In 1984, amidst a collection of community focused groups being established, artists Roxxy Bent, Ollie Black and Margaret Fisher founded Vitalstatistix Theatre Company.
FIn 1984, amidst a collection of community focused groups being established, artists Roxxy Bent, Ollie Black and Margaret Fisher founded Vitalstatistix Theatre Company. Looking back over the company’s 30-year history, current Creative Producer Emma Webb describes this time as having a real sense of opportunity for feminist art. “The personal is political, and what you do in your own life is really important. Initiating organisations, and women organising, was a really important part of that feminist philosophy.” For Bent, Black and Fisher, Webb explains that there was a two-pronged approach in the early days of the company: creating a space for the support of women artists in a cultural environment where women and women’s voices were often sidelined; and creating political work to educate the community about sexism and other important issues of the day. As with any small arts organisation, Vitalstatistix’s history has been rocky. They’ve lost – but always regained – funding multiple times over their history, and partially through this, and through the changing tide of theatre, politics, and feminism in Australia, it’s found itself operating in many different guises. “It was quite feasible that at any point throughout its history that the company might not have survived,” says Webb. “Small-to-medium sized companies have a really hard time surviving. “Let alone anything else that might affect an arts company’s ability to survive, but on top of that a company that is a feminist organisation, that’s based in a working class suburb like the Port [Adelaide], and that has produced a lot of political work. “It’s kind of remarkable, in some ways,” she says, “that it’s survived and thriving.” Since the departure of the founding members in the mid-90s, the company has been led by Catherine Fitzgerald, Maude Davey, Jane Fuller and, now, Webb. Talking to Webb, you get a real sense she carries the history of the organisation with her, and she speaks passionately about their anniversary celebration series Her Story, where each of the artistic directors will take to Waterside Workers Hall for a Sunday Afternoon, beginning with the founders on Sunday, March 30. Says Webb: “I’m really interested in hearing personal perspectives and personal experiences about what it was like to be the AD [artistic director] at that time, and why them at that time? What impact has it had on them personally to work with this company?” “It’s been really interesting to reflect on the different eras of the company because they are really distinct. There is a real line through in terms of the support for women artists and the place of the company of the local community,” but she says, “they’ve all really put a big stamp on the company.” Under Webb, audiences at Waterside Workers Hall might see a tour of a contemporary Australian work developed interstate, a debut work from an independent company created in association with Vitalstatistix, or development of a show at the beginning of its life. For Webb, the common thread running through all of these programs is a curatorial vision, and the relationships the company has with the artist. “We are a small company, and so those relationships to us are quite intense, and they’re quite sepcialised in a sense,” she says. “The artists that we work with really have an impact on the feel and culture of the company over time.” It’s been the ability of the company to change focus as the national arts scene has developed, says Webb, which allowed the company to constantly evolve. For Webb, it’s important the company continues to support work that is “investigative, political, is made in interesting ways, and is culturally relevant”. The company has toured around the country and performed at various South Australia venues over its 30 years but central to the company’s identity is its Port Adelaide home since the early 90s, the Waterside Workers Hall. Webb explains, “it was a stroke of genius for the wharfies to go ‘let’s have this company come into this hall’. It’s kept it vibrant and going and alive.” Webb and the other women who have led the company and the artists, now numbering in the hundreds, who have created and presented in the hall, have kept this vibrancy alive. Waterside, lovingly describes Webb, is a place “artists have come in and really protected and loved and looked after, and then continually make new memories and new work. It keeps the hall alive.” Hopefully, there are many more years of new memories and new work to come. Her Story: Sunday Sessions Sunday, March 30 (3-5pm) Waterside, 11 Nile St, Port Adelaide (entry: $5) vitalstatistixtheatrecompany.blogspot.com.au