Melbourne Workers Theatre fights back


By Bronwen Beechey

MELBOURNE — Despite the Kennett government's recent surprise decision to cut its funding by $20,000, one of Melbourne's oldest alternative theatre companies refuses to give up. In announcing its 1995 season, Melbourne Workers Theatre is giving notice that it will continue to produce works that address issues of concern to workers, women, Kooris, migrants and other groups conspicuously absent from most theatre stages.

Mark Wilkinson, administrator for the company, told Green Left that the response to appeals for support by MWT had been heartening. "We were particularly happy with the strong support we received from the theatre community, including the mainstream companies. There is a recognition that companies like MWT are vital for developing new writers, particularly from Koori or non-English speaking backgrounds."

Armed with this positive feedback, the company recently met with minister for arts Haddon Storey. Wilkinson says that the meeting, which he describes as cordial, was not successful in having funding restored for 1995. "However, there is a possibility that it will be restored for the 1996 season. The minister also conceded that, given the nature of the company's target audience, it may have been unfair to use low attendance figures as the criteria for the cut."

Wilkinson feels that basing funding for theatre companies on attendance figures is consistent with the user-pays mentality of the Kennett government. "There is more of a corporate mentality in the arts, with talk about the need to build 'export quality'. What they don't seem to realise is that the small, alternative grassroots theatre companies are vital to achieve that. If you starve the roots, the whole ecosystem dies."

Wilkinson recognises that changes in the work force are making MWT's traditional workplace performances difficult to mount. "A lot of the big workplaces have shrunk or disappeared altogether. We are making more of an effort now to reach workers through social and community groups."

Melbourne Workers Theatre's program for 1995 is designed to increase the company's profile and the number of people seeing its shows. Two of the proposed shows have a strong Koori theme.

Oh My God I'm Black, a punchy one-woman cabaret by Eva Johnson, will be performed by Maryanne Sam with music by Irene Vela. Up the Ladder, set in the days of Jimmy Sharman's boxing tents, is by Roger Bennett (Funerals and Circuses.) And in what promises to be an exciting cross-cultural experience, MWT has received funding to work on a joint production with the Hanoi Youth Theatre Company in Vietnam.

The company's first production of the year is a return season of Home of a Stranger. Set in a migrant English class, this strongly physical production examines issues of cultural identity and loss. It opened at the IRAA theatre on March 15. For bookings phone 326 6667.

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