Cultural resurgence on the Gold Coast

Kathryn Kelly, Gold Coast

Anna Carey, Golden Palms, Pacific Moon, Stardust, Sunset Place

Anna Carey, Golden Palms, Pacific Moon, Stardust, Sunset Place

Anna Carey, Golden Palms, Pacific Moon, Stardust, Sunset Place

That landscape haunts Australian performance has become almost a cliché. I was infected by one recently, driving from Brisbane to the Gold Coast to work on a show about vaginas with a group of young women.

This is a landscape drenched by a collective past that many of us eschew: the DNA of Bjelke-Petersen Queensland is encoded in the pastel skyscrapers and the discarded leisure playgrounds of past generations.

But I was a dramaturgical greyhound with a scent and what struck me was transformation. Traditionally the Gold Coast has suffered, like other satellite cities (Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong and even Hobart) from a slow leaching of talent and legitimacy.

For a population of half a million, there is no professional theatre company, despite a thriving amateur arts community. As Patrick Mitchell, a theatre director who has spent the last four years writing about Gold Coast theatre for his PhD at Griffith University, suggests, there is also a neglected history of commercial performance.

This is the city with a cabaret scene that nurtured Peter Allen, a music scene with all-night Pyjama Parties at the Beachcomber Motel and legendary rock gigs at the Tallebudgera Playroom; one that sustained luvvies and professional performers until the advent of the Casino in the 1980s.

The camp and performative terroir of the Gold Coast has been sustained by the Warner Brothers film studios, theme parks, dinner theatre restaurants and the sheer unabashed display of the landscape, thrown together without the civility of planning. But somehow the city is now coming into its own in a way that a new generation of artists is embracing without anxiety.

Brett Ramsay, Leisur(e)scapes

Brett Ramsay, Leisur(e)scapes

Brett Ramsay, Leisur(e)scapes

Like Anna Carey, who builds models of remnant 1960s iconic leisure architecture and photographs them (Pacific Moon); or Brett Ramsay who photographs trompe-l’oeil and painterly sleights of hand in the various leisure precincts of the city (Leisure[e]scapes 1).

Ripeness is all when you look at the Gold Coast through the lens of creative industries. Instead of a post-industrial economy we have a post-pastel one: stagnating tourism dollars, low rents, high student populations and a city council eager to rebrand itself through arts and culture in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Indeed, submissions for the design of a new arts and cultural precinct to co-time with the Games have been announced and include a new 400-500 seat theatre.

Reclaimed cultural spaces are mushrooming in the industrial estates situated between the beachfront villages of the wealthy and the rolling suburban estates of ex-pats, young families and retirees.

Like 19 Karen Street behind Mermaid Beach for street/live art; Crown Studios at Burleigh Beach for contemporary music, design and video art; and Techspace for digital work behind Southport Beach. The most arresting of these artist-led spaces is Rabbit and Cocoon behind Miami Beach, an arts and cultural precinct with 40 resident artists, curating its own radio station and staging performances and fashion shows.

The Design Institute of Australia opened a branch in 2012 and there has been an explosion of independent theatre companies showcased by the Arts Centre’s recent Independent season, including Soapbox Theatre Productions, Awkward Productions, White Rabbit Theatre and newer Gold Coast/Brisbane hybrids including Rocket Boy Ensemble and Blacklight Collective.

Festivals are proliferating, from the popular Currumbin-based sculpture festival, Swell, to the Surfers Paradise Festival and Bleach, which exported one of its shows, The Surfer and the Mermaid, to the Tamarama Rock Surfers Children’s Season in Bondi in 2012.

What characterises all of this activity is a sort of postmodern adjacency. Like the unplanned and kitsch rococo of the landscape it is an unashamed mix of commercial sensibility and traditional aesthetics, street and vintage, sport and performance, fashion and eco-poetics.

As an outsider to the Gold Coast it is easy to find these juxtapositions glamorous when I don’t have to live or work within their contradictions or limitations.

But I leave judgment to the ‘little master’ of Australian performance, Artistic Director of Opera Australia (and formerly of the Brisbane Festival and the Queensland Music Festival), Lyndon Terracini, who is planning to stage a three-day Opera on the Beach in May 2014, to be performed at Greenmount on a stage made of sand. His impeccable sense of the popular zeitgeist signals that something is about to pop in this post-pastel landscape: as Muriel said “goodbye Porpoise Spit” and, as we move closer to the Commonwealth Games and its Arts Festival in 2018, welcome to a growing cultural energy.

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. 24

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

6 June 2013