5 Questions: Christian Leavesley

leadership, melbourne
Nice pic taken by Teagan Glenane for Melbourne Times Weekly, at the Arena studios in North Melbourne

Nice pic taken by Teagan Glenane for Melbourne Times Weekly, at the Arena studios in North Melbourne


Christian is the Artistic Director of Arena Theatre Company (co-founded by my grandmother, Naomi Nicholson.) He is based in Melbourne, Victoria.

1.       What’s wrong with theatre for children in Australia today?

At the risk of sounding like an industry “booster,” I was caught out a little by this question.  I think there is plenty right with theatre for children in Australia today.  Most importantly, and one of the reasons I now work in the sector, is that theatre companies making work for young people often don’t presume that theatre is any particular thing.  The sector knows that children don’t come with many preconceptions, and feel entitled to respond by making work from a similar place.  This means that a great deal of theatre for children is genuinely innovative, exciting and revealing.

2. What have you seen in a school or education context that’s driven your imagination wild? What are some of the best examples of the arts and education sectors working together?

Again, I’m going to slightly reject the premise of the question.  I love teachers who love art, and I’ve spent a lot of time in primary and secondary schools in the last couple of years and had many incredible, meaningful, profound experiences.  But, in the theatre context I’m not sure about education as the “way in” to theatre for children.  I want theatre to be the thing that the teachers have to ask their students to put away so they can focus on their maths or their english class.  The same way that teachers ask kids to stop listening to that music, or to put away that [insert gadget or piece of sporting equipment].  Theatre is the language of transformation.  Children are living their own transformations every day. I think the education context sometimes accidentally sets up theatre as a ‘good for you’ thing that children are suspicious of.

3. When you see genuinely new approaches to engaging with audiences in Australia, who or what do you think inspires that?

I think when it comes to new approaches to engaging with audience it’s all about a zeitgeist concerned with understanding what an interface is.  At the moment there’s a lot of interest in various definitions of interactivity that has been largely inspired by advances in communications technology.  Lots of interesting models of audience engagement don’t require technology as such, but it’s hard to imagine them having come into fruition without the parallel technological interest in interactivity.  For me though, right now there’s a very real melt down between what it means to be an individual and what it means to be part of a collective, at all kinds of different levels.  The old interfaces aren’t always consistent with the understandings of how people are in contact, so we’re searching for different models of interface and connection that better speak to the lived experience. I’m looking forward to how biotechnology might influence how we start to think about interfaces.

4. What new insights into being an artist have you gained since becoming a Dad?

When I first met my daughter I immediately recognised that I had no conscious skill or ability to create her.  Of course, I do have a shared responsibility for her being here today.  But, if somebody asked me to design and manufacture a fingernail, or a hair, not least an internal organ, I could spend lifetimes and get nowhere at all.  I felt the debt to all the previous generations right back to the primordial ooze.  I think the experience put into starker contrast for me the concept of creating something absolutely original, and the  concept of sharing powerful, wonderful, revelatory experiences.

5. What do you think of the National Cultural Policy, as we currently understand it?

It seems like forever since I last spoke about this!  Without reading back on any notes, I think my feelings were that it seemed that the intent to enshrine the importance of cultural institutions and culture was admirable.  And possibly incredibly important should pressure on public budgets rise to ‘national emergency’ type levels.  There did seem to be a fair bit of reverse engineering from what currently exists, rather than projecting a framework that might suggest gaps that need filling or a provocative future relationship that Australians might have with culture.  Perhaps the stronger emphasis on the importance of indigenous culture, and a strong faith in the future cultural firepower of the NBN are exceptions.  I think my DIY background often makes me eschew the bureaucratic in cultural conversations, but the power of Kennett acknowledging that we needed Chunky Move demonstrates what incredible momentum and power can come from that kind of thinking.  And so I think my 2 major questions stemming from the policy was whether there was any suggestion contained within it that would give rise to well supported Chunky Move scale innovations.  And secondly, is there a place in the policy to discuss in more detail the lives of people who are central to cultural work, whose time and access to interesting spaces feels as though it is being limited more and more by progress in other areas of our society?


Next 5 questions: Artistic Director of Dancehouse, Angela Conquet.


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