What is Amateur? What is Professional?
You may have read some of the discussion that has recently hit the papers and social media concerning the Queensland Theatre Community. In a nutshell there have been discussions about what differentiates professional from amateur theatre.
There are a multitude of models for theatre companies and it has become hard to distinguish professional from non-professional theatre in this state. Payment has often been the starting point for describing what determines ‘professional’, but given the different ways people are paid or not i.e. waged, contracted for performances, stipends, hourly rates, door deals or point systems, this definition becomes complicated. Many artists challenge the paid classification. Kate Foy (actor, Academic, ex-chair of QTC) prefers to talk about ‘professing’ a vocation as a ‘professional’, others like to think of it as an attitude and sets of practices rather than a pay cheque. I firmly believe that financial compensation for work is the cornerstone to a profession.
Regardless of whether the theatre is state supported or commercial, professional theatre allows the audience to demand certain standards of artistic merit, assured work practices and compliance to a moral and ethical framework.
Alan Edwards, QTC Founding Artistic Director, famously referred to QTC as the yardstick by which theatre in Brisbane was measured. The Brisbane cultural landscape has gone through many changes since then but what I take from this statement is that audiences should be able to expect the highest professional standard of the QTC.
But do legally binding contracts, work conditions, national and international networks really matter to the audiences who see our work? In a bargain hunting environment where we search for the best deal we can get online are we prepared to support artists to make a living? Are too many people calling themselves artists and having unsustainable careers?
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a show where the actors are paid and where they are not. Sometimes they are the same actors and creative teams, sometimes working in the venues with similar standard of glossy, slick promotional materials. Sometimes the production values are indistinguishable. Sometimes the ticket prices are the same.
QTC is dedicated to developing a sustainable industry. Through building audiences and creating high quality productions we are bringing new exciting works to our stages, works that reflect of our society and introducing new ideas and influences to Queensland and Australia.
I would be lying if I said we have found the absolute formula to achieve this. We are involved in artistic risk and courage, and need audiences who are equally courageous and excited by the possibility of the artistic endeavour.
The challenge for any company is to support best practice, encourage the new and maintain a relationship with audiences.