Shakespeare Memorial Lecture

For those within coo-ee of Sydney, a free, public event that will get us all talking. Director Kate Gaul will deliver the annual Shakespeare Memorial Lecture at the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre on Thursday 29th September. Tickets are free, but it’s a small theatre so please book at this link. This is going to be a beautiful opportunity to hear from a director with a genuine voice about the process of engaging with material that has shown itself to have infinite afterlives. There will also be music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the chance for conversation and sharing thoughts afterwards. We’ve all got by for so long without this kind of opportunity for connection in a theatre space, I’m looking forward to it so much.

5pm Thursday 29 September at the Seymour Centre, Sydney

One Musical Scene

YouTuber Nando v Movies is still bringing it, with his series of event playlists proposing a theme for video essayists to analysis an aspect of movies and other shows. Previous years have seen “One Marvellous Scene“, “One X-cellent Scene“, and last year, “One Villainous Scene“, which was the first time I attempted a contribution (on Richard III).

This time around it’s “One Musical Scene”. That is, not scenes from a musical (or not necessarily), but how music is used in a scene in a way that elevates the material. Here is the full playlist.

Despite being in possession of many opinions on musicals and the filming of musicals, I decided to stick with my Shakespeare theme. When I saw the topic my mind instantly recoiled a clear three decades, and landed on Kenneth Branagh’s first feature film, his 1989 Henry V. That fully 5-minute long tracking shot of the aftermath of the battle of Agincourt, no dialogue, just allowing the hymn to frame the vastness of the wreckage, was masterful and unforgettable. Here’s my walk-through of how Patrick Doyle’s music made the scene:

Research? What Research?

A new government (at last we can exhale) suggests a great opportunity to begin afresh on many public projects. But is it too much to think we can reset ingrained cultural attitudes? Let’s dream big, at least for now. I would love to see a fundamental shift in Australia’s attitude to research. Not to any specific research, just research as a concept.

When most people hear the word ‘research’ they think ‘science’. Some even specifically think ‘medicine’. If you remind them of phrases like ‘market research’ they might possibly think ‘statistics’. This is at the heart of the change I want to see. I don’t deny that science, too, has been starved for support, with horrendous cuts to the CSIRO and many other valuable institutions. However, it’s easy to say “we need to support research better” and have people nod because they think you just said we need to support science.

Is it too vast an ambition to want to move the cultural conversation to where everyone expects there to be research on everything? My current job is supporting people who do research into creativity, and it’s an immense privilege to work on getting more of that out into the world. But very few people grasp that something like ‘creativity’ is something that can be researched. Discussing the topic in the context of education sometimes helps, but it’s so much more than that, and one of the things we need to do is stop trying to justify esoteric areas of study by focusing on how we teach it. We need to grapple with how much most most of our society doesn’t realise that there are people out there producing research in Drama, History, Literature, Philosophy, Culture, Music, Politics, and a thousand other things that don’t necessarily have health, education or numeric applications – and that’s what we want for our world! Research has a PR problem, and academics and universities need to broaden their agenda to address it. I have ranted before about the misconception when funding is discussed (and scoffed at) of treating it like buying a book, rather than employing a specialist. We need to shift the conversation to talk about research as a process of work.

The whole GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector could benefit from the same, and that might require an examination of a deep-seated principle of deliberately making the work invisible. Conventionally, curators of exhibitions or collections don’t centre themselves, the idea is for the framing of the work to feel inevitable. There are lots of good ideological reasons why we might want to make the standpoint of the curator apparent these days; there is a major cultural shift going on to allow an audience to assess the perspective and potential biases that went towards producing any cultural work. This could be extended to help the whole enterprise of increasing public support for the field. Pull back the curtain, expose the mechanics, show the work, show that it is work.

Let’s begin now. Stop hesitating to speak about how hard or skilled or specialised the work of research is. Share the process, work through the puzzles in public. The beauty of this is that it’s a really positive thing to do anyway – research is fun and satisfying, and if we talk about it more, lots more people will want it in their lives!

Which of these items produces research? (Trick question – it’s the researcher that does that.)

An Arts-Led Recovery

We’re all at a point now where healing has to be the concept that rules all others. Healing the environment, healing those who have become not just acutely but chronically ill from a disease we don’t yet know enough about, healing the grieving.

Creative expression and the Arts forge connections among people, and connection is one of the key things that keeps people healthy. If we are all going to get healthy again after the body blows we’ve taken it will only be through personal and community connections, and art is drawing the map for us to find those things.

Given that arts work is fundamentally communicative, and most artists communicate for a living, it’s bizarre how little traction any of the very positive messages they are constantly putting out there seem to get in public consciousness. In Australia practically everyone engages with art every day, and yet the sense they have of what they are doing is somehow that “the Arts” is other stuff that people are doing elsewhere, not the music you listen to and your kids’ holiday workshops and that mural you like on that local wall. I don’t know how to solve this. I know who the enemy is; I know that conservative government and media believe that they get favourable responses when they trash talk arts workers, and I know, alas, that they seem to be right. I don’t know what can break the cycle.

Right now artists, exhausted and resource-stripped as they are, are doing what they always do. They’re working to help the communities that are struggling to recover from floods, and those (particularly the young, the old and the disabled) who have been feeling the impact of increased isolation. Always putting out there more than they can recuperate.

We must make it possible for arts workers to live and arts organisations to thrive, not just because we want to continue to have those things in our society, but because there’s no way our society can heal from the damage it’s taken in the last two years without them. Art is how we will get through this.


A multi-modal workshop on Beowulf for Year 9 students