaboratively?

CI: We spent about a year talking, hanging out, thinking, dropping ideas here and there — letting the show be present in our minds but not forcing it out. Then we sat down in a room and set out a rough timeline of events in the play and then both went away to write and think about each character’s perspective on those events.

JJF: We were thinking a lot about masculinity, our own lives, the current fight against toxic masculinity, the arguments set out on both sides of that debate. A week later we sat down in a room and improvised the text — recorded it — listened to it — edited it — revised it — re-recorded it — listened again — sharpened it — wrote it down and performed it.

CI: The actual writing process was very quick, but the ideas and characters were gestating for a year.

JJF: The text is still fluid now. We change small things every season. The world changes, we adapt the play to fit. Some lines around gay marriage have been clipped and edited after the happy event of it becoming legal in Australia.

What new perspectives do you hope for FAG/STAG to offer?

CI: One of the nicest responses we’ve had is a guy coming up to us after the show and say “I’m going to go home and hug my boys a little tighter tonight.” I think it’d be nice to have men think about masculinity with a little more scrutiny.

JJF: I think the play gives the audience an opportunity to understand two people they may not necessarily like.

Any stories from the FAG/STAG tour? 

CI: We’ve been very lucky to take the show around to a few festivals now, and most recently had a great season at Edinburgh Fringe. You meet many interesting artists when you’re in festivals like Edinburgh and we had a wonderful dressing room for FAG/STAG. It was us, English comedian Jack Rooke and BAFTA winning actress Monica Dolan.

JJF: We were rubbing shoulders with real celebrities!

CI: Jack was always a nervous wreck because he was just about to do his show — and Monica (who had about an hour before her show when we were in the dressing room) was either putting on her makeup or doing yoga, or some very quiet vocal warm ups. Every day Jack would be hurriedly looking over his script — completely unorganised — dealing with a thousand things at once — and Monica would spout little acting wisdom gems like ‘technique is what you use on the nights you’re not feeling it’ in a wonderfully pleasant English voice.

JJF: That bit of advice really came in handy while doing Edinburgh Fringe!

CI: Those fifteen minutes after finishing our show were always bizarre, lovely fun.

JJF: It’s been great taking the show around the world since 2015. The world is changing, the conversation around men is changing, and that means what people get from the show changes too. One of the best parts of the show is realising that every season is fresh and new and different because it is performed in response to a different city and a different zeitgeist.

FAG/STAG runs until 27 January.

Image credit: Robert Catto

4 January 3:20 pm

A Note from Lee, 4 January

Put your skates on — 2018 is happening! And we have some great shows for you. There will be a year of laughter, tears, passion and politics.

We are about to kick it all off with festival smash-hit FAG/STAG written by Story Lab alumnus Chris Isaacs and the talented Jeffrey Jay Fowler.

Reading has started for the Griffin Award. ATYP is getting ready for its first show on the SBW Stables’ stage. Kill Climate Deniers is in pre-production. Sydney Festival has all sorts of delights in store for us. There is no traffic! I love summer in Sydney.

And given all the weddings we are all going to may I suggest that in this summer of love the perfect wedding gift for the couple is a pair of subscriptions to Griffin 2018…?!?! You know it’s a good idea.

Happy New Year!
Lee Lewis

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

21 December 11:32 am

A Note from Lee, 21 December

2017! A Strategic Plan, The Homosexuals orFaggots, Rice, Diving For Pearls. A big year of stories wasn’t it? I hope you found in these plays ideas to challenge you, to entertain you, to create new conversations with friends and totally inspire you to come back to Griffin in 2018. Have you subscribed yet? Better still, have you made your friends subscribe? And gift subscriptions… how good are they!?!

Seriously though, thank you for supporting new Australian plays and the artists who make them. Griffin employed 52 artists this year, and gave a home to 63 independent artists. We put on 451 performances and over 25,000 people sat in the Stables to see new work.

Thank you to all the playwrights who put the words on paper. Katherine Thomson, Michele Lee, Declan Greene, Ross Mueller, Morgan Rose, Dan Giovanonni, Patrick White, Suzie Miller, Robyn Archer, David Williams, Sheridan Harbridge, Tommy Bradson, all the playwrights who created works in the Griffin Studio, all the playwrights who sent us plays for the Lysicrates Prizes and for the Griffin Award (next deadline 31st December!). You are all extraordinary. I hope we took good care of your work and that you loved your play being here at Griffin as much as we loved having it on the SBW Stables stage.

Against the odds we have had a great big successful year, thanks to you. Thanks for coming, thanks for donating, thanks for reading our newsletter, thanks for being the best audience in the country. Enjoy your break if you get one, enjoy the lack of traffic in the city for the next month, enjoy a good book, and I will see you back at the Stables in 2018 for new adventures.


Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

11 December 5:18 pm

Griffin Podcast: State of Play

Why do we need theatre in Australia? Angela Catterns interviews a panel of theatre professionals—including Fred Copperwaite, Lee Lewis, Chris Mead and Alana Valentine—about the state of Australian theatre, now.

Produced by Angela Catterns
Music by Charlie Chan
Sound by Tony David Cray

State of Play Transcription

Angela Catterns: What’s the state of theatre in Australia? Why do we need theatre in Australia? What’s the good of it? And in a world of KPI’s, performance reviews and justifying every dollar spent, who should foot the bill? I’m Angela Catterns and right now these big issues are being debated between four experienced theatre professionals.

So how would you describe the state of Australian theatre—Lee Lewis, Artistic Director at Griffin Theatre Company?

Lee Lewis: Well I think the writing is amazing, the actors are incredible, directors are exploring things that we’re not seeing on stages overseas. But the funding is abysmal.

Angela: Fred Copperwaite—actor, director and co-founder of Moogahlin, the Aboriginal theatre company.

Fred Copperwaite: Yeah I agree with that, I think the funding is abysmal. Particularly since last year when all those—a lot of the smaller-to-medium companies were cut. And that’s the grassroots level for the bigger companies, and that kind of thing; that was abysmal and that was outrageous, because that’s where a lot of new artists come from and you draw from that, and if you don’t have that, then there’s no trickle effect up or sideways.

Angela: But Fred, didn’t you say earlier that your funding was ok at Moogahlin?

Fred: Our funding was ok, yeah, we did very well. We actually scored big-time. But, at the same time, this is our tenth year and before, last year, we’d been working project to project and none of us were paid for nine years so…This is a bonus but we’re not complacent because it allows us, for the very first time, to develop a program—a four-year program—which is fantastic and we’ve just done a project and, for the very first time, we had the money upfront. But, you know, within the climate, that money could go in four years. I think the thing is, in terms of longevity, you’re never really secure. 

Angela: Chris Mead—theatre Director at Griffin and Literary Director at Melbourne Theatre Company—do you feel secure?

Chris Mead: We’re secure to the extent that theatre has been one of the, you know, mainstays of human civilisation since the year dot. Since we put a hand against a wall and recorded the fact that we were there. I think that we kind of forget so often that performing with people is, a kind of, is what develops our brain and is a way that, as a species, we survive and communicate. And it’s non-zero sum game. You know? We’re thrilled by theatre. It doesn’t do anything necessarily…we want it to do things— 

Lee: Oh, it does do things!

Chris: No I’m not saying it doesn’t do things, what I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to do anything—it can be fun, it can be educative, it can be pedagogical, it can be just silly.

Lee: It is the thing that ensures that we have empathy as humans. It is our empathy machine. And I think, if you cut away the theatre, you cut away our way of speaking to people non-journalistically in ways that make us care.      

Angela: Alana Valentine—award-winning playwright and board member of the Australian Writers Guild.

Alana: I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of work regionally and it’s always really high stakes because they don’t get a lot of funding so, every time they produce a new Australian play, they want it to work. But their audiences are being taught about what that looks like, what a culture in the regions looks like. And I think it could be an interesting model for all of us to keep in mind—that you can grow audiences, as long as you bring them along with you.

Chris: I think that’s great. Actually, that’s a really good point—I’ve been working in Dubbo for the last eighteen months or so, with the community and just in town, and there’s an incredible energy up there.

Angela: Alana, do artists have to subsidise culture themselves in Australia?

Alana: Well yes, I mean, the truth is the Guild has just fought for a small increase in the writers’ commission fee—it’s taken us 4 years to do that. And when you look at the inflation and the cost of living—Sydney, for me, the second most expensive city in the world—you know, a small incremental increase, the Guild has fought for that. So, in fact, writers are in pretty much the same position they have been for thirty years, that’s kind of the hard facts of it. And it’s the Guild who fight for them to actually increase that.

Angela: So who should pay?

Chris: Well, it’s only really been since World War II that governments have become significantly involved in funding the Arts. And yet we treat it as if its become a commonplace thing, but actually it’s really only been a couple of generations. And it’s a genuinely fraught area if government gets involved—then there’s got to be a responsible spend of that money and it’s got to somehow balance the instrumental benefits of that spend as well as the intrinsic benefits. And, the company I spend most of my time working for, it’s less than 10% of subsidy that state and federal government can find and we rely mostly on ticket sales. I’m not saying that’s a great thing but, as a result of that fact, the company—MTC, where I work—believes very strongly in Australian work and about the legacy and value of that and so we’ve gone to a number of philanthropists and are going to be launching a very exciting new thing very soon. However we get the money, we have to get the money. Because imagine if you go to market with a new handbag or earphones or something—and it costs us $1.5 million to put on a show, and it’s often the case that we’ll spend $10,000 on the development of that show—now any business person would say that’s completely crazy, you would never go to market with that little research development spend. And yet we do it all the time and wonder why they don’t work! We have to invest not just in the play, it’s actually investing in the people. Because people make art and, you know, it’s not brain surgery, we have to spend time on the people. It’s a craft skill, working in the theatre—you’ve got to do it, and do it, and do it again – and invest in that audience just as much as your investing in the people that make art for that audience.

