Since its beginning, with a mere 30 artists and performers, Anywhere Theatre Festival has encouraged and enriched the city's arts scene, with performances of all sizes and genres showcasing Brisbane's creativity in the most unconventional performance spaces.
After dropping 'Theatre' in the name last year in reaction to growing interest in music, circus and comedy, the 2016 Anywhere Festival will spread across the wider Brisbane region. With locations including: a substation, hospital, a railway station fit with a live steam train, even an unused underground reservoir and a former women's cellblock.
Lifelong theatre enthusiast, Producer and Director Paul Osuch is just one of the two talented brains behind the festival's creation and somewhat unanticipated success. Alongside his wife Ally McTavish (who became Anywhere's General Manager and Creative Producer), Paul's groundbreaking movements have truly begun to reshape Brisbane arts. "I had talked to many friends that weren't in the arts, as well as people that were, who thought there had to be a more exciting way of doing theatre performance than going to a stale old theatre, sitting in a seat and watching a show," Paul explains.
“After a weekend of talking to people like that, [I found] about 20 different independent artists that had no space to perform in, or were waiting 6 or 12 months then paying $10,000 just to book a space. I thought there had to be a better way, and that's when Anywhere came up. A way people could perform and people could go and see interesting spaces without having to go to theatres."
And by anywhere, they really do mean anywhere, everywhere and sometimes even nowhere – with secret locations only revealed after ticket bookings – and your local Bowls Clubs and parklands all featuring in the line-up. Though, at its heart, the festival aims to rekindle the traditional art of storytelling, by taking the arts out of massive infrastructure and cramped theatre halls and back to where it all started – in the community.
With the attrition rate of artists climbing well over 95 per cent, Anywhere Festival's unique business model focuses in on the critical issue of artist payment and income, and finally allows artists to take centre stage.
Upwards of ten people typically comprise the core teams of similarly sized fringe festivals. However, Anywhere work on a one to two person base team, allowing artists to not only have more control over their performances, but actually reap the benefits of their hard work. "We want to enable everyone that's involved to do the things they need to do… This means the money at the box office goes to the producers, less money is spent on administrators and more money ends up going to the actual artists.
"We have something like 70 per cent of our income actually going to artists, compared to other organisations around Queensland where it works out that 10-20 per cent of their income goes to artists. It's about making the process streamlined and spreading some of the activity… We believe independent artists know enough around business and marketing they can take control of it and not have to see 90 per cent of their budget going to the people they're bringing in.
"There's no other industry that has such a high attrition rate, and if you're not getting paid, you can't do it. We know we still haven't got it right yet, and we still think there's a lot of scope to make it better financially for artists."
Though Paul's unwavering dedication to the arts, and in particular to supporting local artists, is not unfounded, and his determination to heighten the general public's access to the arts is most certainly not something he's plucked out overnight. Being named one of Queensland's Cultural Champions and with decades of experience in both Australian and international arts sectors, Paul's words of wisdom are not without cause. Not just through the words he speaks and the careful thought he puts into his responses, but his inextinguishable passion for the Anywhere project is undoubtedly evident in everything he says and does.
Awful/ Big Adventure
Now six years in, the Anywhere Festival is thriving better than ever and much to Paul's pleasure their focus on local talent and local art is beginning to change the ways of the Brisbane arts industry.
Paul says the event now hosts far more local and independent artists than any other festival or annual programme in the area. "[The festival] gives people a reason to stay in Brisbane, instead of taking off to Sydney or Melbourne. As a result, it means there are more local Brisbane stories being told, and more arts experiences are happening in Brisbane," Paul says.
"We know that 85 per cent of the shows over the last six years, about 2,000 performances, would not have happened without the festival, and that would mean a huge hole in the activities happening in Brisbane."
Though the festival's success could not have been without a few bumps in the road. Only three years after its inauguration, Anywhere Festival saw economic downturn, with little funding and support from the government. Through their tireless effort and drive to bring these independent artists into the spotlight, the team undoubtedly have created something unique and incredibly important to Brisbane's arts culture.
"In the first couple of years, you're never quite sure whether it will be the last festival, but it feels like Anywhere Festival has grown to a point where it has found its own place. The fact we're six years down the road and we're talking about the festival, we're seeing so many artists come through and go onto other things and we see audiences come back and booking many, many shows, just makes me really happy."
So happy in fact that over the course of the past two years, Anywhere spread its wings, taking up residence in towns and cities around Australia. Mackay, Parramatta and Frankston are just some who have embraced the Anywhere ethos, but it seems that Paul won't stop there. "We're looking at making the May festival have this huge focus of Brisbane and surrounds, but make it so that, quite literally, people anywhere can be a part of this festival," he says.
"It will have this big centre of Brisbane, but will happen anywhere in Australia. People who are in Kalgoorlie and want to put a show on in their house as part of the festival can, and anybody who's in or around Kalgoorlie can go and see a show."
The technology is certainly there to do it and it's only a matter of time before the enjoyment of the arts in these unfamiliar and unimaginable locations will no longer need to be highlighted. "I think we're at the start of a paradigm shift, it's a wanky term, but I can't thing of a better way of saying it. Looking forward in our business plan, we're presuming this festival won't even exist in 20 years, because this way of working will be the norm," Paul says.
"I want it to be the norm that when someone says they're going to a performance and they say they're going to see it in a theatre, people will say 'well that's a bit unusual'. That's where we want to get to."