In an oft-repeated anecdote, Australian actor Nick Lathouris tells of the arrival of Jerzy Grotowski’s ideas in Australia in 1969 — courtesy of a badly-Xeroxed copy of Towards a Poor Theatre that circulated between the acting company that formed around director Rex Cramphorn in Sydney as a kind of hallowed totem, a connection to a rich vein of tradition and experimentation in training in a continent that was sorely lacking both. Speaking of the same period, playwright John Romeril remembers the early days of the Australian Performing Group (APG) recalls: “much of what we did by way of acting exercises we drew from magazines and books. We read of and ripped off whatever came our way”. Origin myths such as these inform Ian Maxwell’s characterisation of Australian trainers and trainees as “theatrical bowerbirds”, metaphorising the distinctive Austro-Papuan bird family that is renowned for a courtship ritual where the male decorates his bower with an eclectic range of bright objects, both natural and inorganic. Down under, disconnected from the celebrated training traditions of the northern hemisphere in the decades before globalised publishing, Australian trainers collected whatever they could get their hands on, arranging bespoke lineages that combined native and imported traditions.Continue reading
Special issue on Performer Training in Australia to be published as TDPT Vol 12.3 (September 2021)
Call for contributions, ideas, proposals and dialogue with the editors
Dr Chris Hay, University of Queensland (email@example.com)
Professor David Shirley, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr Sarah Peters, Flinders University (email@example.com)
Training Grounds editor:
Dr Soseh Yekanians, Charles Sturt University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Conjoined with blood and tears, the axiomatic price of supreme rigour and achievement. Sweat (water, ammonia, salt, sugar) is deemed a noble and miraculous secretion, yet we habitually strive to disguise it. […] In the unapologetic seclusion of the training space, it becomes the proof of our proud status as grafters, as corporeal, visceral, present, working.
As described in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training’s “A Lexicon of Training Terms” (3.1), sweat is a constituent part of training — a synecdoche for the tension and effort that underpin it. Sweat is also a precondition of living and training in Australia, from our corporeal engagement with a heating continent to the metaphorical ‘she’ll be right, mate’. This no sweat, laissez-faire acceptance of the status quo finds its way into training through “a willingness to ‘have a go’; a refusal to be cowed by received authority […] a characteristically Australian suspicion of influence” (Maxwell 2017, p. 326).
The image of sweat also brings with it metaphors of fear, tension and anxiety, often drawn out or extended. This sense of determination over time pushes back against a conception of Australia as the rushed continent, whose artists seek to take short cuts to success. Hugh Hunt, the inaugural director of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, cautioned as much in a 1959 public lecture:
We sometimes expect theatre to be made too quickly. Australians are impatient people, who would like their theatre to be made as quickly as wool grows on a sheep’s back. It takes many years to make it; it takes time to train and develop actors and producers. (Hunt 1960, p. 4)
What has changed since Hunt’s proclamations? What is the labour of training in Australia, and how do we train an “impatient people”? In a country where sweat comes easily, do we mistake the by-product of hard work for the work itself? Hunt, like many others in Australian performance history, speaks only for white Australians: how do (or might?) the distinctive temporalities, collaborative modalities, and lineages of practice of First Nations training and performance inflect performer training in Australia?
Despite the diversity and range of its performance ecology and the prestige in which its major training institutions are held, Australia’s influence in and contribution to key debates has, until fairly recently, remained surprisingly marginal. While much doctoral-level work has considered training in Australia, there is no authoritative, published history of Australian performer training. The history of training is thus another iteration of what Ian Maxwell terms “Australian theatrical bricolage” (2017, p. 338), its history an assemblage of sometimes contradictory facts, uncertain pathways, and unsubstantiated anecdote. In this special issue of TDPT, we endeavour to provide an update to Meredith Rogers and Elizabeth Schafer’s special issue of Australasian Drama Studies “Lineages, Techniques, Training and Tradition” (vol. 53, 2008). We also seek to curate a companion to the roundtable discussion “Training in a Cold Climate”, published in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 5.2, by considering training in a hot climate.Continue reading