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Improvising the future

Sue Moss talks to Ryk Goddard

Ryk Goddard Ryk Goddard
Ryk Goddard worked with Melbourne’s the accidental company receiving critical recognition for works like Imagine a Life, superfluous man, Teapot and Fifteen Words or Less. He was appointed Artistic Director of Salamanca Theatre Company in 2000. This company, established in 1972, has a reputation for theatre excellence and innovation, most recently under the artistic direction of Deborah Pollard, producing over 100 contemporary theatre works for young people. Since Goddard’s appointment, Salamanca Theatre Company has changed its name to is theatre ltd. Promotional material for is theatre can be read as both a statement of intent and a question: is theatre: experimental, is theatre: site specific, is theatre: improvisation.

Can you comment on the name change?

is theatre ltd reflects our new role in Australian Theatre. Thirty years of theatre in schools has not produced new generations of theatre-goers. Another reason for the name change was that people couldn’t distinguish us from the Salamanca Arts Centre. The new name positions our company as always questioning itself and the ways we develop, promote and present performance experiences.

What do you understand by contemporary performance?

Contemporary performance is happening now. It’s work that is made by people in a particular time with an intention that’s relevant to that time. Whether it’s text-based, experimental or devised, my sense of whether it’s contemporary or not is to do with the intention in making the work. All new work or experimental work is supposedly contemporary. I live in permanent fear of contemporary performance trying so hard not to be things, that it ends up not really being anything at all. The result is work that can be amazingly insipid and lacking in courage and vision.

We’re not performing shows in schools any more. Our research and engagement with young people indicates that participation is as important as watching. is theatre is shifting philosophy and practice away from theatre-in-education to a contemporary performance practice that moves away from serving schools to serving young people. We are working directly with students in schools through participation and putting on outside shows that young people can come to. What’s desperately needed in Tasmania is things for young people to do that are relevant to them, and in spaces where they have a sense of ownership.

We’re aiming to present work where the given is the environment. With Freezer we wanted to enhance and expand people’s expectations of the dance party environment. A dance party is an existing valid culture. There are powerful dynamics in the space that are really interesting. We wanted to align ourselves with that and open it out further. I like work where the artists have to work hard for the audience to have an interesting experience. That makes the world bigger, richer and experienced in a new way.

Blink, Eat Space, Fashion Tips for Misery, Boiler Room, Freezer, flip top heart and am.p are names you’ve devised for theatre training programs, improvisation laboratories and site-specific performances in 2001 and 2002. What future projects excite and push your boundaries as Artistic Director?

In the biggest sense I’m excited that I finally had the courage to place my performance practice at the centre of the company. Everything we do is connected in some way to improvisational practice. This main-streaming of improvisation seems to be happening everywhere and I feel in step with the times. White Trash Medium Rare is the first show I’ve done for years where I fully understand why I’m doing it. It’s a performance installation supported by Australia Council New Media Arts funding. We’re looking at issues of white identity and every artist involved has their own voice and their own practice.

At the end of July I’m participating in the Improvisation Festival of Melbourne, before MC-ing Sydney’s Big Sloth at Performance Space and then performing in Canberra’s celebration of improvisation performance. Between August 22 and 25 is theatre will host Boiler Room, a participatory multi-artform event. Artists from dance, theatre, music and the visual arts will facilitate workshops and show existing work. On the final night the artists will create a performance that combines and advances their skills. Boiler Room will happen at is@backspace.

For many Hobart theatre audiences The Backspace is a familiar environment that has sustained a lot of theatre practice. You’ve been instrumental in refurbishing and revitalising it as is@backspace.

is@backspace is Hobart’s dedicated contemporary performance space. It’s a new multi-use, flexible, 100 seat performance venue. The space is available for hire to develop and present contemporary performance. You can’t innovate in a town without an audience base and space for artists. We’re thrilled because is@backspace is booked out for the next 6 months. It’s a space to nurture yourself as an artist in a low-risk environment.

is theatre, Boiler Room, teaching & performing Ryk Goddard and Helen Omand; music creation Josh Green; dance improvisation Jo Pollit; multi-media Sean Bacon; musician Tania Bosak. is@backspace, Hobart, Aug 22-25.

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 40

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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