Splinters Theatre of Spectacle
Splinters Theatre of Spectacle was a performance troupe based in Canberra that was renowned for large outdoor spectacles, site-specific performance and cutting edge theatre. Between 1985 and 1998, Splinters produced more than 20 works that played at theatres and festivals around the country and provided a springboard for a many individual artists and a number of successful companies. The company’s works are listed in the AusStage database and a Wikipedia entry is here. Some of the most notable productions include:
- Cathedral of Flesh, Old Adelaide Gaol, Adelaide Fringe Festival 1992 – awarded Best Promenade Theatre of the 1992 Festival and Fringe by the Adelaide Advertiser.
- Guardians of the Concourse – commissioned by Robyn Archer for the 1993 National Festival of Australian Theatre.
- ICON, commissioned performance for the 1993 Sydney Opera House 20th Anniversary.
- 25 Years of Performance Art in Australia, 1994 – commissioned performance for the opening of the exhibition curated by Nic Waterlow at Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales.
- Village of Captive Souls – 1994 tour to Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra, Deniliquin, Hay and Albury NSW, awarded one of the first Australian Government Playing Australia touring grants.
- Faust – 1996 commission for the Australian National University 50th Anniversary, including an original score by Larry Sitsky.
Splinters was an ever-evolving collective of writers, musicians, visual and performance artists. Using techniques of theatre, dance, performance art, puppetry, pyrotechnics, sculpture, music, and crowd manipulation. The often massive major works were interspersed with performance art, more conventional presentations in theatres, regular cabaret style events and numerous development workshops. It provided a springboard for many successful artists and companies including Snuff Puppets, ODD Productions, CIA Inc., Red Cabbage, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, Temple State/Spectacle Art Inc., and The Village Festival.
Splinters was founded in 1985 by Patrick Troy, David Branson, Ross Cameron and John Utans. Literally hundreds performed with the company over the years, including many young performers fostered by Splinters members working as tutors with Canberra Youth Theatre. Musicians in the group played in many bands, some going on to national and international success. Several key members were trained at the Canberra School of Art driving the strong visual style and resulting in the striking posters that were a hallmark of Splinters.
In the early days the small initial Splinters group lived on the road, touring extensively to Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and earning a reputation for fearless and provocative work, with the Canberra Times describing 1988’s Gumboot Full of Blood as “Too extreme… too violent, too shocking.” A feature of Splinters was the immersive, journey-style events that dissolved the “fourth wall” between audience and performers, which drew inspiration from themed history days, such as a Roman Carnival day, held at Watson High School.
The ground breaking Cathedral of Flesh at the Old Adelaide Gaol in 1992 marked a new phase, in which groups of artists were invited to bring already made material and then work together to devise an overarching performance in response to the site, binding the elements together. Named by the Adelaide Advertiser as Best Promenade Theatre of both the 1992 Fringe and main Adelaide Festival, it was followed by the departure of the Snuff Puppets crew to seek their fortunes in Melbourne and a realignment of the company to the leadership of Troy, Branson and Stuart Vaskess.
As the company gained recognition, it brought significant government funding, collaborations and commissions, the first of which—Guardians of the Concourse, commissioned by Robyn Archer for the 1993 National Festival of Australian Theatre—was performed in Civic Square to crowds of thousands. The same year, Splinters was invited to perform as part of the 20th Anniversary celebration for the Sydney Opera House, and in 1994 received the honour of being invited create a performance for the opening of the exhibition 25 Years of Performance Art in Australia.
In theatre terms, Splinters was strongly connected to the group of experimental companies that arose around Australia in the 1980s including The Sydney Front, Open City, Entr’Acte and Sidetrack Theatre, exploring collaborative, cross-art form approaches and making use of new media and techniques. Splinters was preeminent among a younger, anarchistic second wave of groups such as the Post Arrivalists in Sydney and Imagineers in Melbourne, and the meeting of the three groups at the 1992 Adelaide Fringe catalysed an exceptional creative outpouring nationally in the following years. Splinters also drew inspiration from La Fura dels Baus (Spain), Dogtroep (Netherlands), Welfare State (UK) and Survival Research Laboratories (USA).
Some notable productions in the later period include one of the first productions at the newly built Street Theatre, The Second Scream by Graham Henderson, and a commission in 1996 to produce the closing ceremony and final season, of Mysteries by Knut Hamsen, at the old Canberra Playhouse before it was demolished and rebuilt. The last production under the Splinters banner was in 1998, by which time the key members of the company had left to pursue careers elsewhere. Patrick Troy wrote “A potted history of Splinters Theatre of Spectacle” for the 2013 exhibition Massive Love of Risk: the art of Splinters Theatre of Spectacle at the Canberera Museum and Gallery.
