The saying goes, “if you’ve seen one regional centre, you’ve seen one regional centre”. My experiences on this 7-stop launch tour bear this out in the physical and social diversity of every place I visited, each reflecting a unique biosphere of experiences, geography, demographics, values, characteristics and attributes. My own experiences in each place – although delivering essentially the same presentation with a few local variations in all 7 locations – were just as diverse. To sum up:
Candelo was my home crowd – about 70 people in the delightful atmosphere of the General Store Café: the perfect place to launch the paper, really. Similarly, in Bundaberg (around 60 people) onstage at the Moncrieff Performing Arts Centre and Lismore Town Hall (same), I was in familiar territory with longstanding theatre making colleagues from those places and panels of likeminded artists and organisations. But it was quite a different atmosphere and experience in the stately city of Ballarat, where the largest crowd (120) felt the least engaged; less a town hall conversation, the atmosphere was more a lecture in an academic environment. Rather than the enthusiastic engagement I had experienced to date, I peered out to the darkened theatre at a lot of crossed arms and a disproportionately visceral response to the term (admittedly provocative, but definitely playful) “counter-urban” as an alternative to “regional” The issue of language rather overrode all other themes, so I was relieved that in Warragul, East Gippsland the crowd was smaller (40) and the event was once again more conversational than lecture-like and the post-panel discussion illuminating, with one audience member offering “hyper-local” as an alternative term. In Canberra (50) and Bathurst (50) I clarified my definition of “counter-urban” to ensure it could not be interpreted as anti-urban or anti-regional. In fact discussion in these final two events was focused far less on language and more on finding solutions to entrenched problems outlined in the paper. The Canberra panel’s national perspective identified some areas of potential progress, while the Bathurst discussion was firmly focused on ways to empower regional theatre makers to make new work away from cities.
Each event was basically the same format: a welcome (sometimes some music), an introduction from a local host and/or Currency House representative or if no one from CH was there, the local host spoke on their behalf about the Platform Papers series. I then gave my 20-minute presentation outlining the main themes of the Paper, and finishing with a panel discussion with local thought-leaders in this area, in a variety of formats developed by the facilitator and/or tone of the event.
In total, around 500 people participated in these events across the 7 events including:
- 30 local speakers/panelists (including myself)
- 15 local performers
- 7 local hosts/facilitators
- 3 Currency House representatives; and
- 450 audience members