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Friday 20 January 2012

SHORT & SWEET WEEK 3 at King St Theatre & dissected by me

Let me start by emphasising the word amateur, not because I am about to vomit vitriol on the work but to remind everyone that the Short & Sweet Festival is designed for the average punter on the street to have a go at writing, directing or treading the boards. Do not go to this expecting polish and frou-frou. What you will get is the chance to see your friends, neighbours and rellies trying to make a fist of their designated 10 minute play, not always successfully but certainly supportively. You will see cardboard props representing everything from cars to spaceships- there is something endearingly kitsch about the whole thing.  

The festival is structured into many weeks and a couple of different venues playing 10 x 10 minute plays over the 5 days of their allocated week. The plays are a mixed bag of styles and stories, directors come from all walks of life as do their cast. In each week there is bound to be a play that hangs together a little better than the others- sometimes because of the writing but mostly because the cast may have some professional or trained actors and the director, who also may have some experience, has been able to utilise their skills.

The audience also get to become part of the festival as at the end they get to vote for their two favourites and the winners eventually find their way to the finals. That is the night to make sure you have your ticket- the best of the best. However, there is something wonderfully democratic about the festival and the rawness of the heats that are worth checking out. Everyone has the same opportunity of success.

In this week kudos goes to the cast of the first play, ‘Just The Ticket’, who came to the director’s rescue when her cast pulled out 48 hours before the show opened. You wouldn’t have known- they managed well. Another play with potential was ‘Other People’, where the quality of performance stepped up a notch in ability. ‘Mother Love’ had a poignant ending, ‘Last Man on the Moon’ had some comic writing and ‘Macspin’ was another script with potential in its clever ideas.

The plays and performers overall have the subtlety of a sledgehammer when expressing their intent. But let me finish by reminding you once again of the word amateur. Forgive the festival its sins and revel in the joy that anyone can bravely live out the desire to have their moment in the spotlight and appreciate the communion of theatre.


  1. You're the real amateur. This column I wouldn't even wipe my arse with it because I'd be afraid your disease of stupidity would and lack of taste would rub off on me.

    1. I feel like your comment needs punctuation. Or maybe a 6th grade education? Either way, something is amiss...

  2. And that pretty much sums up the reason why this blog exists. Thank god for you Jane.

  3. I would definitely wipe my arse with this review.

  4. As the review is part of a blog on screen it would be difficult to use for wiping. Printing it out would produce most unsatisfactory results, especially with paper optimised for laser printing. Mycroft Snooks recommends the toilet paper with the picture of a Golden Retreiver on the packaging. I have not unfortunately been paid to endorse the product (no cash for comment here). Back to the blog, I'm probably revealing my own lack of taste (and indeed that I am a Philistine) when I mention that I have found this blog a complete hoot. I hope to have someone read it out to me on frequent occasions in 2012.

  5. "Arts minister George Souris stated in a media release that “this budget will boost our arts sector by supporting the production and presentation of dynamic arts projects and programs as well as capital investment”. Souris highlighted $1.7 million for the 2012 Sydney Festival ... as well as $1.7 million for the Short and Sweet theatre festival..." from

    let's just repeat that..."$1.7 MILLION for the Short and Sweet theatre festival"

    is it acceptable for the recipient of $1.7 MILLION in arts funding to be producing work that is characterised as amateur?

    1. Short and Sweet is an amateur event. The project is funded because it allows access to a large number of people who are "starting out". Amateur is not a dirty word. What is wrong with you?

    2. So funding of amateurs has become a priority for the State Government?
      Now that Short + Sweet becomes one of the largest funded organisations in the arts (just look at the figures of ANY arts organisation - are there any that gets more???), now I know that I should have been pursuing a career as an amateur.
      But hang on - it's for regional areas only. I think a quick survey of arts orgs in regional areas would find that this is a huge waste of money when it could have been directed to Aboriginal arts centres, regional arts centres for real artistic and social outcomes. Not ten minute plays.
      Bravo Souris! "Pursuing Amateur Practice in the Arts"

  6. Ah...yes...I don't see the issue here. Short and Sweet is a community based event that encourages writing, directing and acting from all arenas and interested parties and most of those who take on a role in any of those areas are unpaid and thus doing it for love. Is that not the essence of the meaning of 'amateur'? Love, not money.

