Virginia Baxter & Keith Gallasch appointed Members (AM) of the Order of Australia

The Editors

Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch have been appointed Members (AM) of the Order of Australia (General Division) by the Governor-General with effect from 26 January 2022. The citation reads: “For significant service to the arts though performance, writing and production.”

With shared backgrounds in theatre in Adelaide since the mid 70s, Virginia and Keith formed the performance company Open City in Sydney in 1987. As writer-performers and producers they created numerous, critically lauded works 1987-96 in theatres, contemporary art spaces and on radio.

They founded and became Managing Editors of RealTime, the national arts magazine published 1994-2018 responding to and celebrating the work of a generation of innovative Australian artists. They produced other arts publications, worked as dramaturgs and sat on the boards of arts organisations and funding bodies. Their passion throughout has been for collaboration with a wide range of artists and writers, for experiment and access — hence their extensively collaborative performance works and the wide-ranging, free print and online distribution of RealTime.


Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch write:

The AM appointments came as a big surprise, not least because awarding an AM to each of us acknowledges a partnership, in art and life, that provided the passion which created and drove RealTime, and which was built on the experience of 20 years prior spent together (and apart on other ventures) in theatre and performance-making.

We’re deeply grateful. For us, the awards implicitly acknowledge other vital partnerships: with our performance collaborators; with the artists across Australia whom we reviewed and encouraged in RealTime for over two decades of huge transformations in the arts; with our wonderful writers from right across Australia and beyond who wrote with care, insight and verve; with our loyal, committed staff, most of them artists, arts workers and writers; with the enduringly supportive Board of Open City Inc, the publisher of RealTime; and with the Australia Council for the Arts which funded the magazine throughout, even on occasions when we were very much at odds.

For everyone who partnered with us, we share these AM awards with you.

These AM appointments add to the pleasure and pride felt when in 2019 the National Library of Australia launched the digitised 130 print editions of RealTime 1994-2015 on its TROVE website, acknowledgement of the significant cultural and historical value of RealTime. This was done with the considerable support of UNSW Library, which also staged a three-month exhibition, with performances, In Response: Dialogues with RealTime.


From performers to publishers

From the mid 1970s to the 90s, we’d been actors, contemporary performance makers in theatres, galleries and on radio, directors, writers, dramaturgs and producers. In 1994 we founded RealTime at a time when the press was neglecting the work of innovative artists and emerging practices and there was negligible sense of what was happening nationally.

Consequently, we became Managing Editors, and with that, reviewers, administrators, sales personnel, distributors, financial managers and employers as well as writing workshop leaders travelling the world and producers of publications for arts funding bodies. In 2014, Wakefield Press and RealTime co-published the book Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers, a first in exploring independent contemporary Australian dancemaking.

We learnt publishing on the job. It proved a labour of love, often involving six-day or more working weeks, initially with inky fingers as we unloaded copies from trucks and later grappled with the ever-mutating, mind-bending demands of going digital. Seeing each new edition fresh off the press and online was always deeply satisfying, sensing the national and international connections made for Australian artists and audiences.

At peak, we were producing six 56-page broadsheet content-packed issues per year with a print run of 27,000 copies per issue sent to 1000 distribution points across Australia and provided free to readers as well as reaching many readers overseas online.


RealTime, a perpetual festival

RealTime gave us access to a remarkable volume and range of fascinating, sometimes bewildering works that stretched our ever-expanding imaginations. We were often out three or four nights a week to see performances, concerts and exhibitions. It was more often exhilarating than exhausting. As well as writing extensively ourselves, we sought, found and encouraged writers in all states and overseas, many of whom became friends and wrote for us for years. We urged staff members to write, and they did, learning on the job as we had. The work was heady and demanding and totally deadline driven, but mostly like living out a perpetual art festival. And then there were the actual festivals.

