A strong independent arts sector combined with the international stature of the Flinders Drama Centre makes Adelaide one of the best cities for graduates to launch their careers.
That is according to newly appointed Professor of Drama Chris Hay who joined Flinders in October 2022 and says South Australia offers “a full career pathway” in the arts.
“You can really build the foundation of an artistic career from the beginning through to mainstage success in a way that, increasingly, you can’t do in some of those east coast capitals because of the real squeeze the industry has been feeling particularly in those places,” he says.
“South Australia has always had a vibrant independent sector, powered in part by the (Adelaide) Fringe, so there’s that annual opportunity to show your wares to a huge range of people.”
Adelaide’s strong arts scene, fuelled by other annual events, including OzAsia Festival and the Adelaide Festival, means that drama students also have regular access to some of the best performers in the world.
“It's perfectly possible for students studying in Adelaide to bring into the classroom with them their experiences of absolutely top-notch international work, and that is really exciting,” Professor Hay says.
“That means that they are putting their own practice, either implicitly or explicitly, into conversation with the best, most cutting-edge work in the world. Our graduates are going to be making work alongside those folks.”
Flinders students performing in the annual Drama Showcase.
Flinders University’s drama course has in recent years undergone a review to respond to the changing needs of the sector considering emerging trends, technologies and platforms.
It has also appointed four new permanent academic staff – one of them being Professor Hay, with a background in Australian theatre and cultural history.
Hailing from the University of Queensland as a Senior Lecturer in Theatre History and an ARC DECRA Fellow, Professor Hay’s career also includes time spent at the University of New England and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
Drawn to Flinders’ rich history of investment in drama, a foundation discipline at the University in 1967, his goal is to further reinstate the university as an institution of national significance in the arts.
“We’ll bring the best people in the country here to teach our students, talk to our students, and lead our research,” Professor Hay says.
“We’re also collaborate with the leading institutions around the country to do that because that’s central to our DNA.”
Other recent academic appointments include Dr Christopher Hurrell, Dr Renato Musolino and Dr Tiffany Lyndall-Knight as actor-training specialists with dual professional practice and research backgrounds.
Professor Hay brings with him a $427,000 ARC DECRA dedicated to exploring the origins of live performance subsidy in Australia between 1949 – 1975.
Professor of Drama Chris Hay
Through the case study of Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, a theatre and performing arts subsidy organisation founded in 1954, the research is challenging the narrative that all Australian arts funding began with the Whitlam Government almost 20 years later.
“The advances in the Whitlam years were really significant and the foundation of the Australia Council in 1975 was also significant, but the groundwork was laid by all the work that took place in the prior 25 years.” Professor Hay says.
“Understanding all that prior work can help us inform our criticisms of the current structures and help us think through some of the constraints of the current system … so we can undo them.”
Professor Hay says arts funding in Australia, even under progressive governments, is “still an issue”.
“If you look at, for example, the incredible burst of activity that was funded through COVID-19 recovery funds you can see what happens when money is unleashed. Individual artists whose work was supported just exploded The amount of work produced went up, and the number of people who were able to make a living from their art went up,” he says.
“There were some problems with that scheme … but money was injected into a system that had been really lacking. It now requires a realignment of perspective and an appreciation of the intrinsic benefit to cultural consumption.
Despite the industry’s need for more support, the creative arts sector is one of many undergoing transformations because of unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Theatre productions and shows that weren’t shut down altogether were moved online and streamed into the living rooms of audiences in the throes of lockdowns.
As Australian society now operates in a “new normal”, processes such as livestreaming and online collaboration tools such as Zoom have become the modern standard.
Professor Hay says it’s a fascinating time to be in the creative arts field.
“There are career pathways that didn’t exist even five years ago,” he says. “This time has really taught us so much about what it means to be a self-generating artist and to be making your own work.
“The type of work that gets seen is going to be self-generated work. That’s what’s going to create the opportunities and the pathways.”
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