    Why are some of you so upset by the idea of this event being called amateur?? Is it worthwhile? Yes. Is it worth funding? Yes. Is it a mixed bag of talent and success? Yes. Is it amateur? Yes.

    If you're sensitive to the word, can I suggest you don't enter the industry professionally. It'll skin you alive.

    1. I absolutely agree with you Jane!

    2. $1.7 million Jane??? Griffin doesn't get that. Darlo doesn't get that. In fact, you'd be lucky to find a single arts organisation in NSW that gets $1.7million over four year. Maybe Opera Australia and maybe Belvoir and STC. But only just. That's pretty expensive amateur theatre.

    3. Yes anonymous, no one can deny the success of Short + Sweet, nor its value in the landscape of Sydney theatre, but $1.7 million is an extraordinary amount of money. If that amount was divvied up among the dozens of struggling indie theatre companies currently begging for money on various fund raising web sites, or at launches, or in endless, endless funding submissions, then both the quality of work (time to rehearse for a change?!) and the quantity of work available for artists (with wages!!) would ensure that the big SUBSIDISED companies no longer dictate what audiences get to see. How about a little tiny piece of that $1.7 million goes to Sport for Jove, Cry Havoc, Bakehouse, Subtlenuance, Pantsguys, Squabbalogic, any company working out of 505 or TAP or Newtown? No one begrudges Short and Sweet its place in Sydney theatre, but where is the funding for those struggling companies producing quality work despite being 'skinned alive'...?

  7. I was closely involved with this particular week & I am not offended by the word in question. It is simply a case of dictionary definition. At Short + Sweet, the artists are not paid & the productions are therefore amateur. Whatever their standard and the participants' experience & ability.
    Bit of a shame for the *paying* audience perhaps, but there you go.
    And of course, by the same definition, any reviewer and/or blogger is subject to the same description.

    1. Yes Lothar you make a very good point. The audience is a paying a high price of thirty dollars a ticket to watch (for the most part) amateur work. I'm talking about the standard and quality of the work.

      I also was involved with Short and Sweet, and I believe the festival lacks total credibility with Festival directors( Former and Present) and Production managers having their own plays in the festival. There are real questions regarding the peoples voting system and the selection and qualification of the judges.

  8. Hi Jane, long time listener first time caller. I'm intereted in your comments regarding amateurism. Peter Brook once referred to himself as a perpetual amateur. Brecht is the ultimate amateur. Arguably, of anyone, the amateur is in the best position to learn, as they are the most open. This is very important. Professionalism, although it is the yardstick of respest in this country ("I can earn a living as an actor" is a mantra for many, and results in alot of average quality work across the country), is certainly a two edged sword for any artist. Once your work is labled 'professional', it is burdened with certain expectations, and mostly falls under the comfortable, safe tag of 'art' (together with its comfortable spaces: Art galleries, conventional theatres etc.) Arguably, once a work is a professional work, it loses its ability to shock.

    The important thing about amateurism is that it results in work that extends to 'amateur' audiences. In reality, audiences are never amateur, just as artists are never amateur. We inherently understand theatre, and therefore all are capable of making theatre. Creating a work from an amateur perspective means it doesn't get lost in this terrible cycle of elitism, where professional shows are made for passive, politely appreciative audeinces, and nothing ever changes.

    I was directing some actors in a play. They were 'amateurs'. Their weekly rehearsal routine was getting on a small stage and reading through the entire play, front to back. One day I suggested coming down off the stage, arranging chairs in a circle, and moving freely. They immediately started to generate interesting positions on the floor. Status, power, emotion, these things came naturally all of a sudden. It was a powerful experience.

    Two cast members arrived late. Their responses were both interesting. One walked in, watched for a moment, and said to another cast member "Where's the audience?". The other walked in at a moment where her scene was being played by someone else. She walked in, took her script, and started playing as if everything was as normal as could be.

    Both responses are telling. I highly doubt that a professional actor would have asked a 'stupid' question like 'where's the audience?', although this is exactly the question that the new staging was designed to raise. I also highly doubt that a professional actor would waltz into the room, quickly surmise a complete re-arrangement of the dynamics of a performance space, and plough head-first into it. Both times, we are afraid of looking stupid. Both times, the opportunity for learning is lost, as is the opportunity for a truth - supposedly the grand intention of art.

