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A fly on the wall at the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) in Brisbane

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SOFEX (Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference). The Brisbane Boat Show (most cities have one). SEXPO (apparently also known as the Health, Sexuality and Lifestyle Expo by no-one at all). It seems like there’s a grand, capitalist exhibition for every industry and angle, and the gentle enclave of the performing arts does not escape the dollar’s reach.

Every other year delegates from around the country, and a good deal of the world, turn up to an appointed Australian city for APAM (Australian Performing Arts Market). To do business. To stay in luxurious hotels. To get out of the office. It began in 1994 and from 2020-2024 APAM moves to Melbourne. This year’s event is the final of the three markets Brisbane has hosted. This has been supported, in part, due to Brisbane’s effort to be – as the policy documents and Lord Mayor often describe it – a ‘New World City’. My limited knowledge of literature and crippling paranoia provide me enough of a hint to be terrified by that phrase, but we’re doing this anyway.

So too, are presenters, producers, venue managers, festival directors, CEOs, arts council employees, and other arts industrialists from 39  countries who will be watching scores of new work pitches and showcase performances, while the more than 250 Australian and New Zealand artists in attendance will be praying they’ve brought their cheque books.

There’s also a wide program of panels, round tables, artist talks, and information sessions for the 1200 delegates and 38 booths/stalls for those really seeking that literal market place atmosphere. If you’re in Brisbane yourself, for the first time ever there’s also an extensive public programming component.

Otherwise, I’ll be your eyes and ears, but not tongue because there’s no catering for press. By all accounts it was excellent though, especially the pre-made, beautifully prepared vegan lunch option in an APAM branded canvas bag. Not that I would know. Probably.

APAM: Day 1 Sunday 18th

Ok, so I misread the program and it turns out there was a sort of unofficial, half-day of events on Sunday that I didn’t attend. Instead, I caught a bus an hour and a half to the outer Brisbane suburb of Chandler, where the old Commonwealth Games Aquatic Centre is situated. Theatre life has left me pale and unprepared for the harsh Brisbane sunlight, and I was endeavouring to swim in an undercover Olympic-sized pool. Unfortunately there was a competitive swimming carnival and thousands of children. A very successful first day at APAM.

APAM: Day 1 (take 2) Monday 19th

As the hundreds of delegates filter in to former-powerhouse, former-squat, and now arts centre – Brisbane Powerhouse – there’s a feeling not dissimilar to that felt on the first day at a new school. I forgot my lunch. I don’t know anyone’s name. Where’s the toughest guy to knock down so I don’t get bullied all week? I went to a tough school.

Inspired by the elite artists and the powerful players in the room I acquire a copy of the delegates’ list under the guise of needing to best acqauint myself with the attendees, then start furiously sending out emails to important international programmers. I’m letting them know I’m the next big thing, at whatever it is that I tell them I do. Mostly whatever it is that they program. By the week is out I figure I’m on at Carnegie Hall or I’m blacklisted from APAM. Wish me luck.

Gravity and Other Myths_Backbone 1
Backbone by Gravity and Other Myths at APAM

I’ve barely pressed ‘send all’ when the full delegacy is ushered into the Powerhouse’s beautiful main theatre, and the alarming certainty of the classic conference opener ‘speeches’ and  ‘keynote speeches’ fills me with dread. I can’t remember if the juice I got on the way in had a caffeine booster in it. I can’t work out if I am already sunburnt from the journey in. I can’t remember if I cc’d or bcc’d those emails. I sit at the very back of the auditorium, a kindly usher ignoring my undignified solitude, and friendly looking delegates mistakenly wave at me in the falling darkness.

I spent most of my school years in Brisbane and while that was half a life time ago, the LSD I took back then is kicking in and much of the first part of the day is partial flashback. It’s the first day of school and I’ve found myself at assembly. The role of head maths and science teacher is played astutely by CEO of the Australia Council Tony Grybowski. A local councillor appeared as the role of Year Co-ordinator or something kind of approachable, but authoritative. Executive producer of APAM, Zohar Spatz, makes an admirable turn as Head Prefect.

