Jun 1, 2010

Riding the Next Wave to half-baked theatre

You are forgiven for not knowing that Next Wave -- Melbourne's biennial festival of new and edgy performance/art -- has just finished. Chances are, you didn't attend any of the shows. In all truth, it doesn't matter. You didn't miss anything.

You are forgiven for not knowing that Next Wave — Melbourne’s biennial festival of new and edgy performance/art — has just finished. Chances are, you didn’t attend any of the shows. In all truth, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t miss anything.

Look, the emperor has no clothes, and yet the press keeps quiet, and regurgitates the same PR paroles over and over: ‘its great theme is risk’, ‘300 artists’, all incredible diverse/talented/accomplished/brave. In truth, I have been seeing, over and over, theatre shows underdone, underdeveloped, under-accomplished, and at times even, how to say… unnecessary. Shows where I wonder if anyone couldn’t have just stayed at home, doing their washing or some other more worthwhile pursuit. (I will refrain from naming names here; I don’t see the point.)

Some shows I have seen had a good initial idea, but looked like they had neither the time nor the creative input to develop them into meaningful theatre. (Here I ought to mention My Darling Patricia’s Hole in the Wall, which left me with a rare feeling of exuberant irritation: brilliant staging ideas were camouflaging a theatre that had nothing to say.)

Some shows, on the other hand, were accomplished — but the most accomplished were inevitably producing the same old, same old theatre we have been seeing in Australia for years. The highlights of this festival of the ’emerging’, the ‘risky’ and the ‘new’ were shows like Urban Theatre Projects’ The Folding Wife, or Matthew Day’s Thousands — and both, despite being reasonably mediatic and conceptual, were essentially working with ideas that have already been explored quite well. The best shows in the festival were traditional, in other words. What made them stand out was their proficient execution. They clearly had something to say.

My problem is not the treatment of animals, nor am I averse to experimentation. Quite the opposite. I have been following new forms of theatre for years, here and overseas, with great interest. Of my favourite theatre pieces in 2009, one was eight hours of Shakespeare mash-up, and the other had no set, no performers, no stage and an audience of one.

But the overall quality of experiment in Next Wave, a festival that bases its identity on its daringness, was disconcertingly low. What we saw, instead of innovation, was lack of experience: we saw young artists turn half-baked ideas into half-hearted productions. I regularly see more exciting theatre in the Melbourne Fringe festival. Yes, Fringe is much bigger, but it also prides itself on its lack of curatorial policy. Next Wave is quite literally run by curators, yet it seems to produce mainly a lot of fumbling in the dark.

The main problem is that someone hasn’t grasped that there is a difference between breaking new ground, or producing theatre that challenges theatre-so-far, and just any work done by inexperienced artists. The first can be done by artists of any age, and any amount of experience. The second, on the other hand, won’t necessarily be any more challenging or innovative just because it was made by a 19-year-old with no formal training. It may be so, but it may also be simply made without skill, craft, or awareness of the history of theatre.

And this, in fact, is what we have been seeing: works that are repeats. After seeing young artists invent the wheel evening after evening, before the audience made out of their family and friends, one occasionally feels the terrible need to interrupt the celebration screaming: don’t you realise this was first done in 1970? And better? Do you know why you’re doing this? Is it just to use the last technology at hand? Should you perhaps go away for three years and think about what your question really is?

As an example, we have now seen theatre that incorporates text messaging. (No Twitter yet, but I’m sure it won’t be missing from the next festival.) With what result? An event that could have been done by using slips of paper instead, and equally well. On the horizon, there seemed to be a vague hint of using text messaging to interrogate questions of collective and individual responsibility, of interaction and closeness, but it remained the vaguest hint.

At core, it is a misapplication of resources, also known as the ‘Hot Young Thing Ballistic Arts Program’ (copyright Lyn Wallis): identify a hot new artist, shower them with praise, money and exposure, but without teaching them a single thing (including humility in front of what they don’t know), without applying meaningful criticism, without ever giving them enough time to turn from emerging artists into mature artists. As Wallis notes, with all our enthusiasm to recognise them while young, we might be “trampling our prodigies to death in the process”.

There is excellent, innovative and courageous theatre in Melbourne, but most of it is too decent and self-respectful to wave a banner of cutting-edge in the same blatant way. I believe in experimentation, but I also worry that events like this year’s Next Wave give experimentation a bad name. What’s more, it teaches young artists that there is nothing there to learn. To break new ground, you just need to be young and unskilled.

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36 thoughts on “Riding the Next Wave to half-baked theatre

  1. New Jordans 2010

    Thanks for your sharing. Good luck to you.

