Everything is art/work.

another artists sharism.

Notes on ASSITEJ director’s seminar: sharing & reflection.

The Assitej Director’s Seminar in Mannheim was a privilege. At a point where I was feeling pretty burnt out and doubting my skills as an artist – this opportunity was a week triggering reflection on Australia’s children’s theatre context and my own artistic practice.

27 artists from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Turkey, South Africa, Kenya, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Italy, China, England, Japan, South Korea, Estonia, Vietnam, Israel, USA, Serbia, Brazil and me, from Australia.

The host organisation:

Schnawwl Venue

Schnawwl Venue

Schnawwl (pronounced Shnavel, a colloquial word for a beak, possibly a nosey one) are part of the National Theatre of Mannheim. Mannheim has a population of about 300,000. The National Theatre of Mannheim has 4 arms: opera, theatre, ballet and children’s theatre (Schnawwl). While opera is the largest part, each sector has an equal footing in management and decision making.

Schnawwl has its own building that has its own theatre. (Approx. size of the tower theatre, Malthouse.) They have a staff of about 30 full-time staff which includes 6 fulltime actors, an AD, Dramaturg, Costume Designer, Costume maker, Set Designer, tech staff and more. So comparatively it’s about the same size as Malthouse – but their staffing is skewed more to the artistic than the marketing/admin/sponsorship.

Yip. Sigh.

They have about six shows in repertoire at any one time, and they range from works for aged 2 to 16(ish) years and vary from opera, dance, music, puppetry to scripted plays and are also developing works with young-people too, which they call “Citizen’s Theatre”.

We saw five shows by Schnawwl. And one by a Heidelberg theatre company which was a panto-esque outdoor performance that was on all accounts disappointing, yet relieving that sometimes this happens in Germany too (!)

Schnawwl’s work is high quality and it was quite a diverse repertoire, yet all in-theatre work. Some of the works I loved, some I didn’t. But as always, I liked them more when I understood the context around their selection. It was apparent that they were very very clear about the choices they made and had excellent discourse around the why’s and dramaturgy of work.


In the midst of the heatwave

In the midst of the heatwave

The role of the dramaturg is used, but not often in Australia. Let alone in the children’s theatre context. I hadn’t realised before this experience what the dramaturg was exactly responsible for in an organisation context.

I was fortunate enough to be in Schnawwl’s dramaturg’s group, and got to understand her role a bit further. Essentially, she is responsible for providing the wider context for the organisation. To read lots of scripts, books and consider social and theatre trends when selecting what works the company will do. She proposes the works, then in discussion with the AD and directors they narrow the selection down.

They are also responsible for the writing around the work – the marketing per se.

They are also heavily involved in the rehearsal room – as a bouncing ball for the director and a contributor of material and ideas. They are trained in the art of storytelling and are across structures/tropes and devices.

It’s kind of like they continually have one eye on “the bigger picture” of the audience and the world at large.

That’s how I perceived it anyway.

Personal reflections on Dramaturgy

Our adventure to Heidelberg

Our adventure to Heidelberg

I actually came away from Schnawwl thinking that I actually am innately more a dramaturg than a director/maker. That the underpinning question “What Does the World Need to Hear?” of Maybe ( ) Together was innately dramaturgical.

I have always enjoyed the conceiving process & rehearsal room more than anything in making art. Which has been frustrating in the last three years of running Maybe ( ) Together  as I spend a disproportionate time making to in front of the computer, co-ordinating and pitching.

My perception is that the children’s theatre industry in Australia is slowly dispersing. With the de-funding of YPAA, there is no space for connections, discourse, professional development or even knowing what each other is doing. Australia is big, and our industry is small – and the recent Brandis debacle is only going to make things worse. Like all the other non-major arts organisations (children’s theatre has none) we are going to see organisations fold and put us back years. (read this post if you need more info)

While our sector would benefit from dramaturgy – I also know that this is a “luxury” in our sector at the moment.
However, having had one on my last project – if I make/direct/perform/produce a show ever again I know that this is an excellent investment in my sanity. With the lack of funds it is common for the initiator/creator to take on two or three roles. This isn’t sustainable. Some out-source the producing side of things, but I think a dramaturg might be an even better investment.

So, dear Australia, I am putting my hand up.

What did we do at the Seminar?

discussions discussions (and laughter)

discussions discussions (and laughter)

Our theme was Progress. And as lefty, artist we are all too aware of the “hot topics” in our world at the moment: neoconservatism, refugees, war.

Spurred by the comment “ how can we progress as a human race?”, Schnaawl selected a book as an starting point for discussion and generation of material.

