1998 Czech to Seventh Wave Theatre Ensemble

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 10:53:48 +1000 from:
Name: Dominique Sweeney
Email: sweeneyd@bigpond.com
Organisation: Seventh Wave Ensemble Theatre
Position: Artistic Coordinator
Street: 2 Charles St City: Glebe, Sydney
State: NSW
Postcode: 2037

Mr. Rob Borbridge
The Premier Queensland

Dear Mr. Borbridge,

The letter below was sent earlier this year from Sydney. I am now in the Czech Republic and can only receive email through my hotmail address. If you have responded to my old address I regret I am unable to pick it up. I am working at the moment in the small town of Uherska Hradiste with a population of 30,000 people. This town supports a theatre company with 20 professional actors, an artistic director, administrative and technical staff as well as various musicians, designers and makers.

Are we content to let TV, the casino and sport satisfy all our needs? Maybe the Gold Coast like Australia can forget about infrastructure and just buy everything we don’t have. Of course one day we will have nothing left with which to buy what we want and we wont produce anything ourselves.

Yours sincerely,

Dear Ms Sweeney,
Thank you for your message to the Premier. It has been forwarded to his office.
Peter Bramwell for the Office of the Premier

Sunday,15 February 1998
Mr. Rob Borbridge
The Premier Queensland

Dear Mr. Borbridge,

The following letter was sent to the Arts Office at the beginning of this year. I am sending this copy to you because I wish you to be aware that I am distressed at having to leave my home state, Queensland, a second time due to the lack of infra structure and work opportunities in my chosen profession. For the past two years I was involved in an enormous amount of work done largely without pay in the hope of establishing a professional theatre environment on the Gold Coast. Of the total number of about 2000 registered Actors Equity members in Queensland, half live on the Gold Coast. In 1997 the first ever state funding to a Gold Coast professional theatre company was made to Seventh Wave Ensemble Theatre (SWET) to produce a performance in the recognition that the company had the skills, support and creative abilities to produce professional work. SWET was led to believe that a second year of funding was likely to follow and help continue to get the company off the ground. The decision not to continue funding made by the Arts Office in Nov 1997 has made it impossible to continue with these aspirations in good faith. I now write to you from Sydney where I have found it necessary to live to continue my work. I hope that the advisory committee knows what it is doing in rejecting SWET’s attempts to provide professional work for professional artists on the Gold Coast. yours sincerely, Dominique Sweeney

23rd December 1997
To Stefan Greder
Queensland Arts Office

The main instrument of society’s self knowledge is it’s culture…Where total control over society completely suppresses its differentiated inner development, the first thing to be suppressed regularly is its culture: not just ‘automatically’, as a phenomenon intrinsically opposed to the ‘spirit’ of manipulation, but as a matter of deliberate ‘programming’ inspired by justified anxiety lest society be alerted to the extent of its own subjugation through that culture which gives it its self-awareness. ( Havel, Vaclav Living in Truth 1986, London, Faber and Faber, p16 )

In denying SWET’s 1998 grant application the following reasons against funding were pointed out by the assessing panel: “..reservation about the proposed treatment of a serious subject.” “..further detail in future applications about the nature of it’s relationship with the University and the kind of support it provides the company. ” “… how the project may contribute to expanding opportunities for arts related employment or assist artists to achieve self-sufficiency.” A response. “..reservation about the proposed treatment of a serious subject.” Are you seriously suggesting Commedia dell’ arte is inappropriate as a theatrical style in which to treat a serious social issue? This sort of artistic value judgement is extremely dangerous and I request you to consider Vaclev Havel’s words.

“..further detail in future applications about the nature of it’s relationship with the University and the kind of support it provides the company. ” If there are any doubts about the nature of the agreement SWET has with Griffith University, Gold Coast I suggest you speak directly to Dr.Nigel Krauth, Head of the School of Arts. The University provides SWET with access to a theatre space and office facilities and has given a one off grant for publicity but there is no funding for staffing or productions which now makes the whole effort almost impossible. “… how the project may contribute to expanding opportunities for arts related employment or assist artists to achieve self-sufficiency.” Griffith University, Gold Coast, is producing graduates in theatre each year who are seeking work opportunities. Some of these students would be employed by SWET. At the moment these students have to seek work elsewhere as we are providing no local infra structure for creative professionals. There will be no professional theatre with this kind of negative attitude to funding. Seventh Wave Ensemble Theatre have undertaken to create on the Gold Coast (the sixth largest city in Australia where half of the registered Queensland Actors Equity members reside) a professional environment based at the new drama theatre at Griffith University, Gold Coast. The Arts Office have effectively pulled the plug on this development. Why? The Arts Office provided SWET with a $27000 grant for our first project “Strangers in Paradise” in 1997. SWET was requested to provide in the 1998 submission a longer term vision so that The Arts Office may understand why to invest in SWET’s ongoing commitment to the development of a professional theatre company on the Gold Coast. In our submission this ongoing projection was provided.

By rejecting this application the Arts Office have effectively said the vision is not worth supporting. Can you please provide reasons why and possible alternatives? Also in your response notifying SWET of our unsuccessful grant application for 1998 the video returned to SWET is somebody else’s. It is not SWET’s supporting video. The following is a personal letter from my own point of view, not written on behalf of Seventh Wave Ensemble Theatre. Twenty years ago I left Queensland because there was no cultural infra structure in which it was possible to explore and grow. ( see CV). I returned two and a half years ago and was surprised by a new sense of cultural development that seemed burgeoning everywhere. In particular I was attracted to the Gold Coast. The exciting Griffith University Gold Coast campus, an energetic cultural officer from the City Council and the possibility of real support for professional artists through the Qld. Arts Office had made an impact on the cultural environment. Living on the Gold Coast, I have dug into it’s theatre history and discovered that each time a group of dedicated artists have banded together to try and spearhead a badly needed professional theatre, their actions have been thwarted. It is an extraordinarily difficult city in which to define and consolidate culture. In many senses that is what makes it remarkable. However there are ruins everywhere of ransacked attempts to forge professional theatre. The general manager of the Gold Coast Arts Centre, has had a lot to do with this killing off of local theatre professionalism. He has much to answer for in the maintenance of a non existent professional theatre infra structure on the Gold Coast. Steven Gration, Kim Krejus, myself and a group of enthusiastic actors and theatre workers, attempted last year to form a professional theatre company which became Seventh Wave Ensemble Theatre. Last year the State Govt. finally recognised that the Gold Coast had through the support of the University, the city council, local amateur groups and the professional theatre community, a professional theatre company SWET, committed to developing Queensland professional performing artists and their work. SWET was granted $27,000 towards one devised cabaret project about life on the coast. “Strangers in Paradise” was successfully mounted for a three week season in early 1997. The production of “Strangers in Paradise” was an enormous effort as SWET is very new and doesn’t yet have the technical backup, publicity machine or track record that an established company counts on. Information on the coast is largely disseminated through one daily newspaper “The Bulletin” where the arts editor refused to even see SWET’s production because he was too busy reviewing videos. It is hard to work for nothing for a year to put all this in place and then find it is for nothing. The funding for “Strangers in Paradise” of course covered only half the cost of the production. Unlike other theatre companies on the coast SWET will not produce work that does not pay its theatre workers at award rates. This is what defines professional work. Professionals are people who commit their whole lives to their work and are paid for their time. Strangely enough a few of us committed our whole lives to this work and were never paid in the understanding that we were building something of value that would be rewarded in the future. As a result a debate, amongst members of the artistic community on the Gold Coast, has sapped our enthusiasm and energy in trying to define what and who are these professionals. This is a debilitating argument that has been further fuelled by the lack of financial support for SWET in 1998. Therefore with no financial support obviously SWET cannot operate as a professional company. The University provides a space, office facilities and has given a one off grant for publicity but there is no funding, as yet, for staffing which now makes the whole effort almost impossible. Since the production of “Strangers in Paradise” SWET have: conducted a Gold Coast Performing Arts forum created and presented a corporate masked theatre spectacle created and performed a physical theatre piece ” Space” for local schools and as part of the La Boite Shock of the New festival held a series of successful theatre workshops with experts teaching in their fields including Restoration Comedy, Stanislavsky, mask and clown. All the successful work SWET has accomplished since its inception has lead to no production next year. Without funding it is impossible to continue in this vain. I was lead to believe that SWET was being encouraged to break the barrier set up by the Arts Centre to form a new professional theatre company on the Gold Coast. Obviously I was misled… yours sincerely,

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