"THE world is ready for us, and we are ready for the world," declared an
ebullient Michael FitzGerald on a flying visit to Sydney recently. But, the
former director of the Australia Council Theatre Board might equally have been
saying the same thing in Stockholm, Lima or Hanoi ... parts of the world where
he's recently been carrying and receiving that message.
Not that the world wants all of us. "They're interested in our films, our
Aboriginal arts, our literature and our young people's theatre," amended
FitzGerald. He's in the process of bringing 500 actors, writers and directors of
young people's theatre from all round the world here to see ours, and talk
about Staging the Future.
That's the title of next April's Assitej Congress in Adelaide. Assitej is
the UNESCO-associated organisation that attempts to propagate theatre both by
and for young people around the world. Its current 43 members are predominantly
European and American, and so it's something of a triumph that Australia has
brought this congress both east and south of anywhere that it's been before.
Australia is taking the opportunity (assisted for once by the falling
dollar), to expand the Assitej horizons with invitations to 19 non-member
countries in our Asia-Pacific region. China and Thailand will certainly be
sending delegations for the first time, and South Korea and Hawaii are the only
two foreign territories that will be offering productions by their own companies
at the congress.
All the other performances will be Australian - with companies from around
the country taking part in Adelaide's regular Come Out Festival, which
coincides with the congress. Such recent classics as No Worries, Honeyspot and
Dags - all seen this year in Sydney - will be performed. The works of young
Australian playwrights will be showcased by Adelaide's Troupe Theatre. And
companies like Sydney's Sidetrack and Toe Truck will be visiting.
It was Toe Truck, FitzGerald believes, that put Australia on the Assitej
map. We'd been a member of the organisation for some years, but it was Toe
Truck's production of its plays Year 9 Are Animals, and Kasparjack at the
Assitej Congress in Lyons that opened a few "Atlanticocentric" eyes.
"It gave us high credibility, because of the distinctive flavour of the
work, and its energy. We're doing young people's theatre as well as anybody. In
fact, tastes are jaded in Europe in particular, and cultural tourism to
Australia is ripe for happening in many arts. There's no doubt that both
government and private sponsors should be backing overseas arts ventures by
Australians to the hilt at the moment," said FitzGerald.
As well as the expert seminars and performances, FitzGerald is confident
that many exchanges will result. There's already the probability of Adelaide's
Magpie Company doing a swap with Shandong in China, and discussions are underway
for directors and writers to go to California, Mexico and Peru. Perhaps the
concerns of young people are more universal than those of their parents.