In summary, they’re all humbly/proudly doing a great job at the jobs they’re doing, to varying degrees. And to be fair, so they are. The role of School Principal / M.C. is sensitively and humorously handled by Sydney Festival artistic director Wesley Enoch. Each has a million people to thank, including the sponsors, and we’re all reminded that it’s not about buying or selling but how you play the game. Sorry, I mean how you culturally exchange.

And not from the speeches, but from the official press pack, Minister for Innovation and Tourism Industry Development Kate Jones noted that ‘APAM will cap off a spectacular summer of events in Brisbane from the Rugby League World Cup…’ and I can’t even begin to continue reading that hilarious sentence, but it sounds like her heart is in the right place. And to be fair, not many people went to the RL World Cup either.

String Symphony
String Symphony at APAM

For all my lack of enthusiasm for propaganda or official speeches performed by anyone who’s not a professional comedian, we’re given a charming, insightful, and powerful Welcome To Country from Gaja Kerry Charlton. Furthermore, a short film followed; a work of music and animation commissioned by APAM to narrate and illustrate the story of the Brisbane River. It was spectacular and rightly met with thunderous applause. If you’re in town, the film is being projected on the exterior of the building for the rest of the week.

A brief musical interlude later care of Electric Fields and as there were four different keynote presentations, all responding to the theme of ‘conventions’, and as you didn’t pay your $700 entry fee to hear them live, I’m going to crunch it down to the highlights.

First up was Singaporean choreographer/dancer Daniel Kok. He questions about venues taking risks on artists and in the final 30 seconds managed to introduce Deleuze’s Rhizome theory and invite the entire delegacy back to his hotel room for a party. The former made me think though that rhizomes aren’t totally ideal as a model for arts making because when everything’s connected… well, the Irish potato famine came to mind, which is probably or more literal reading than Deleuze intended. The latter was met with laughter, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a pretty tone deaf thing to do in a speech, given the potential semiotic resonance of ‘hotel rooms’ to the performing arts at this point in time.

Second to the podium, Jacob Boehme, artistic director of Yirramboi | First Nations Arts Festival, performed a sharp, satirical dialogue about post-colonial arts infrastructure and management. That doesn’t sound so entertaining when I type it out, but the room responded suitably with gasps and guffaws. Not the actual room, it’s a theatre term that means ‘people in a room’. My pleasure.

Next up, artistic director of Melbourne-based company The Rabble, Emma Valente. She gave an impassioned and powerful call-to-arms. Valente extended on the #metoo platform, and continued to promote the sort of industrial change, most recently exemplified by her co-publishing of a national directory of Female, Non-Binary and Trans composers, lighting designers, sound artists and technicians.

And finally, Xiao Ke and Zi Han, a couple of Chinese punks, showed us some videos of their weird performance art. Eg. that time they kept going out at midnight and putting white t-shirts in the middle of the road until they had crushed 1000 of them. Or that time they had a nap at the Royal Court for six hours with wind-up parrots as alarms. Or that time they did nothing for ten minutes. This was all given an underpinning of sorts when they introduced us to their collaborative, self produced, unfunded festival, which features their massive and inflatable (and thus portable) theatre. It’s no jumping castle but looks like a similiar amount of fun. Recess.

Traditional Opening Ceremony

Three hours or so of looking at the river later the evening was upon us and so delegates, artists, and staff gathered for a combined welcoming ceremony. Brisbane’s APAM proceedings take place on the lands of the Turrbal, Yugarapul/Ugarapul and Jagera peoples; the traditional owners of the lands and waterways, and under Brisbane’s watch APAM has really focussed on the importance of paying the respect, and the value in exchange.

APAM is now recognised as unique within the international performing arts market scene (and there is a scene) for its engagement with first nations peoples. Certainly a major part of the overall programming – more on that in coming days. The ceremony (main picture, above) included song, dance and symbolic ritual from a broad delegation of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Maori and Pacifika, Taiwanese and North American peoples – some in traditional garb, others in their arts admin civvies. Maybe all the schmoozing and emailing had really taken it out of me but I found a few stray tears spilling on to my cheeks as I watched these unpretentious and beautiful traditional exchanges.

Opening Night Party

The closing of the first day saw the whole Powerhouse locked down for delegates only, and a very, very long table of champagne flutes. I better go see if those emails have replies yet. I leave before the champagne is poured.


Photos by Rob Maccoll

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