The tragic death of David Branson in a car accident in December 2001 definitively marked the end of the Splinters era. Fortunately for posterity, David kept everything: reviews, scripts, production notes, posters and handbills, photographs, videos, office records and more. These now form the basis of the David Branson Papers at the ACT Heritage Library, making the work of Splinters accessible once more and allowing for a proper assessment of its impact in Canberra in terms of theatre practice and the broader cultural life of the city.
For those few years Splinters radiated energy into Canberra’s cultural life as no group of artists before or since, or is likely ever to do so again. A reunion of Splinters members created a new work Dirt Babylon for The Village Festival in Glebe Park in March 2013, and an online Splinters Theatre archive has been created.
List of Productions
|The Westie||Canberra Festival of Contemporary Art- Gorman House – Canberra -||October|
|Autogeddon Outdoor spectacular||Epic Drive In Canberra||November|
|Mysteries||Canberra Theatre Playhouse||March|
|Long Time Earth View Gone||Academy of Science- Canberra||June|
|Faust||Australian National University – ACT||October|
|Utopia/Distopia Springbank Island||Springbank Island ACT||Nov|
|One off Events|
|Closing National Festival Theatre||Canberra Theatre Centre||Oct|
|Workshop/Gallery||Old Canberra Brickworks Feb -||Feb – Dec|
|School for Performance Investigation||Gorman House Arts Centre||Feb – ongoing|
|Ballisticks Street Theatre ACT Sites May, ongoing|
|Second Stage Gorman House Arts Centre Feb., ongoing|
|As “Pure Theatre”|
|The Second Scream||The Street Theatre||Mar|
|Tone Settings||Epicentre Byron Bay||July|
|The Oracle||Weston Park Maze||Dec|
|Tuggeranong Community Festival – November||Lake Tuggeranong||Nov|
|Village of Captive Souls||Wagga Wagga – Cootamundra- Hay – Deniliquin – Wodonga||June|
|One off Events|
|Regional Youth Arts Festival||Wagga Wagga||September|
|25 years of Performance Art exhibition opening||Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney||May|
|The Fertile Millenia National Folk Festival,||Exhibition Park (EPIC)||April|
|Dragon Boat Festival Opening||Canberra Theatre Centre||March|
|Guardians of the Concourse – October||National Festival of Australian Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre Plaza||October|
|Thirst is a place – September||Exhibition Park, Canberra|
|One-off and guerilla performances|
|Summernats National Street Machine Exhibition||Exhibition Park, Canberra||December|
|ICON Sydney Opera House 20th Anniversary – July||July|
|The Censorship of Hysteria||Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney||June|
|An Ideological Sound||National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park, Canberra||March|
|SPIT School for Performance Investigation and Training||Gorman House, Canberra -|
|The Mud Club||The Zone Nightclub, Canberra|
|The Terrace Sessions||The Terrace Bar, Canberra|
|Flowers of Gold / Beserkii Carnival||Old Kingston Bus Depot, Canberra||December|
|Seen To Be Gone – Scent of the Wind||The Performance Space, Sydney||July|
|Stray Toasters||Theatre 3, Canberra||June|
|Cathedral of Flesh||Old Adelaide Gaol, Adelaide Festival Fringe||Feb/Mar|
|Absentia Glebe Park,||Canberra Festival||Mar|
|One-off and Guerilla performances|
|As Free As A Bird -||Contemporary Performance Week, Sidetrack Theatre, Sydney||October|
|Furore||Open Performance Week – The Performance Space, Sydney|
|Rite of Venus (Thelemic ritual)||Newtown Town Hall, Sydney|
|Untitled||Benalla Art Gallery||February|
|Spontaneous Combustion Fringe Club, Adelaide March|
|Neo-Governmentals||SCAT TV Test Broadcast, Adelaide||February|
|The Mud Club (nightclub)||The Firehouse, Canberra|
|Third World Café||Gorman House , Canberra|
|Winter of the Rutting Moon||Performance Space, Sydney|
|Roading Home to Aunty||Gorman House, Canberra|
|In Tristitia Hilaris In Hilaritate Tristis||Gorman House, Canberra; Canberra Schools Tour|
|One-off and Guerilla performances|
|The Lolly Show||Tuggeranong Festival, ACT|
|Political Action||Sydney electorates|
|Government Issue||Parliament House, Canberra|
|Noise||Institute of the Arts, Canberra|
|Parade||Fringe Festival, Melbourne|
|Soap||NADIE Conference, Canberra|
|Debacle 1||Contemporary Art Space, Canberra|
|Debacle 2||Memorial Hall, