News, Performing arts, Theatre

Mixing the moguls and the maestros

Business and arts leaders pose creative ways to boost WA culture and the economy but Mark Naglazas finds it is a fraught path to success.

The arts and business communities have long been locked in a marriage of convenience. The impoverished bride is happy to walk down the aisle with any almost suitor with desire for a bit of culture so long as they have deep pockets; the cashed-up groom, on the other hand, is elevated in everyone’s eyes by the class act at their side.

The two communities engaged in a public courting ritual at the Hyatt on Tuesday morning (or, more accurately, a round of speed dating) during a breakfast hosted by Business News and ScreenWest and presided over by the Marriage Broker-in-Chief, Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman.

Interestingly, the minister and other members of the creative community on the panel did not focus on their need for money but came out fighting, reminding their cousins in the business sector they are a major contributor to the Australian economy, especially when it comes to attracting tourists. It was more of a case of you need us more that we need you.

“We know that visitors to Australia now are more likely to engage with arts and culture than they are to visit wineries, casinos or even attend sporting events. We need to maximise that opportunity,” said Mr Templeman, suggesting that it is now high time for Western Australia to shift its economic focus from the resources to creativity.

Mr Templeman’s call to arms was following by a similarly stirring speech from Ben Elton, who reiterated the minister’s point that the creative sector should not be regarded as a penurious relative always shaking the begging bowl but a dynamic part of a booming global industry.

“The creative arts are clearly a money-making proposition,” Elton said. “If we can get a successful (creative) industry – and we are a long way from being there – in the long run the benefits won’t just be cultural. They will be financial.”

Naturally, Elton’s focus was on film and television, which he believes presents enormous opportunities in the age of streaming. Companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney, who will soon launch their own streaming services, are craving content, the comedy legend said, so it is not a question of benevolence on the part of investors but a chance to make big bucks.

Elton, however, is not so naïve as to believe Western Australia can compete on the global stage without government intervention. “It has to be hand-in-hand with public investment and a public initiative to support Australian arts. Without infrastructure – and infrastructure is very expensive – we are not going to get business to join hands (with us),” said Elton, who threw his weight behind the long-standing fight for a movie studio.

Chamber of Arts and Culture WA executive director Shelagah Magadza kept the rhetoric to a minimum and drilled down on the impossibility of forging a relationship between arts and business without up-to-the-minute data and a sound strategy that considers the arts in a broader educational, social and economic context.

Ms Magadza likened the current situation trying to swing a Datsun 120Y engine into an electric vehicle. “We need a long-term plan in which it’s clearly articulated what needs to happen – where the investment and skills development need to go for artists who want to take advantage of the opportunities that people like Ben (Elton) are creating in the state,” she said.

Interestingly, Tuesday’s breakfast confab about the relationship between business and the arts was taking place on the same morning that The Australian’s fearless, highly respected Victoria Laurie published a piece about the dangers of the business world climbing into bed with the arts.

Laurie zeroed in on the practice of stacking the boards of arts organisations with people who have no direct experience of working in that particular art, causing as much of a problem if it was the other way around, that is, practitioner-heavy boards.

Laurie sought comment from former Australia Council chairwoman and Musica Viva board member Margaret Seares, who cautions against adopting the American model of appointing wealthy donors to boards.

“If you’re putting money into something, what power and leverage should that give you? It’s a debate we haven’t had but it needs to be discussed. For any company to have no one on the board with an arts background, or one lone voice, is as dangerous as having only arts practitioners,” Professor Seares was quoted as saying.

Laurie’s piece is a continuation of her investigation of the ugly situation at Black Swan State Theatre Company, in which the board, headed by high-profile philanthropist Nicola Forrest, removed the company’s executive Natalie Jenkins and replaced her with a recently-appointed board member with no performing arts industry experience.

Among those who’ve also expressed concern about the abrupt exit of Ms Jenkins is Black Swan’s founding patron Janet Holmes à Court. “I’m extremely disappointed that Black Swan seems to be turning out to be the sort of company that Andrew Ross and myself and Duncan Ord and the others who were involved in founding in 1991 did not have in mind,” Mrs Holmes à Court said.

So it was disappointing that Mrs Holmes à Court did not attend the State of the Arts in Business event, where she had originally been billed to appear on the panel. In doing so, she avoided any awkward encounter with Minderoo CEO Andrew Hagger, who was there in place of Mrs Forrest.

Still it was hard not to contain an ironic smile when Mr Hagger said that “when you have partners working together that’s when you get great outcomes” while our ears are still ringing with the news that Ms Jenkins, one of the State’s most experienced and respected arts administrators, had been moved on after falling out with a board headed by a major private sector funder.

There was a buzz in the Hyatt Ballroom during and after breakfast – the arts crowd certainly comes alive in the presence of money. Much of that discussion was focused on the benefits and needs for the two communities to work together and less about the issues raised by those relationships, such as the freedom of arts companies to criticise industries from which they’re benefiting.

The backbeat, of course, is the overall decline of government funding for the arts. Organisations such as ScreenWest (now reconstituted as a not-for-profit) are on the hunt for private investment so in the future that marriage of convenience will take on air of urgency. Minister Templeman may have to get out his shotgun.