  2. Coastguard | martyn coutts

    […] that I wade into an already explosive and passionate debate around an article that Jana Perkovic wrote on the Crikey […]

  3. deborah pollard

    You can always send Next Wave to Sydney if it’s causing all this contention. We’ll look after it for you

  4. Alison Croggon

    Hi Ian – I can’t see any moral panic happening here, just some sober questioning of artistic and critical responsibilities. Young artists are not children.

    Eric, I totally agree with you about the policy emphasis on youth, and what doesn’t happen afterwards. You might be interested in this (rather long, I’m afraid) speculation on why this might be so.

    “What Australian audiences want, it seems, is the either the new or the expected. Whatever falls in between – being neither new nor a repeat of what went on before – falls through the cracks into a strange invisibility. It’s hard not to think of this as an inability to perceive art for its own sake; in either case it expresses a need for art to feed a desire that is extrinsic to the work itself: either a desire for novelty or a desire for consumable distraction. If neither of these things are present, the cultural mind glazes over.

    “In other words, success – the redefining of mainstream expectations – can open up another kind of failure (and not in the Eliotic sense). “Success” means the loss of the patina of the new. This is in fact right and necessary, part of the continuous dynamic evolution of culture. But in our case, it comes at a heavy price that is perhaps the reason why so many people complain that our culture is as thin as our topsoil.

    “We have little vocabulary to describe the evolution of artistic work. There are two choices: the new, young and “alternative”, which is its own justification, or a slide into torpid mainstream repetitions, which seems to be the mainstream definition of “success”. What about artists who do not rest on their laurels, who are constantly exploring the possibilities mapped out in their early work? Where do they fit in? So far as I can see, precisely nowhere. And this, more than anything else, betrays the essential lack of depth in our culture. What it means is that is very difficult in this country to build early success into deep achievement. “

  5. Richard

    I’ve decided to defend Jana because I think she’s being unfairly massacred here.

    Yes, we must, to paraphrase Alison, respect the articulations of young artists even if they lack the ability or experience to fully realise work. However, we must equally respect the right of critics to articulate something that they feel needs to be said. Jana is not really targeting artist here, but curator. Attempting to provoke a robustness in arts is not a sin as long as you do not kill creativity – which I believe she hasn’t done here despite what the angry backlash of “I saw this show and it was great, you don’t know what you’re talking about” seem to insinuate.

    I think we should all be careful what we say as this is dangerous territory for everyone, including those who slander Jana (gotta build up your google hits there mate…?) and think that in doing this, artists everywhere thank them.

    Furthermore, I’m a bit concerned that few people have actually engaged with what she has said. I’m adding to that problem… but I didn’t catch much of the festival, so don’t have a great handle on the curatorship of the thing, and think what she has written speaks for itself anyway as opinion. There certainly didn’t seem to be any revolutions going on so perhaps that is an opportunity lost.

    I am commited to is useful dialogue in Melbourne Arts, and this discussion appears to be generally not so healthy. However I respect Jana’s right to take risks with her criticism and I think it is sh*t if this falls on deaf ears and people can’t even respect her intentions.

  6. Eric Sykes

    Funding and policy avenues have put considerable and increasing weight into “start up” and professional development money for young artists for the last 20 years or so. That’s very good.

    But it also allows a dance of cultural policy sidesteps. Once the artist is no longer young, then what? Can we ensure consistent and long term support (not just money) into an Australian culture that is continually rejuvenated by quality – in all art forms – community arts, mainstream, heritage and experimental? It seems not. So over those years an explosion of start up ensues and produces a lot of work, and a lot of works and artists who are in the process of maturing with little opportunity for considered follow on. When Federal Departments of Employment & Training define the arts industry as a “low priority” because “the wages are too low (LOL) and there is no identifiable skill shortage”.

    In this industry environment then a bit of harsh (and even disingenuous) criticism has to be taken on chin, and thought given to quality required (whatever the context) of alternative and sustainable practices.

  7. Ian Woodcock

    Are we talking about publicly-funded arts events performed by consenting adults, seen by paying audiences, or a private school play? Rushing in like child-protection workers at any hint of child abuse seems an inappropriate reaction to criticisms of an event framed by ‘risk’. It’s like one of those occasions on the tram: a child acts up, shouting abuse, throwing a tanty, treading all over other people; a passenger gently chides the child and suggests a little more self-restraint; to which the child’s parent screams ‘Leave my child alone! How dare you tell my child what to do!’ This is all beginning to feel like the discourse of fear-about-what-others-are-doing-to-children so well-exploited in the children-overboard affair.

