Creating an artist-centric leadership model to support the independent sector

La Boite’s new Artist Company not only provides 22 independent artists with 18 months’ work, it also offers La Boite the opportunity to reimagine how a theatre company operates.
Creating an artist-centric leadership model to support the independent sector Members of the Artist Company will perform in La Boite's 2021 season Act 2, with more artists introduced in Act 3 later this year. Image supplied.
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Richard Watts

Wednesday 7 April, 2021

The challenges associated with working as an independent artist – already a precarious and often peripatetic calling – were thrown into stark relief when COVID-19 closed Australia’s theatres in 2020.

Recognising the challenges facing the independent sector, Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company has established a 22-member Artist Company, comprised of actors, directors, writers and other creatives – even a fight and intimacy director – whose members will be embedded within the company for the next 18 months.

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‘At its core, the Artist Company is absolutely driven by sector sustainability – it’s about making sure that we can provide artists with some employment stability,’ said La Boite’s Executive Director and CEO, Zohar Spatz.

Supported by almost $1 million from the Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) fund, the Artist Company is ‘a bit of an experiment,’ Spatz explained, and is future-focused rather than outcome driven.

‘The Artist Company is absolutely driven by sector sustainability.’

Each and every member of the Artist Company will be attached to a number of projects across the year, including La Boite’s mainstage season, its youth and education programs, and the artists’ development initiative known as HWY.

‘We’ve offered them the keys to the building, giving them priority for our studio space and our theatre space,’ Spatz explained.

‘We’ll also be having a conversation with each and every one of them: “What do you want out of this as an individual practitioner, but also as a collective? What are the things that you guys have been wanting to explore? What are the projects that you’ve been seeding and imagining, and how can La Boite support that?”

‘Knowing that we can enable and support stories that may end up on our stages well beyond 2022, and looking at the suite of works that we’ll be able to deliver all the way to 2025, when we turn 100 – that’s what I’m really excited about,’ she said.

CENTRING ARTISTIC THINKING

The Artist Company, whose members include actors Emily Burton, Chenoa Deemal, Billy Fogarty and Kevin Spink, directors Sanja Simić, Nadine McDonald-Dowd and Darren Yap, writers-in-residence Merlynn Tong and Ellen van Neerven, and sound designer/composer Brady Watkins, offers La Boite an important opportunity to re-centre artists at the heart of the company.

‘Embedding all of these incredible creative thinkers will let us reimagine how this organisation is going to grow and shapeshift in the next few years,’ said Spatz.

‘It allows us to explore what artistic leadership looks like. It allows us to experiment and expand the number of voices and stories that we tell on our stage … so that we can tell a hugely diverse amount of stories, and support a multiplicity of voices,’ Spatz said.

‘Embedding all of these incredible creative thinkers will let us reimagine how this organisation is going to grow.’

The creation of the Artist Company also reinforces La Boite’s important place in the Australian arts ecology.

‘We have a really critical role to play as a small to medium company; we’re a pipeline between the majors and the independent arts sector, and I’ve never felt that more than over the last 12 months,’ said Spatz.

Establishing the Artist Company also provides a rare opportunity to address the deeply entrenched disparities that exist throughout the sector.

‘If there was ever a time to try something different, this is it – I think it would be a failure for all of us not to recognise that there were some things that were deeply broken,’ Spatz said.

Rather than returning to normal, now is the time to discover ‘a better normal,’ she continued.

‘This is an important moment in time, and what I learned from the last 12 months is that nothing lasts forever … and if there’s an opportunity for us to be agile and responsive, then as a small to medium theatre company we should take that opportunity and we should do it now.’

Learn more about La Boite’s Artist Company and its 22 members.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts