Our response to Enoch's claims about NEON Festival

On the weekend, QTC artistic director Wesley Enoch delivered the Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture at Belvoir Theatre. In the lead-up to the event, The Age published an excerpt of Mr Enoch’s speech, which included several claims about our inaugural NEON Festival of Independent Theatre. Our Artistic Director, Brett Sheehy AO, would like to share the following response to Mr Enoch’s claims.

MTC is disappointed with the inaccurate and inflammatory comments by QTC artistic director Wesley Enoch quoted in Saturday’s The Age newspaper, accusing MTC of immorally refusing to pay artists in its landmark NEON Festival of Independent Theatre.

Mr Enoch said: “I see a trend where funded companies (named as MTC and others) who are funded to produce and present professional theatre are increasing their programming through unpaid labour… I think it is immoral for people on full-time salaries in companies with multi-million dollar turnovers to be asking artists to do work for free.”

Mr Enoch is dead wrong – MTC has never asked any artist to work for free – and for his comments to potentially damage MTC’s standing and reputation in the artistic and public communities is unfortunate.

NEON was deliberately set up so that the artists involved were not working for MTC. We did not want a festival of independent theatre with artists doing MTC’s bidding, under the control of a flagship company, which would have resulted in just five more ‘boutique’ MTC productions. We wanted to help present an authentic expression of the astonishing art being created by Melbourne’s independent theatre artists, and have those artists produce it themselves, which after all is a definition of “independent theatre”.

To do this we insisted on the following:

  • that we would have no curatorial control – the platform was provided for the artists to do exactly as they pleased;
  • that every dollar of box office received by MTC would be paid directly to the artists – $121,000;
  • that we would pay for all festival set-up costs which included a fully audited out-of-pocket cash contribution by MTC of another $245,000;
  • that $37,500 of that $245,000 would also be paid directly to the artists to kick-start their productions;
  • that we would contribute our own in-kind support to a value of $202,000;
  • that we would furnish the participating companies with all ticketing and other data accumulated by us to dramatically expand their own marketing capabilities for the future;
  • and that we would ourselves market their productions to tens of thousands of Melburnians at MTC’s own cost.

This represents the biggest single investment in independent companies by an Australian State theatre company.

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In September, NEON Festival of Independent Theatre was named Best Theatre in The Monthly’s Best of Australian Arts 2013. The Monthly described NEON as ‘The most important initiative in Melbourne theatre since 2005… (NEON) demonstrates the virtues of a wider vision. It shows how exemplary production in a major organisation not only enables brilliant theatre, but can spark vital energies in a city’s culture.’ You can read the media release about the award, or visit the NEON Festival of Independent Theatre page to learn more about the 2014 program and participants.

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