I think we all fell in love with Auf der Mauer Auf der Lauer by Olivier Talec and found it a rich place to find ideas with layers found in the imagery.

We split into three groups and were told we could do whatever we wanted with that time as a group: develop material, discuss our country’s context & our work, share material – it was up to us.

We spent a lot of time talking. And as the native English speaker I soon stepped into a role of facilitator. This was a really interesting position for me – realising that I was privileged in this situation and had a responsibility to re-word statements and ensure everyone had space to talk.

You also learn very quickly to limit your vocabulary. And how much gesture and words together can communicate complex ideas.

Privilege is something that is talked about a lot in Melbourne. White cis male privilege particularly. Although a microcosm – it was valuable for this to be plainly evident and how I navigated it.

Simply, it was rewarding and valued my methods of facilitating. Which was a valuable reminder that I am a good facilitator. Something I’d forgotten.

The common stories in all the countries

auf der mauerPersonally, I am in a space of despair within Australia’s political climate. Fatigued and despondent, it’s good to be away for a while.

Australia’s story is not uncommon, though. There are concerns in Brazil, in Denmark, all over Europe about the rise of conservatism. About the silo’s of information that occur between factions. How much yelling there is. How little conversation and progress is achieved.

Auf der Mauer Auf der Lauer put us on the track of conversation. In the book two men (one blue, one orange) are suspicious of each other. Surveillance turns into fighting. Anything blue is hated by the orange man, anything orange hated by the blue man.

The climax of the book is when a bird of blue and orange colours is born.

The two men want to shoot eachother. But it is this little bird of blue and orange that stops them both from shooting – by standing between them to protect them both.

For me this blue and orange bird is a child they share. Or metaphorically a shift in perception to the bigger picture.

As a group we agreed this is what needed to happen everywhere. How to move from the yelling stage to the bigger perspective.

This is something I’ve been pondering on for over a year, so it was serendipitous that it came out again. I think having 7 artists from all over the world discuss this was a powerful moment for all of us.

Other Notes that might be useful for others to ponder/know:

  • Schnawwl’s “Citizens theatre”, ie youth led work is a two year commitment for the group selected. They young people are not paid for rehearsals or training, but are paid 20 euro per performance to cover travel and food.
  • There was a really interesting discussion about exploring gender with young people through art. Particularly as many might not know what their preferences are as yet. Schnawwl decided that they would only work with the stories the young people brought up, and no homosexual/trans material appeared. I think this is an interesting thing to consider.
  • One of Schnawwls’s works I found quite un-inspiring though well presented. Essentially a scripted comedy about two twins and their first day of school. It seemed quite different to all their other works in its simplicity. Schawwl felt it was important, though, to have a work where children saw “their” story on stage. As in, the first day of school might not be important to adults, but was a big moment for children.
  • One of their works was a touring in-school jazz opera about divorced parents. And it was great.

In conclusion
I think these are the most useful points I can share. There were other anecdotes, connections and moments but these are the ones most useful to others, I hope.

It’s difficult, I realise, to think beyond the current climate in Australia and the funds-emergency pending. However, I hope this provides a spark for some, however small.

To any other theatre directors working with/for children this conference occurs every two years. So consider applying to YPAA to attend & keep an eye on their facebook page.

Thank you to YPAA for nominating me. To Assitej Germany for selecting me and organising the Seminar. To Schnawwl for hosting the conference, and the Ian Potter Foundation for assisting with funds to attend.

Government Inquiry into the Arts Budget.


I’m usually one to get fierce when this sort of things happens. To write lots, do creative actions – that sort of thing.

But. I was already running on empty when this news came – and I haven’t found the words or energy to write. My friends call this fatigue.

I’m so very appreciative to all those that are running #freethearts. There are some stella people doing so. I want to give you all hugs and high fives and know that I’m watching, liking, sharing, and doing as much as I can without breaking, even though it is small.

I also have written this rather dry, but necessary document for the inquiry. It took me a day and a few keen eyes that have nothing to do with the arts. It’s numbers, personal and angry.

Read it here.

I hope if you’re an Aussie you’ll write your own submission.
I’ve been told formal is best. To include statistics, quotes and numbers.
To be personal, but also talk about the bigger picture.
Nava has also written guidelines.
The MEAA has talked about it being about “power”, and demonstrating that the arts.has.power.

So I urge you, whoever you are to write into this inquiry. Even if it’s a paragraph voicing your concerns as an audience member. About diversity of art perhaps. Or the fact you might not want your children to only have access to shakespeare and work from MTC as their “arts experience”.
The list of organisations currently on triennial funding that are being directly affected are here. Ilbijjeri, ACCA, NextWave, Back to Back, ATYP, Polyglot, La Mama…just to name a few!
Not to mention the project funding that Aus Co does.