  8. Alison Croggon

    Jana, you’re talking about nice judgments (meaning fine and delicate, rather than pleasantly bland). As you know, I spend a fair bit of time with young artists, including my children, and the first thing you owe them is the respect of an honest response. Criticism has to assume good faith, particularly with the young: even if they fail, it doesn’t mean that they will always fail, and their failing doesn’t mean either that they are vain or stupid or wasting their time. That failing might be part of their becoming. As Daniel is fond of saying, success teaches you nothing. In which case, it seems to me that individual and detailed attention to the various shows, however negative, might have been a more positive response. Though, as I said above, I see John’s point about the need for an appropriate forum…

    As with any artist, I think you take younger people at their own valuation, as working artists, and go from there. Our critical responsibilities are surely to the possibilities that might be present within any art, however imperfectly realised. (Certainly, the things I react badly to are always ultimately about possibilities being _closed down_, which is why the only failure I really get impatient with is the kind that never tried in the first place). And perhaps that responsibility is particularly the case with younger artists.

  9. Arturo Ilu

    Yeah nice one. There’s only so much backtracking you can do now, to salvage the validity of what you initially wrote. How about just apologise, and then reframe whether it’s valid to critique student, young or emerging work. Your unprofessionalism doesn’t get lost on your readers.

  10. Jana Perkovic

    I think Kirsty brings up the point that I would like to see made more often. What are our responsibilities, as a critical audience, towards young and inexperienced artists?

    We have had this question come often in regards to semi-professional shows, which are a very frequent occurrence in Melbourne. At times when VCA student productions were as exciting as, if not more than, most professional productions, the question remained of whether students should be exposed to professional criticism before they were, in fact, professionals. On the other hand, design disciplines such as architecture use every opportunity to get professionals to attend student presentations, to give their opinion. It provides invaluable feedback.

    Many Fringe productions sit between professional and non-professional theatre, and my policy is not to criticise productions that are clearly not ready. But Next Wave – precisely because of its curated status – appears to present itself as a festival of work that is ready. The question of framing is essential. Putting one’s work in the public realm, one needs to be prepared to hear the responses (just like my work here is not barred from comments), and the responses can only work within the frame they are given. I was asked to review a number of Next Wave works, and I thought addressing the shortcomings of the festival (the frame) was in this case better-aimed than scrutinizing the shortcomings of each single case.

    When is the point when we start to judge artists as artists, regardless of their age, experience, or budget? Until this point, we are veritably speaking down to them, and this is disrespectful to them as artists. Unless we make it clear that we are praising them on the basis of age or inexperience, it also does them a great disservice. And finally, if the role of the critic is to be taken seriously, then not everything can be good or great. Some times, a work of art just doesn’t succeed. It has nothing to do with meanness or bitterness.

  11. harley stumm

    What a miserable, reactionary whinge. If i wanted to read the dyspeptic mutterings of a pre-modernist dinosaur like Robin Usher, I would. I didn’t expect to find them on crikey.

    OK, I’m in Sydney and haven’t seen all of NW. But i saw:

    * Hole in the Wall – a gorgeous and intelligent work, with plenty to say
    * Bromance – flawed and not my thing, but others thought differently, and I’m glad to have seen it in any case
    * The Folding Wife – i produced the tour so I’ll leave it to others to comment

    But this review complains that it’s all been done before, and better, by previous generations who blazed the trail for these infantile ingrates. Sigh. Unfortunately not much has changed since Mark Davis’ “Ganglands”.

    So they have nothing new to say, and are only rehashing the past. If you want to see something “of exceptional quality”, with, presumably, plenty more to say, go to MTC’s Richard III. Does that absurdity even need a response?

  12. Kirsty Hulm

    I have addressed some of the issues regarding Next Wave curatorial culpability here:

    I did not think this forum was appropriate in diverging so much from the topic of Next Wave’s theatre component

  13. Fiona H

    Yes, that’s the dream, isn’t it Jana?

    That festival directors curate art programmes that showcase at least 10 shows to appeal to and satisfy each attending person (or at the very least, reviewers), presented at affordable ticket prices, with high production value and fit exactly within our sphere and personal interpretation of the prescibed theme…

    But where’s the challenge in that?

    I enjoyed or was challenged by as many shows at Next Wave as I walked away perplexed or disappointed. Curating an emerging arts festival programme is a risky business, and perhaps it’s even riskier being an audience member.

    I leave you with the same quote that Jeff Khan used in his festival introduction, “the absence of risk produces a type of boredom which paralyses in a different way from fear, but almost as much.” (Simone Weil) Thank goodness for arts festival programmes that don’t fit in the Fringe (ie uncurated) or MIAF (overly programmed) mould.

