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The Techno Touch

Louise Gough plugs into Brisbane’s CONTACT

Louise Gough is a dramaturg with La Boite Theatre, Brisbane.

“We’re a youth arts organisation. Our bottom line isn’t theatre, it’s kids. If theatre stopped working then we’d change the way we work. We use arts and cultural activities as a tool.” I’m talking with Michael Doneman Co-Artistic Director of CONTACT. Ludmilla Doneman, the other artistic director, is busy organising the company’s move from the city to their new space GRUNT in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

1995 sees the company in a serious state of reorganisation. The Donemans spent eight months in 1994 away from the company gathering ideas to inform the future directions of the organisation. They founded the company six years ago and it now has a six digit turnover. “It’s time for us to move on.” They are currently organising a hand-over of the company to occur over1996-1997 when “the old and the new can segue. We’re organising a mentor scheme for our successors.”

Currently the company serves a range of clientele. “On one level we serve everyone.” The company involves disadvantaged young people who lack access to arts based activities. “This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities, young people in detention, young people in regional and remote areas, young people from a diversity of cultural backgrounds (ethnic, gender and sexual identification). Social justice is an area of passion for the company and initially we focused on indigenous communities, less so now, as we’ve morphed into general cross-cultural work.”

The company’s activities are extensive and push into areas not commonly associated with Youth Arts. There are four main areas in which the company is active: workshop programs, performance-based projects, outreach workshops and “other”.

These four areas are being pushed laterally as the company engages with technology. Its commitment to infotech is growing rapidly. The GRUNT space will be developed as a telecentre where groups can have access to technology. CONTACT is investigating virtual performance, establishing Perfect Strangers W3, national youth arts site on the world wide web and setting up collaborations with young people and companies who work with youth in global, national and local contexts through technology. The techno-work will also extend into multimedia and broadband with the company looking at making web pages and CD-ROMs, a music interface and midi files in live music. In broadband CONTACT will experiment with on-line workshops. The access to internet will feed back into other areas of operation.

CONTACT is also extending its work into “training” with the establishment of the Bush Pilots Project, a year long course to cater for the young long-term unemployed, “those people who fall through the net”. The focus will be on training young people through providing them with experiences which can prepare them for the “jobs of tomorrow not the jobs of yesterday”. CONTACT attracts a different league of funding through this focus, playing in the “big league”, with DEET (Department for Education, Employment & Training) for example.

The philosophy of CONTACT is based in access, participation, equity and empowerment. The subtext to the philosophy is based in a “serious and informed cheekiness”, the ethic of always working on the “front foot”. The company currently employs three full-time staff - two artistic directors and an office manager - a part time coordinator of cultural programs and around six casual arts workers and tutors at any given time. Pending funding the company envisages a growth in staff which would include a director for the Bush Pilots Program, more administrative assistance, coordinators for the formal outreach work in Redcliffe and the infotech work through Ipswich.

If all progresses as planned for CONTACT, we’ll begin to see the growth of a company in Queensland which challenges the scope and content of traditional youth arts work, informing it with a global perspective.

Louise Gough is a dramaturg with La Boite Theatre, Brisbane.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 8

© Louise Gough; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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