If you want to read more about it, head to Feral Art’s collation of all writings here.

xx Alex.


Bryony Kimmings did this in the uk.
So I’m doing it here.
It’s probably a bit boring if you’re looking for something poetic.
This is a very nuts and bolts, clear and cut explanation of money.

I’ve had a month of many presenters asking for quotes, of some presenters being amazing and saying “yes”, trusting our budgets & others asking for reduced (up to half) budgets because of emails like this:

“I am hoping as we would feature your performance as a key event in our free outdoor program and over 4 weekends of the Festival, you will benefit from the exposure and status of inclusion in the Festival; and that you can see the benefit of discounting your rates.”
(and then they offered 50% of our fee)

This is about a work that has been around for 2 years and been presented at White Night, Sydney Festival, Harvest Festival, City of Melbourne, Glow Festival, Cube Wodonga and more.

– Presenters & Council workers forgetting independent artists aren’t paid a wage.
– Lack of conversation/transparency about how presenters spend their budget
– Lack of standard fees within the industry and artists working for reduced fees or free.
– my own weakness in not knowing where to draw “the line” – ultimately preventing a presentation of work.

I’ll show you mine:
Maybe (  ) Together has 4 big gigs over the next six months (Arts Centre, Perth Festival, Come Out & Sydney Festival).
I will earn $10,080 in artist and shared producer fees over this six months.
I will earn $4,400 in royalties.
Both these amounts go into Maybe (  ) Together and I plan to pay myself a wage of $20,000 per year in 2015. ($18,000 in 2014, $15,000 in 2013).

The $4,400 has been flagged to be put into a new work that hasn’t received funding we’d hoped to happen.

Our performer day rates have been $200/day for the last two years.
I am trying to up this to $250.
We charge $300 per workshop.
This doesn’t include super or workers cover, which we now budget for every performance we do.

Our development of work rates are $1000/wk.
As are our admin/producer fees.
I have a producer! She isn’t paid enough either, she gets between $500 & $1500/gig.
However, these two roles are never paid sufficiently.
But I do charge royalties. This isn’t ticket royalties, but an added percentage of overall fee for a work:
5-10% for me as an artist (or other artists I’ve collaborated with)
5-10% for Maybe (  ) Together to cover studio rent, paper, pens, coffees/beers/lunch for artists when they donate time, rehearsal fees for new performers, when we blow a budget  & to re-invest in new work.

So, you might be wondering – if you’re only getting $10,000 then you must have budgeted for only 10 weeks work. So that is how much work you’ll be doing.


Here are some things that I won’t get paid for that will take up the majority of the other 16 weeks:
– 2 week development of new work, unpaid (i’m ok with this, this is my choice)
– 1 week of admin for new work – scheduling, contracts, liaising, budgets, meetings, sourcing of items, emails! etc.
– Between 4 to 10 funding applications. Ranging from 1 day to 3 days each (thankfully our support material is in good shape)
– filling out tech spec & marketing spec sheets for presenters that save them time, even though I have them all ready to go in my own format.
– Media calls/interviews for all works.
– reading and (usually) editing contracts from presenters.
– tweeting, facebook & website updating
– quotes. The amount of back and forth with quotes with some presenters! One asked us for six, and it was down to the last 24hrs before the program went to print that they confirmed us (!)
– recruiting new artists.
– advocacy for the sector (like this post, meetings, emails, advice to other artists etc).
– meeting funders/presenters
– riding/travelling to funders/presenters offices
– Seeing other work. Reading about work. Thinking. Reflecting.
– 2 week break over christmas (if I can…!)

I worked for City of Melbourne at ArtPlay.
During my 3 years there my salary went from $40,000/yr to $65,000/yr.
I also got professional development, flights interstate to see things, time in lieu, and a bucket load of free tickets to shows (this doesn’t happen much when you’re an independent). I pay for all of this out of my own wage or royalties.

I wanted to be an artist. And I can scrape by. But this is because of a few reasons.
Namely, i live in an 8 person share house and pay $400/month.
I have parents that I know will help me out if things got dire.
I also have a bit of a nest egg that I can eat into to help with cash flow.
I ride my bike a lot.
I op shop.
I eat out cheaply.
I like hanging out at home.

But I don’t want to live like this for ever.
And I don’t want all independent artists to live like this forever.
Or for it to get worse.

Let’s share. Let’s talk about this.
Lets find a way, a standard, an understanding within the industry.