  14. Crikey Tirade On Next Wave Has Them Up In Arms « Conviction

    […] there is nothing there to learn. To break new ground, you just need to be young and unskilled. Comments (22) | Permalink Posted by Kirsty Hulm Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]

  15. Arturo Ilu

    Just like burlesque in the Howard era, new creativity can spurn forth from shit. Well done, Jana: your incompetence, expressed in this public space, has engendered actual debate and actual art.

  16. Tobias Manderson-Galvin

    The Emperors NewWave* Clothes 2010 Ultra-Modern Edition
    by Artist Fled the Scene Really Quickly
    — Illustrative Excerpt/Work in Development/Durational Installation Story Event**—
    (*yes the festival is called next wave not new wave)
    (**this story has been curated by the Tobias Manderson-Galvin Group)

    Chapter Sixteen Points to Love with one game to go.

    At the end of the last chapter a small child had said, in a very loud clear voice:
    “the emperor has no clothes”.
    This is what happened.
    First everyone was silent for about a half a day as they were busy texting each other.
    Then some one coughed. Ate a cough lolly. Then coughed again. Then it began.

    Fortunately for the emperor there were still a few people who responded to the outrageous claim of nudity by asking if “the boy was in fact appropriately trained as a tailor in order to make such an assessment!”
    Others argued that it could be said that it was untrue that he had ‘NO clothes’ as it came from a pretty reliable source that he still had plenty upstairs in his cupboard, some of which we’d all seen him wear previously.
    Others complained it was completely unfair to harass the emperor; that whilst it must be agreed upon that he had ‘no CLOTHING on’ he was still wearing his shoes, had a really nice haircut and a wonderful new perfume and surely these counted for something?
    Others still said it was rude to stare at the King’s nakedness with distaste- in many cultures such nudity is the usual AND if the king can’t try new styles out then who could? After all who’s to say clothing is so important anyway? What a bold risk the Emperor had taken so let’s all applaud him so we can all leave with our dignity intact and everyone can go to parties together and smile in the hallway by the water cooler on monday.

    Others said that going naked is not so much a risk as an error of choice which is sort of like a risk but not really as risky as say making something with real materials. Sort of the akin to say jumping of a painting of a cilff with really rad wings tattooed on your back whilst in no way harnessed to anything as opposed to say jumping off a cliff in a helicopter you invented with the csiro. Both risky in their ways.

    Others said that a really risky thing would have been to wear aerobics gear.
    The small boy pointed to the success of shell track suits in recent mainstream popular culture such as Lady Sovereign or Missy Elliot and wondered if that was such a big risk at all. And also wondered if when they wore the clothing it was a comment on the mass consumerism of sport also?
    Others pointed out that little boys should be seen and not heard.
    And preferably not seen.
    Others pointed to the success of the nu-metal band Korn as they get so little press now days and it’s nice to be nostalgic isn’t it?

    Some said to blame the artists whilst others rightly defended them saying, “but I saw them working hard for ages on this so it can’t be their fault, it must be how the Emperor is wearing it. At least three other kings from neighbouring empires had been pulling of the whole ‘naked’ thing with aplomb for a couple of seasons at least. We just had to admit our Emperor mayn’t be as cool as other Kings.”

    Some one else said that in other countries they haven’t got artists anymore they have Genetically Modified hipsters who are bred to stand around and look really rad and it’s not necessary to have art anymore it’s just important that everyone turns up at roughly the same place together occasionally.

    And in a way… In a way… Everyone was right.

    The End.

