Small theatre companies have been promised a greater voice in lobbying national decision-makers following the creation of a new industry group.
The Australian Theatre Network will connect various theatre groups across states and territories. It has been modelled on the Theatre Network Victoria, which has been praised for delivering strong representation for small Victorian theatre companies.
The network, funded via the Australia Council’s Theatre Board, has been set up for an initial one-year trial period to provide small- and medium-sized theatres similar clout as the larger operators.
The Theatre Board insists that the network will work to facilitate communication, rather than act as a peak body.
Lyn Wallis, director of the Theatre Board, told StartupSmart: “We are responding to an energy out there for something that is lightweight and flexible and connects the states. It enables the SME sector to have a new voice.”
“It could act as a place to secure money, but it’s not just about that. There are challenges such as the lack of women playwrights, gender diversity in general, national touring, the lack of producers, fee structures and the amount of administration artists have to deal with.”
“It will be up to the network as to where the assistance comes from. At the moment, this is an experiment. The first stage is to see what the common issues are.”
Wallis insists the sector is in good shape, saying: “There’s a lot of resilience. Some companies that tour internationally struggled (during the GFC) but the work is very good at the moment.”
Ben Eltham, arts critic and Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, says the SME sector needs better representation but questions if the new network will be a “talking shop”.
“There needs to be more advocacy for SMEs as the larger organisations have dominated funding,” he says. “The question is whether this will change anything. I’m not sure it will as the funding situation is pretty much set in stone.”
“The issues that she (Wallis) talks about are a consequence of the current environment rather than individual issues. They are linked to the struggle for theatres to stay sustainable.”
“The smaller guys do three or four shows a year and turn over a few hundred thousand dollars. They are perennially precarious.”
“There is no one panacea for the sector. The main problem is marginalisation – theatre is a niche sector that doesn’t have the appeal of Hollywood multiplexes.”
“The industry needs to focus on audience development, sustainable careers for performers and entrepreneurship to help draw in other funding streams. Small theatre companies also face tough regulations – liquor licenses and public liability eats up a huge amount of budget. It can be as much as 10 to 20%, which isn’t something the larger companies have to worry about.”