Lowdown – 1990s


Living in the 21st century, it’s easy to underestimate the profound changes taking place in the world in the late 1980s and 1990s.

It was an era of ‘post-s’ – post-Cold War, postmodern, poststructural and postcolonial. The information revolution was in full swing, meaning that every year from 1987 to 2007 featured phenomenal increases in the capacity to receive, store, exchange and compute information. Culture, creativity and technology were interacting in new and exciting ways, particularly amongst young people, and the boundaries between art forms were falling down.  Even the concept of art and the role of the professional artist were questioned, with new festivals featuring contemporary and digital art created in makeshift studios, backyard sheds and teenagers’ bedrooms.

Lowdown continued to extend its coverage as youth arts moved into new areas. For an overview of the period, go to the 1990-1993 History and Commentary or 1994-1999 History and Commentary.

Australia’s Michael FitzGerald came within one vote of gaining the Presidency of ASSITEJ at its World Congress in Sweden in 1990. And, at the General Assembly of ASSITEJ Centres representing over 40 countries, there was resounding applause when a copy of Lowdown was held up! By 1990, the magazine had been sent to over 40 countries for almost a decade, and Australian companies and youth arts practitioners were now well known around the world.

Read the full coverage.

Theatre for and by young people produced issue based theatre in the 1980s that advocated for many marginalised groups. But Lowdown writer Peter Wood argued that young gay people had been almost completely ignored, and asked the question, ‘Why the silence?’ in his October 1990 article ‘When Silence is Not Golden’.

Read the article.

The University of Adelaide contributed a new rigour to the pages of Lowdown in the 1990s. Rachel Healy, the former student editor of the university publication On Dit, became editor in 1991. One group of University of Adelaide graduates,the Marat Pack – which included Shaun Micallef, Francis Greenslade and Alex Ward – combined a surreal comedic style with ferociously intelligent and eclectic content. At the time of writing Greenslade continues to work with Micallef on TV shows like Shaun Micallef: Mad As Hell.

In one of the most hilarious openings to a Lowdown article, Greenslade ridiculed the issue-based formats of some youth theatres in ‘Form and content: percolating ideologies in youth theatre’ (August 1991). He then takes a more serious look to examine why the process of some youth theatre development was in contradiction to their aims of empowerment.

Read the article.

When did ‘youth performing arts’ become ‘youth arts’ in Australia?

Although the basic infrastructure of youth arts in Australia developed as mainly youth performing arts companies and events, and these companies still make up a high proportion of YPAA (Young People and the Arts) members, the barriers between art forms began falling in the 1990s. For over 10 years Australian youth performing arts had wedded developmental philosophies to Australian youth culture, and as that culture began to explore new directions in multi-media, video, film and visual arts, it was inevitable that youth arts events such as Victoria’s Next Wave Festival would respond.

In two articles in June and October 1992, Lowdown writer Jane Woollard and Next Wave Artistic Director Zane Trow explored the changing parameters of youth arts practice.

Read the full coverage.

It became clear that there was a disparity in support for Australian youth dance companies, as opposed to youth drama and music groups, in the early 1990s. Anticipating an upcoming Australia Council review, Lowdown published this overview of Australian youth dance, by Ausdance life member Hilary Trotter, in 1993 over two issues. She concluded that the same kind of empowerment that was occurring in youth theatre was at play in youth dance, along with a rejection of the dancer as the choreographer’s puppet and ‘technical instrument to be used, abused and ultimately discarded’. Trotter predicts the continued emergence of a new thinking dancer, the independent dance artist, who chooses not to enter the confines of a company.

Read the article.

Australia’s Michael FitzGerald was elected President of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, at the 1993 ASSITEJ Congress in Cuba. A strong 10-person delegation attended, including Wesley Enoch, Angela Chaplin, Grahame Gavin, Mary Morris, Colin Schumaker, Gabriela Cabral, Fille Dusseljee, Steven Gration, and Maggie Miles.

Read the full coverage.

The 1993 focus on Indigenous People in Performance captured two important companies in their early stages of development. In Perth, Acting Out (now Barking Gecko Theatre Company) had initiated the Aboriginal Youth Theatre Project, and this was on its way to becoming Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre (now Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company). And in Brisbane, an Indigenous offshoot of Contact Youth Theatre had incorporated as Kooemba Jdarra, the first all-Aboriginal professional theatre in Queensland.

In Darwin, Lowdown covered the 2nd World Indigenous Youth Conference, and in Adelaide, Greg Elliott wrote about the Jumbuck Mob, an Aboriginal youth theatre company in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

Read the full coverage.

Rosemary Luke wrote the most requested article in Lowdown’s history, ‘Critical Quality’, first published in the February 1995 issue. In it, she detailed a session that occurred at the 1994 Okinawa Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences. Danish delegates Michael Ramlose, the ASSITEJ Secretary General at the time, and Anette Eggert, Artistic Director of Baggard Theatre, outlined a system of theatre peer review that had been developing in Denmark since the 1980s. The process covered seven main areas of exploration in initiating critical dialogue about a production.

Australian directors such as Dave Brown, of Patch Theatre Company, and Andy Packer, of Slingsby, continue to use a version of the critical appraisal process. Danish practitioners are sometimes bemused by the fascination of Australians with their former critical appraisal process, as it has been discontinued in Denmark for many years due to changes in the nature of Danish companies.

Read the article.

The principle of peer assessment is at the heart of arts funding in Australia. It means that decisions about arts funding are made by experts in the field, rather than politicians or bureaucrats.

In 1995, concerns about the operation of peer assessment in practice in the music and dance area prompted Lowdown Editor Belinda MacQueen to commission Tony Mack to interview practitioners nationwide on peer assessment in youth arts.  While the resulting article was generally positive, it was clear that Lowdown had touched a nerve in funding bodies, judging by the close interest taken in the piece at State and Federal level.

Read the article.

In 1995, YPAA members had a strong presence at the inaugural One Theatre World Festival in Seattle, USA, with Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s Ivory Circle featuring directly after the opening reception. One Theatre World continues to this day to be one of the principal gathering of producers of professional theatre for young audiences in the USA, and the Lowdown feature by Clare Hannan on this festival is a snapshot of a key moment in US and world youth arts history .

On an international level, the festival celebrated the 30th birthday of ASSITEJ and attracted visitors from 20 countries including the ASSITEJ Executive Committee, which met during the festival. Within the USA it was clear that there was an appetite for change and challenge amongst US practitioners. Difficult topics were discussed at the festival symposium, such as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in 1992, environmental tragedies, children living with AIDS and forced integration in Mississippi in the 1960s. The Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest New Generation Playwright’s Forum featured provocative work from contemporary playwrights like Y York, Steven Dietz, Mark Medoff and James Still, and a ‘collage of diversity’ was presented that showed companies dealing with Native American, deaf, lesbian and gay, and multicultural issues. The festival clearly ‘reached well beyond what has been done in the past, not only in Seattle, but nationally in the United States’.

Read the article.

Group devised performance in Melbourne had a significantly different origin from that of Sydney. In his two-part article on improvisation and group devised performance, director Steven Gration acknowledges the strong influences of training at Melbourne State College (Rusden was also a highly influential course for theatre makers), and the theatrical tradition of the Australian Performing Group (APG) and the Mill Community Theatre in Geelong. Gration went on to work in the NT, SA and Queensland, directing influential productions in the 1990s such as Funerals and Circuses and Chutney (Magpie Theatre, SA) and Lovepuke (Queensland Theatre Company).

Read the article.

Designer Lou Westbury, from WA’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company, reported from Rostov-on-Don in Russia at the 1996 ASSITEJ World Congress. Much had changed from when Australia had attended the Moscow Congress only 12 years before. Now, after the fall of the Soviet system, there was an uncertainty amongst Russian practitioners, some of whom had not been paid for months. And where Australian delegates had been on the fringes of ASSITEJ in 1984, now they occupied a position of leadership and were engaged in pushing through structural changes to the organisation.