    At the end of all this discussion the crowd cleared away and another voice was heard chatting to the small child, it was the small child’s older brother:
    Bro: “you want a cough lolly little brother?”
    Child: “thanks. (pause) Mmm… You think maybe i shouldn’t have said anything back there?”
    Bro: “i think you said what you had to. How’s the sweet?”
    Child: “it’s good. fine.”
    Bro: “Good.”
    – pause –
    Child: “So is the emperor nude or not?”
    Bro: “hmm. oh yes is see what you mean.”
    Child: “well which is it?”
    Bro: “shh. shhh. it’s neither my young paduan”
    Child: “Yeah but surely that’s a problem then. I need to know if he’s nude!”
    Bro: “you’re binary thinking is the problem little guy.”
    Child: “Hypothetically ok? Hypothetically i have a question. Surely we can’t have nudity in the streets; paid for by the people?”
    Bro: “Why? I think it’s ok. It’s like a sort of lazy/less ecstasy fueled, more arty mardi gras. i find clothing rather restrictive myself anyway. I’m a far better dancer nude. Who isn’t?”
    Child: “yes i like dancing too. even modern.”
    Bro: “let’s dance then. and if it’s offensive it’s all a dream etc.”
    Child: “Did you just work in a shakespeare mash-up?”
    Bro: “well more a quote than a mashup. come on let’s dance, i’ve got a copy of Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical song”
    Child: “I’m to young to know it. that’s weird I wrote one exactly like that!”
    They swap ipods and dance to each others songs.
    Child: “yes. this Oliva John really got parody art perfect. Is this a new release?
    After the song is over they sit down and watch the sun set. The boy coughs.
    Bro: “Have another cough lolly. ”
    Child: “thanks..oh wait one more thing-”
    the innocent child pauses and looks up and to the left, gesticulating with one hand in order to indicate that he is searching for the right word to say, turning a sentence over in his mind just as he does the cough lolly in his mouth.
    The lolly has a flavour he’s not had before, and he’s going to work it out. Is it lemon? Or is it lime? Or is it…Watermelon!!!!
    Or blaaaaaackcurrant!!!
    Still No.
    Whatever it was it wasn’t bitter in the slightest.
    It was the tiniest bit sour. It was also rather sweet… Apple! It was apple.
    CHild: “It’s apple!”
    Bro: “What?”
    Child: “I mean wait- So it IS ok that I said the thing about the king being naked?”
    Bro: “Certainly. It was an excellent distraction. Better we have that discussion than have to deal with the real problem.”
    Child: “What real problem?”
    Bro: “Well that that the emperor was jerking off-”
    Child: “What’s that mean?”
    Bro: Umm. It means let’s all listen to some more Olivia Newton John.
    And they did.

  17. Ian Woodcock

    Short Message Service is a good case in point here. On the night I participated, it went pretty much as Mik Frawley described, frustratingly so. But on previous nights, I gather, the censorship took the form of the actors stopping the show to tick-off the audience for ‘debasing’ them with their texts. Presumably, they decided for future shows this was too much of a risk to their credibility and decided to just edit out the risk that they couldn’t actually do what they said they’d do, which was do what they were told by their audience. As one of the few shows I saw where there was a real potential to deal with the theme ‘no risk too great’ – a kind of theatrical re-enactment of Stanley Milgram’s experiments with quotidian cruelty (how would things have gone had the actors really gone along with the worst excesses of their audiences’ philistine imaginations?) – the SMS show fell a long way short of its promise. I saw perhaps 10 NW shows, and I couldn’t see much riskiness on the horizon, except the risk that someone, somewhere in Melbourne might dare to say ‘boo’ and call their bluff (perhaps not such a huge risk, given the thinness of skins in this city). There were indeed some enjoyable shows, but what they had to do with the festival theme was far from clear, unless we are also to say that ‘risk’ means here the risk associated with underdevelopment and inexperience (but then we’re getting somewhat tautological aren’t we?). If the point of NW is ‘new’ artists, rather than ‘new’ ideas (and as a past recipient of NW largesse, I’ll accept that one), then freighting the festival with a theme that raises expectations among those in the know shows a lack of foresight on the part of those in the know responsible for running the thing. It can be a clubby thing for those inside the club, sure, and theatrical experience may be something only those inside the club can write about in depth, but the rest of us who are interested enough to come along to club open events may also have sufficient life experience to know when something isn’t what is says it would be – which seems to be the essence of Jana’s original post.

  18. Riding the Next Wave to half baked theatre :

    […] See the original post: Riding the Next Wave to half baked theatre […]

  19. Janus Christianson

    The tone of this article makes you seem really bitter.

    I’ve just googled to you to find out your credentials and I’m not sure that someone who’s trained in geography is really qualified to be telling artists what they should be exploring and how they should be doing it? As a critic you have a responsibility to be constructive and to say that they whole festival was not worth seeing, that you should have stayed home and done your washing is unhelpful, conspicuously inflammatory and just plain untrue- that is the territory of Neil Mitchel and not crickey.

    Someone who researches cultural clusters should know that people talk and that this article will get around to people who poured themselves into their works and what your article tells them is not to try, not to ask questions and experiment for fear of failure.

    I have enjoyed reading through these comments and am relieved to see John Bailey and Alison Croggen’s names. These two are excellent critics, always mindful to be constructive. Crickey’s money would be better spend by employing one of these two. They at least are a part of the Melbourne theatre scene to know what next waves place in the cultural landscape is, a place for young artists to experiment, create and develop their practice.

    Until this article I had never heard of this blog and with writing like this it’s little wonder. I will go back to reading theatrenotes and born dancin’.

