Melbourne Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Brett Sheehy today launched the program for NEON – MTC ’s Festival of Independent Theatre, celebrating Melbourne’s inspiring independent arts community.

NEON features original works from Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, Fraught Outfit, The Hayloft Project, THE RABBLE and Sisters Grimm, each for a ten-day season, as part of this inaugural festival in the Lawler at Southbank Theatre between May and July 2013.

Sheehy said as he unveiled the program, ‘This festival of independent theatre is one of MTC’s most significant initiatives to date. With NEON, we celebrate Melbourne’s unique and thriving independent theatre landscape and its astonishing artists. These five NEON companies represent a huge diversity of talent, and all create work which is thrilling, confronting and entertaining.’

Independent theatre maker, Daniel Schlusser, has an interesting genesis when at the age of 20 he formed a company and began directing.  At that age, he says,  he was obsessed with the German auteur Fassbinder and the idea of an ensemble, a family of artists, started with him…but without the excessive cocaine consumption and sadism! His vision as a theatre maker has certainly evolved over time. Says Schlusser: "I've gone from being quite an ideologue with almost fanatical ideas of what theatre ought to be, you know, it shouldn't be like film, it shouldn't be literature…but that stance has evolved to encompass a much broader idea of what theatre can be. Artists like Bruce Gladwin and Christian Leavesley have been great fellow-travellers here in Australia."

As well as other overseas experiences, Schlusser has  a deep relationship with German theatre makers in particular director Armin Petras. Schlusser posits that Germany is a kind of paradise for Australian theatre makers. "The budgets are great, there is an audience that is big enough to support radical and conservative work and most importantly demands both. The intersection between art and politics is very dynamic. So someone like Petras – he has a prodigious output and can make radical work within the walls of the establishment castle – well, he couldn't exist here exactly. That said, the idea of freedom is not quite right, we have extraordinary creative freedom in Australia; it's a curse and a blessing."

As NEON is devoted to presenting only Melbourne companies and is dedicated solely to the art form of theatre part of the MTC's mission, says Sheehy, is to literally throw open its doors to all of Melbourne and to make Southbank Theatre a place of connection, accessibility and welcome, no matter what form of theatre Melbourne desires. As an original theatre maker, Schlusser feels it is an exciting time to be invited into the MTC. "There is a sense about the place, of renewal and the adrenalin of beginning a new journey," he says. "What we are doing is taking NEON as an invitation to stretch ourselves, to really push at our own boundaries, to bring our existing audience into a different context and give the traditional MTC audience an adventure. I hope their chests will explode with the sheer improbability and beauty of being human."

During the launch Sheehy also announced NEON EXTRA , a diverse program of activities for the public and independent theatre makers, which includes forums, workshops, networking events and mentoring opportunities. ‘Like all great festivals, NEON includes a raft of activities designed to flesh out the experience of the performances, as well as provide a platform for dialogue between theatre makers of our city," he said. "NEON EXTRA will see Southbank Theatre become a ten week focus of discourse and discussion."

NEON opens with Menagerie presented by Daniel Schlusser Ensemble. This bold new production is based on the extraordinary work of one of the giants of the American stage, Tennessee Williams. The latest production from Fraught Outfit promises a theatrical experience of radical and daring intimacy. On the Bodily Education of Young Girls explores the most slippery aspects of innocence and power. The Hayloft Project brings an exciting new work to the stage written, directed and performed by Anne-Louise Sarks and Benedict Hardie. By Their Own Hands offers a stark opus on ancient Greek myths and contemporary humanity, welcoming the audience into an epic yet utterly recognisable world. Story of O is THE RABBLE in their element.  Artistic Directors Kate Davis and Emma Valente have taken Pauline Réage’s famous novel and reinterpreted it as a surreal and erotic visual fantasia. Together they apply fresh perspective to the themes of gender and sexuality, leading the audience through a visceral odyssey. Sisters Grimm close NEON with the story of one woman’s quest to find her strength pitted against the harsh Australian outback. The Sovereign Wife leads us on a journey spanning one hundred and fifty years, from Ballarat to the Simpson Desert..

Neon is a truly innovative, celebratory and winning concept for the arts.

Neon in the Lawler at Southbank Theatre between May and July 2013. Tickets to each show are $25, or grab a NEON PASS to see all five plays for just $100.