Read the article.

In the late 1990s the big four festivals for Australian youth arts were Come Out in SA, Out of the Box in Queensland, Awesome in WA and Next Wave in Victoria.

The 1996 Out of the Box Festival of Early Childhood at QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) brought a diverse Queensland, Australian and international program to the South Bank for its audience of three to eight years olds. The festival also hosted an ASSITEJ Executive Committee meeting – at this time Australian Michael FitzGerald was President of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People.

Although Next Wave, under Zane Trow, steered away from its background as a youth arts festival touring schools to a festival creating an infrastructure for emerging artists aged from 17 to 30, it remained an integral part of Lowdown coverage, and continued to connect youth arts with an exciting array of contemporary artists in a range of disciplines.

In 1996 Come Out experimented with the first of a series of name changes – under Nigel Jamieson it became Take Over. The name changes never worked. South Australians have always felt that it was they, and not the current festival staff, that owned the festival and continued to call it Come Out. Teachers would even correct Come Out staff until they relented, and said ‘Come Out’ rather than ‘Take Over’. Jamieson thought South Australians were naïvely unaware of the merriment that others could have with the gay terminology of ‘coming out’ and a youth arts festival. He didn’t realise that South Australians were indeed aware – they just didn’t care.

And strange as it seems, 1996 was the first year for Awesome, Perth’s international children’s festival. Barking Gecko Theatre Company started the festival with funds from a project that didn’t get off the ground. The first festival attracted about 30,000 people and it quickly became a fixture in WA and Australian youth arts.

Read coverage of the 1996 and 1997 Next Wave, Awesome, Out of the Box and Come Out festivals.

The 1990s – Decade of the ‘Post-s’

Part I – 1990-1993

A history and commentary by Tony Mack


Living in the 2010s, it’s easy to underestimate the profound changes taking place in the world in the late 1980s and 1990s.

It was an era of ‘post-s’ – a world that was post-Cold War, postmodern, poststructuralist and postcolonial. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the removal of the dominant ‘capitalism versus socialism’ narrative in the post-Cold War period allowed countries the time to reflect on other narratives, such as the damaging legacies of at least 400 years of colonialism around the world. And at the 1987 ASSITEJ World Congress in Adelaide, Australian practitioners had noted that while traditional colonialist attitudes of racial or national superiority may have (largely) disappeared, sometimes they were replaced by neo-colonial attitudes of cultural superiority. Australians had also learnt an important postmodern lesson there in observing the inflexible attitudes of some Europeans of that era to artistic practice – to be sceptical of explanations that claimed to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions or races, and focus instead on the relative truths of each person or community.

This corresponded with a widespread re-examination of history and language at this time. Poststructuralist philosophers like Michel Foucault had earlier created strategies, such as reversal, discontinuity, specificity and exteriority, that allowed a new critical analysis of accepted historical narratives and language use. Often the truths discovered were painful – in Australia, not only was a new history of dispossession and brutality to its Indigenous peoples now widely accepted, many Australians also realised that the very language they spoke had to be modified to eliminate offense against gender, race, nationality, culture, religion or sexual orientation.

Even social activists were more introspective and self-analytical. As opposed to a Marxist viewpoint from previous decades, where the capitalist enemy was ‘out there’ and noisy solidarity was required to defeat it, in a postmodern world the enemy was often silently within – in the unthinking destructive assumptions and behaviours of each person.

This introspective and analytical quality was reflected in the pages of Lowdown in the early 1990s. One example was documented in its coverage of the tortuous process of developing a national youth arts festival, as promised by Paul Keating in the 1993 election. Much to the surprise of the country, Keating was re-elected and came good with his promise, awarding the Australia Council the contract for administration of the $2.3 million initiative. The Australia Council managed to spend approximately $200,000 on the consultation process over three years to ascertain what form the festival should take, with 31 public forums around the country, 50,000 surveys, focus sessions and meetings. Its committee, which included Karen Bryant, Zane Trow, Deborah Mailman and Natalie Jenkins, felt it had to redefine the terms ‘festival’ and ‘arts’ as young people didn’t identify with them, and prompted public discussion on topics such as whether body-piercing was art[1]. The first round of applicants for the Executive Producer position were rejected, staff came and went, the Australia Council handballed the administration of the festival to the Foundation for Australian Cultural Development and even the name changed on a regular basis, from Festival X to Wired to Loud to Noise. By the time the Loud festival ran in late 1997, five years after the process began, there was minimal interaction with the existing youth arts sector that had created its framework[2].

To an outsider reading about this era, it appears that practitioners were aware that the Zeitgeist had shifted, and knew youth arts had to respond to that change as it was inextricably connected to an evolving Australian youth culture. But again and again practitioners struggled to articulate what changes were needed, and it sometimes seemed easier to define change in the negative – to proclaim that theatre was dead, criticise the ‘traditional subsidised’ companies, state that the cutting edge of culture had moved on from ‘institutional art’ – or simply reject those viewpoints.

A key to the cultural shifts in this era, and one thing that wasn’t ‘post’ but entirely new, was the information revolution. Every year from 1987 to 2007 featured phenomenal increases in the capacity to receive, store, exchange and compute information. Culture, creativity and technology were interacting in new and exciting ways, particularly amongst young people, and the boundaries between artforms and artistic disciplines were falling down. Even the concept of art and the role of the professional artist were questioned, with new festivals featuring contemporary and digital art created in makeshift studios, backyard sheds and teenagers’ bedrooms.

This impact could be seen in the Lowdown office as well as in its pages. In the 1980s content was posted in, sometimes handwritten. It was edited, re-typed and, literally, cut and pasted together on a large printer’s mat in the Lowdown office. It was then taken by hand to the Carclew Printery some twenty metres away, to be laid out on the press and printed. By the 2000s, even content from places like Kosovo, Namibia and East Timor bounced to and fro by email, and practically all aspects of production were done electronically.

1990-1993: Changeless Change

The first half of the 1990s was a period of constant personnel change for Lowdown. Apart from changes to office staff, the magazine had no less than five editors in four years – Anna Dollard, Deborah Heithersay, Rachel Healy, Leigh Elliott and Darrelyn Gunzburg – before it found some stability later in the decade[3]. It is a credit to these editors that so much was achieved during this time.

After Jo Shearer’s departure at the end of 1989, Anna Dollard edited the magazine for the first issue of 1990 before Deborah Heithersay came on board as Editor. With a background in public relations and journalism, Heithersay was also expected to design the magazine. This heavy workload of an Editor / General Manager / Designer position was to last for most of the 1990s, and was one example of the strong financial constraints imposed by the South Australian Youth Arts Board (SAYAB) after its review late in the last decade. Another immediate outcome of this review was the introduction of over-the-counter sales of Lowdown around the country at venues such as Carclew (SA), St Martins Youth Arts Centre (Vic), Contact Youth Theatre (Qld), Press Press Magazine (Tas), Toe Truck Theatre (NSW), Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre (NT) and Jigsaw Theatre Company (ACT)[4].

Another young youth arts veteran, Rachel Healy, joined Lowdown in the next issue. Healy had been theatre editor and a contributor for the University of Adelaide newspaper On Dit, as well a performer with SA youth theatres for eight years. With the advent of this pair the magazine, which had appeared to be somewhat adrift, began to show indications of a feistiness it hadn’t shown since Helen Rickards in the early 1980s.

Mark Radvan’s article on the 1990 YAPA Conference in Maroochydore, Queensland was a nuanced piece that highlighted a divide between the adult youth arts practitioners and younger participants. Among other things he reported that young people ‘were sick of social issues and wanted more consultation in project design, and more involvement in youth theatre governance’. Wesley Enoch, at that time from Contact Youth Theatre in Brisbane, made ‘an impassioned plea for youth theatres to work much harder at involving young aboriginals as participants and trainee tutors’. This led to a wider discussion about the need to develop access to youth arts for ‘people or communities disadvantaged by geography, race, physical or intellectual disability, sexual preference or gender, and by using familiar forms like music and electronic media’[5].