  20. Alison Croggon

    Taken in good part, John. An interesting point, all the same: I’ll consider how I use the word evolution from now on!

    I totally see your point about not naming names: the problem with not doing so is that discussion inevitably ends up general, because unless you know what is being talked about, you don’t know what is being talked about…

  21. Mik Frawley

    I left Melbourne after 4 days of the Next Wave Festival with a sense of uneasiness at the works I’d just seen. For the best part of a week I wrestled with why I – a dedicated Contemporary Performance enthusiast and bombast for experimental theatre – walked away from the Festival with a sense of disappointment.

    Your article, though perhaps a little broad, made me start to synthesise exactly what it was about Next Wave that made me feel cheated. And you know what it was? A pervasive combination of insularity and a vibe of impenetrable Hipster cynicism that left my experience of the festival feeling like one big in-joke; and I was on the outside.

    If I can use a particular show as an example – while The Short Message Service was far from an original idea – Circa’s 2005 “This Text Has Legs” being just one Australian example – it possessed the raw potential of an audience ‘controlling’ actors in a space. Unfortunately the structure of the piece completely undermined the risk, as the SMS’s were vetted and spoonfed to the performers by the operators at rear of stage. In Circa’s production the texts were projected at the rear of the action, creating a tapestry of interplaying narratives as audience members riffed on eachother’s suggestions. In the Short Message Service the mediation of the operators removed the ability for the audience to really have any more or less influence on the action than what made it past the keeper.

    Structurally too the performance was flawed, in that one of the first requests from the operators was for the Audience to suggest a ‘Seductive Gesture”. By choosing to go straight for the easy tension of seduction so early in the work, the artists derailed it of it’s potential to develop tension later on; as those friends in the audience continually steered the show back to the obviously amusing potential (to them) of making their two mates get intimate.

    This would almost be forgivable as just the whim of the audience, were it not again for the fact the texts were vetted – the operators were going for the easy marks and for me the Festival’s catch cry “No Risk is Too Great!” rang hollow. This was made-for-mates stuff, as self-affirming as Williamson is for the Baby Boomers but with dick jokes and ‘80s pop culture references.

  22. John Bailey

    WHOOPS: Alison, just wrote a brief blog post about artistic ‘evolution’ – it wasn’t a comment on your comment. Just FYI.

    But I think this is largely the role of Next Wave. It’s often artists watching other artists and growing as a population. It’s like the Emerging Writers Festival – a festival for writers, not readers, unlike the Melb. Writers Fest. The NW is more for those actively engaged in creative work and I would guess that there are fewer casual punters in attendance than at most arts festivals. This is uninformed opinion, mind.

    That’s also why I don’t think it’s necessary to name names and think Jana’s right here. Constructive criticism is vital, but in the right forum: Crikey probably isn’t the place to tell emerging artists what went wrong with their work, since to many readers it will just be a warning to avoid those artists. And lordy knows, the GP don’t need more reasons to avoid the arts.

  23. Alison Croggon

    Hi Jana – as John also points out, “new” might mean “new artists” as much as “new aesthetic”. And only the very rare Rimbauds spring fully formed to make wholly developed art – for most of us mortals, it’s about evolution, and that takes time. The thing with the young is that they’re young – if Next Wave is about showing nascent possibilities, the beginnings of things, then that seems quite legitimate to me, and part of the parcel. Isn’t some of the guff about “the next generation”?

    Certainly if I see a show by a young company, I will take their youth (hopefully without being patronising) into account: it seems only fair not to expect them to be as accomplished as Benedict Andrews. And even Benedict had to begin somewhere. I think the opening par – “it doesn’t matter – you didn’t miss anything” – might be your problem: there are people here saying that in fact they saw stuff that they thought was well worth their time. I still don’t know how it gives experimentation a bad name – isn’t one of the defining things about experiment that it might fail?

  24. Neandellus

    I mostly agree with Jana’s critique.
    But I think “novelty” is the wrong word (not that she uses it in the article). “New art” and “new artist” carry an expection of both cultural engagement and the assertion of an identity that enables this engagement. Every practitioner must invent their own tradition against which to act creatively and by which to give definition to the product of that creativity.
    What was disappointing about the NW pieces I saw was a lack of definition. “Novelty”, I think, is actually the problem. Less “novelty” and more newness”. What I saw was an excess of novelty–too much comic embellishment, comedy which may have had an immediate effect in the the theatre (or ampitheatre) but which, without any definite soul to in fact embellish, was ultimately ephemeral. The problem for the shows I saw was that success or failure was tied to an effect of novelty.

  25. Jana Perkovic

    Hello, Alison. Always good to see you!

    The problem of novelty extends to Next Wave. Perhaps calling it ‘Wave’ would be more appropriate? The ‘new’ as the essential criterium of modernism is something I agree with you (and John, and the world) on, but we need to put it in context. What is the assumption of value within Next Wave? Who or what is the ‘next’? The bright, the talented, the young? What is it that Next Wave is trying to achieve? None of this would be an issue, were it not for the explicitly curatorial approach that Next Wave takes.

    I have seen more than three shows (perhaps twenty?), and I enjoyed the two I name. But giving the list of those I disliked would be unfair, I thought, because I think Next Wave itself is the responsible institution in this case, not this or that project. Lyn Wallis, who I quote above, was herself working with Next Wave – and their working model, I believe, is helping artists develop work over a longer period of time (this is why it’s biennial). If so much that we see is underdeveloped, something is clearly not going right in this process.

  26. Matt Kelly

    Those who can’t do, right?

  27. Martina Frenkel

    Extend your concern to your own language. Like perhaps before you submit your piece? There is a lot of high quality art criticism that you can read (such as that written by several of the respondents here), and this will help you improve the quality of your own writing. Cruelty and bland condescension reflect badly only on you, and not on what you are attempting to critique.

  28. Alison Croggon

    “Novelty as a critical yardstick is itself a pretty tired product of modernity, and by subscribing to that position you can rob yourself of the pleasures of a lot of art (esp. those that aren’t part of that modernist tradition). At the least, you’ll get to a point where you feel you’ve seen almost everything before, which can be a depressing place for a reviewer to find themselves.”

    John Bailey said it for me.

    I only saw three Next Wave shows, and all impressed me – Bromance has been mentioned; and you also namecheck The Folding Wife and Hole in the Wall. But it would have been good to “name names” in your critique, otherwise these shows get tarred with a broad brush.

  29. Jana Perkovic

    Amber: it’s always a pleasure to hear about a good theatre experience. If I may make a recommendation, the two shows currently playing at the MTC, Richard III and The Ugly One, are both of exceptional quality (much above what we’ve come to expect from MTC). If price is an issue, tickets to The Ugly One start at $25 for under-29s. Well worth catching!

  30. E Welthorpe

    First of all Jana, thank you for your considered and interesting response to this disgrace of a event. I would like to make a list of the ways I agree with you:

    1. I have to say that although I have never met an emperor, I am firmly against nudity in all its guises. AND I ONLY HOPE that is there are festivals which fund through the nose even one nude emperor, the press are AGAINST them and not, as you say, for them.

    2.I have to say that although I’ve never had a Shakepeare mash-up or seen a play with no set they both sound very cutting edge and not at all 70’s. As long as they were not performed by non-formally trained 19 year olds or nude emperors.

    3.You are very clever in pointing out the fact that not only did the “the press keep quiet, and regurgitate the same PR paroles over and over” they also wrote a number of articles which were negative about the festival (, In fact it’s good to see that Crikey’s arts coverage is mirroring the Herald Sun’s. Good on ya!

    4.It’s really good to not mention shows you didn’t like as it really as it’s a waste of time talking and discussing their stuff! It’s a much better type of journalism to have some broad brush stroke comments and get the general points across. Well done for that.

    5. There is excellent, innovative and courageous theatre in Melbourne, but most of it is too decent and self-respectful to wave a banner of cutting-edge in the same blatant way.” I agree, banners are a waste of cloth and that’s why they are banned in wartime along with zoot suits and recreational parachute manufacture.

    6. Your lists of questions to un-named artists about ‘why are you doing this’ and your need to cry out at people inventing wheel in shows touched me Jana, in a way that journalism rarely does.

    7. Just generally, it’s great isn’t it that blogs exist because you don’t always need to know quite exactly what you are saying but you can publish it anyway.

    In conclusion we need more daring Shakespeare mash-ups which don’t wave any banners and don’t re-invent the wheel (wheels have already BEEN invented!). They must be performed by older, trained people, to audiences of people who don’t know them and all of this must be criticised by the press. I wish I could have seen these shows too Jana but every time I went to get a ticket they were sold out.

    Sincerely yours,

    Edna Welthorpe.

  31. Jana Perkovic

    Martina: I am concerned about the language applied here. Had I gushed about how ‘awesome’ and ‘wonderful’ the shows were, would that be rightfully perceived as unprofessional? If we apply reasonable criteria of artistic success, conceptual integrity and formal innovation to theatre shows, one must be allowed to say that they don’t succeed. Unfortunately, ad hominem attacks on those who say so are one of the reasons why it happens all too rarely.