    If there are people out there who are insulted by the label of amateur, I make this short appeal to you to understand that professionalism is in some ways the domain of marketing. In the world of art, there is not the professional and the amateur, there is only the human being.

    Sorry for the essay :)

    1. Just getting time to address this properly- sorry for the delay.

      Amateurism can often be used with negative connotations, really suggesting that the piece of work is under-prepared, badly performed and executed. I have worked with many an actor who was not being paid who brought incredible integrity to the work and those who were being paid who couldn't have cared less.
      It really is in your investment of the work that your attitude and commitment are best communicated to the audience- the money is just the bonus.

      As an audience member I'm more forgiving of it, I suppose, if I haven't been sold it as an exemplary professional outing when I feel that investment is not there (and I paid a lot of money to experience it). That's when you might argue I'm at my harshest and rock the boat with that same criticism.

      As Lecoq would say, there's a a need for 'disponibilite' or openness and freedom to receive, whether that be from other actors, director, actions, etc.

      A true professional has that, whether they're being paid or not.

  9. WOW! I find it really interesting that some people find the word amateur to be perjorative. Of course Short and Sweet is an amateur event - everybody accepts this. There are "professional" writers, actors and directors who participate from time to time but always with the knowledge that this is a amateur event. However, this discussion reminds me of my early (amateur) days in the theatre --- it seems only amateurs with pretensions get upset with the use of this word. Everyone starts as an amateur. Some lucky few are able to make it their profession.

  10. Would just like to take the opportunity to thank all my readers for their passion and ability to articulate and contribute to my posts. The intelligence of our wonderful community pleases me no end (even if the big guns often disregard any intelligence we possess). I'm even thrilled to see the occasional comment regarding a connection between my writing and arses- I'm happy to be read and received by all body parts.
    4 Coffins- if you keep writing like this with such insight and depth, I may have to hand this blog over to you to write.
    Top notch peeps. Keep up the passion.

  11. Thanks - what do you reckon of my analogy though?

  12. Last comment by me on this one I think.

    There's a debate I see happening in the funding of S&S but a bit of research tells me it's for the Regional Arts program, encouraging our rural arts community to establish & get involved in a similar program. That sounds worthwhile to me given that I spent many years outback (yes- I know many of wish I'd return there) and there's not much happening there theatrically except for inappropriately older women playing young girls in very bad Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. Please God give them something else to do.

    As for funding lots of indie theatre groups, sure, I wish the government would. I'm not debating that. I'm just one girl and a dodgy blog changing the face of reviewing one show at a time. But if you'd like me to write your submissions in my own particular style, let me know.

  13. I'm a newcomer and love your candour, much lacking in the Oz theatre.For me it is not the term "amateur".I utterly accept that. I urge you to to research a little deeper as to people's objections, possibly not completely clear here. My experience is with Melbourne. If Sydney is the same, many people have been burned. The vitriol, I'm afraid, is a result of a feeling of exploitation-some valid.
    We are not paid,fine. However, in addition, all set, costume and rehearsal space is from the pockets of the participants-no provision or assistance whatsoever from the organisation. Tickets are pricey for the product, directors required to buy tickets to see their play other than opening night (the job of the director is?). There was little/no transparency as to who got what votes, and despite promises that feedback was encouraged-it never happened-we did our work and never heard from them again-apart to pick up a very badly shot DVD which which was overpriced, badly presented,impossibly formated, requiring some video-editing skill to even play. In addition, the "National Tour" was a carrot which was equivocal to say the least:"If you win, we will take your work on the national tour, which is fully equity paid-isn't that exciting? (skirting the bit where the cast may/probably won't not be the original cast, the director not the original director and so on.." So, who benefits? Certainly not those whom made the winning work. Therefore, can a big cast EVER win? To tour that is expensive.
    There is more than what meets the eye here-a waft of wariness and the closer I got, the stronger it got-and it began to stink real bad! I trust my nose.
    It is not,nor ever has been sold to the participants as an amateur event-it certainly wasn't to me and I have never heard the "A" word mentioned in S&S. It was promoted as a springboard to potential greatness, to the development of the quality of Australian playwriting. There was a very strong message of "look how much we are helping you" and that particpants should feel "privileged" and feel nurtured for the opportunity. It was NEVER promoted as "put a little show on for your mate's". Which,I suspect is why the standard is not being raised over time-not enough return- what does that tell us? This is not sour-grapes-my disappointment as to the chasm between what I was sold and what I got is valid. I write to clarify, not to condemn. I truly wish that this was not the case.
    These are issues of equity and fairness. Amateur theatre, while perhaps requiring a nominal membership fee, does not require participants to contribute financially to the production,(A short play can cost as much as a long play- duration does not dictate budget) nor does it charge a fee to enter a play for consideration. And NO-ONE is paid a wage as it illegal to do by the rules of engagement.Not so the case with S&S. S&S recently advertised the position of Sydney A.D for a wage of about $80,000 on Artshub-a largely professional Arts employment site-but you know that.
    Yes, the Regional Arts are being encouraged to participate- fantastic, but I fear that the issues will be the same. The regions do not need a large company, which S&S now is to replicate a formula. It is lazy funding. It reminds me of a Mcdonalds outlet, which tells you that lettuce in the bun makes if good for you.
    The regions are fully capable of doing it themselves-or to tender it via Artshub i.e. "We need some ideas because we are sick of Gilbert and Sullivan". They would be swamped by capable and trained people-I'd be there in a flash and I don't cost 1.7 mill. Starbucks does not make the best coffee, only the best advertised.
    An individual/s is/are making substantial money out of this. S&S is not a charity. It is the equity which is the problem here I fear. I am ashamed to say that I am far less brave than you and write anonymously-the Theatre Stasi networks run deep and wide and whispers abound.

