Flashback 1991: Project Report to the South Australian Department of the Arts and Cultural Heritage on Up Front Gay and Lesbian Community Theatre’s 10 Week Workshop Series April – August 1991

PROJECT ORIGIN

UP FRONT applied for and received a community theatre project grant in 1990 to create a play about the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act. The project was to take place in September 1990 as part of Up Front Community Theatre’s on-going activities; a project being run by Up Front, a series of workshops on “Negotiating Safer Sex with Bisexuals” had not yet completed its process and Professional Theatre Workers to be employed on the EO project, (David Paul Jobling, Roxxy Bent, Nick Gill and Mark Sobels) were enjoying full-time work on other projects, so for the time being the EO project was postponed until personnel were available and Up Front was ready to start a new project.
The AIDS Council of South Australia (ACSA) administer funds to Up Front; in late 1990 ACSA was going through massive changes with a new General Manager and Management Committee being put in place by the voting members of this large community based organisation. In the process of this change Up Front also underwent a change and lost Mark Sobels the Administrator.
The ‘Negotiating Safer Sex’ project had finished and members were involved in the job of getting the ACSA back into working order.

David Paul Jobling was voted the ACSA Theatre Working Group’s Representative on the ACSA Management Committee and the group leader of Up Front.

AIMS and OBJECTIVES

The project aimed to create a performance piece about the SA Equal Opportunity Act, to be performed by Up Front members.

PROJECT ORGANISATION

Meetings between Margaret Fischer and David Paul Jobling (DPJ) before the commencement of the workshop series were held in February 1991 to arrange publicity for the project and to design the process that would be employed to create the piece of entertainment aimed for. It was decided that the workshop series would take place regularly on Sunday afternoons at The Stable, Darling House from 2 – 5 pm for a period of ten weeks. For the first four weeks DPJ and Margaret would conduct a combination of ‘getting to know you exercises’ and group dynamic exercises, as well as exercises that required participants to write down their thoughts and feelings about various situations and around the themes of equal opportunity and discrimination.

From the fourth week Roxxy Bent would attend the sessions and work with the group and DPJ developing the script from findings within the workshops. Margaret would do some ground-work for publicity from this time and would not continue to attend the group sessions.

The focus would be to create a piece of entertainment that reflected the group’s feelings and thoughts concerning Equal Opportunity and Discrimination. Performance dates and venues would be arranged by DPJ once there was a workable product at the end of the process.
The workshop series would be targeted towards members of the Adelaide Gay Community and would include Gay men, Lesbian women, Bisexuals, Transexuals, Heterosexuals and Transvestites who wished to fine tune performance skills and help create a performance piece.
DPJ and Margaret Fischer set the time frame of the workshops with the first meeting at The Stable Sun 7th April 1991.
Publicity was sent out advertising the workshop series 8th February 1991.

PROJECT WORKERS

Roxxy Bent Director
David Paul Jobling Writer/Tutor
Carolyn Higgs Composer/Sound
Margaret Fischer Admin/Support/Tutor
Tertius Graphic Artist
Catherine Carter Tutor/Support/Admin (Voluntary)
Michael Fuller Choreographer (Voluntary)

PROJECT GRANT ADMIN and IN KIND SUPPORT

The grant funds received from the South Australian Ministry for the Arts and Cultural Heritage were administered to Up Front through the Management of ACSA who also contributed excellent in-kind support to Up Front for the project; meeting space, rehearsal space, kitchen, computer and printing facilities and support.
Vitalstatistix Theatre Company also provided in-kind support; office and rehearsal equipment, computer facilities.

Mr Colin Bond and the residents of The Rising Sun also contributed access to an alternative rehearsal space free of charge when The Stable at Darling House was unavailable. The Rising Sun also proved an excellent venue to preview the workshop series’ final product, Open Line.

As a community theatre group Up Front could not operate without this on-going and highly valued support.

SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT and REHEARSAL
There was a high attendance at the first session with a very broad range of individuals from many sub-sections within the Gay Community. The advertising had attracted an excellent and diverse group of 13 people along. The first four weeks were spent with DPJ conducting exercises that required the group to write things down, and reflect their own experience of being discriminated against, discriminating against others and documenting incidents where the workings of the Equal Opportunities Commission had been employed to resolve conflicts based on discrimination in the workplace.
An important exercise employed by DPJ was the ‘coda exercise’ which required each participant to contribute one individual word each to develop a phrase.
The group expressed a desire to construct some of the script with this ‘coda exercise’ in the form of a ‘rap’ or ‘chant’, it was agreed upon and the Open Line Rap was the direct result.
Once Open Line Rap was written and refined by DPJ it was used at each session as a vocal warm-up, and the group committed it to memory. Carolyn Higgs attended sessions to hear the rap, and was employed to compose a musical soundtrack to support it.
Group members were encouraged to contribute their own creative writing and ideas to DPJ each week for the first four weeks, and give him permission to creatively develop it into the performance piece.
The ‘Hairy Dyke and Useless Poofter: Out on a night’ text was based on written work offered to DPJ that depicted ‘straight’ attitudes towards Gay men and Lesbian women as experienced by the workshop participants.
The ‘Relax Groove’ was written by the workshop participant Logan Bould and was developed in rehearsal by DPJ and Roxxy Bent.
David Paul wrote a series of links between the main sections of the text based on contributions made by the participants who wished to perform as MC’s during the performance.
Roxxy Bent did an excellent job of structuring the text into a performance product that would be suitable for Gay venues as well as workshops and seminars.
Rehearsals took place during the last six weeks of the series. The participants and project workers decided to spend full eight hour days for three weeks running to make the most of their time. This also instituted a brilliant phenomenon of bonding within the group; the participants chose to bring their own hot lunches along and share buffet.
This was an important part of the group’s development and encouraged the continued mixing and sharing of resources between participants. The exchange of recipes and handy home hints was wonderful. The children of some participants also attended these rehearsals and contributed valid and interesting information to the development of the production as a whole.
Some rehearsals were arranged outside of the regular meeting hours in some of the homes of participants; a further development that not only contributed to the development of the work, but empowered participants within the group to lead the way for others who needed extra support with dance steps, lines etc.

PERFORMANCES
DPJ, Maragret, Roxxy and the group agreed to offer performances of Open Line to gay venues, groups and events up to the end of July. DPJ expressed interest in producing a version of Open Line with 5UV Radio, so it could be broadcast.

Saturday 15th June 1991
Dress Rehearsal with audience, Rising Sun
Sunday 16th June
First public run, Lion Bar Theatre, Musicworks
Sunday 23rd June
Stonewall Gay Pride Cabaret rehearsal/meeting G&L Studio
Tuesday 25th June
5UV recording of Open Line Producers: Ewart Shaw and David Paul Jobling
Friday 28th June
Stonewall Cabaret performance, Lion Theatre Bar
Wednesday 3rd July
10:15 am BOAC Building performance for the Adelaide University Gay and Lesbian Society meeting
Saturday 6th July
Second Story Youth Health Service, Young Gays Workshop and seminar
Sunday 21st July
SA Writer’s Cenre Sunday Prose Readings
Up Front performed part of Open Line as part of David Paul presenting some of his own personal material

DPJ liaised with the various groups and venues to arrange performances and negotiate fees for Up Front where fees were available. All monies raised via fees fed directly back into Up Front’s budget. The professional gay venues were interested in Open Line but were booked out with their own productions during our performance time-line. They have requested Up Front keep them informed of future opportunities.
AUDIENCE RESPONSE
There has been overwhelming interest in Up Front from members of the Gay Community as well as the ‘Straight Community’; the group were available after each performance to discuss the content of Open Line. People who saw the production were impressed by the diversity amongst the group. It is rare to see a group consisting of so many different types of people cooperate and construct what proved to be a very positive, empowering and affirming role model. The members of Up Front were treated with respect and encouraged by audiences to continue to develop their work and contribute to the community.
The content of Open Line was controversial! It formed a brilliant base for discussion and solicited responses that ranged from total and proud acceptance to outright abhorrence. This can only be seen as an indication that the group achieved its objective of creating a piece of entertainment that would be suitable for workshops and seminars – to act as a catalyst and discussion starter.

Many of the young gay men who saw Open Line at Second Story Youth Service listed it as their favourite part of that particular workshop/seminar.
Elders from the Uniting Church came along to see Open Line as part of a church enquiry into Homosexuality. They were impressed with the project and were supportive of its contribution to the greater community’s awareness of Gay and Lesbian issues.

All in all the response to Open Line has been high praise and encouragement to “Continue the fine work”.

PROJECT EVALUATION / THE FUTURE

From a Theatre Workers personal perspective the project has been an exciting success, offering a very diverse and unique group of people from the Gay Community an outlet for theatrical expression. It has proven that a diverse group can cooperate and coordinate an exciting, hot, contemporary entertainment with a message.
The participants in the series expressed a desire to continue working as a group and develop more texts with Jobling and Bent in order to add to their portfolio of available work.

For the group to wish so strongly to continue is a sure mark of success and confidence in the process undertaken.
Now, looking towards the future, Up Front wants to expand its numbers. There have been many enquiries from new people wishing to join the group; another affirming signal. Members are planning a fundraising strategy with the objective of funding a major community theatre event. Up Front wishes to reach a broader number in the community, aiming projects at a wider spectrum of target audiences.
Open Line has been an excellent achievement, nourishing the groups hunger to perform, fine tuning their skills and offering them an outlet of energies reserved for self expression and commitment to the Gay Community in an unoppressed, caring and supportive environment.

In the future Up Front members wish to create a piece examining the diversity and cooperation within the group as they see this as a vital asset. Members with children wish to incorporate a child-care crèche into future projects. Members have elected Catherine Carter lead them in David Paul Joblings absence through August – November 1991, and have asked the principal team to continue with them and lead a new workshop series in the new year.
This Final Report by Catherine Carter with David Paul Jobling