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We will Rock you
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Rocking the Maj

We Will Rock You by Queen and Ben Elton, presented by Platinum Entertainment ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 23 March ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

“That was the best thing … ever!” If you’re looking for a succinct, heartfelt review, from a too-cool-for-school teenager, there it is.

I’m not sure when or how my son, Monty, become obsessed with Queen. I find it quaint, given the band released their self-titled debut album the year I was born. Not that I’m surprised, of course. Not even a year of home-schooling was enough to make Monty pop-culture illiterate. And like everyone else with a music streaming subscription, he has the world’s biggest record collection in his pocket.

At Monty’s age, I was listening to the Triffids and Billy Bragg. And, of course, watching The Young Ones – which is why I was excited to have to stand for Ben Elton at Friday’s premiere, as he moved along our aisle to his seat in the dress circle. “We’re in Ben Elton’s inner circle!” my son texted his friend.

Elton wrote the script for We Will Rock You back in the early 2000s. It ran in the West End for 12 years, and has now been staged in 17 countries. Rather than tell the story of rock royalty Queen, Elton created a framing story in which to accommodate 25 of their hits. (This came as a surprise to me. Clearly, I have been living under a rock.) It’s a story critiquing corporate greed and cultural homogenisation, and championing creativity and diversity.

The musical is set in a dystopian world called iplanet, run by a corrupt multinational called Globalsoft. Musical instruments have been banned, by decree of the Killer Queen (Dean Misdale – aka Feminem). Individuality is all but dead. The Bohemians, led by Bitt and Oz (Courtney Murphy and Paula Parore), worship fragments of ancient rock texts and seek a saviour to restore the free exchange of thought, fashion, and live music.

Their saviours emerge in the form of two rebels who have escaped from brainwashing detention: the dorky but indefatigable Galileo (Blake Williams), who hears voices and sounds in his head, channelling lyrics and tunes from rock’s long-lost history, and the feisty, free-thinking Scaramouche (Holly Denton).

We will rock you
Holly Denton as the feisty, free-thinking Scaramouche. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
.

After being arrested by the Killer Queen’s head of police, Khashoggi (Ryan Dawson), falling in love with Scaramouche and evading the Killer Queen, Galileo is able to unearth Brian May’s “axe”. Normie Rowe stars as Buddy, who helps Galileo and Scaramouche in their quest to re-electrify the world with music.

Galileo speaks in a stream of iconic lyrics. Sometimes it is hilarious, other times cringe-worthy: “No, Scaramouche! I still haven’t found what I’m looking for! I can’t get no satisfaction, you don’t stop until you get enough.” I suspect many lines went over the head of my teenager: “What the hell is a… tambourine man? What’s the story, morning glory? Who was the real Slim Shady?” But the plentiful references to contemporary culture, in the obviously refreshed script, kept viewers of all ages engaged.

Produced and directed by Trevor Patient, with musical direction by Frank La Cava, this is the first pro/am production of We Will Rock You staged in WA. The production is supporting HeartKids in memory of performer Ruby Malcolm, who passed away in September 2016. It aims to raise awareness and raise funds for HeartKids, a national charity supporting children, teens and adults affected by congenital disease.

The number of performers involved in We Will Rock You is staggering. The gorgeously quirky Bohemians number 30. Then there are about 40 dancers, and 58 singers in The Rhapsody Community Rock Choir. There’s a seven-piece band in the orchestra pit.

In the program notes, Elton said he was “delighted that We Will Rock You was brought back to his home state in a production committed to encouraging an empowering local theatre talent alongside the professionals”.

The star of the show, for me, was Feminem – and Leah Andrews’ costumes really are dynamite with a laser beam. It’s crazy to think Killer Queen hasn’t been played in drag before. No turning back! The punk-gothic look of the Bohemians’ costumes were a nostalgic feast, too, reminding me of my 80s and 90s wardrobe.

After the show, my son exchanged text messages with his friend, who was lucky enough to see Queen at Perth Arena earlier this month. “He says he’s so jealous!” he declared with glee.

We Will Rock You plays until April 7.

Pictured top: Dean Misdale AKA Feminem as Killer Queen. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
 www.stephenheathphotography.com

We will rock you
The number of performers involved in ‘We Will Rock You’ is staggering. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
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We Will Rock You
April 18, Calendar, Featured, March 18, Musical theatre, Performing arts

Musical Theatre: We Will Rock You

23 March – 7 April @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by Platinum Entertainment WA ·

Since 2002, over 16 million theatregoers in 28 countries have been thrilled by this awe-inspiring production, based on the songs of Queen with a book by Ben Elton (The Young Ones, Blackadder, Popcorn).

WE WILL ROCK YOU reflects the scale and spectacle that marked Queen’s live performances, with more than 24 hit songs including We Are The Champions, Radio Gaga, Somebody to Love, Bohemian Rhapsody, Under Pressure, Killer Queen and I Want to Break Free.

Starring Normie Rowe, Chris Murphy, Courtney Murphy, Dean Misdale (AKA Feminem as Killer Queen) with a cast of amazing local musicians, singers and dancers. WE WILL ROCK YOU brings a global show to the Perth stage, set to rock His Majesty’s Theatre in March & April 2018.

More info: www.wewillrockyouperth.com.au

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