The ethics of independents

I like Wesley Enoch. His passion as a theatremaker is defining and his efforts as Queensland Theatre Company Artistic Director to represent diversity on stage are well overdue. As a patron, I have appreciated his philosophy of building audiences through personal contact, conversations about the work and the company’s obvious valuing of subscriber loyalty.

Enoch’s thoughts on the sustainability of artistic practices within independent theatre are no secret. I’ve heard him speak of this issue before and his conviction is admirable. It is unfortunate that the bulk of his Phillip Parsons Memorial Lecture statements have been overshadowed by the one point that “it is immoral for people on full-time salaries in companies with multi-million-dollar turnovers to be asking artists to do work for free.” But he did say it was going to be provocative.

Every industry has its politics; it would be naïve to assume otherwise. And, accordingly, many have responded to Wesley’s comments, generating some welcome intellectual debate in the social media sphere. This morning I read David Berthold’s candid defense of the La Boite Indie program. And as a patron on the fringe, I feel torn because although independent theatre often offers little financial reward for its makers, I like La Boite Indie. Indeed, I lament the time before its introduction into Brisbane’s theatre culture as an accompaniment to La Boite’s mainstage program.  Because more groups of artists gathering to produce work means more works of art to be enjoyed. The fact that last month’s “><R&J” was a sold out its performances is perhaps testament to others sharing this sentiment.

Enoch’s lecture was titled ‘I don’t do it for the money’. And certainly it would be immoral for audiences to expect artists, (be they emerging or established) to do otherwise in pursuit of their art. It’s like fair trade chocolate or coffee. You want to do the right thing, really you do, but sometimes, the alternative is right there in front of you. This is a simplistic summation, I know and I acknowledge that this is a complex issue. Regardless of one’s opinion, however, is that fact that one has an opinion. Because any dialogue has to be of value in ultimately strengthening the ecology of the arts in this state.


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