Why I heart La Mama.

by Alex from Maybe ( ) Together

Usually around the time of year I’m exhausted from staring at a computer. Not you-tube or TED talks:  for the plethora of art applications due in July.

But this year I’m not. I’m not sure if it has been a smart of seriously damaging decision, time will tell.
However, I am surrounded by those that are.
Working full-time hours for weeks, on top of their paid work. With no confirmation or the chance of that work ever being validated.

I feel the arts industry is another system broken.
A bureaucracy of institutions, companies focused on self or company interest rather than the wider picture. I understand why, it’s extremely competitive, difficult. But there are problems that aren’t being addressed. And the system has fostered this culture.

A place I think has it’s heart in the right place is La Mama. And I’d like to voice why. *

1) They are focused on artists.
Liz and the team are really focused on the artists. Liz isn’t interested in curating her own work, they are focused on presenting as many new works as possible in their two venues. The theatre is only dark for a few days a year (christmas!) and the rest of the time it’s being used: monday night music, rehearsals during the day, children’s performances on week-end days, sunday afternoon play-readings.
They present as much as they can.

2) They give money to artists.
You don’t hire the La Mama space, they give you money to present.

And 80% of the box office.
Correct me if I’m wrong but there is no other venue that does that.
(unless you’re one of the lucky 12 presented by one of the major theatre companies)

3) The staff are accessible.
I first contacted La Mama five years ago with a script I had already presented and wanted to restage. The script went straight the the AD (Liz) and I met with her about two weeks afterwards.
The greatness of this I’d like to make clear are:
1. The top creative got back to me, quickly.
2. I was able to pitch my idea, in my way.
3. She offered face to face time to discuss presentation options.

4) They function on trust.
La Mama is warm. It has history. It’s a family of theatre. They provide free tea and coffee to their audience and to stick around after a show to have a chat with the cast.
It is welcome to anyone with its run-down aesthetic and warm fire.
They are generous.
And generosity spreads empowerment and responsibility. Keys are handed from artist to artist. Artists share spaces. There are no alarms. They come and see the shows. They employ artists they’ve worked with to be the ushers.
They trust the artists they work with.
5) They have kept it simple.
In keeping their costs down, their marketing, booking and front of house systems have been kept simple.
Their tickets stay low, and it works. They also allow all theatre makers to pay concession priced tickets. Again, a rarity.
They haven’t spent huge amounts in expanding their marketing, at the cost of not funding projects. (Refer to point 1.)
They have created a system that is as simple as possible for someone’s show to get up. No long applications, plenty of feedback, simple marketing templates, publicity support, recommended tech support and more.

In looking at La Mama I see something that has existed for almost 50 years that is a strong model for supporting artists. Many artists.

In a time where democratic processes are evolving, bureaucracy is being re-thought and money distribution is being considered, maybe we need to look to places like La Mama.

If you’ve read this far, then other articles and things that I’d reccommend you read are:

Do Institutions kill art? – The guardian
Art Gallery of NSW EO pay cheque – Crikey
Sign the NAVA petition for mandated artist fees
Who’s making money in the arts? – Crikey

As always, love to turn this into a conversation.

x alex

*NB I I am employed by La Mama. But as a casual usher.
And I am employed there because I’m an artist. Which is one of the reasons I love them.