08. 02. 2019
Getting off the Ground: Regional National Studio
Back in April 2018 (!) I sent this message to Fraser Corfield, the Artistic Director of Australian Theatre for Young People:
“I’m writing after a couple of conversations in regional South Australia. I’ve been doing regional visits in context of my new role to connect and listen and think about programming from 2018-2020 in this role.
A whole bunch of related threads about young regional voices from SA have come up over and again. In particular a number of teachers/youth theatre facilitators raised the difficulty of finding scripts that had an Australian voice and resonated with young performers. I’ve kept directing people to ATYP website and Voices Project in particular, but the feedback keeps coming back that it feels very city centric and even the regional voices feel very NSW.
This has got me thinking about writing projects, professional development and building capacity locally – so I’m wondering if there are already some conversations about regional voices nationally that you might be having that I can jump into? Or if not, can we start a conversation about SA specifically? Through National Studio & Voices Project, obviously ATYP already has so much knowledge and experience, so I feel like anything I’m thinking about in my role has to be in conversation with ATYP!”
Fraser sent back a detailed reply, opening with:
“Great to hear from you! Congrats on the new job, sounds like a fabulous position. So the short answer with this is yes, always keen to discuss new initiatives and voices. ATYP’s continuing to plug away at getting a broader base of work featuring diverse young Australian characters including regional experiences.”
Developing new ideas and fostering relationships takes time. All of us (you, me, Fraser, old mate down the road) have other projects, pressures and priorities in our personal and professional lives. So in between other conversations and work, Fraser and I skyped and emailed and schemed with this exchange as a starting place.
Waaaaay back in 2011 when I was a baby playwright myself (I *still* am a baby playwright in a dozen different ways) I was a participant in one of Australian Theatre for Young People’s National Studios. National Studio brings together twenty emerging playwrights aged 18-26 from across Australia together at Bundanon (this ah-mazing artist retreat in NSW) to work for a week with three mentors. The brief for the week I participated in 2011 was to write a 7minute monologue for a 17year old actor on the theme of death (not as gruesome as it sounds…..) and I had the incredible privilege of working with Peta Murray as my mentor. The experience for me was transformative personally and professionally and led to my first experience of being published in a hard-copy publication. My monologue and nine others were selected by ATYP for their production The One Sure Thing (2012) and this included publication in a collection called The Voices Project (published by Currency Press).
You see where I’m going here right?
Fraser and I, in our scheming, started to ask what if we create a version of the National Studio dedicated to regional playwrights and regional perspectives? What if we hold it in regional South Australia?
And what would a project like this need? What resources, what personnel, what other support? So many questions!
Buoyed by Fraser’s willingness to keep talking with me on the idea – despite working professionally now as an arts worker for over ten years I still feel like a fraud (yup, for realz) – I went away and started to pull together some of our thinking into the bones of an idea and pitched it to some of the leadership at Country Arts SA and eventually to the programming team as part of our internal budgeting process. This is *one of many* processes Country Arts SA (and I’m sure other organisations like us) use to decide how resources are allocated year to year. There are always going to be more great ideas and worthy projects than there are resources (including people’s time and actual cold hard cash for the budget) so it’s a challenging process to make decisions about what can be supported from internal (existing) resources and what will need to rely on securing additional external resources.
My role as Creative Producer Regional Youth is one small part of a bigger strategy/intent/piece of work for Country Arts SA and other staff at Country Arts SA (prior to my arrival) had already worked really hard to secure some funding from the (federal) Regional Arts Fund through their Strategic Initiatives to develop and deliver a youth engagement framework. This meant that I was in a good position to be able to pitch the idea of a Regional National Studio (because there are resources from that funding specifically for youth arts activity), but I also had other projects I wanted to pitch and other awesome staff at Country Arts SA might pitch youth arts ideas too. I can’t influence the behind-the-scenes process of making the final decisions, because I’m not part of the team that makes those decisions and it would be a conflict of interest. My role in that internal pitching process is to develop my best projects to a point where they are ready for either research and development support or to begin delivery, and then to pitch the idea to the very best of my ability using the process. During my time at Country Arts SA that process has been writing the idea up in a standard template (so everyone uses the same format) and then speaking to the idea over a Zoom meeting with the team who are making final decisions (other staff can watch the Zooms too, which is a great way to hear about the other ideas people are working on, I’ve found it super inspiring actually). So for the process to work, everyone needs to be clear about what each project is, why it needs to happen (and why it needs to happen now) and how it will contribute to the work Country Arts SA is expected to do.
So, no biggie, right? *gulp*
You guessed it.
The Regional National Studio is happening!
*Please re-read that sentence and say “happening” in a sing-song voice, it just makes it better I promise. *
We’re calling it Writing Place.
So that whole pitching process I just explained (to get the funding to deliver the project) was waaaaay back in July/August 2018. It takes a long time to build projects. To secure resources. To develop risk assessments. Confirm partnerships. Explore logistics (the how – where, when etc).
So that’s what I’ve been doing since then, moving through the slow process of putting the pieces together (and there are still pieces to put together!). I can’t tell you too much more just yet, except that we have decided to call the Regional National Studio “Writing Place” so you’ll see me refer to it as that from now on. Writing Place is a joint project of Carclew and Country Arts SA (as all projects I’m responsible for are) in collaboration with Australian Theatre for Young People, supported by the Regional Arts Fund Strategic Initiatives. The other thing I can tell you is that Writing Place will be held just outside of Whyalla this September
So stay tuned for further behind the scenes, and if you are an emerging writer aged 18-26 living anyway in regional Australia (or know one) applications will open later this year.