• WORDS: Michelle Meehan | IMAGES: Crack Theatre

Festival offers CRACKING good time!

Newcastle will play host to the ninth annual Crack Theatre Festival early next month as established and emerging artists from across Australia take their acts off the theatre stage and on to the streets for four days of experimental experiences.

When Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s book, she soon came to expect the unexpected around every corner during her adventures in Wonderland.

The same can be said for those who venture into Newcastle during October 1 to 4 when the city opens its doors – and laneways, car parks and disused shop fronts – to a festival that offers up theatrical experiences like you’ve never seen them before.

Presented as part of the independent arts festival This Is Not Art (TiNA), Crack Theatre Festival is an avenue for artists to present innovative works, free of charge, to audiences in non-traditional spaces.

Forget merely watching thespians tread the boards on a darkened stage – the Festival takes those pre-conceived notions of going to the theatre and gives them the “Wonderland” treatment, offering up instead a range of new experimental performances that include everything from stand-up comedy in a warehouse to a performance work in a car park and an installation in a laneway.

The Festival’s two Artistic Directors - Finn O’Brangáin and Hannah Strout – said Newcastle was the ideal location for an event that has such a strong focus on experimentation and breaking away from tradition.

“It’s really important to us that we’re responsive to what Newcastle has to offer and what Newcastle has to offer is non-traditional theatre spaces, – the empty storefronts, the unused buildings,” Hannah said.

“We don’t want to just be dropping in and trying to make it fit inNewcastle, we want to use what Newcastle has. There’s also research showing that non-traditional theatres spaces are a far better way for artists who are trying new things or may have never performed before, to present their work" she said.

But Finn said the performers were not the only ones who benefited from the Festival utilising non-traditional spaces.

“From an audience point of view it’s pretty exciting, if you’re either used to going to see shows or if you’re not a traditional theatre-goer, to climb up stairs to a disused department store, it’s pretty exciting,” she said.

“There’s a kind of sense of adventure, finding at living in spaces that sometimes you’re not even allowed to go into normally.”

A non-judgemental space is imperative for people going out on a limb like that. And because it’s not a traditional theatre setting it makes the work really accessible. - Hannah Strout

Celebrating diversity and eccentricity, the Festival will incorporate close to 70 events presented by a diverse mix of performers – including a strong contingent from the Hunter - testing original material, touring collaborative works and experimenting with new ideas.

“We’ve got such a broad range of art forms this year and one of the things that Hannah and I are really proud of is that we have the largest group of Novocastrian and Hunter Region artists that we’ve ever had before, which is really exciting,” Finn said.

“We’ve got things like installation works where you can swap memories with a local artist, she’s got 500 objects from her life and stories attached to it and you can swap her with your own objects and memories. We’ve also got interactive works where you can be one-on-one with an artist to find a true connection.We’ve got works where the audience votes on what happens next in the show, and more traditional sorts of works where the audience sits and watches. If you want to go on a quest or if you wish to attend a play reading you can because we’ve got close to 70 events and all of them are free.”

In addition to an abundance of performances, the Crack Theatre Festival program will also feature professional development workshops, master classes, talks and artistic community-building opportunities. Highlights include a discussion from culture writer Jane Howard on the politics of preserving performance through reviews, documentation and script publishing; and an exploration workshop led by theatre radical Rowan McDonald exploring Image Theatre.

This year will also see the launch of the 24 Hour Generator, an intensive theatre-making program facilitated by esteemed theatre-maker Chris Ryan, in which all participants are tasked with creating a brand new work in 24 hours. The last hour of the challenge will include a live performance of the work.

While this will be the ninth time the Crack Theatre Festival has descended on Newcastle, it is only the second year Hannah and Finn have been at the helm as its Artistic Directors. The pair, who live thousands of kilometres apart and have only seen each other face-to-face less than a dozen times (Hannah is based in Sydney, Finn in Perth) share a common goal – to see the Festival continue to grow into an event that is truly representative of Australia’s artistic community.

“Our overall vision is to be this entirely national festival where we are truly representative of the artists that are around in Australia, not just the east coast with a smattering from everywhere else,” Hannah said. And neither Finn nor Hannah has any doubts about Newcastle being the perfect place for the Festival and TiNA to continue to flourish.“I actually went to Newcastle for TiNA for the fist time when I was living in Darwin as a teenager, and it changed my life completely,” Finn said.

“I got there and I knew that this was the place for me, I’d found my people and I made friends with people I’m still friends with." “There’s a special feeling about Newcastle because there’s so many creative spaces popping up through organisations such as Renew Newcastle, that we’re really pleased to be working with this year, and with organisations like Octopod and Tantrum Youth Arts, who we’re also working with.

“I think there are thousands and thousands of people all across Australia, who have such fond memories of developing as artists and as people in Newcastle and that’s pretty special.”

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