Radvan’s last paragraph in the article asserted that there was only one resolution from the conference – where to meet next time – and that ‘future conferences need to ward off the overriding feelings of irresolution that plagued this year’. A letter in the following issue clarified that he had not in fact written the acerbic last paragraph[6]. It had been added during the editing process, to give the story more ‘bite’.

Another attempt to give the magazine more bite met with a strong response when controversial South Australian reviewer Peter Goers[7] was brought back to review a Canadian production, Jest in Time. Goers had penned a blistering review of a Gepps Cross Girls High School production in the 1989 Come Out Festival, and this review began with, ‘The trouble with a lot of children’s theatre is the children’[8]. The next issue included three letters objecting to his association with the magazine, prompting a combined editorial on the matter from Heithersay and Healy citing freedom of speech.

This Lowdown also included an influential article tackling an issue that had been all but ignored in issue-based youth arts. Young gay people until then had almost been invisible in youth theatre productions, despite depictions of gay characters in mainstream media (such as Don in the TV soap Number 96) as far back as the 1970s. Peter Wood, in When Silence is Not Golden, tackled the ‘ubiquitous assumption that everyone is heterosexual’, and interviewed a range of youth theatre artistic directors around the country about their views[9]. Lowdown continued to monitor developments and responses to productions exploring gay issues such as Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre’s Swimmers in NT and the Adelaide production of Spilt Milk.

Under Heithersay and later Healy, Lowdown also pursued the issue of youth theatre funding cuts vigorously from the time of the 1990 Drama Council Blue Paper to the storming of Australia’s Parliament House in mid-1991 to a successful outcome in 1992. In late October 1990 the ‘announcement by the Australia Council that it no longer intends to provide youth theatre companies with annual grants funding…sent shockwaves through the industry’[10]. Unable to cope with the amount of high quality youth theatre applications and unwilling to acknowledge that youth theatre was a growing artform in need of more resources, the Performing Arts Board made the decision to preserve the 23% of its budget for youth arts as a cap and make the ten annually funded youth theatres compete for project funding with other applications.

In June 1991 Lowdown published the Carclew Consensus, a national youth theatre initiative created and unanimously endorsed by a representative gathering of Australian youth theatres. A sharp, intelligent, concise response to the Blue Paper, it contained clear proposals for:

  • A young people’s theatre funding policy
  • Protected funds
  • Key personnel grants
  • Defining a project
  • Council staff and peer assessment
  • Application forms and
  • Lobbying[11].

Youth theatres then followed up with a superb piece of direct action, as Lowdown reported from on top of Parliament House in October 1991. Representatives of Australia’s youth theatre community trudged up the grassy mounds to the flagpole on top of Australia’s Parliament House and Roland Manderson, Artistic Director of Canberra Youth Theatre, claimed the site as a youth arts facility on behalf of youth arts practitioners throughout the nation. Over 200 theatrical protesters were then invited inside by the Minister for the Arts for a series of short performances in the Great Hall. The culmination of the moving dance by Linda Johnson and Robyn Rigney, a Murri and white member of Brisbane’s Contact Youth Theatre, stunned politicians and bureaucrats as over 200 people joined them in a single series of movements signifying reconciliation and hope.

George Mannix, in ‘The Fruits of Our Labour’[12], reported on the successful outcomes for these actions in February 1992. The Drama Committee had met and responded positively to most of the proposals in the Carclew Consensus, acknowledging the ‘contribution those who created the Carclew Consensus have made to the discussion and review of current Youth Theatre Policy’. This included protecting the Young People’s Theatre budget at 25% of all theatre funding, or $566,672 in 1991/1992.

The unexpected promise of a $2 million national youth arts festival in the 1993 election campaign was quite possibly another result from this brilliant national advocacy and lobbying campaign.

When faced with a negative view of Theatre in Education (TIE) in the 1991 Australia Council Drama Committee Policy Review, the meeting of Theatre for Young People (TYP) Artistic Directors in 1992 managed a less satisfactory response. The review was critical of a number of aspects of TIE and stated a ‘strong belief that too much reliance on issue-based material can result in tedious and oversimplified theatre’. Over the next two years, in 1992-1993, funding by the Australia Council for issue-based TIE would be almost completely phased out, according to later research based on listings in Lowdown’s What’s On Guide[13].

Yet when faced with the effective exclusion from federal funding of the most popular form of Theatre for Young People in the 1980s, the Artistic Directors of Theatre for Young People companies struggled to respond during a meeting in Sydney in mid-1992. They neither united to defend the choice of a director to create issue based theatre, nor united to articulate a coherent vision of what commonality or aspirations Theatre for Young People could have in the 1990s, except to state that they wanted to produce ‘hot’ theatre. As opposed to the interaction with youth theatres, this inability to meaningfully respond to the 1991 Blue Paper meant that it was the last Australia Council document on Theatre for Young People until the TYP review more than a decade later.

The Lowdown Editor at the time, Rachel Healy, was withering:

‘When terms as fundamentally meaningless as “hot” are used to characterise the objectives of any group, let alone professional creative people, then I seriously wonder about the true nature of the common ground…If there is a consensus that Theatre in Education – or “didactic” theatre – has failed, the logical conclusion is that its disappearance will leave a vacuum that needs to be filled. It is disappointing that the only perceived way to fill this vacuum is to use a term as silly and vague as “hot”[14].’

Heithersay had left Lowdown in early 1991 to take on the role of Marketing Program coordinator at the Adelaide Festival of Arts. This time the transition of editors was seamless, with Healy merely moving from the Assistant Editor’s chair to that of the Editor. While her tenure was not long, it was extremely influential. By August 1991 she was managing a massive expansion of the magazine when, as part of a 12-month pilot program, Lowdown was sent free to the drama departments of every high school in the country. She also sought to open up the magazine up to other groups, such as university theatre groups, theatresports enthusiasts and people working in arts and education. The magazine received public acclaim later in the year when Andrew Joyner, a 22 year old cartoonist who had been drawing cartoons for Lowdown, was awarded a Stanley – the cartoonists’ version of a Logie or AFI Award – at The Bulletin 1991 Black and White Artists’ Awards in Sydney.

While deeply sympathetic to the work of youth performing arts companies, Healy also believed that providing rigorous critical feedback was a vital function of the magazine. Apart from encouraging that rigour in reviews, she also commissioned a range of articles exploring current issues. Francis Greenslade wrote ‘Form and Function: percolating ideology in youth theatre’, a funny and highly intelligent critique of issue based youth theatre[15]. Two issues later she published ‘TIE Me Up’, an article by Brian Joyce, Artistic Director of Freewheels Theatre Company. In it he passionately defended issue based Theatre in Education, pointing to an increase in standards and audiences from the days of performers in coloured overalls and a set comprised of ‘two ladders and a plank’[16]. In June 1992 Lowdown featured an interview with Michael Billington, the iconic theatre critic of The Guardian in the UK. Healy quoted him later in the 21st birthday issue of Lowdown, as she urged the magazine to embrace its critical role:

‘Firstly, you are analysing and interpreting work to a reader. Secondly, you’re fighting for the health of the art you’re describing. You’re fighting for standards… as critics we should be constantly campaigning for a better theatre.’[17]

One of the most influential debates that occurred in the pages of Lowdown during Healy’s tenure was a debate on the nature of youth arts in the 1990s. It was sparked by Jane Woollard’s article on the 1992 Next Wave festival in Melbourne, and Festival Director Zane Trow’s response to it two issues later.

Next Wave was a youth arts festival, like Come Out in Adelaide, that had a tremendous impact in Melbourne in 1990 in its third outing. The grand opening event, Planet Earth, involved about 10,000 young people, 3,000 percussionists and hundreds of dancers, acrobats and performers. Opened by the Premier, John Cain, the festival took over the city square for two weeks as well as more than 40 inner city venues[18].

