In Full Voice: SMH Article on Australian Musical Theatre Development

CATS_ImageThe article about which I am offering an opinion can be read here:

Whereas, it is not factually accurate, as Dean Bryant suggests that ”Musicals in Australia are probably by far the most popular form of live performing arts.” he’s not that far from being right.  Live music performance in the ‘contemporary popular music’ genre is that most popular form of live performing arts in this country.  The apposite point is that the musical theatre genre is a significant contributor to the health of the live performing arts sector in Australia.  Without it, much other theatre would languish in its wake.

The article’s rather spurious cost-benefit analogy, however, made in respect to the Australian Film Industry is specious.  Film and Theatre are not one and the same art form, interchangeable, derived or constructed under the same constructs.  Film critics would have a field day pulling this argument apart, but in short it goes like this: Film is potentially, monumentally more profitable than theatre!  One cannot make the argument that because Australian Films do not, historically, do as well as imported musical theatre product, that there is some intrinsic failing in out national film industry.  Yes, there are lots of problems with the Australian Film Industry (the ruling and constraints around the 40% Producer Rebate being one of the most egregious) but there are lots of problems with most enterprise in most industries.  Fair’s fair.

The reductive comment from Anders Albien, who suggests that”there’s no formula for a successful musical” is plausible on one level, but also imprecise.  What I presume he means is, that there is no formula for predicting what audiences will will decide to go and see.  This is not the same as having a ‘successful musical’.  I can name any number of very successful musicals (and operas) that are astounding and wholly satisfying pieces of musical theatre, that have not received a financial return, but are marvelous nonetheless.  A ROI is not the only determinant for success – this is why we have subsidised theatre to underwrite critically appraised new work!

Acknowledgement of Magnormos, founded by Aaron Joyner, in Melbourne is appropriate as it is long overdue.  This organisation, established in 2000, has done more to develop opportunities for aspiring musical theatre writers in this country above and beyond any single other entity.  I can only hope that suitable and meaningful support from the various funding bodies, investors and philanthropists for the endeavours of this company will eventually be realised.

Finally, five paragraphs from the bottom of the article (as opposed to the header!) we get this:

“Will we ever fill the gap? We have the talent. We have the audiences. We don’t, however, have the funding: musical theatre falls between the gaps at Arts Victoria and the Australia Council. You can’t even claim the same tax breaks given to those investing in Australian film projects. Which means that one of the most popular and lucrative entertainment industries in the country – whether you price it at $2000, $100,000 or $5 million – has to keep building itself from the ground up.”

Good – except that we don’t have the audiences to sustain the development of new works in Australia.  We’ve never educated nor engaged potential audiences to invest in this process.  The fact that it is a plausible strategy notwithstanding is evidenced by our incredibly robust and innovative not-for-profit amateur musical companies (especially in Melbourne) and the unexpected success of homegrown works such as Magnormos’s production of Flower Children (albeit with a flawed book and being a juke-box musical of American songs).  It might be a harsh reality, but reality is often harsh in this business.  But, not to deride the intention of the argument, the lack of intentional funding from the Australia Council toward homegrown musical theatre – NO, not from the Music Board (diffident in the extreme) or the Theatre Board (God forbid) or even a New Media Board (never happen!) – or any other ‘Board’ for that matter, but the creation of a Musical Theatre and Opera Board is so overdue, that one might muse not whether the train is tragically late, but whether there are any tracks laid on which the train might run.

To make this happen, the Australia Council has to accept that they need to acquire the services of experts in commercial musical theatre to make appropriate assessments for funding of commercially viable music theatre product in this country and not hive off funding earmarked for musical theatre development to third-parties!  God forbid, that having funded a commercially successful project that the Australia Council might get a return on their investment seed-funding, to return back into the funding pool.  Now there’s an idea!


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