Wandering around Warrandyte I saw a huge mob of kangaroos.
And something rather magic.
I thought I was seeing things as he/she bounded off.
But no. When I went back, he/she was there again.
He/she still drinks from mum.
And they’re very protective.

Very rare.
Very special.
Something from a story book.


Untitled 20Untitled 18Untitled 32

An albino kangaroo is very rare.
Bruny Island has many an albino wallaby.
One of the key reasons they’re so rare is that they often die due to cancers.
Lets hope this little fella has a good life, whatever length it may be.


Kiss It Better

Just a little note to the internet to say: Kathy Holowko & I did this:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


It’s for the lovely fishermen and people we talk to and see down at Laughing Waters daily.
Lovely because of the conversations we have.
Not so lovely when they leave piles of coke cans, cigarette butts, beer bottles, maccas wrappers and general rubbish in such an idyllic spot.*

Also. Because some people GRAFFED A TREE. A TREE.
As some lovely boys said yesterday as they saw us painting it:
“Graff’s for the city, man. Why the fuck would you graff a tree?”

So. We wanted to cover the graff, and make a statement that provoked people (gently) into being better.
I wanted to write “you’re the result of 4 billion years of evolution, fucking act like it.”
We fortunately(unfortunately) found a band-aid down there that said “Kiss it Better”.

So became a process of finding eco-ways to paint the log.
Trialling of natural glues, colours, natural pigments.
In the end we made paint out of a natural water-proof glue made of glycerine, vinegar & gelatine.
And mixed in chalk (gypsom) & ground ochre stone.
The glue is the same. You can find the recipe here.
(Feel free to post other rad natural glues/paints for outdoor use below too!)

Kiss the log better.
Kiss the world better.
Kiss eachother better.


before & after
*Kathy noted: Is it a co-incidence  those that eat rubbish (aka maccas & coke) are always the ones leaving the rubbish?



Notes from Laughing Waters #1

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetCleaned and nested.
On paths made and wallaby tracks.
Seen kangaroos and wallabies.
Owls: heard.
Kathy’s seen an echidna.
I’ve seen it’s tracks.

We’ve had fires.
And drunk wine.
Cooked well. Eaten well.
Bought things at the local rooftop markets.
Rediscovered Aldi.

We’ve sat on the rocks.
And been silent.
Been swimming (Alex:2, Kathy:1)
Listened to water.
Heard it on the river.
And the roof.
Felt it on our feet.
Our bodies, eyelashes & gumboots.

We’ve been researching natural glue.
Natural paint.
How to be, make but not harm.

We’ve nattered to fisherman.
And cleaned up their beer cans and cigarette butts the next day.
Heads shaking and muttering.

We’ve tried to stay here as much as we can.
But things keep calling us.
And people keep telling me, it’s “only 40min.”
But it’s a world away.
Its hearing only the trees and water and birds.
Of not seeing as I look out the window anything made by a human.

It’s shameful to be part of the human race.
I want to put sometimes after that statement.
But I don’t think I can.

Water can be beautiful.
Deep, impulsive, reckless, dangerous.
Hard or soft.
Open, vast, closed.
Fast or slow.

Water is in us. And, well, most things breathing and living.
We are but aren’t like it.

The damage it hurls is temporary.
A reaction to weather, a shifting plate, the moon.

Yet we are affected by us.
Human to human.
Action to action.

Dear water, you need to stop us.

Kathy Holowko and I are in residency at Laughing Waters, Eltham, a residency run by Nillumbik Council.

You can’t own a landscape. The gift of Bundanon.

Dear Bundanon, afternoon

My two weeks are up.
As Gary, the caretaker said this morning, all good things have to come to an end.
It’s been…well…wonderful.
And probably even better than I understand now.

The two weeks have been rich.
on the hillWith views. Both kinds.
The nature sort, and the people’s brains sort.

Walking and floating.
Through the paddocks.
Shoalhaven river.
And trees.

And being still.
Watching the wombats. The birds. The roos, as they stare back.
Listening to music.lines

But the most valid thing, for me. Is that I’ve really been able to think.
These wide paddocks and waterways have opened up space inside.
To think big myself, which I was in desparate need of.

From here I’ve read about Gaza, MH17 and the carbon tax.
And remembered why I do art.
And asked myself “what does the world need to hear?”

river kayakDespite being without phone reception, I’ve connected with artists I’ve been meaning to connect with in ages.
To talk about these big ideas.
I don’t think i’ve had so many inspiring conversations day after day in ages.

