A new stomping ground for independent theatre in Adelaide

A group of Adelaide theatre makers spied a gap in the local landscape for independent work and forgotten audiences. In its inaugural season, Rumpus Theatre hopes to carve out a home – and a future – for both.

We got together in 2018 to try and organise some meetings of independent makers in Adelaide to discuss, vent a little bit maybe, about the problems that we were all facing,” actor and Rumpus co-facilitator Rebecca Mayo tells The Adelaide Review. “The feeling has been that we’re all having the same discussions, the same complaints, the same dreams, but doing it in isolated pockets.”

Mayo and co-facilitators Nescha Jelk (State Theatre Company) and Yasmin Gurreeboo (ActNow Theatre) discussed how, outside the handful of major companies, our smaller stages are kept alive by independent makers and collectives who pour time and scarce money into short make-or-break runs, often without established networks or backing to build something more long term. They’re the kind of frustrations usually exchanged in hushed tones in the foyer of a premiere, or yelled at the pub afterwards, but rarely acted upon.

“[There’] this feeling that in the independent scene everyone’s working really hard and getting burnt out,” Mayo says. “We were wondering how we can collectivise in a way and share that load.”

Their solution was Rumpus, a new, loose organisation initially based in a former Clipsal plant in Bowden. Artist and Windmill Theatre designer Meg Wilson is currently making over the space, which once housed the original Fontanelle and Sister galleries, into a warm and welcoming second home. “Our theme is 70s rumpus room, RSLs, nana’s wallpaper and ornaments,” Mayo says, “Amber glass everywhere!” But Rumpus is not strictly a venue, a new production company, or, importantly, yet another Adelaide festival, but something else.

Rumpus Theatre (Photo: Sia Duff)
(Photo: Sia Duff)

“We came up with this idea to do a shared season of independent theatre as a way to bring all that work into a fixed space and time, and really start to introduce audiences to independent theatre,” Mayo says. “That was another frustration, that people don’t know what indie theatre is. They see mainstage, big money theatre, but there’s this other amazing culture of theatre that’s not as funded, but can be more experimental and at times more artistically exciting.”

Programmed by an independent curatorial panel, the inaugural October-December season includes a contemporary retelling of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 marital tragedy Yerma, a double-header of two new ‘baby plays’ about the gig economy and true crime, teen indoor soccer drama The Wolves and, first up, xxx neon sign by Adelaide composer and performer Dan Thorpe.

“It’s an epic poem this guy James Andre wrote about his time working in a porno shop in Brisbane,” Thorpe explains. “It’s so fucked up, and so funny, and such a bizarrely incisive critique of Australian masculinity. It’s basically an entire epic poem of things men only say when they think only men can hear them.”

In the performance, Thorpe will retell Andre’s experiences from behind a grand piano, dressed in the uniform of an adult store clerk. “In terms of what it actually sounds like, I’ve been going with ‘Tim Minchin on meth’,” he laughs. “It’s like a weird mix of Billy Joel’s Piano Man, free improv and earnest mid-80s classical minimalism.”

Rumpus Theatre (Photo: Sia Duff)
(Photo: Sia Duff)

It will be the first act in a season that centres millennial, queer and diverse voices, reflecting audiences and artists that aren’t always serviced by the current theatre landscape. “It’s nine 16-and 17-year-old women onstage, which never happens,” Mayo says of US playwright Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, in which she will play a team member. “It’s extraordinary enough that it’s a story all about women, and young women – teenagers – whose stories are often invalidated. But it’s also an incredible story, and beautifully complex as these girls are all just figuring it out together.”

The Wolves will see Windmill Theatre and State Theatre regular Elizabeth Hay make her directorial debut, and along with Jelk, Mayo and Gurreeboo the season is peppered with emerging names familiar to regular audiences of the State Theatre Company, Windmill Theatre and Patch Theatre – alongside many new faces.

“We have really great relationships with all the major theatre companies – they’ve all been super supportive, which I think shows how necessary it is,” Mayo says. “They want artists to have a stomping ground to develop their works – so they can hire them!”

“Obviously we hope Rumpus itself gets a following, but we really hope people will see a show and be able to follow that artist, and see their shows again.”

xxx neon sign
Rumpus Theatre
100 Sixth Street, Bowden
September 12 -21

rumpustheatre.org

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