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Experimental Fields

Photo by Tabitha Arthur — with Rachel K Baker and Isobel MacKinnon at Q.
Joel Baxendale
Let's remember where we came from, but also embrace the change.


Joel Baxendale believes that while a radical reconfiguration of the performing arts ecology is what may ultimately be needed, right now what would be really useful for everyone, (from artists to presenters to top level decision makers), to start talking about Contemporary Performance as its own distinct artform. One that offers different things and has different needs to traditional fields of performance.

Joel told The Big Idea:

I was trained in theatre making, it informs all the work I make, but equally I don’t want to be always disclaiming how my work doesn't fit with conventional notions of what theatre is, or to be wedded to the same models of making and presenting work, and associated career pathways. Let’s remember where we came from, but also embrace the change

I know so many artists who make work that sits outside, across or in between traditional genre categorisations. Yet our infrastructure is largely shackled to a narrow idea of genre. Sometimes I feel our own work in Binge Culture has more in common with what is happening in the gaming and performance art worlds for example, than what we generally think of as theatre.  Which is why we now tend to describe ourselves as a Contemporary Performance company. 

From my own perspective the work often eschews standard presentation expectations, may be durational, and/or presented in different contexts, outside of traditional venues - such as public and found spaces or using digital platforms. Artists often seek a different kind of relationship to the audience, one that is active, engaged and quite often irreverent. They’re risk-takers and are capable of performative innovations that keep up with a world changing at lightning speed. The work responds to a fundamentally changed society that is spoiled for entertainment choices, often valuing the unique over the familiar.

Joel Baxendale at Yorick! Rehearsals - Photo by Tabitha Arthur

The questions I have are around whether our existing institutions and infrastructure are set up to deliver for this kind of work? Are traditional genre categorisations and established development models blocks to encouraging innovation and diversity in the performing arts? Will we succeed in bringing a contemporary performance audience into traditional theatres, or is the social contract (vibe) of these spaces too alienating for some people? Do we need some specifically contemporary performance spaces and festivals that curate, contextualise and develop audience for this work, as exists in Australia (Arts House, Performance Space) and Europe (LIFT Festival, HAU), and/or perhaps an Arts Hub model that the wider community feel ownership over and which can comfortably house a much wider variety of performance and activities than most venues currently do (Battersea Arts Centre, PACT Zolverien, or Wellington’s own Vogelmorn Bowling Club on a bigger scale).

Ka mua, ka muri.

Joel directs Yorick!, playing June 12-23 at Q Theatre’s Loft as part of the 2018 MATCHBOX season

Grab your tickets from the Q Theatre website:

Joel is the Creative Producer of Binge Culture. He is a graduate of the Victoria University Theatre Programme and was awarded the STAB Commission. He devised and performed in ‘All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever’ with the Playground Collective, which toured to New York and London. Creations with Binge Culture include the multi-award winning ‘Whales’; ‘Break Up’ and ‘For Your Future Guidance’ - which toured extensively, including six centres in the USA. His community theatre collaboration with Barbarian Productions, ‘A Trial!’ won Most Innovative Production at the Wellington Theatre Awards. In 2017 Joel produced and performed in Binge Culture's 3-show tour to Edinburgh Fringe.

Written by

Binge Culture Collective

13 Jun 2018