RealTime took us on 30 adventures to every capital city in Australia as well as regional centres and to remarkable festivals in London, Bristol, Lyon, Vancouver, Singapore and Jakarta, expanding our sense of what was possible in the arts. The festivals commissioned us to work with teams of local reviewers, often emerging, to produce special RealTime editions every few days for audiences eager for a different take on what they’d seen and for artists receptive to closely-read responses to their creations.

When we ceased publishing RealTime regularly at the end of 2017 and spent 2018 working on the enormous archive — a wealth of documentation of a remarkable period in the arts, of hybridity, cross-, inter- and multi-artform experimentation and discovery, much of it now familiar — it was with regret but also of a job well and happily done. For this we again thank everyone who partnered us, in our 16 Open City productions 1987-96 and with RealTime 1994-2018.


Keith Gallasch

Keith acted, directed and wrote for Adelaide’s Troupe 1976-80 and subsequently wrote for youth theatre companies in the early 80s and for physical theatre company Legs on the Wall in the late 80s. He was a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council 1983-85 and Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company of South Australia 1984-85. In the 1990s and early 2000s Keith wrote for two productions by Nigel Kellaway’s The opera Project, The Berlioz: Our Vampires Ourselves and Tristan, and was dramaturg for four productions by Griffin Theatre Company (including for three AWGIE-winning scripts by Timothy Daly including Kafka Dances) and one for Vitalstatistix (Christine Evans’ My Vicious Angel).


Virginia Baxter

Virginia was a member of Troupe 1978-80. She wrote and performed two independently produced solo works, Just Walk and What Time Is This House (Australasian Drama Studies Association, 1992), in the early 80s in Adelaide. In Sydney she was Chair (1992-99) of Playworks, the National Women Writers’ Workshop and edited the collected papers and performance texts of Playworks’ 10th anniversary event in 1995 as Telling Time (Playworks, 1997). She has worked as a dramaturg on performance and dance projects and was co-curator of the 2002 Antistatic contemporary dance event at Performance Space. She was co-editor with Dr Erin Brannigan of Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers (Wakefield Press-RealTime, 2014).


Open City productions

Tokyo/Now/Thriller (1987); Australia/Japan: A Love Story (ABC Radio, 1987); Photoplay (1987, 1994); The Girl with a Stone in her Shoe (1989); All That Flows (1990); Out There (ABC Radio, 1990); Small Talk in Big Rooms (1991); The Museum of Accidents (1991); The Australian Body: As well as can be expected (ABC Radio 1991-93); Tokyo Two (1992); Sense (1991; 1992); Sum of the Sudden (1993); Murder Suite (ABC Radio 1994); Shop and The Necessary Orgy (1995); Promiscuous Spaces: Joke, Joke (1996); Promiscuous Spaces: Table Talk (1996).

Scripts, images, videos, audio recordings and reviews are currently being prepared to be archived on the RealTime website.


In Repertoire

The Australia Council for the Arts commissioned from RealTime the highly respected and internationally distributed In Repertoire series of seven booklets (1999-2004) which Keith and Virginia edited. These promoted tourable Australian contemporary works in performance, music theatre, dance [two editions], Indigenous arts, new media art and theatre for young people. Some can be found here on the RealTime website.


Explorations: Films Indigènes d’Australie

For the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Film Commission (AFC) Keith and Virginia edited and produced Explorations: Films Indigènes d’Australie (2002), a catalogue in French accompanying a set of eight short films by Australian First Nations filmmakers gifted to the French Government in celebration of the voyage of Nicolas Baudin to Australia.


Dreaming in Motion, A Celebration of Australian Indigenous Filmmaking

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 account of a generation 1990-2007 of now acclaimed filmmakers.


Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers

In 2014, RealTime and Adelaide’s Wakefield Press co-published the book Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers, edited by Erin Brannigan and Virginia; the project was managed by Keith. This collection of essays and interviews focuses 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 substantial volumes available on contemporary independent Australian dance.


Top image credit: Virginia Baxter, Keith Gallasch, In Response: Dialogues with RealTime 2019 photo Sandy Edwards

26 January 2022