If you make your way down to Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide this Queen’s Birthday long weekend you’ll see some of Australia’s most exciting performance makers trying out new ideas on you, their willing test audience.
Amongst the fray will be the presentation of Future Presents, the culmination of a two-week residency project for 10 South Australian artists lead by Rosie Dennis. Dennis is the artistic director of Western Sydney-based Company Urban Theatre Projects, a 31-year-old organisation that, as Dennis describes, is always asking, “Whose story isn’t being told? Whose voice haven’t we been hearing [in] the mainstream theatre?” Vitalstatistix has been running Adhocracy since 2011, giving local artists the opportunity to collaborate and learn from a leading Australian practitioner over two weeks, and then a national collection of artists developing new work over the long weekend. This year’s residency ties into Vitalstatistix’s ongoing commitment to developing socially conscious theatre makers, with an emphasis on the pertinent issue of climate change. For this, Dennis and the 10 artists will be talking to local members of Primary Industries, discussing their work and the way this plays into global conversations on climate change, and the ways people are changing their habits to, hopefully, have a beneficial impact on the world. Social consciousness has always been core to Dennis’ work, thinking about “ways to frame an arts practice that has a wider reach, and that the themes can be universal, so people can fi nd a way in”. “You think about climate change,” says Dennis. “A whole lot of people in this country – ears will just shut when they hear that. It’s such a big thing.” These big, politically charged issues, she says, are so “difficult for the everyday person to get their head around. And that’s what I really love about making art in this way: if somehow you can observe and listen and find a way to fi nd the humanness in it, then maybe people [can think] ‘that makes more sense to me now. It’s not just a statistic; it’s got everyday meaning for me in my everyday life.’” In a more truncated creative process than what Dennis would typically employ, meetings over these initial five days are designed for the artists to consider new ways of working. It’s about showing local practitioners, from a variety of backgrounds from dance to illustration, how to start an art project outside of a studio, or outside of their own area. “What do you do when you’ve heard form a wind farmer or a free-range egg farmer?” Dennis wants them to ask. “How is art positioned within that, and have you got anything to say in response to that?” The variety in the artists’ backgrounds will also contribute to the development. Says Dennis: “Hopefully there will be a range of different responses, and the artists themselves will feed and fuel each other. It’s always exciting for an artist to go into a space of not knowing, and being really open to finding out what might emerge.” Over the two weeks, interested members of the public can follow the project on its blog, and then join the artists for performances on the Saturday and Sunday nights. Finally, on the Monday night Vitalstatistix will host a panel discussion, including some of the people the group meet in their research. Together, says Dennis, they will be “looking towards the future, and a hypothetical about primary industry, climate change, and the food coming to our table”. For a project exploring climate change, it makes sense that the process will also have cause for the artists to turn their gaze back on themselves and consider their own impact on the environment. Through the residency, their environmental impact will be tracked: has someone forgotten their keep-cup and bought a take-away coffee? How is their food packaged? How much fuel is used driving to each site? From looking at their impact, the group can then also consider how to offset this footprint. When I ask if it’s correct they’re aiming for the project to be carbon neutral, Dennis laughs. “It’s yet to be seen if we can make it completely carbon neutral,” she says. “But absolutely we’ll be tracking our carbon footprint along the way.” And at the weekend presentations, everyone will be able to see how successful they have been. “We’ll make it really transparent,” she says. “Because I think it will be quite fun.” Vitalstatistix Adhocracy Waterside, 11 Nile Street, Port Adelaide Saturday, June 7 to Monday, June 9 vitalstatistixtheatrecompany.blogspot.com.au