The 1992 Next Wave was radically different. Under Director Zane Trow and Assistant Director Linda Sproul the festival began to turn away from its traditional schools audience and toward emerging artists. Woollard reported that the large visual arts component seemed geared for an older audience and the festival lacked a centre or sense of cohesion. Possibly thinking of the visibility of Next Wave in 1990 within Melbourne, she yearned for the festival to create a hub and take over a major venue like the Arts Centre. She also queried the lack of young theatre artists. ‘The visual arts side of the showed a liveliness amongst emerging painters, but where were the avant-garde of the theatre craft?’[19]

Two issues later Zane Trow answered her question:

‘A dead question using dead terminology. I think that very few of the “young avant-garde” have any interest in theatre at all. Why should they? The majority of theatre for young people still has adults playing teenagers, singing bad rap songs, desperately trying to compete with the video camera by claiming some kind of “pure experience”… Young people now have very high standards when it comes to production values, so how could they be impressed by the ’70s theatre culture that is paraded in front of them at school?’[20]

For Trow, the ‘technological developments in performance art, multi-media work, video and film, music and the visual arts have come about through dedicated experiments of artists who seek to push forward and use new tools’[21]. Trow viewed the festival as a chance to profile these artists on the edge of technology, before their work was ‘pirated’ and ‘absorbed into commercial culture’. Moreover, the fusion of information based technology tools with performance practice and youth culture offered opportunities and new pathways that, in Trow’s view, too many youth arts companies were ignoring.

Woollard’s article reflected a concern from some Victorian youth arts practitioners that the artistic infrastructure and resources built up for children and young people had been appropriated by an older age group, emerging artists. (This complaint was to feature in the 2000s too, in Tasmania, when a similar transition occurred as Salamanca Theatre Company changed to ‘is theatre limited’.)

Yet leaving aside the important issue of access to age-appropriate arts experiences and looking back to Mark Radvan’s 1980 Youth Theatre Manifesto, it’s clear that Zane Trow’s argument takes Radvan’s principles to a logical conclusion. For over 10 years Australian youth performing arts had engaged with an evolving Australian youth culture using developmental philosophies, and as that youth culture began to explore new directions in multi-media, video and film, music and visual arts, it was inevitable that youth arts events such as the Next Wave Festival would respond. A multi-arts organisation like Carclew could easily adapt to these new directions but for youth theatres, rooted in one artform, it was problematic. It is understandable, therefore, that some youth theatres would seek to become multi-arts organisations over the coming decades.

Rachel Healy left Lowdown in October 1992 to take on the role of Administrative Officer for Magpie Theatre. After one issue edited by Assistant Editor Leigh Elliott, playwright Darrelyn Gunzburg took over as Editor. A significant feature of Gunzburg’s short time at Lowdown was her focus on artists and craft. There were interviews with Augusto Boal, Cristina Castrillo, Morris Gleitzman, Dorinda Hafner and Mary McMenamin, among others. A series of focus issues on dance, Indigenous arts, music and puppetry featured national snapshots of practice and in-depth exploration of processes. Gunzburg’s approach to professional development in the youth arts sector was less about critical debate and more about the coverage of best practice – a different but equally valid way of encouraging better artistic outcomes.

A four-page feature in December 1992 on the Freewheels Theatre in Education Company production of Property of the Clan, by Nick Enright and directed by Brian Joyce, proved that TIE wasn’t yet dead. Oddly enough, it was at this time that Australian TIE produced one of its best works, later adapted as a mainstage play and feature film called Blackrock, featuring a young Heath Ledger.

Gunzburg also managed to capture two Indigenous companies at seminal points in their history in 1993. Over in WA, Acting Out’s (later Barking Gecko Theatre Company) Aboriginal Youth Theatre Project was taking shape, and would soon become Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre. Lowdown also revealed that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program of Contact Youth Theatre in Brisbane was becoming a separate company, Kooemba Jdarra.

Throughout this entire period, from 1990 to 1993, ASSITEJ Australia under its Director Michael FitzGerald had been busy, and Lowdown continued to cover it and international events.

FitzGerald came within one vote of gaining the Presidency of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, at its World Congress in Stockholm, Sweden in 1990. (And, at the General Assembly of ASSITEJ Centres there representing over 40 countries, there was resounding applause when a copy of Lowdown was held up.) He was then elected Vice-President, and Australian delegate Angela Chaplin was voted on to the Artistic Commission. Other Australian delegates included Steven Gration, Mary Morris, Pamela Payne, Michael and Ludmila Doneman, Lafe Charlton and Christine Campbell. The Congress also marked the beginning of Michael Ramløse’s time as Secretary General, replacing long-time French Secretary General Rose Marie Moudoues. Ramløse, from Denmark, was a key individual in the revitalisation of the organisation, and the Nordic countries were to hold the position of ASSITEJ Secretary General for most of the next 18 years.

The National Association of Drama in Education (NADIE) was also involved in the development of a new international association for drama in education at this time. Jenny Simmons from NADIE was with NADIE President Kate Donelan at a British conference in Birmingham in October 1989 when the idea was floated and suggested the name ‘IDEA’ as a working title for the inaugural national conference[22]. The name stuck and IDEA lived on past its first conference in Lisbon, Portugal in 1992. In 2013 IDEA had centres in approximately 90 countries.

The ASSITEJ Asian Oceanic Regional meeting took place in Adelaide in May 1991, at the same time as the Come Out 91 festival and the Youth and Performing Arts Conference (YAPA). Set up by Michael FitzGerald and coordinated by Penny Ramsay, it followed on from three regional meetings held in Japan in the 1980s. Eleven theatre directors from eleven countries took part in a diverse program that included practical workshops. The countries were Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

In 1992 the South Australian Youth Arts Board (SAYAB) revisited the decade-long arrangement whereby ASSITEJ Australia was run as a project of Carclew. As stated previously, the Australian Youth Performing Arts Association (AYPAA) had dissolved in May 1982. Carclew had then, at the request of AYPAA, taken on the role of national centre of ASSITEJ Australia. It continued to publish the AYPAA magazine, Lowdown, and all subscribers of Lowdown automatically became members of ASSITEJ Australia. For a decade, South Australia had been paying most of the costs and wages for ASSITEJ Australia – the Director of ASSITEJ Australia had been a Carclew staff position during that time – and SAYAB felt as early as 1988 that it was time for greater financial support at a national level.

In the first Lowdown for 1992, Michael FitzGerald proposed a future separate from Carclew and began a discussion on how that national organisation would be structured and funded[23]. Later in the year the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council responded with a $20,000 grant towards the operating costs of ASSITEJ Australia, and a national ASSITEJ committee was formed to develop the new national organisation[24]. By the end of 1993, a new constitution had been finalised as well as a membership structure for implementation in the coming year. After 12 years of the curious practice of members joining ASSITEJ Australia by subscribing to Lowdown, ASSITEJ Australia would finally have a separate membership base.

Earlier in 1993, there had been some momentous news. Australia’s Michael FitzGerald had been elected President of ASSITEJ at the 1993 ASSITEJ World Congress in Havana, Cuba. A strong 10-person delegation attended, including Wesley Enoch, Angela Chaplin, Grahame Gavin, Mary Morris, Colin Schumaker, Gabriela Cabral, Fille Dusseljee, Steven Gration, and Maggie Miles. Member countries voted to the ruling Executive Committee for the period 1993-96 were Australia (President), Canada (Vice President), Cuba (Vice President), France (Vice President), Germany, ltaly, Japan, Korea, Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Vietnam. It was the first time three Asian countries had been voted on to the Executive Committee.

The Australia delegation was ever-present throughout the Congress, facilitating networking and connections between countries. Angela Chaplin moderated discussions on artistic matters, Wesley Enoch was a keynote speaker on minority cultures and Mary Morris was one of only three playwrights invited to speak about her work. For Fitzgerald, ‘the delegation truly represented Australia in all its creativity, diversity of practice, multiculturalism, Aboriginality and gender equality’[25].

