Dedicated to the celebrating innovation and creativity, The Blue Room Theatre’s annual Winter Nights festival feels more vibrant than ever, despite pandemic-related challenges. Ara Jansen finds out what’s blossoming out of this year’s program.
Provoke. Reconsider. Transform. Foster. Redefine. These are some of the words which have supercharged this year’s Winter Nights festival The Blue Room Theatre.
A staple on The Blue Room’s calendar, Winter Nights invites audiences behind the scenes of independent theatre, with opportunities to observe the creative process, view fresh new works and works-in-progress, and listen to conversations about making new work. This year, however, the program’s vocabulary has found an extra kick in the enforced innovation of the last few months.
Blue Room associate producer Melanie Julien-Martial says when the creative team put the call out for Winter Nights 2020 submissions a few months ago, they quickly realised that there was nothing traditional about this season compared to seasons past.
But instead of seeing this as a negative, the team saw it as a chance to dive deeper into creative development and ask their artists to do the same.
“The program still has the same core values that we hold dear – innovation and ideas,” says Julien-Martial. “So, we’ve placed a real emphasis on artist development rather than performing to an audience. Traditionally creative development and artist development have been at the heart of Winter Nights. Without an audience we’re focusing on development, discourse and discovery.”
As always, this year’s Winter Nights features a lot of new works in the pipeline. Some works will be unveiled in August and a small audience will be able to attend works in various stages of creation.
“Our audiences know they are coming to see works in development,” observes Julien-Martial. “The creators of the work can ask the audience for feedback.”
In creative development this season will be pieces like Survive the Apocalypse! by Rhiannon Petersen. In this virtual “choose your own adventure”, the audience becomes the protagonist in an alternative apocalyptic world, for a work that explores the pandemic, climate crisis and kindness. Audiences will have the chance to experience the first prototype of this work during the week starting August 24.
There’s also Come What May, We Will Meet Tomorrow from Renegade Productions, a semi-improvised, multi-disciplinary work, in which a dancer responds to light and sound in different environments. It’s a search for brighter futures and better worlds, amidst the challenges of the present and in a callous world. There’ll be two opportunities to catch showings of the work, one at Government House on August 14, and one in Hyde Park, August 21.
The Blue Room Theatre have also partnered with Barking Gecko Theatre Company for an all ages theatre work called Whoops & Daisy. It’s set in a science lab where two kooky scientists are using colourful experiments to create a serum that makes everyone who drinks it epic.
“This is a space to create. This is a space for people to develop their work. And because at the time we didn’t know if we would be able to have any audiences, we asked the artists to contribute to the creative documenting of the process,” elaborates Julien-Martial. “Some are doing journals, audio journals, making videos and doing other types of writing and reflections on their process and how the work is developing. Documenting the process and practice will give insight into how artists are making work during this time.”
Discourse and discussion are also high on the Winter Nights agenda and the “Conversations” part of the program usually includes live panels. Understandably these have gone online. You’ll be able to watch them live-streamed via The Blue Room’s Facebook page on Tuesdays in August or listen later as a podcast.
First up in August is Dancing with Everything in which Bernadette Lewis and Daisy Sanders discuss what is dancing and who can dance. In The Feast and the Famine Georgi Ivers explores financial security and long-term financial thinking while working in the arts. Barbara Hostalek meets listeners at the intersection of humour, health and wellbeing in Clown Doctors, offering insight into the creative practice of humour from an actor’s point of view and how it can be of service to the vulnerable and ill.
“Planning under circumstances like this has been a huge part of our planning for the future. No one knows what’s going to happen so it’s a huge part of what we consider doing next,” comments Julien-Martial. “Winter Nights was the first step to asking something a lot of artists consider the norm – asking them to be proactive and responsive to a changing reality – but it’s also happening in unusual times.”
Julien-Martial says in coming seasons – both for The Blue Room Theatre and in many other creative and arts spaces – there will more than likely be work which addresses the pandemic directly or uses it as a starting point to explore issues and themes.
“I don’t think all art will become about it, but it will certainly be influenced by it. Rhiannon Petersen’s Survive the Apocalypse! is referential to the pandemic and also looks at the climate crisis. The way she has approached it is special and really different – a hope-punk way of exploring how can kindness and the good things we do for one another outweigh what we perceive as hopelessness.”
According to Julien-Martial there isn’t a theme for Winter Nights 2020 so much as connecting thread of embracing innovation and new ways of creating when it comes to process and practice.
“From asking the artists to dig deeper and asking them to document their process, it all comes back to innovation, new ideas and discourse.”
The Blue Room Theatre’s Winter Nights Festival runs throughout August. Find the full program of events at https://blueroom.org.au/winter-nights-2020/
Pictured top is Daisy Sanders, who will be talking to Bernadette Lewis in ‘Dancing with Everything’.