Toby Sullivan, Associate Producer, Malthouse Theatre, talks about the importance of fostering talent and the very long history, and sound reputation, that Malthouse Theatre has in the area of developing skills and mentoring emerging artists.

Malthouse Theatre has a long history of supporting the emerging and independent sector and its artists. Since the company became Malthouse Theatre under direction of Michael Kantor and Stephen Armstrong in 2003, the organisation has been underpinned by a partnership with the broader industry, including emerging and independent artists and the small to medium sector. We aim to be responsive and flexible to in the way that we work with this sector; to be truly creative you have to be flexible in your processes and approaches. The Besen Family Artist Program is just one program.

Perhaps key to our genuine link with this sector is our permeating commitment to provide mainstage opportunities to these artists. We don’t purely see our role as offering support to the broader sector. We believe it’s important to allow the work of independent artists to be experienced by larger audiences in Melbourne. This underpins Malthouse Theatre’s commitment to cultivating and supporting theatre artists who have ‘out of the box’ (alternate) ideas by providing professional development opportunities, and supporting the development and production of new ideas by collaborating with artists and companies from the independent sector.

The Besen Family Artist Program is a key example of this commitment to offering mainstage access to emerging talent who have already identified themselves as ambitious artists in the local community. The program has been in place since 2005 and had provided a rare and unique opportunity to more than 70 artists who have been involved across a variety of disciplines that include directing, writing, workshop and wardrobe, dramaturgy, composition and stage design. Alumni include Todd MacDonald, Artistic Director of La Boite Theatre Company (BFAP Directing, 2007); Mark Pritchard (2013) current Dramaturg at Malthouse Theatre and Anne-Louise Sarks, a Besen Placement in ‐, who was the Artistic Director of independent company The Hayloft Project, went on to be Female Director in Residence, then resident director at Belvoir, is now directing 2016’s The Fiery Maze.

What is particularly gratifying when you review the history of this program, is the genuine through-line for placements, out of the program into other Malthouse Theatre positions (such as the Female Director in Residence, as was the case for Anne-Louise Sarks, Clare Watson, Adena Jacobs and Samara Hersch), as well as other companies, and the Malthouse Theatre mainstage. This is not a piecemeal or tick-box program, but a substantial, sincere and productive investment in ensuring the Australian Theatre industry has its doors open to new ideas and new artists. Some examples include:

– Clare Watson
o Direction Besen Placement in 2006
o Female Director in Residence 2013
o Director of Gonzo in Season 2016)

– Adena Jacobs
o Direction Besen Placement in 2012
o We then remounted her production Persona, presented by her independent company Fraught Outfit
o She became resident director at Belvoir
o She directed Antigone on the mainstage this year

– Eugyeene Teh
o Design Besen Placement in 2014
o Designed Meme Girls in 2015
o He will Design Blaque Showgirls in 2016
There’s no secret recipe for those applying for a placement. I’d recommend prospective applicants look at the history of the program, consider the sort of career trajectory the program potentially offers, to which I’ve alluded above, and make a case for how they can contribute to that ongoing story.

The Besen Family Artist Program is not only about a pathways into Malthouse Theatre, but it is also about providing opportunities for artists that will have maximum impact on their own development and thinking. We seek out artists that share the same aspirations we have, and if their involvement in the Besen Family Artist Program builds an ongoing relationship with the company then that is something to be celebrated, but we are also very proud of supporting artists who then continue their own ideas and practice in the wider community (they don’t have to return to Malthouse Theatre for the story to be a success).

We’ve advertised a number of specific placements of course, so applicants are encouraged to respond to the specific opportunities, specific mentors and individual shows that are listed there; but if someone has a burning passion in another area or wants to pursue a particular relationship with a creative mentor, then by all means, we are sufficiently flexible to consider such an application, or at least note their interest.

The detail of every placement is different. Each placement works out a plan with their mentor individually. But broadly, a placement is matched with a key creative on a Malthouse Theatre show, and they shadow them through the whole development, rehearsal and production process.

Placements have regular one-on-one meetings with their mentor, while observing the process from development, through rehearsals to opening night, including rehearsals in the theatre. They are involved in conversations in the rehearsal room and at production meetings, and become a member of the team.

Placements are provided a fee, so they can have this experience full time, and fully experience the machinations of a how a new Malthouse Theatre work is created. As far as I’m aware, no other company offers a paid placement that takes open applications.

It’s a rare opportunity to snoop on the process and personalities, and share the ideas, experiences and talents, involved in making of a major Australian theatre work, during the year.

**Malthouse Theatre recently announced the appointment of its 2015 female director in residence – Samara Hersch**

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