Back in Australia, the Lowdown staff were on the move once more. At the end of 1993 Darrelyn Gunzburg left the magazine to return to her creative work as a writer. Lowdown, after many changes, was about to get a stable team that would last for the next six years.


[1] Richard Lawrance, ‘Wired’, Lowdown V.17.2, p10-12. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[2] ‘Loud’, Lowdown V.19.6, p8-11. Adelaide: Carclew, 1997

[3] Anna Dollard and Leigh Elliott edited issues in between the appointment of full-time Editors.

[4] Lowdown V.12.2, p4. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[5] Mark Radvan, ‘YAPA and the Art of Conferencing’, Lowdown V.12.3, p27. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[6] Mark Radvan, ‘Letters’, Lowdown V.12.4, p4. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[7] Goers was later invited on to the South Australian Youth Arts Board, and was a passionate advocate for youth arts.

[8] Peter Goers, Lowdown V.12.4, p53. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[9] Peter Wood, ‘When Silence is not Golden’, Lowdown V.12.4, p13-17. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[10] Peter Wood, ‘Youth Theatre Blues’, Lowdown V.12.6, p8-12. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[11] ‘The Carclew Consensus’, Lowdown V.13.3, p21. Adelaide: Carclew, 1991.

[12] George Mannix, ‘The Fruits of Our Labour’, Lowdown V.14.1, p24-26. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[13] Tony Mack, To Delight and Profit, p41. Adelaide: University of Adelaide, 1994.

[14] Rachel Healy, ‘Editorial’. Lowdown V.14.3, p4. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[15] Francis Greenslade, ‘Form and Function: percolating ideology in youth theatre’, Lowdown V.13.4, p19-22. Adelaide: Carclew, 1991.

[16] Brian Joyce, ‘TIE Me Up’. Lowdown V.13.6, p18-21. Adelaide: Carclew, 1991.

[17] ‘Lowdown – A Forum for Debate’. Lowdown V.22.3, p5. Adelaide: Carclew, 2000.

[18] Amanda Clark, ‘The Third Encounter of the Next Wave’. Lowdown V.12.3, p8-12. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[19] Jane Woollard, ‘New Wave’. Lowdown V.14.3, p9. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[20] Zane Trow, ‘An Artist in the Machine’. Lowdown V.14.5, p7-11. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[21] Zane Trow, ‘An Artist in the Machine’. Lowdown V.14.5, p7. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[22] Pamela Payne, ‘An Inspired Idea’. Lowdown V.12.6, p8. Adelaide: Carclew, 1990.

[23] Michael FitzGerald, ‘Future Prospects’. Lowdown V.14.1, p12-15. Adelaide: Carclew, 1992.

[24] The Committee was comprised of Ludmila Doneman, Sue Beal, Zane Trow, Mary Hickson, Roland Manderson, Steven Gration, Maggie Miles, Grahame Gavin, Judy MacIver (Potter) and Angela Chaplin.

[25] ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, Lowdown V.15.2, p3-4. Adelaide: Carclew, 1993.

The 1990s – Decade of the ‘Post-s’

Part II – 1994-1999

A history and commentary by Tony Mack

1994-1996: Stability in a changing world

A new, more stable, time began in Australian youth performing arts when, at the beginning of 1994, ASSITEJ Australia emerged out of the shadow of Carclew as an independent entity once again, and Lowdown gained a new Editor.

The next Lowdown Editor, Belinda MacQueen, had previously been involved in the development of dB magazine, an independent Adelaide street press publication with a strong contemporary music focus. MacQueen was a passionate advocate for contemporary music, especially ground breaking independent musicians. Just as Ian Chance’s passion for community arts left its mark indelibly on the magazine in the 1980s, so would MacQueen’s passion for contemporary music. In just her third issue she announced:

‘Not only are we including state music columns, we are also endeavouring to include music features in each issue. It is very important that music be incorporated into Lowdown as it is one of the most popular areas of performing arts, for and by youth.’[1]

True to her word, the next two years featured separate music columns for most States, and a number of music features, particularly dealing with industry and promotional issues[2]. The October 1994 issue of Lowdown featured a front cover picture of a fourteen year old Daniel Johns, just after his band had changed their name from ‘Innocent Criminals’ to ‘silverchair’, and six months before the release of their debut album Frogstomp and international acclaim.

Coming from a largely un-subsidised performing arts sector, MacQueen was not disdainful of government support for the arts – at this time the terms ‘subsidised’ and ‘institutional’ arts were beginning to be used as code for ‘old-fashioned’. Her experience in the most capitalist of performing art forms had influenced her views in an entirely different direction:

‘It was suggested to me this week, that perhaps the removal of funding would create an environment where only the best companies would survive. My answer to that is emphatically in the negative. Having been involved in the contemporary music industry for many years, I have seen the results of what remains a privately-funded business, geared to profit; and believe me, the news isn’t good.’[3]

Where MacQueen was particularly fierce, in the context of limited funding for youth arts, was in pursuing the accountability of both funding bodies and the organisations they funded. Lowdown followed the saga of the national youth arts festival ‘Wired’ throughout 1995 before MacQueen eventually lost patience with an event that seemed utterly adrift:

‘Wired – it promised to be the biggest thing in youth arts in Australia. So what’s happening? Does the committee know? Does the Australia Council know? Does anyone know?…My concern is that this level of disorganisation reflects badly on the whole youth arts community. With funding to the area already dwindling, we can ill afford the type of backlash which might ensue if disaster should strike.’[4]

Relationships between Lowdown and the Australia Council became distinctly frosty for a while after an article she commissioned from Tony Mack[5] on ‘Peer Assessment and Excellence’ in April 1995. From 1994 on, there had been media coverage of conflicts of interest in the peer assessment of Australia Council Music grants, and a 1994 publication emanating from an Office of Multicultural Affairs research project accused arts funding bodies of positioning ‘gatekeepers in strategic positions’ to enforce cultural norms[6]. MacQueen thought it worthwhile examining how effective youth arts assessment processes were at a State and Federal level. Tony Mack contacted over 50 practitioners around the country with ‘some fairly contentious questions’, such as whether peer assessment companies had ever used funding decisions to ‘punish’ companies, and how excellence as a criteria was assessed.

Overall, peer assessment got a clean bill of health from practitioners – with some caveats. Youth theatres complained of problems with the criteria of excellence applied to process as well as product, performing arts companies in general felt that peer assessors needed to see more shows and Mack strongly recommended regularly rotating members of assessment panels to minimise opportunities for abuse or ‘gatekeeping’[7]. Nonetheless, a letter in the next issue from Jane Westbrook, the Executive Officer for Performing Arts at the Australia Council, complained about ‘several inaccurate statements’. While acknowledging the article raised some ‘interesting issues’, she quoted from the Performing Arts Program Handbook at length to prove that assessment guidelines did indeed encompass process as well as product in youth theatre[8].

A year later the Australia Council made significant changes to its administrative structure, abolishing the old Council/Board/Committee structure and bringing in eight Funds: Community Cultural Development, Literature, Major Organisations, Dance, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts/Crafts, and Media Arts. At the same time the Council also revised its assessment procedures, with these changes (perhaps coincidentally) addressing each of the recommendations of the Lowdown article a year before[9].

The years 1994-1996 were eventful for both national and international networking. A focus issue in February 1994 covered Asian exchanges with Australian companies. WA’s Spare Parts Puppet Theatre had completed an eight week tour of Japan, while NSW’s Shopfront Theatre took a company of young people on a four-city exchange in China. Unley Youth Theatre’s Kim Hanna spent a month in Thailand with Maya Theatre, Thailand’s only youth theatre company. Eleven members from Dance North Theatre in Townsville, North Queensland, visited Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in a tour of Vietnam, and WA’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company devised and rehearsed their production of Ivory Circle in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Australia was well represented on the island of Okinawa, 640 kilometres south of Kyushu, at the 1994 Okinawa International Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences[10]. Magpie Theatre, from South Australia, performed the Steven Gration production of Chutney, and Victorian State Opera performed Aesop’s Fables. The ASSITEJ Executive Committee met during the high-profile festival, and ASSITEJ World President Michael FitzGerald featured almost daily in the pages of The Okinawa Times. Rosemary Luke profiled the festival as a ‘must-visit’ festival for youth arts practitioners around the world in the April 1994 issue of Lowdown[11], introducing Australians for the first time to the now iconic leaders of the festival, Producer Hisashi Shimoyama and Artistic Director Tomoko Ito. Luke later wrote an article on a seminar at the festival led by Michael Ramløse, the Secretary General of ASSITEJ, and Anette Eggert, Artistic Director of Baggard Teatret, about the model of critical appraisal used in the development of Danish children’s theatre. Her article, ‘Critical Quality’[12], was to be one of the most influential in Lowdown’s long history. A version of the model it outlines is incorporated in the present day developmental processes of Australian Theatre for Young People companies such as Patch Theatre and Slingsby.

As a footnote to history, Luke commented in her April 1994 article on the strong rapport forged by ASSITEJ World President and ASSITEJ Australia Director Michael FitzGerald with the Governor of Okinawa, Masehide Ota, and the Mayor of Okinawa City, Shusei Arakawa, during this time. More than a decade later, the then Australian ASSITEJ representative Tony Mack organised a meeting between Australian Embassy officials and the Producer of the Okinawa Festival, Hisashi Shimoyama, at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. During this meeting Shimoyama attributed the continued existence of the festival to FitzGerald’s diplomacy and passionate advocacy of youth arts with these Okinawan officials. Kijimuna Festa, as it is now called, continues to acknowledge the support of Australians for the festival in its early years by trying to ensure an Australian presence each year[13].

The many cultural exchanges occurring at this time between Australian youth arts practitioners and Japan and Korea greatly increased the depth of Lowdown’s coverage. One example was the Chris Thompson feature ‘The Black Mantle & The Jido-Kan’ in October 1994[14]. While Japan boasted many fine Theatre for Young People and puppetry companies such as Kazenoko, Theatre Seigei, Hitomi-Za and Icho-Za, there was little drama and almost no youth theatre at that time. Thompson profiled, among other things, the creative drama developed by Professor Okada of Tamagawa University and implemented at the Jido-Kan, or Children’s Centres, where many children went after school.

On 21 May 1994, the newly independent ASSITEJ Australia announced a name change during YATAC, the 1994 Youth Arts Conference[15]. It also unveiled its new logo, ‘designed by Michael Gilsenan, a young Aboriginal graphic designer from Queensland’. The new name was Youth Performing Arts Australia (YPAA). Outside Australia YPAA continued to be referred to as ASSITEJ Australia, but the new name signified a broader brief within Australia than mandated by the ASSITEJ Constitution. A decade later that brief was to be expanded further, with the name change to Young People and the Arts Australia.

In 1995, YPAA members had a strong presence at the inaugural One Theatre World Festival in Seattle, USA, with Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s Ivory Circle featuring directly after the opening reception. One Theatre World continues to this day to be one of the principal gathering of producers of professional theatre for young audiences in the USA, and the Lowdown feature by Clare Hannan on this festival is a snapshot of a key moment in US and world youth arts history[16].

On an international level, the festival celebrated the 30th birthday of ASSITEJ and attracted visitors from 20 countries, including the ASSITEJ Executive Committee, which met during the festival. Within the USA it was clear that there was an appetite for change and challenge amongst US practitioners. Difficult topics were discussed at the festival symposium, such as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in 1992, environmental tragedies, children living with AIDS and forced integration in Mississippi in the 1960s. The Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest New Generation Playwright’s Forum featured provocative work from contemporary playwrights like Y York, Steven Dietz, Mark Medoff and James Still, and a ‘collage of diversity’ was presented that showed companies dealing with Native American, deaf, lesbian and gay, and multicultural issues. The festival clearly ‘reached well beyond what has been done in the past, not only in Seattle, but nationally in the United States’[17].

ASSITEJ was not the only international youth arts organisation with a strong Australian presence at that time. The fourth International Festival of Young Playwrights (Interplay) was hosted by the city of Townsville and James Cook University in Queensland in late 1994. Founded by Errol Bray in Sydney a decade earlier, the fourth Interplay brought together ‘45 young writers from 24 countries for two weeks of workshops, discussions, readings and public performances’[18]. The Interplay model had also been taken up in Europe, with Bray being invited to tutor at the first Interplay Europe in Mainz Germany[19].

In July 1995 there was another world gathering in Queensland, this time in Brisbane at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane. The second World Congress of Drama/Theatre and Education, IDEA, featured some stunning keynote guests, such as Augusto Boal (Brazil), Gcina Mhlophe (a storyteller from South Africa), Gavin Bolton (UK), Kuo Pao Kun (Singapore) and Cecilly O’Neill (USA).

But while Australia thrived internationally, there some disturbing signs for youth arts on the home front. Despite its successes in Australia and abroad, youth arts still appeared to be the first to suffer funding cuts and the last to receive new investment by governments.

One example was the decimation of youth arts in Victoria. In the early 1980s it boasted almost thirty companies producing work for schools. In the mid-1980s, the Ministry for Education closed the Drama Resource Centre in Bouverie Street Carlton, and with it went its resident company Bouverie Street TIE. Melbourne based companies FM Live Theatre, U25 and West closed later in the decade, as well as Crossroads in Benalla and Backpack in Warrnambool. The mid-1990s featured more closures, such as the well-regarded Woolly Jumpers and Barnstorm companies[20].

Over in Western Australia, youth arts was nominated as a priority area by Margaret Seares, the new Executive Director of the WA Department for the Arts. Yet when an additional $1,286,000 was distributed in a Supplementary Theatre Funding Round in 1995 almost none of it reached the youth arts sector.

Then the Performing Arts Board announced that ASSITEJ World President and YPAA Director Michael FitzGerald would have his travel funding cut for the 1996-1999 period[21]. By this stage FitzGerald had made extraordinary contributions to Australian performing arts through his global position, initiating international tours, exchanges, training, publications and important networking. The dollar cost of the benefits to Australia was in the hundreds of thousands, FitzGerald’s food and accommodation was usually paid for by international hosts and, in developing the artform of Theatre for Young People, he was effectively doing the work of the Australia Council. In declining his modest application for airfares, the Performing Arts Board felt though that ‘its support of one three year term was sufficient’ to enhance ‘the international profile of Australian youth and young people’s performing arts’[22].

Prior to the 1996 ASSITEJ World Congress in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, there was an ASSITEJ Executive Committee meeting in Brisbane during the Out of the Box Festival of Early Childhood. Representatives from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand also joined the Committee to experience the Queensland Performing Arts Centre being overrun by children, their families and carers at one of the most acclaimed Out of the Box festivals.

The Rostov-on-Don Congress once again featured a solid Australian contingent including Lou Westbury, Grahame Gavin, Michael Doneman, Emma Bailey and Jim Lawson. FitzGerald was re-elected to the Presidency, Barking Gecko received an Honorary Mention in the ASSITEJ Honorary Presidents Award, Michael Doneman gave a keynote speech on technology and youth arts, and Gavin and Westbury ran a workshop. Arena Theatre from Victoria was one of only five international companies invited to perform, but the Australia Council declined to fund their tour.

