About RealTime: a brief history

Virginia Baxter, Keith Gallasch

This is a factual history; a personal one will emerge once we’ve had time to reflect on the experience that has been RealTime, taking us across Australia and overseas, producing associated publications and enjoying the pleasure of being part of a far flung network of writers alert to innovative practices predominantly in the small to medium sector but also the mainstream when it took risks.


Before RealTime

In 1987 in Sydney, writer-performers Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch formed the performance company Open City, producing works 1987-1996 principally at The Performance Space as well as appearing in and collaborating on experimental radio works for ABC radio. [See Team for more biographical detail.]


The making of RealTime

In 1994, with Open City as publisher, Managing Editors Virginia and Keith boldly launched RealTime as a free national arts magazine, focused on innovation in the arts and countering limited mainstream media attention to a wealth of emerging experimental and hybrid arts practices. The first edition, seed-funded by the Australia Council for Arts, was passionately welcomed by artists and readers. Securing of ongoing funding the magazine grew in print numbers and distribution reach, peaking in the 2000s with 56-page tabloid bi-monthly editions, 27,000 copies delivered to 1,000 locations across Australia.

From the beginning, contemporary performance, adventurous theatre and innovative dance featured strongly in RealTime alongside contemporary classical and experimental music, sound art, film, video and emerging digital media art which quickly pervaded most other practices. RealTime also focused on Indigenous art, innovative regional practices and the work of artists with disability. Australian writers travelling to overseas arts events provided RealTime readers with an international perspective. Only in RealTime could coverage of innovation of this scope and across the arts be found under one cover, alerting local artists to the work of their peers across Australia and beyond.

RealTime quickly became a highly trusted journal of record and critique, producing responsive, much quoted reviews and maintaining long-form reviewing as it otherwise diminished in Australia’s newspapers.


RealTime writing, RealTime writers

Central to Keith and Virginia’s editorial vision was that the reviewer vividly evoke each work under review, to do justice to the work as a real time experience. It forestalled a critical rush to judgement, asking the reviewer to take the reader with them on the path to making it, or a provisional evaluation. This ‘experiential’ reviewing was formed under the influence of Susan Sontag (Against Interpretation, On Style), American dance reviewers (Deborah Jowitt, Sally Banes) and the field of perceptual phenomenology. The editors encouraged constructive criticism from a position of “considered subjectivity.”

RealTime writers have been artists of many kinds, artist-academics, curators, novelists and a variety of arts specialists. The editors encouraged and mentored numerous artists to write, to draw from the deep knowledge of their practices. RealTime editorial, sales and technical staff have also been predominantly artists, working part-time while pursuing their practices and writing extensively for the magazine.


Online in 1996

In 1996, with considerable foresight, Virginia and Keith established the RealTime website, publishing online reviews in response to Barrie Kosky’s Adelaide Festival. From that year on every bi-monthly print edition was also published online, reaching a greater range of readers, some 35% of them overseas. In 2009, an online producer was appointed to deliver more frequent emailed editions, paving the way to sole online weekly publishing in 2016-17.


Workshops around the world

From 1995-2017 RealTime received 35 commissions from international and local art festivals and arts organisations in London, Bristol, Vancouver, Jakarta, Singapore and Lyon, every Australian capital city and Darwin, Bendigo, Cairns and Albury to run review-writing workshops or reviewing teams, often publishing daily online. These were variously conducted by Keith, Virginia and Associate Editor Gail Priest, a key RealTime staff member in layout, sales, writing and online production 1997-2014, as well as by music reviewer Matthew Lorenzon in 2015-17, often yielding new writers for RealTime.


The knowledge: other publications

Drawing on RealTime’s archive and the extensive knowledge of its editors, the Australia Council for the Arts commisisoned the highly respected and internationally distributed In Repertoire series (1999-2004) promoting tourable Australian art. For the Australian Film Commission’s Indigenous Film Unit, RealTime edited and produced Dreaming in Motion, A Celebration of Australian Indigenous Filmmaking (AFC-RealTime, 2007), the first and, currently, only account of a generation of now acclaimed filmmakers.

In 2014, RealTime and Adelaide’s Wakefield Press co-published the Australia Council-supported Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers, essays and interviews focused on a generation of independent choreographers who emerged in the 1990s and came into prominence in the 2000s. The book is one of the very few on contemporary Australian dance. Bodies of Thought was edited by Dr Erin Brannigan, UNSW, a long-term RealTime contributor, and Virginia Baxter.


The final years

By 2014, after many years of successfully publishing RealTime in print, the media marketplace had changed radically. Social media substantially diminished advertising sales income, rendering the printing of the magazine (with its huge carbon footprint) unviable. The printing of the magazine ceased with the December 2015 edition. In 2016-17 RealTime was published weekly online, featuring many online-friendly and often labour intensive innovations, but with little benefit for selling advertising. The Editors and the Board of Open City decided to cease publication at the end of 2017 and, with the support of the Australia Council, commit the 2018 program to building and celebrating the archive. A saddened readership sent hundreds of messages (you can read them here) of condolence and congratulation for a near-quarter century of uninterrupted publishing and wonderful support for artists and readers, charting a period of enormous change in the arts.


The Archive: TROVE

In 2017, UNSW Library approached Open City, publisher of RealTime, via Dr Erin Brannigan, a Real Time contributing editor and Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies, School of the Arts and Media, UNSW, to propose the archiving of the 130 editions of the print magazine 1994-2015 on the National Library of Australia’s TROVE website. The proposal was gratefully accepted.

Open City signed an agreement with the NLA to digitise the editions and the UNSW Library and NLA agreed to partner the archiving, with UNSW Library and Open City contributing to covering the costs of the digitisation.

The searchable NLA digitisation wonderfully preserves not only the content of RealTime, but also Graeme Smith’s design as it evolved over the years from 1994 onwards, but also the advertising which is often historically informative in itself. Visit the archive here https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-733140625.


The Archive: RealTime website

Redesigned in 2017 by Graeme Smith and built by Melbourne’s The Mighty Wonton, the RealTime website houses digitised print editions from 1994-2000 and all editions as they appeared online 2001-2018, plus a multitude of video interviews, sound art, video art, travel features and festival reports.


Thanks from the Managing Editors

From seed funding in 1994 to project and then triennial and four-year funding, as well as from VACS [National Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy], the Australia Council has consistently supported Open City for the publishing of RealTime, an indication of responsive policy-making and the continuing high regard of artist peers on assessment panels have had for the publication. Arts NSW also funded Open City for much of RealTime’s history until grants became sporadic and were no longer pursued. Vertel, a Sydney-based telecommunications company, provided welcome substantial technical sponsorship in recent years.

Thanks go to Keith and Virginia’s fellow Board of Management members — Tony MacGregor, John Davis, Julie Robb, Urszula Dawkins and Phillipa McGuinness — for their constant encouragement, understanding and friendship.

Also greatly appreciated is the genius of Graeme Smith for providing RealTime with a distinctively lucid visual identity over the decades, and The Mighty Wonton’s Lee Wong for her patient and inventive realisation of the latest manifestation as our new website.

RealTime staff of many years have fuelled the magazine with passion, loyalty and creativity: most recently Katerina Sakkas, Lauren Carroll Harris and Lucy Parakhina and, above all, Gail Priest who joined RealTime 1997 and left in 2014 but has continued to contribute and advise, drawing on her vast knowledge of the workings of the publication.

The Guardians of RealTime committee (Erin Brannigan, Caroline Wake, Katerina Sakkas, Lucy Parakhina, Gail Priest) have helped maintain the RealTime vision in its archival stage. Erin has initiated and superbly curated In Response: Dialogues with RealTime, an exhibition in the UNSW Library Exhibition Space featuring installations and performances by the artists Martin del Amo, Branch Nebula and Vicki Van Hout, subjects of many RealTime reviews and articles.

We thank the many artists who have inspired us, and the writers who have contributed to RealTime, some since the 1990s to very recently, many for five to 10 years or more, for their commitment, skill and judicious insights. As not a few writers have said, a sense of community was shared across artforms and across the country. And finally, we extend our gratitude to our readers, the greater part of that community.

Virginia Baxter & Keith Gallasch
Managing Editors RealTime