Post by Dick Letts, November 2nd, 2014
A couple of weeks ago, Arts Minister George Brandis carried his crusade on behalf of the audience into the regions. In an ABC interview with Michael Cathcart, Senator Brandis called for Australian artists and arts organisations to have a greater regard to popular taste and listen to their audiences. (Reported by Ben Neutze in Crikey Daily Review, Oct 20, 2014.)
“The body of people who are too often left out of the discussion are audiences, and I make absolutely no apology for saying that the interests of audiences ought to be taken into account,” he said. “They are, by and large, the people who are paying for this … their preferences need to be respected. We need to respect popular taste.”
Minister Brandis’s crusade for the special interests of the audience is by now well known and certainly merits comment. Too long has the audience been ignored.
On the occasion reported, the Minister was admiring The Puccini Project, a production of the opera La Boheme touring Queensland regions. Why, he wonders, do the opera companies have to be forced to present operas like La Boheme? Why do people have to wait literally months between productions?
A bystander at the meeting told this reporter that opera is not that popular with him. Jack Johnson said “Actually, mate, I’m a country music man. Don’t know much about bloody opera.” Well, there you are.
Senator Brandis accepted there were people like Jack who also needed his protection. Said the Minister, “I’ve met Nicole’s husband, um Keith, what was his last name? You meet these people as Arts Minister, you know, not so much Attorney-General. Keith… Keith Urban. Urban, funny name for a country singer, nice young man. He’s done very well in Nashville, you know. That’s where all the best country singers go. I make no apology for saying that Australian country people like um Jack should hear the best country songs straight out of Nashville. Australian country music stations like in Tamworth should know that that’s what the people want and give it to them. Why does Australian radio keep ignoring them?”
Swinging back to live performances, the Ministers said “It’s all very well that the national ballet company keeps on presenting dance productions of things like Swan River but really, we all know that what audience really like to see is the dancing that goes with popular music shows in the big arenas. Why can’t the ballet company take a hint and do some of that dancing?”
For the Minister, it’s not only about opera. And the Abbott government is not just talk. “Australian audiences desperately want to see great Australian television productions such as Neighbours that simply would not exist were it not for the increasing funding by my government through Screen Australia,” said Senator Brandis
“When you think about it, why, really, in this day and age, do we have old fashioned live theatre. People can get all the acting they want on television including those terrific animated stories they are putting together in Japan. The kids love those. And you know, bringing together the artforms like drawing and books and music; it’s brand new.”
But back to opera. “You may have heard that I have set up a national review of our opera companies. It’s important that they come to grips with popular taste. I must congratulate Opera Australia. It has made a very good start with its production of The King and I.”
Radio host Michael Cathcart commented “It is rumoured, Minister, that The King and I is losing money. Not enough tickets are being sold.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” said the Minister. “This is where my government’s support is important. This is where our funding should be going. The opera companies have to go out there and give those audiences what they are clamouring for. I’m sure there’s no problem that would not be solved with some friendly programming.”
The Minister’s passionate advocacy for the audience has only just begun. But in decades to come, mums and dads everywhere will be grateful. They will be able buy tickets to exactly the shows they choose. Children too and in the regions.
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