As 1996 drew to a close, Belinda MacQueen took four months off on a tour of Europe and the Marketing/Advertising Coordinator Leigh Mangin stepped into the Editor’s Chair. Mangin had begun in her position under Darrelyn Gunzburg and would continue to work at Lowdown well into the 2000s. Apart from handling advertising and marketing, she also later laid out (designed) the magazine. While she only edited a few issues over the years, it was clear that she had a passionate belief in the role of Lowdown. Mangin’s first editorial, in the light of funding cuts to the magazine, emphasised the importance of Lowdown as an historical document as well as for its current functions, and revealed a strong knowledge of its history. In her second issue in October 1996 she instituted a new, regular, New Zealand column. The New Zealand column featured in each issue for over six years alongside columns from YPAA and every State and Territory, and was compiled by Playmarket, New Zealand’s agency and advisory service for playwrights.

1997-1999: A Tale of Two Cities

In the first Lowdown for 1997, Michael FitzGerald announced that Youth Performing Arts Australia (YPAA) had re-located to Melbourne. The YPAA Board had made a unanimous decision in a November 1996 meeting to endorse the move, and so the national youth arts organisation moved from its office in Carclew to the VCA Arts House in St Kilda Road, Southbank. YPAA hoped to associate itself with Melbourne’s plans to make itself ‘a cultural centre of Australia and one of the great cultural cities of the world’[23].

For the first time the two national youth arts organisations, Lowdown and YPAA, were separated since their beginnings decades earlier. After FitzGerald retired in 1999, the YPAA Office would become increasingly isolated away from the support and resources of a larger youth arts organisation like Carclew, as well as the camaraderie of like-minded colleagues with a national focus. In the initial year though, all the signs were positive. The City of Melbourne had offered a sponsorship grant, the Victorian College of the Arts had given office space in its newly established Arts House and other organisations had promised in-kind support. YPAA had also brought together a Victorian sub-committee, consisting of Rosemary Myers, Kim Hanna, Anna Messariti and Chris Thompson, with the express purpose of assisting YPAA make links and collaborations within its new home State.

Meanwhile, back in Adelaide, Lowdown Editor Belinda MacQueen gave the magazine a makeover. Prompted by the realisation that it was actually cheaper to produce a larger, A4 size magazine rather than stick with the smaller A5 Extra size (which had to be cut down from A3 paper), MacQueen embraced the chance to reinvigorate the Lowdown format. She took over the design of the magazine from Doreen Inhofer in August 1997 – possibly as a result of funding cuts – and gave the magazine a clean contemporary look.

A year later, in an attempt to generate more advertising income to satisfy stakeholders, the front cover image was sold to an organisation each issue. Over the next decade this would result in some unpredictability in the Lowdown ‘brand’ – sometimes there would be a spectacular cover with high quality artwork, whilst at other times the artwork would seem to be of another age and not reflect the contemporary spirit of the magazine.

MacQueen also formulated a new editorial policy to go with the new layout. In the past she had expressed frustration with too many focus issues, feeling that they limited industry input into the content of each issue. Now she balanced industry driven and editor driven content equally, emphasising three key areas:

‘The three key areas we will be focussing on are Prominent Companies and Major Events, Innovation and Emerging Artists, and Diversity. In 1998 three of the six issues produced will be devoted to topics within the key areas and three will remain industry driven.’[24]

MacQueen continued to monitor developments in the music industry, including the beginning of music downloads. She reported on the announcement at the 1997 National Entertainment Industry Conference of a new system that would allow computer users to buy songs for 99 cents and download them to their computer. Six years before the launch of the iTunes store, she directed Lowdown readers to the Electric Records website to check out this exciting development, and correctly predicted the popularity non-mainstream music would enjoy in an online world less mediated by record executives[25].

The saga of the national youth arts festival still continued, with highly critical responses from the youth arts sector about the lack of engagement from the Loud festival in late 1997, in the lead up to when it took place in January 1998. The Executive Producer Brandon Saul responded in the first issue of 1998, and there was yet another follow up article in April.

While the festival suffered a range of logistical and governance problems – such as inadequate communication with stakeholders, poor information sharing, a lack of transparency and a $400,000 cut in its budget – it was Australia’s first media-based festival and a highly influential cultural development. Looking past some of the terminology (Saul refers to the ‘traditional/subsidised’ youth arts sector, for instance, ignoring the fact that his festival received one of the largest subsidies in youth arts history) this debate clearly highlighted, as Saul put it, ‘a clash of ideologies’[26].

As opposed to an Australia Council youth theatre model where professional artists were the focus and were paid to mediate an experience with young people, Loud sought ‘to fund/pay/exhibit/engage young people direct’. Whereas Next Wave festival, another ground breaking festival of the 1990s, was seeking out emerging artists on the cutting edge, Loud sought to inspire everyone to think of themselves as artistic, and to share the outcomes of their creativity. To some practitioners, this model of direct engagement with young people opened the door to exploitation – and the possibility of youth arts activities being used as Trojan Horses for funding cuts to professional artists. (For instance, in the early 2000s one major cultural institution cut its presentation of productions for young people heavily and replaced them with a program featuring an empty black box theatre, which young people could use for their own performances.) Other practitioners disagreed, arguing that the present cultural policies directed money towards arts organisations and away from artists.

Loud’s first Online Coordinator, Marcus Westbury, would continue to develop and refine this thinking about culture and the arts over the next fifteen years. He founded the This is Not Art festival in Newcastle later in 1998 and in the 2000s challenged the kind of Australian cultural approach that the Australia Council model represented:

‘Culture is all around us. Millions of Australians engage in cultural expressions for their own pleasure every day. For every Hugh Jackman, there are tens of thousands of unknown but passionate artists in hundreds of different artforms, all grappling with the age-old challenges of making art that someone, somewhere will want to experience and engage with. In comparison with this vast cultural universe, the kinds of activities supported by the Australia Council – and by extension that are within the policy brief of government – are a small and dusty room.’[27]

Lowdown profiled, around this time, another arts organisation that exemplified a new type of engagement with children, young people and adults. The Cairns Community Arts Centre was renamed Graft’n’Arts in 1994 and boasted an impressive attendance rate of 1800 visits by young people each month, as well as 500 by adults, in 1997. With five permanent staff ‘and a swag of local artists and artsworkers’ employed on a casual basis, the centre featured an activities-based consultation approach to keep its programs relevant and a philosophy of access, equity and participation. Lowdown writer Mary Ann Hunter, in Cairns to document Graft’n’Arts as a best practice case study, detailed the strong response of the Cairns community to this approach of privileging young people as artists[28]. The magazine also profiled, over the coming years, a new generation of rigorous research and evaluation projects occurring in Queensland about youth arts practice.

Lowdown’s coverage of YPAA and international news indicated that the challenges nationally and globally were keeping pace with the successes. Ulli Plichta from ASSITEJ Austria, the new Secretary-General of ASSITEJ, had resigned ‘due to irreconcilable differences between her and the Austrian centre’[29]. Niclas Malmcrona from Sweden, who was first introduced to the work of ASSITEJ when he worked on the 1990 Stockholm Congress, took over the position, and the Secretariat office moved from Vienna to Stockholm. Malmcrona, in partnership with SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), would greatly increase the presence of Africa within ASSITEJ over the coming decade, in collaboration with a vibrant host of African practitioners from more than a dozen countries.

ASSITEJ was now paying the airfares of its World President, Australia’s Michael FitzGerald, from the small pool of money collected from the annual fees of ASSITEJ Centres worldwide – effectively meaning that developing countries were subsidising the Australian arts sector and its international representation. FitzGerald, embarrassed by the situation, had offered to resign from ASSITEJ but the Executive Committee insisted that his leadership was needed. FitzGerald’s appeal to the Australia Council for assistance with airfares had been declined, and further funding cuts to YPAA meant the national service organisation for youth arts could now only operate for half the week, though FitzGerald continued to work full-time on a half-time salary.

A worrying trend had begun to emerge. As has been noted in the 1980s, there was great support for national service organisations like YPAA and Lowdown, but a feeling amongst State governments that they were the responsibility of the national government and its agencies – and in the case of the arts, that meant the Australia Council. Yet the Australia Council provided no extra support for national service organisations, and YPAA and Lowdown competed equally with State-based organisations for funding under criteria designed for theatre companies and their artistic programs. Clearly, the mechanisms of recognising and supporting critical infrastructure in the youth arts sector had not yet fully developed at a federal level.

