As I said in a previous article, independent arts is in the need of a revolution. We need to create differently, we need to manage our work differently and we need to approach our audiences differently. I have researched a number of ways that this has been done in other parts of the world. For this article I want to focus on the Arizona-based independent arts event, the Skunk Ape Circus.
The Skunk Ape Circus was a touring multi-arts and community event that toured the United States through 2007 and 2008. The concept was simple. A group of folk-punk bands collaborating to create something that had more of an artistic value than the typical punk gig. The comments of some of the artists involved sound eerily similar to the philosophies posed by the likes of Heiner Muller on post-modern and post-dramatic theatre (My primary source is linked below). These bands, with no money; just their instruments and their cars, set of on a tour intent on putting on as stunning and moving shows that they could put on with the resources they had. The goal being to collaborate, empower and inspire.
This collaborative ensemble ensured that “every show, something new and amazing happened”. There is no room for mediocrity or stale work in the independent arts sector, everything needs to stay fresh or you risk artistic atrophy. The Skunk Ape Circus ensemble believed that performances you see in the indie scene should be a special experience for performers and audiences alike, and that it was a duty of the performer to ensure that the audience is empowered to take their own initiative in creating their own opportunities for participation in the work. I am passionate in the belief that the independent theatre needs to differentiate itself from the mainstage.
In mainstage theatrical works, the audience generally sits in their seating bank, staring endlessly into the depths of the proscenium; a completely passive experience, where you more often then not leave wondering what to get for dinner on the way home. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, however my point is if we (as independent artists) try to mimic the mainstage, then we will fail. You can't fight against high budget, corporate funded works with billboard advertising, internationally trained performers and directors in heritage listed venues. You can't fight the major companies in their own game, so our task is to create an experience for the audience that they can't acquire through the mainstream showcases.
In the Skunk Ape Circus, one of the major focuses is to give the audiences the opportunity to respond as they wish to the performances. One of the key creatives behind SAC, Patrick Schneeweis talks in the video below about how people go to shows with the expectation of seeing the bands and hearing their songs and that he wanted to achieve more than this. Audience reactions in Schneeweis' industry are very predetermined, and he used SAC to explore different reactions. One of the Skunk Ape Circus' major philosophies was that positive reactions to work need to be less restrictive and that people should be able to react upon their own initiative to respond to the performance that they are now a part of.
The aim of the event that these guys toured with was to create a unique interaction between independent artists and their audiences, forging a relationship between the two which is rarely explored. I want to take inspiration from Skunk Ape Circus in creating The DIY Festival. We want to unite artists and collaborate to bring our work to audiences, engaging the attendees of the festival as more than a passive voyeur. I think that works with our festival vibe perfectly and will create a unique experience worth watching. And what comes of DIY after this year? Can we create an event like this, where we collaborate with a number of other ensembles to create unique individual works as a more regular programmed season rather than just an annual event? I don't see why not.
I see The DIY Festival as something that could explode, that has the potential to connect audiences and artists like no event we have seen in Brisbane before, and that's exciting. I can't wait for the applications launch on June 1st and the festival in November.