Top End Travels
Last week was a great week for Tasmanian artists and for Ten Days on the Island. Terrapin’s You and Me and the Space Between started its world premiere season at Darwin Festival, to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim. From Darwin Festival it will tour to Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Festival and others before ending up in the Ten Days on the Island Festival in March. Watch out for the dates later in the year.
And The Season, another Ten Days on the Island commission, written by local playwright Nathan Maynard and produced by Tas Performs, announced the casting of renowned actor Trevor Jamieson in one of its wonderful roles. Probably the last time Trevor was seen on stage in Tasmania was in 2012 playing Albert Namatjira in the touring Big hART production Namatjira.
Both productions have been funded through the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festivals’ Major Festivals Initiative, which has been the source of funding for a number of Ten Days on the Island commissions over the last 15 years, including Big hART’s Blue Angel in 2015.
The fund exists so that ambitious works might be commissioned that will then become part of the program of at least two other festivals or presenters, providing those artists with a bigger performing opportunity than can be provided by one festival alone.
For Tasmanian artists this offers the chance to take their work on tour, alerting new audiences, far and wide, to what they can do and to the creativity in our state. Over the years, the fund has been responsible for some incredible Australian works, including more recently The Secret River and The Rabbits. Many productions funded this way have gone on to tour internationally.
I am really excited that we will have two new commissions in the program. They will become part of the legacy that Ten Days on the Island has created in developing new work, supporting artists and providing wonderful theatrical experiences for audiences.
I went up to Darwin for Terrapin’s opening. Apart from being warmer in Darwin than in Tasmania at this time of the year – at any time of the year – the festival there really puts a spark into the city. It takes full advantage of the dry season at its festival park. Food outlets, bars, its own pop-up venue and the adjacent Brown’s Mart Theatre create a buzzing arts precinct. The music and cabaret in the pop-up, which is called The Lighthouse and has the appearance of an open-roofed tin shed, is a nice contrast to the intensity of performances presented at Brown’s Mart.
My Darwin favourites, apart from Terrapin, were the production of the new award-winning play Broken in Brown’s Mart and, at a site out near the airport, Landing by Darwin dance group Tracks. Tracks has had associations through its artists and dancers with both Stompin’ and Tasdance. In visual arts the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award at Darwin Museum is a regular feature of the festival program and a must-see.
I did a bit of exploring while I was there and visited the museum of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Bombing of Darwin. It seems like an incongruous pairing of themes – united only by airplanes, however it’s very new and has some amazing virtual reality technology which immerses you in the first attack. It’s a bit like playing computer games; it’s probably impossible to properly recreate the carnage and brutality of war without eliciting complaints from traumatised tourists but it did indicate just how overwhelming such situations would be.
At the waterfront by Darwin’s wave pool there was a circus training trapeze set up. It was great fun to watch young people learning and practising their trapeze skills. When you see people missing catches and falling into the nets it’s a great reminder of just how difficult those skills are to master and that the pursuit of skills, whether physical skills in circus and dance, acting skills in theatre, writing skills, skills with different arts media in the visual arts, is at the root of most creativity that enriches us. We often don’t recognise that our artists work very, very hard for very little financial reward. Their reward is too often only the satisfaction they have of sharing an idea.