State-based service organisations were showing the way. Carclew had used its project staff strategically in the 1980s and 1990s to actively intervene in South Australia to identify needs and then advocate for, invest in, develop and support critical infrastructure[30]. In Queensland, from the late 1990s onwards, Youth Arts Queensland (YAQ) also developed strategic research projects that identified needs and developed resources that provided a basis for advocacy for new cultural infrastructure for young people. There was an overwhelming body of evidence that the Carclew and YAQ models generated new investment in youth arts from government, the private sector, philanthropics and other stakeholders.

Yet the Australia Council in the late 1990s (perhaps under intense financial pressure) was less inclined to act as a proactive force by partnering with national service organisations to achieve the same sort of results.

A comparison of the time is revealing. In Germany, the national centre for theatre for children and young people (Kinder- und Jugendtheaterzentrum in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or KJTZ) had its own building, full-time staff, national archive and library, publications and nationwide program of festivals, events and research projects. KJTZ staff were able to respond to any new international developments (such as experimentation in theatre for very young children in the 2000s[31]) to ensure that German children and young people always had access to high quality contemporary arts experiences. In Australia, the equivalent organisation (with a broader brief of the whole of performing arts) was YPAA, which was expected to service an entire continent and lead a world organisation, ASSITEJ, with a volunteer Board, borrowed office and one staff member on a half-time salary.

In April 1998, Michael FitzGerald announced his decision not to stand for another term on the ASSITEJ International Executive Committee and WA designer Lou Westbury was selected to replace him. She was duly elected at the 1999 ASSITEJ World Congress in Tromsø, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, amidst a General Assembly that was exuberant in its praise for FitzGerald’s contributions to world youth arts. Once again Australia sent a strong delegation – including Judy Potter, Lou Westbury, Rose Myers, Stefo Nantsou, Tom Lycos, David Megaritty, Melina Somas and Caroline Wood – and Rose Myers, from Melbourne’s Arena Theatre Company, was awarded the prestigious Honorary President’s Award for work of sustained excellence from 1996-1999.

FitzGerald retired from his position as Director of Youth Performing Arts Australia on 31 December 1999, but farewelled national colleagues earlier during a heartfelt speech at the end of the YPAA National Conference in North Melbourne in late October. For a final time he reiterated his passionate belief in the importance of the work of the youth arts practitioners present and his gratitude for the international ‘family’ of like-minded people created by Australia’s national and international youth arts networks. Michael FitzGerald AM had been made a Member of the Order of Australia earlier in the 1990s, and was later awarded the lifelong title of Honorary President by a grateful world organisation, ASSITEJ. Working at times in the most adverse of conditions, his legacy continues to benefit youth arts practitioners, children and young people not only in Australia, but around the world.

In mid-1999 it was time for a change of Lowdown Editors too. Belinda MacQueen, having brought a financial stability to the magazine for the first time in its history and reshaped Lowdown’s content and design, moved to the Carclew Project Office and a successful career in arts management. She would continue to be Editor-in-Chief until February 2000, but her time at the magazine effectively ended in late July 1999, and the magazine entered the decade under a new Editor.

Lowdown would continue to experience the stability created by MacQueen in the first part of the coming decade. YPAA, however, would not be so lucky.


[1] Belinda MacQueen, ‘Editorial’. Lowdown V.16.3, i. Adelaide: Carclew, 1994.

[2] For instance, MacQueen wrote an article herself on management and licensing in the music industry in April 1995. Belinda MacQueen, ‘If at first you don’t succeed…’. Lowdown V.17.2, p25-27. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[3] Belinda MacQueen, ‘Editorial’. Lowdown V.17.1, p2. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[4] Belinda MacQueen, ‘Editorial’. Lowdown V.17.5, p2. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[5] The writer of this commentary and history.

[6] Sneja Gunew and Fazal Rizvi, Culture, Difference and the Arts. 1992.

[7] Tony Mack, ‘Peer Assessment and Excellence’. Lowdown V.17.2, p3-6. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[8] Jane Westbrook, ‘Letter to the Editor’. Lowdown V.17.3, p30. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[9] Pamela Payne, ‘Australia Council: Future of Funding’. Lowdown V.18.2, p13-15. Adelaide: Carclew, 1996.

[10] Now known as Kijimuna Festa. http://www.kijimunafesta.com/

[11] Rosemary Luke, ‘Okinawa Festival’. Lowdown V.16.2, p24-28. Adelaide: Carclew, 1994.

[12] Rosemary Luke, ‘Critical Quality’. Lowdown V.17.1, p17-19. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[13] In 2012, Australian visitors included: Noel Jordan (ASSITEJ Treasurer and YPAA international representative); Jim Lawson (Director of YPAA); Jenny Simpson (AWESOME Festival); Megan Roberts (Spare Parts); John Sheedy (Barking Gecko); Pippa Davis (Buzz Dance); Dickon Oxenburgh (Yirra Yaakin); Dave Brown and Christine Schloithe (Patch Theatre); Tamara Harrison (Polyglot Theatre); Olivia Allen (Riverland Youth Theatre); Claudia Chidiac, Fraser Corfield and Tim McGarry (Next Generation representatives); and Liz Skitch and Clint Bolster (DeBase Productions).

[14] Chris Thompson, ‘The Black Mantle & The Jido-Kan’. Lowdown V.16.5, p31-33. Adelaide: Carclew, 1994.

[15] Lowdown V.16.3, p37. Adelaide: Carclew, 1994. The inaugural YPAA committee was Ludmila Doneman (Qld), Brian Joyce (NSW), Zane Trow (Vic), Robert Tuppini (Tas), Roland Manderson (ACT), Maggie Miles (NT), Grahame Gavin (WA) and Judy McIver (Chair, SA). Judy McIver later changed her name to Judy Potter, and was the Director of Carclew.

[16] Clare Hannan, ‘One World Theatre. Lowdown V.17.4, p26-27. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[17] Clare Hannan, ‘One World Theatre. Lowdown V.17.4, p26. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[18] Michael McLaughlin, ‘Interplay: Working for Generation X’. Lowdown V.16.5, p28-30. Adelaide: Carclew, 1994.

[19] Errol Bray, ‘Triple Bill’. Lowdown V.17.4, p20-22. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[20] Chris Thompson, ‘What’s the Go and What’s Gone’. Lowdown V.17.5, p19-21. Adelaide: Carclew, 1995.

[21] Michael FitzGerald, YPAA column. Lowdown V.18.2, p31. Adelaide: Carclew, 1996.

[22] Michael FitzGerald, YPAA column. Lowdown V.18.2, p31. Adelaide: Carclew, 1996.

[23] Michael FitzGerald, YPAA column. Lowdown V.19.1, p31. Adelaide: Carclew, 1997.

[24] Belinda MacQueen, Editorial. Lowdown V.19.3, p2. Adelaide: Carclew, 1997.

[25] Belinda MacQueen, Editorial. Lowdown V.19.4, p2. Adelaide: Carclew, 1997.

[26] Brandon Saul, ‘Loud’. Lowdown V.20.1, p8. Adelaide: Carclew, 1998.

[27] Ben Eltham and Marcus Westbury, ‘Cultural Policy in Australia’. http://morethanluck.cpd.org.au/sharing-the-luck/cultural-policy-in-australia/

[28] Mary Ann Hunter, ‘Graft’n’Arts’. Lowdown V.19.5, p5-6. Adelaide: Carclew, 1997.

[29] Michael FitzGerald, YPAA column. Lowdown V.20.3, p22. Adelaide: Carclew, 1998.

[30] One example was Restless Dance Company, a company for dancers with and without a disability, which started as a Carclew project.

[31] Theatre von Anfang An! http://www.kjtz.de/projekte/details-projekte/beitrag/theater-von-anfang-an/