Angela: Is there a culture of philanthropy towards the Arts in Australia?

Lee: There’s a very beginning culture of philanthropy. I think we’re probably about 100 years off there being effective philanthropy.

Angela: That’s a long time…

Lee: When you look at the time…philanthropic model, sure, but that’s the project. Because gradually government funding is just going to diminish, within the next 20 years we’re going to see funding for the Arts disappear entirely.  So all of the companies are developing their relationships with philanthropists and developing a language that convinces individuals that, if they want a complex cultural life, they have to pony up for it. And then the question is, how do we make sure that the culture remains accessible to people that don’t necessarily have the money to be able to afford it.

Angela: Why do you say that in 20 years time government subsidies will end to the Arts?

Lee:  I think that there’s just a cycle of diminishing funding for the Arts and whether that comes in spectacular cuts, like what happened last year under Brandis, or whether its in the attrition, the slow erosion cutting that was the three years before. Three years before those cuts, Griffin had not received an increase that allowed us to keep up on a CPI level. So, that had essentially been a form of cutting that was quite invisible and absorbed by the company and, as Alana said, we just find ways to subsidise ourselves—everybody working in the Arts works way more hours than is ever stated on a contract, the props, they contribute consumables, everyone will bring in stuff from home, actors dress in their own clothes, “yeah, I’ve got a t-shirt for that”—that’s just a really invisible layer of subsidy that happens.

Chris: I blame the romantic poets for that. Certainly the idea that there are just people who can exist happily in a garret. You know, God reaches down and touches them on the shoulder and says, “You are the child prodigy or the boy-genius.” And often it’s that gendered. And yet of course when you reflect on who those people were, they were mostly rich men from rich families. And yet that’s not the way that art presents itself, and we have to be alive to that.

Angela: Is it the role of the government to support the arts and theatre in particular? 

Chris: Well I think the argument is a very strong one for government because it’s about accessibility. You know if we believe that culture is important, if we believe that civics are important, you know if we believe in the democratic project, then yeah absolutely.

Lee: I think government supporting accessibility is important and I think government supporting education is important, do I think that they should be supporting all of these companies to the extent even at your 10% Chris, no I don’t. I think we should be learning how to run the companies better and listening to the audiences and investing the money from the successes into the works that we want to put forward that might not make the same kind of money. I don’t think we’re thinking strongly enough commercially speaking, I think we’ve developed a dependence on subsidy, counteracting a truly commercial possibility for some work. I think were burning through a lot of plays and not necessarily exploiting the potential.

Chris: And a lot of playwrights and a lot of actors.

Lee: And a lot of playwrights you can have a really great play sit on the stage and then you move on to the next one as opposed to ‘what can we do with this?’ ‘Where can we take it?’ And it’s not that we don’t necessarily think about it but all of our resources are focussed on the next season and the next season and we’re not taking really great works to other places or not promoting them in other ways.

Chris: And I’ve certainly had, you know, very strong conversations, robust and dynamic conversations with artists who leave the country and just say it will never happen here. That because we have no West End or Broadway and because the middle tier is so, you know, tricky and in a perilous situation, they just go ‘forget it’ there’s no sense of growth here, that as Lee says, we churn through people as an appalling failure of ‘through put’ for want of a better phrase and we end up damaging our own industry.

Angela: On a hopeful note, I think that a lot of young playwrights, I mean I agree with what’s being said, I just want to say, for me, I’m getting this really exciting feeling from young playwrights about needing to invest in what’s going on in the world and for bringing their audiences along with that. And I think that one of the things that we can learn from them is just to kind of have confidence that that generation will start to go ‘you know what, we’ve had this time where things come to us, now we actually realise that we’ve got to fight for it, we’ve got to be vocal about it, we’ve got to say what we don’t like’ and I think that’s certainly a lesson your community has learnt in a great way Fred, you’ve got to just constantly draw a line and say beyond this I will not go.

Fred: Because we’re, as I said we’ve got this funding but our focus is getting private, philanthropic funding, we want to be independent of the Government and it’s given us a stay of time and it’s got us over a big hump where we can, for four years, where we can relax.

Lee: The theatre community is getting much better at working together. If the first 50 years were this competitive race to gather enough resource and infrastructure to not collapse when the funding disappears, now it’s actually about collaboration a lot more between companies.