And the artists I met here. Brad, Margaret & Ade in particular.
The wine and food we’ve shared & the peeking into eachother’s practice has been wonderful.

mirrorArthur Boyd gave this place to artists.
Because “you can’t own a landscape”.
He was about sharing.
An inspiration to us artists. In this time and place.
Me in particular.

Thank you.
Thank you Arthur & the Bundanon team.

x A.

Water. 水. Mizu.

hello blog.
It’s been a while.
I want to show you this:

And make sense of water.
And this new work I want to do about floating.

In Japan there is water everywhere.
Shrines for washing.
In gardens for watching.
Tea, slowly brewing.
Onsen, soaking.
Coi floating with, against and for.
Embedded in moss & lilies.
Drenching me in hot summer rain.

I sat in teahouses. And watched the leaves sway.
Or sat on a bridge and stared into the flowing water.
For hours.
Followed a coi down a stream
Watched a turtle swim back and forth.

And in finding the stillness of me.
The zen.
My mind floated….

Is it the sound. The image. The slowness. The sitting. Being away from home?
TBContinued x

Dear Moreland council.

A little on my soapbox about the following:
Article 1: Moreland buys art.
Article 2: Art vs Toliets

Dear Councillors,

I am writing to express  concern about the recent publicity and discourse around the purchase of art, the role of arts & council.

Firstly, I’d like to point out we live in Melbourne. A place infested with artists. Artists add to the gentrification of an area. It adds economic value. It makes a city more “liveable”*.

Brunswick and Coburg (and increasingly further north of Moreland) are where many artists live. It’s why people live here. It’s one of the key reasons housing prices have gone up & artists are moving west and north – we are increasingly being pushed out.

I don’t want to discuss the purchase of Penny Byrne’s work. I don’t want to ask how much is $5,500 in the scheme of the Moreland budget? Or if the work is even underpriced. Or how impressed I am by key programs you have run in Moreland that advocate for women and artists – and why this work is a fitting contemporary acquisition. Or how art is an investment, not only in the artist, but the actual dollar value of it will increase over time.

What I want to discuss is the offensive debate that has been happening in the media. “Art vs Toilets”. I am appalled. That councillors in Melbourne, let alone Moreland have decided to have this conversation. This is not only completely backward in policy, but small thinking, petty and unrepresentative of a significant portion of your residents.

Your residents are more intelligent than this conversation you have tried to have.

I know there are council members on either side of this discussion. And I know there are significantly different demographics across Moreland. And i know that you always need to make tough decisions. But The Arts isn’t one of them. Debate in the newspapers about $100,000, debate about inventive and brave policy, fight about the big things – not the small & petty.

You (after much debate) part-funded the aMoment Caravan. This was $2,500. We spent a day in Glenroy, and this is some of what happenned.

They showed  vision and depth.
It inspired me.

I hope they inspire you too.

Yours sincerely.
Alex Desebrock.

Dear Tracey Spicer & the internet

Dear everyone,

Tracey Spicer wrote an article “I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane”

This is my response:

I feel like I have to qualify that I don’t have my own children. I work with children.
I talk to them. Ask them Big Questions through my art practice.
And am attempting to get adults they don’t know to listen to them.
Yes, this qualifies as “strangers”.

Why? Well a few reasons:
– to demonstrate the boundaries and limitations of the broad sweeping statement : Stranger Danger.
– to promote the child’s voice. We don’t listen hard-enough to them do we? As a childless 30-something I would have no contact with kids if I didn’t work with them. This is an increasing reality for many adults. We segregate them to schools and child-only areas – not only cotton-woolling them but also denying the insight, humour, joy and collective reminder of our responsibility for the future children provide a society.
– to empower children. When we talk about stranger danger we assume the child is incapable of judging an adult, of using their intuition, of developing ways of avoiding situations they don’t want to be. Children are often better judges of character than us adults are.
– I don’t want a generation growing up missing out on the spontaneity and joy of serendipitous moments with people they don’t know. The smiles, the helping hands, connections.

Tracey, when you make statements like this you are not only disempowering your children – you are teaching them to be cynical. It is, of course, good to be cautious – but your article is full of bias.

Males get such a bad rap. Really they do. And children and men miss out. Really.
Remember the feeling of climbing your Dad?
Or an uncle swinging you in the air?
Of the things you learnt from your friends’ fathers.
The way you’d observe strangers behaving. Learn from them. Admire them. Crush on them.

As an adult, do you have moments that sometimes make your day with someone you don’t know?

The statistics you are quoting are misleading. As pointed out here.

Instead, read about how long you would need to leave your child on the street to guarantee they were kidnapped.
Answer: 750,000 years.

Think bigger Tracey. It will put your mind at rest.

Alex Desebrock