Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Response to Wesley Enoch

La Boite is one of several established theatre companies around the country housing programs that support ‘independent theatre’, a term commonly held to mean theatre made by groups of artists coming together, often with little infrastructure and few resources, to make work they passionately believe in.

In his Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture delivered on Sunday, the Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company, Wesley Enoch, called such programs ‘immoral’. In essence, he claimed that established theatre companies use independent theatre companies as sources of unpaid labour. He quoted figures for a recent La Boite Indie show that were incorrect.

Wesley's reprimand drew responses from Melbourne Theatre Company here, and Griffin Theatre Company here. Wesley spoke about La Boite specifically, though disappointingly he misled his audience on the facts. As it applies to La Boite, I think his view is misjudged.

It’s very easy to create agitation when you suggest that ‘all artists should get paid award rates’. Of course they should. Who could reasonably argue otherwise? Why isn’t it happening everywhere?? I really wish it were that simple.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Reflections on the Occasion of World AIDS Day

John’s groans had become almost whispers. Every time he stopped breathing we all sat upright holding our breath. ‘John, you’re tricking us,’ Lois said.

This went on for some time, his breathing becoming shallower, quieter. He began blowing saliva bubbles. His mouth filled with saliva which started to run down his chin. Bob grabbed a tissue and started to wipe it. There was the sweet smell of faeces in the air. Not a lot of dignity in death, eh?

John stopped breathing.

He was dead.

I walked out along the colonnade. The sun was shining. Such a beautiful day.

Then I was hit by grief. The tears came and kept coming. Snot ran out of my nose as though it was being wrung out of me. I wish you were here to help get me through this. I’m not going to see you again, am I?

A pigeon was startled by me and took flight. Was that John? I wish you were here. I shut my eyes and felt him put his arms around me from behind. I wanted to lean back and put my head on his chest but he wasn’t there. The feeling had been so strong that I wasn’t sure it hadn’t happened. I put my arms around myself and started crying again.

A family walked past me. A little girl asked her mother, ‘Has someone died?’

‘I think so.’

That’s from the book Holding the Man, and it’s Timothy Conigrave describing the death of his lover of 15 years, John Caleo, on Australia Day 1993, over 20 years ago.

It’s now 30 years since the first AIDS-related death was reported in Australia.

That’s a generation ago. Australia can be proud that our response was swift, thorough and honest, perhaps the most effective in the world, emerging from bold and decisive bipartisan leadership rarely seen these days. For many, the Grim Reaper TV ad is forever seared in the mind. Many lives were saved. And many have been lost, including, of course, those of Tim and John.

Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in Australia will reach 7,000 over the next few years. That’s a small portion of the 25 million who have lost their lives to the disease worldwide, but it's still a figure that causes ache and reflection. There are around 35,000 people living with HIV in Australia at the moment. That's a small portion of the 35 million worldwide, but it remains a cause of concern.

There is still no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS. Without treatment, HIV infection remains a death sentence. With treatment - just one tablet a day - people can lead normal, active, healthy lives, with a life expectancy similar to those don't have HIV.

We face new challenges. There were 1,253 new HIV diagnoses in Australia in 2012, an increase of 10% over 2011, and the highest number of new infections for 20 years. For some men in their 40s, decades of safe sex practices can lead to fatigue-driven complacency. However, most of those new diagnoses were young men in their teens and 20s.

I guess that ignorance is more powerful than fatigue.