Getting ready for audiences

Getting ready for audiences

By Rhonda Dredge

Despite the fact that all of Southbank’s art and theatre venues will remain officially closed during November, small impromptu performances have begun to liven up the Arts Precinct.

A group of performers appeared from nowhere to take over an empty space beneath the concrete eaves of Arts Centre Melbourne in the first week of November.

Then the bar at the Malthouse poured its first jug of beer since March in a ceremony involving bar staff.

Not to be outdone, students at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) were busily inventing new ways of inclusion while building sets for a production that may never be viewed by a live audience.

Togetherness has been difficult to create in the COVID-era for hands-on professionals, with social distancing rules forcing artists to explore new ways of collaboration.

LGBT director Rouben James has done a lot of thinking during the lockdown. That’s when he came up with idea of rehearsing in the open in a prominent place on St Kilda Rd.

“It’s been good because we’ve had nothing but time,” he said of the lockdown. ”There’s been time to think through theory.”

He said that Bent, a dance and visual art piece for the Midsumma Festival, was designed to fill a gap in the market.

“LGBT theatre tends to be high camp or tragedy. This is frustrating for young queer people,” he said.

Bent is all about discovery, joy and resilience and the choice of setting with its rain-stained “stage” was handy because there weren’t many people around.

The once-convivial courtyard between the Malthouse Theatre, Chunky Move and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) courtyard has also been largely empty since March.

The Malthouse café re-opened in mid-October and the bar on November 6 when bar manager Bear set up the barrels then ceremoniously tested out a jug of Coopers Pale Ale.

“It’s nice to be back where everybody knows my face,” Bear said. “I’ve been drinking at home but it’s so much nicer with friends.”

Originally from Queensland, Bear’s been keeping a distance from the job but despite the lockdown there were two more degrees of freedom in Melbourne.

Arts workers at ACCA are also slowly returning. The events manager spent just four days in her new Southbank job before lockdown was declared and has been working from home ever since.

There are some on-site staff at Chunky Move and at the VCA workshop, where drama, art and film and television students are solving set problems for their productions.

They’d sawn a rowboat in half to make it easier for three girls to carry onto stage then changed their mind and joined it back again and covered it with canvas.

“Students are learning how it (stage production) works before hitting the industry,” workshop manager Tim Edwards said. “We need to go about our business. We’re working towards full production but we’re not sure how it will manifest.”

The wild card for all in the entertainment business is about developing safe methods for including live audience in performances.

The VCA productions will be filmed and the Malthouse is building an outdoor stage.

Buxton Contemporary hopes to open on December 3 with an intellectually challenging exhibition about alien culture, and ACCA on December 6 with a challenge to Stephen Jay Gould’s notions of empirical science.

Both of these exhibitions promise to keep visitors thinking while maintaining a distance from others •

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