Fred: And there’s a lot more companies now too, I think.

Chris: Yes and no.

Fred: There are a lot of more smaller, little groups that are around, I think.

Lee: A lot of super small, but not in the medium sector.

Fred: Not in the medium, yeah.

Lee: Not in the medium sector, that’s been cut away.

Fred: But maybe this is the conversation, I mean, how do they get to that next level and can they sustain themselves?

Lee: Yeah.

Chris: You know, it’s a terribly fractured community and it has been in the past

 Lee: I mean, seriously. Last year with the funding cuts, when everyone started to talk to each other for the first time, and tried to articulate one sentence that we all agreed on, we couldn’t do it. It was actually a learning exercise in how much we don’t talk to each other and how much we don’t agree. And if the artistic community can’t agree on what is important to us on a value level, then how can we possibly communicate to an audience of people who ostensibly are paying for us with their taxes? 

Alana: Probably needed a writer at that meeting Lee…

Lee: No, interestingly, we went to writers to actually generate the language for what we wanted to say, but it was interesting how hard it was to wrestle down to even one thing that we wanted to say.

Alana: Well, what is the core business of this thing? Like, what’s the core business of a broadcaster—it’s actually making radio. What’s the core business of a theatre company? It’s employing artists to make theatre. So, I’m not under any illusion about the realities of doing that in the twenty-first century but, at the same time, is there a balance? Has it bloated into something else that artists aren’t being made available to?

Chris: Well this is true to the extent that, what is useful for an institution—stability and certainty. And that’s what an institution requires to continue, and yet, what artists bring is often the opposite of that. So it’s uncertainty and chaos. And trying to find a balance between those two things is tricky.

Angela: Under what conditions, do you think, the arts and theatre in particular really flourish in Australia?

Chris: It’s a thrilling question culturally and historically as well. Someone who likes Stephen Pinker, for instance, argues that actually art is almost surplus to what we do as humans to survive and we only do it in times of excess. But of course, you can think of a million examples where that’s entirely wrong and it’s fundamental to the way our brains develop and that story is core to that.

Lee: I think we go through fluctuations in so far as the environment. I think we do flourish when we’re persecuted, I think that the voice of resistance comes up strongly. And I think that’s, on some level, what audiences and governments count on – the fact that, you cut the money away, we will still make work. There’s a sadness in that but there’s also a ferocity in it as well and I think we will keep making work as the funding is cut away but we’ve also learned that, to make it well, we need to find support for the doing of it.

Alana: Well I think that the theatre is still a futile industry, as opposed to being a democracy. I think that we flourish when we a sort of benevolent dictator at the top who likes the arts. I think that, basically, we need someone who takes a personal interest in the arts and they see it in all these dimensions and we don’t have to argue for it and they say, “I’m going to give you all the resources—if not the money, then the resources—and I’m going to empower you to do what you want.” 

Angela: Has there been anyone that you can recall in your lifetime that’s been that person?

Alana: Well, who do you say—

Angela: I would say Gough Whitlam.

Alana: Gough Whitlam, of course. I mean, that’s when the arts flourished—you had someone who did that. And yes I think there’s been Arts Ministers since then and certainly there’s been State Premiers who’ve taken an interest in the arts.

Lee: But it is petrifying when you have a minister coming in, as the portfolios have been changing so much across Federal and State in the last few years, when the reshuffle happens and you look at the biography of the person and they’ve got no interest in the arts—this is a stepping-stone position for them towards something else—and you just go, “How do I talk to this person,” and you start all over again. And, again, the fragility of funding—especially coming from my point of view when you’re working in new writing, when those voices of the writers are antithetical to the values of that minister you go, “Let’s not bring them to that play, let’s wait ‘til we’ve got one that they won’t hate.” And you kinda go, that’s awful. It’s actually awful and petrifying because, like you said Fred, you’ve got four years to find some other form of support. Four years to spend some of that resource on making sure that you’re not dependent on that money. 

Chris: So there was this extraordinary director from the UK in the 1940’s and 50’s, a guy called George Devine, and his argument for funding was: how do you take the trouble with the difficult dramatist? How do you work with art that’s in advance of the public taste? And that seems to be a kind of strong argument for funding. But beyond that it’d be great to think that the stories themselves are enough to drive an audience to get out of their houses. To stop watching streaming services and to go, “Actually, I’m thrilled by live performance”; whether that’s a band, whether it’s poetry, whether it’s seeing visual art; but that they’re thrilled by the idea of actually sharing the space with some real people. 

Angela: Thank you Lee Lewis, Fred Copperwaite, Alana Valentine and Chris Mead. I’m Angela Catterns. Let’s keep this discussion going and see you at the theatre soon.      

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