Sticky Topics

Bistro 1, Wed 4th Oct, 11:30am, 1 Hour Facilitator: Mish Grigor

In 1999 five writers put their minds together in Who’s Afraid Of The Working Class? - Twenty years later, do we still need to be asking the same questions? Are we afraid (again) of the working class? What is it to be ‘working class’ in Australia in 2017? Is there such a thing as a working class artist? And how do we represent class on our stages? Who are the new voices of political dissent today? As we increasingly ask about intersectionality, we’re asking who gets to speak and when - but how does class fit into the conversations of identity politics?

Key Points (Updated Live)

  • The initial provocation of the group centred around the evolution social/political class in Australia since the 1999 play. It was discussed that much of “middle class values” can be held by those identifying as working class, and the challenges of this permeating class structure in the theare. It was suggested that since the Howard era, 5-6 social classes have been observed in Australia, and that today the rhetoric on our stages can have an unclear standing, meaning and ideology.

  • The subsequent discussion which occupied the majority of the session was the question: Do I have the right to tell a story which isn’t my own? There are complex issues surrounding a creative’s own subjectivity and the consequences of this in performance, and the conversation was particularly focussed on the complexities of exploring First Nations issues on stage within the institutional, European-heritage structures and frameworks of the performing arts in Australia.

  • The issue of collaboration was raised, and centred around the concept that if one is writing outside of their subjective experience, they require support from collaborators to produce an effective and representative work, and their obligation to seek it out. It was noted that for First Nations performance, a system of protocols is in place within these communities as to how these stories can be told, and also that Indigenous playwrighting is still a controversial and developing industry that needs cultivation.

  • It was expressed that many creatives run the risk of “getting it wrong” and that writing outside your subjective experience is a great privilege and responsibility to seek collaboration and representation.

  • It was also expressed that there is a fear of this reaction, that “getting it wrong” is a constant fear for many creative reaching outside their personal experience that they may incorrectly represent a group of people, even when extensive collaboration is sought and exercised. The consequences of “getting it wrong” were also discussed, and it was suggested that whilst a creative may have the ability to walk away from an ill-received or poorly representative work, those afflicted by the misrepresentation rarely have that opportunity.

  • The discussion moved to how a necessary collaboration might work, the correct and incorrect forms of it, and the fundamental aims of such work. The focus returned to Indigenous works as the most pertinent example, and the key to effective and respectful collaboration was expressed to be handing over the powers and privilege to the group seeking empowerment, and that performance was a powerful tool for this.

  • The discussion led to the forms of empowerment, and the fundamental role of finance in the blocks to diversity of expression in the arts. It was noted that most of the institutions representing and perpetrating the artistic status quo also have a major role in the allocation of funds and resources. Subsequently the concept of what it is to be a professional, and the arguments over whether all artists wish to be at the top of a pre-conceived hierarchy of arts culture, or if the boundaries are more fluid and can be deconstructed.

  • A vital provocation during the last minutes of the discussion was the consideration of what audience you might have exclusive access to, and the powers and privilege that comes with that. It was noted that one must not only consider who is writing and collaborating on the show, but who is coming to see it.

  • We then finally expanded along these lines on discussing the pervasive definition of theatre, and how potentially outdated modes of performance are continually perpetrated by government, sponsorship and institutions when a wider audience (i.e. working class, or diverse immigrant communities) is out there potentially for new types of theatre that challenge the new divisions in our society. It was mentioned that in 1999, “Who’s afraid of the working class?” was deeply connected to the union movement, and that as those structures of mass organisation have changed, the forms of political outreach in theatre have changed too.