October 01, 1988

The New Dreaming

The New Dreaming
Come Out 89

Murray Bramwell talks with Michael Fitzgerald.

Since it began as a row of tents in the Adelaide Parklands in 1974, Come Out has become a major youth arts festival virtually unrivalled in the world. Its reputation for quality, diversity and the sheer scale of its mobilisation is a credit to the energy and commitment of a succession of directors and administrators and an army of teachers and arts workers. Come Out has continued to grow so much that many would say it has become too big, unwieldy and expensive.

Now, Director for 1989 and 1991, Michael FitzGerald, is charged with the task of proving that middle-sized is beautiful. The funding has been whittled and as a result programming is leaner, but it is also more manageable. In 1985, in particular, there was such an embarrassment of riches that in the performing arts there were more critical successes than audiences to see them. Michael FitzGerald, gingered up by his recent spell as ASSITEJ Conference director, was in the finalising stages of the Come Out schedule when we spoke at Carclew.

With the program launch due as we go to press one is reminded that all festivals are a triumph of stationery almost until the opening curtain. Numerous shows are yet to be confirmed – subject to funding from one haughty quango or another, others were still a gleam (or is it a blink of glazed terror?) in the eye of a playwright/facilitator sitting, perhaps, surrounded by crumpled paper somewhere in Adelaide or beyond.

These are the realities of festival making and FitzGerald, fluent, urbane, but, at the same time, engagingly earnest, presides over the still fragile ecosystem of Come Out 89 with confidence and conviction. He begins characteristically with the broad brush:

“I’m particularly concerned that a lot of what we do in the Arts, particularly for young people, reflects what I call the doom and gloom and, while I appreciate that young people have problems today, I think the Arts, which should by their very nature be uplifting and encouraging experiences, are not doing this.

“So I have espoused the theme of The New Dreaming for three reasons. Firstly, I would like to have projects which are fanciful, imaginative and hopeful. I also want to restore the place of the artist in the art process – particularly the arts education process. I think that the Arts have been debased and it is very much an administrators’ world where they say: ‘Here is a shape (usually a very unattractive square) and we want to fit you in it.’ Rather than saying, ‘What is your shape and we will be creative as administrators to give that direction.’

“And thirdly, the political and social reality is that we have come through the first 200 years of white settlement in this country and that we have to contemplate the next 200 on the basis of co-operation and collaboration not only with the Aboriginal community but other disaffected members of our society.

“For these reasons – The New Dreaming. It also seems to hit what is happening now. We’ve gone through the last couple of decades looking at our navels and we are beginning to come up from that. It is time to be realistic, idealistic and optimistic – all three.”

In the theatre program for 1989 FitzGerald has lined up productions from Patch, Unley Youth, Brompton Cirkidz, Multicultural Youth Theatre and Doppio Teatro. Magpie under Angela Chaplin will be doing an environmental piece for secondary level audiences. It’s about falling in love. The Festival Centre Trust has Richard Tulloch adapting Gillian Rubinstein’s splendid ‘Space Demons and FitzGerald has arranged imports from interstate as well.

“What we bring in from interstate will be selective, not just for financial reasons but because I believe anything we invite needs to be developmental in the artform sense – not just, for example, a good piece of Theatre In Education, but something a little different and something differently good.

“Kite will be coming from Brisbane. They are the only company in the country who work exclusively for the kindergarten and lower primary group. They have a lovely magic, strong themes but with an imagination which is special. The Jigsaw Company from Canberra will bring a production of Self Winding, an outdoors piece to be staged probably in the Botanic Gardens. Russell Cheek, a solo performer working in mime and mask for lower primary will be coming as will Lyndal Jones, Australia’s foremost performance artist. Lyndal will be performing the Australian premiere of Pipe Dreaming.” But FitzGerald is not keen to talk about the performing arts in isolation. “It will be the most integrated and balanced Come Out ever. That is, between all the art forms. There is due attention now to every art form. In the, past the performing arts have had it good. There has been a reduction in quantity but other areas have been strengthened.

“For the first time we will have a significant Aboriginal arts component. There are several projects -ground and wall drawings where stories are told and then illustrated, then in the Amphitheatre there will be workshops involving dance, music and photography. These will be for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children – it is a unique project which we are strongly committed to.

“The Visarts Walk – a coordinated series of events and displays housed within a small circuit of galleries and spaces in central Adelaide – will focus on the artforms photography, clothing and new technologies. A main feature will be Siver Harris’ Imagine the Night Sky, a visual celebration of night sky legends accompanied by music and storytelling.”

Roald Dahl of witches, twits and giant peach fame will be the featured quill for All write – you couldn’t get much more fanciful and hopeful than him. In the music area there will be sessions for rock musicians at the Lion Hotel and workshops for young composers supervised by Moya Henderson and Graeme Koehne.

I asked Michael FitzGerald how Come Out was doing at the postsecondary end of its spectrum. He notes suavely that while there aren’t exactly problems there are “challenges”:

“Come Out started out as primary only, then secondary, then tertiary. I think we have to be very specialized and focused in the post-secondary area and only involve artists and art projects where these have already been developed for these groups – not create them artificially. I feel that young adults by and large want to consume adult art, they don’t want art which is especially for them. But there are exceptions.”

He also is open about the fact that sometimes there is a jostle between the Festival and the Education Department components.

“I think Come Out has to ask questions about its role as a festival. I think to succeed it has to have that developmental edge, be provocative and stimulating. Sometimes the role of the Festival and the education objective don’t merge, they can be quite diametrically opposed. Artistic commitment and challenge and risk don’t always sit easily with Education Department processes.

“But I must say that Come Out is unique in the world. That it embraces a whole state, that it co-joins education and the Arts happily and receives financial support on both sides. I place it on a par with two other festivals in the world – the festival in Lyon, a quality performing arts festival where the best from Europe and the world can be seen and Vancouver, which is a popular arts festival which targets the primary and lower secondary group.”

Although state funding is down in real terms FitzGerald is delighted with the increase in corporate sponsorship. Both the State Bank and Channel Nine have come to the party handsomely as major sponsors. Administration is lean – FitzGerald as Director supported by Louise Withers as administrator and Janine Florey, personal assistant. And while there have been some changes to admission charges they remain minimal with the more costly productions now being ten dollars top whack for adults, five dollars for young people.

So March 31st will usher in The New Dreaming. FitzGerald uses the familiar vocabulary of the articulate administrator – he hopes that Come Out will be “provocative” and “stimulating”. But when he adds that he is concerned with “the strengthening and restoration of the self esteem and well-being of the young” there is no doubt he means what he says.

“The New Dreaming, Lowdown, Vol.10, No.5, pp.22-3.

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