The Australian Theatre Forum, run by Theatre Network Australia (TNA), is a landmark meeting place for Australian theatre industry professionals. Held in different locations around the country, this biennial event strengthens theatre as an art form by addressing current issues regarding policy and practice, sharing knowledge and view points, and cultivating fresh ideas that will, in turn, enrich Australian art, culture and society.
ATF DECONSTRUCTED 2021
In 2021, TNA went ahead with the Australian Theatre Forum, albeit in a deconstructed, COVID responsive way.
ATF#1 – Neighbourhood Adelaide, 20 May, 2021
In partnership with APAM and DreamBIG Children’s Festival, we hosted a gathering for 150 delegates on the lands of the Kaurna people. Neighbourhood Adelaide gave space to delegates for reflection, exchange, and revitalising our connections. Neighbourhood featured the following artists: Yasmin Gurreeboo – Act Now Theatre, Sue Giles – Polyglot Theatre / ASSITEJ International, Joshua Campton – Independent Artist/Slingsby, Sasha Zahra – Windmill Theatre Company, Fez Fa’anana – Independent Artist, Michelle Ryan – Restless Dance Theatre, Nikki Ashby – Country Arts SA.
ATF#2 – Online gathering, August 2021
For ATF #2: Indie Career Pathways, over a virtual cup of coffee, indies listened to the journeys of established creative practitioners, asked questions, and introduced themselves.
ATF#3 – Online and in Darwin, August 2021
In the third instalment of ATF, TNA and APAM (Australian Performing Arts Market) hosted an hour of online participatory discussion: Building a Plan for Beyond Survival. TNA’s Drinks Function as part of Darwin Festival was cancelled due to the Darwin lockdown.
ATF#4 – Online peer-learning, 5 October – 17 November, 2021
In partnership with the University of Queensland’s Creating Out Loud research project, the fourth ATF gathering was a program of online peer learning for performing arts company leadership. Over seven sessions, groups were guided through topics including facilitation, peer coaching, communicating value, sustainability, wellbeing, business models, and artistic practice.
In 2017 and 2018, as part of planning the next ATF or national gathering/s, TNA undertook a review of the ATF.
In response to sector changes and feedback from the sector, we employed consultant Andrew Bleby to do a desktop review of the ATF, including analysing the feedback from past evaluation surveys. A discussion paper was prepared, and after receiving valuable feedback to the paper from members and other stakeholders, we planned changes and refocused our priorities. Overall, we determined that we need to be very clear about who the ATF is for and what it provides them. In a nutshell we will:
- Keep the focus on artists (55% of ATF attendees are artists);
- Keep the focus on ensuring diversity – over half of the attendees identify as diverse: either First Nations, from a CaLD background, as a person with a disability, LGBTIQ+, and/or Regional/Remote;
- Continue the successful Independent EOI strategy;
- Continue to prioritise new voices – around 65% first-timers means true sector development, plus some oldies for continuity!;
- Continue to have no more than 25% producers, and 20% ‘supporters’ (presenters, peaks, govt reps, academics);
- Address problems around uneven facilitation skills;
- Restructure the model in response to sector changes.
- TNA has a new partnership with APAM, in its year-round operating model, and we will be contributing to the programming of national sector conversations. The first one happened at Asia TOPA in February 2020, and two others went as planned for Adelaide and Darwin in 2021.
- COVID-19 restrictions mean that we need to build flexibility into each gathering, so that we can nimbly adapt at a day’s notice. This means working with people on the ground in each location; building a clear refund policy; making each in-person event scaleable; and looking at different online models. In 2020 we trialled a spoke-and-hub model for our Safe Theatres workshops in WA, SA and NSW, wherein small in-person groups joined a zoom meeting as a ‘room’, facilitated centrally online by our TNA program manager. This allowed national engagement with our speakers, it allowed exchange between the different ‘rooms’, and it allowed each room to work in real life on scenario workshops where nuanced intimate conversations were needed.
Stay tuned (to the TNA E-news) for more updates.