    Beau: you are right, and I stand corrected. However, with two out of five Patricias (Sam Routledge, forgive me here), it shared the same flaws that I usually encounter in their work. I also mention it because it was one of the more successful shows in Next Wave – a balanced criticism could be made.

    Crikey theatre blog is not the place to enter detailed analyses of each and every of the performances in the program – which would nonetheless be interesting. But this is not common practice in the media responses to Next Wave either, nor in the writings produced within Next Wave. Instead, what does it mean when we excuse an entire festival dedicated to developing innovative theatre on the grounds that much of our professional theatre is also underdeveloped and ignorant of their own tradition? What does this signal to someone, say, overseas? What happened to the pursuit of excellence? How can we honestly talk about the importance of art over sport – as we often do – if we are prepared to keep such low expectations?

    ‘Sunset over Cardboard Mountains’ was one of the shows I thought had a worthwhile idea, but underdeveloped. It was most successful as a sensory music event (the music was sublime) – but even then our senses had to actively ignore the cold. This is a conceptual shortcoming, quite simply. Was it a journey into the sensuous world of child’s play? Was it a music experience? How much of what the program promised was actually realised? Did it do anything that we haven’t seen done already? Did the masterful execution override its conceptual slightness? If we respect our artists, shouldn’t we offer thorough critique, based on how well they realised their own goals?

  32. John Bailey

    Jana, I think you’re overemphasising ‘new’ and ‘edgy’ as aesthetic criteria here – what if it’s the artists who are ‘new’ here, rather than the ideas they explore or forms they employ? Novelty as a critical yardstick is itself a pretty tired product of modernity, and by subscribing to that position you can rob yourself of the pleasures of a lot of art (esp. those that aren’t part of that modernist tradition). At the least, you’ll get to a point where you feel you’ve seen almost everything before, which can be a depressing place for a reviewer to find themselves.

    That said, there were plenty of Next Wave shows that weren’t as developed as they could have been, or that didn’t seem conscious of their own genealogy. That didn’t make them necessary write-offs; after all, there are plenty of audience members out there who are as new to these ideas as the creators themselves.

  33. Beau McCafferty

    Wow. What a massively unfair article. And written in an unprofessional tone.

    ‘And then something fell on my head’ and ‘Hole in the Wall’ (actually not a My Darling Patricia production) were the 2 best works I’ve seen this year and they were both a part of Next Wave. ‘Sunsets over cardboard mountains’ was also fantastic. I saw about 30 events at Next Wave and yes, some were undercooked and some weren’t totally aware of the entire history of their particular artform that came before, but then again not many professionally produced shows are either.

    What I did experience was a Festival that was full to the brim with ideas, that often touched me, sometimes left me wondering and sometimes exhilarated.

    It is disappointing to read you attempt to dismiss the entire Festival in one lazy rant. You say that you aren’t going to name names, which is a pity because then we could at least discuss the artworks and engage in a proper debate, not merely make massive generalistic bitter statements as you have done.

  34. jacksont

    I saw a few a few performances for Next Wave and must admit I didn’t think much of them at all. Don’t get me wrong I love experimental art of all forms and its great that people are getting out their and doing stuff but like you said the standard is much higher for the Adelaide and Melbourne fringe which are both open festivals.

  35. Martina Frenkel

    This review reads like a cruel tirade which has been written by someone bearing a grudge. With nothing important or interesting to say. It makes you look like a silly fool, younger and more inexperienced than the art you criticise. I expect better from Crikey.

  36. Amber Jamieson


    I saw one thing at Next Wave. Bromance, by Alisdair Macindoe.

    I thought it was fabulous. There were some small flaws, bit slow in parts, but there were lots of funny, cool, different, interesting bits and it was a top night out. Well worth $25.

    Yes, I very rarely go to the theatre. I can count the amount of times I’ve seen contemporary dance on one hand, using very few fingers. Normally I would never go, unless there were free tickets, so obviously I’m not expert on the topic.

    So why did I go?

    I would never have heard about this performance unless Next Wave was on. A festival gives viewers a chance to take a little peek into a world that they may not be accustomed too.

    Your two favourite theatre pieces in 2009 sound like my idea of hell. So yes, perhaps the Next Wave performances weren’t completely “edgy” enough for the hard core theatre goers who are looking to have their world rocked. I had friends who were volunteers at the festival, and many of the works sounded down right dodgy. But hell, at least people were giving it a go. It’s like the Emerging Writers Festival, there are gems amongst the rubbish.

    But I don’t think it’s such a bad thing if it gets non-theatre goers interested in seeing some more innovative and interesting theatre than your typical MTC production or blockbuster musical.

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