• Interview from the Audrey Journal – Antoinette Barbouttis

Over the last 2 years emerging Greek-Australian designer/theatre-maker and APDG member Antoinette Barbouttis has been talking to young female designers for a series of interviews for Audrey online magazine.

Interviews by Antoinette Barbouttis originally published online in Audrey Journal AudreyJournal.com.au, kindly republished here with their permission.

We are thrilled to be able to include these interviews over future APDG newsletters, beginning here with an introduction to Antoinette who, since completing her MFA in Design for Performance at NIDA in 2017 has put her talents to ‘shapeshifting through theatre’: designing and acting (Puntila/Matti – which landed her a Sydney Theatre Award nomination for her performance); painting (winner of the acclaimed Black Swan Portrait Prize and exhibiting at Liverpool Street Gallery; writing (Cool Pool Party, “håmlet”- a new australian play); and performing in both. “håmlet”- a new australian play – was nominated for the Philip Parson’s Award in 2018 for writing. In a newer iteration, it will be performed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Antoinette in Puntila Matti – Photograph by Rupert Reid


Antoinette – what inspired you to interview other young female theatre-makers? 

On graduating from NIDA and seeing a lot of main-stage theatre I was tired of seeing male designers lay down floors for women to be abused, sexually assaulted and raped on. In the last few years some of this has changed, however there are still deeply entrenched systemic problems. Although most NIDA design graduates are female, at a main-stage (professional) level gender parity for set design is still not being met. Women, by graduate rates, should be dominating this industry. Those few female designers who are in work are cycling our small, yet vital, industry.

I wanted to challenge this by championing those young women whose resilience has manifested as a catalyst for change. To interrogate their methodologies, struggles, awareness and articulation in the field of design was an outcome I aimed to achieve from the conversations. Hopefully one day, this conversation will pass – but I don’t suspect in the near future.

For you as a designer/actor/writer/artist… what are the links between these creative forms for you?

The chameleon in art practices is not unorthodox – for me to be designer/actor/writer/artist also fits firmly in the contemporary notion of Scenography. However, in order to do this, hierarchies in Australian theatre need to shift. For me subverting or questioning a regimented status quo of theatre is a valid pathway.

Design as part of art practice can be a reaction to media, socio-cultural landscape and the political milieu. Any art in any form is able to play in this landscape. When theatre design is limited to text-based theatre – and a neo-colonial British text that does not resonate with me – then my hand is used instead of words; my body, voice and form can express my artistic vision. There is an aspect of conventional theatre pedagogy employed by dramatic institutions that does not want this, so I went back to my art school training and tied in notions of dada, post-modern and post-dramatic theatre. To some, this was nonsense (I’m still not taken very seriously).

In a post-truth era, theatre/art’s role in truth is paramount. The idea that the audience is unseen is perhaps our biggest failure. They must be complicit. I strive to produce theatre and art that achieves this.

What inspired you to write these interviews with other young female theatre-makers?

On graduating NIDA, unemployment was inevitable. I was tired of seeing male designers lay down floors for women to be abused, sexually assaulted and raped on. In the last few years much of this has changed, however there are deeply entrenched systemic problems. While most NIDA design graduates are female, at a Mainstage level- parity for set design is still not being met. Those women in work, were often three or four, cycling our small, yet vital, industry. Challenging this by championing those whose resilience has manifested as a catalyst for change offered a positive response. Interrogating their methodologies, struggles, awareness and articulation in the field of design was an outcome I aimed to achieve from the conversations. Women, by graduate rates, should be dominating this industry. Hopefully one day, this conversation will pass but I don’t suspect in the near future.

This introduction leads on to Antoinette’s first interview – with designer Anna Gardiner.

Designer/actor/writer/artist fit firmly in the contemporary notion Scenography –an Australia artistic xenophobia of continental European theatre. Contemporary practices are paradigm-shifting, that nothing new to art. The chameleon in art practices is not unorthodox. So, subverting or questioning the status quo of such a regimented structure of theatre should be plain to see as a pathway. However, in order to do this, hierarchies in Australian theatre should be shifting too. And this is not so much just an artistic venture.

Vessels of design and beyond can act as a reaction to media, socio-cultural landscape and the political milieu. Any art in any form has access to play a as a partition to this. When set design is limited to text, and a neo-colonial British text does not resonate- then a hand is used for words. And in my case, when no one wants to say those words (they incite a resistance to the status quo), then it is obvious that one’s body, voice and form can accelerate an artistic vision. There is a pedagogy employed by dramatic institutions that does not want this, but it should. I went back to my art school training and tied in notions of dada, post-modern and post-dramatic theatre. To some, this was nonsense (I’m still not taken very seriously).

To counteract this, I had to continue my art practice- a practice that has a tangible product outcome that can express rigour immediately. Tenebrism from theatre lighting, portraits from character all come into my fine art.

Technology is in the clutch of our hands, accessible at any point in time. For art or theatre to overcome this is near impossible. In a post-truth era, theatre/art’s role in truth is paramount. The idea that the audience is unseen is perhaps our biggest failure. They must be complicit. I strive to produce theatre and art that achieves this.

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