    1. I was involved as a director in 2015 in Sydney. I loved the experience of working with my actors and writers, but I found the management style of those who were paid for their invovlement -- the Festival Director, Festival Co-ordinator and Production Manager/Stage Manager -- authoritarian and inflexible.
      Probably the biggest problem is that there is no means by which participants can voice their opinions about the way the Festival is run. Those in charge are intent on doing things their way and compelling the actors, writers and directors to comply.
      What irritated me most perhaps was the repeated 'reminders' by email that if I watched the other plays in the performance in which the play I directed was being performed, my play would be disqualified from being eligible for audience or judges votes. I probably received about 10 emails to this effect over the course of a few months. Of course, what it is about is an attempt to sell more tickets. They don't say that and don't give any rationale for the punishment but money is obviously what it is about. Given that the actors, myself and the writer contributed, between us, hundreds of dollars for the hire of rehearsal space and for the design and printing costs for posters, it was pretty rich to be threatened in this way -- particularly for filling what would otherwise have been an empty seat.
      Theatre -- amateur or professional -- should be a collaborative venture. At S + S, however, there's a 'them and us' mentality that undermines the integrity of the whole experience. But those who run S + S either can't see this or see it and don't care because their focus is too much on money.

  14. yes! what she said...

  15. I didn't write my gender here. But I appreciate your comment.

  16. Thanks for liking 'Other People', the play wot I wrote. It got the People's Choice (which I value more than the Judges'). But unfortunately the two fabulous actors are now both in L.A, where they are auditioning for a TV show, and the director's in Europe on his next venture and so the play can't be performed at the final. Bugger - wish they'd been amateurs, then they'd be here instead ;-)

    The best thing I ever saw at S+S was Black Lung - brilliant.

    Agree about the scrutability of the selections and voting - need some tighter rules and governance, or the drop in credibility will continue.

    Thanks for your blog, it is terrific. (I'd say that if you shat on my play too, honest.)

  17. I was involved in the first 2 short and Sweets (2002&3) when it was 40 plays, not 120-150. First year the quality was terrible, with one or 2 decent pieces. Second year, due to competitive selection for the same 40 spots, the quality was far higher, many excellent pieces.

    After that, rather than continue to improve and make it a real competition, the plays were increased to 120 and the overall quality ever since has been as poor as year one, due to sheer volume.

    It's like sitting through the first day of Australian Idol open tryouts year after year.

    S&S has only ever been a money making exercise for Mark Cleary and Alex Broun who expoit the participants to line their own pockets. They realised that the more plays there were, the more sets of parents and friends would buy a ticket.

    I'm supportive of Amateur and co-op theatre, I spent many years as a keen unpaid amateur and now finally I am paid professionally, however S&S has only ever been total exploitation.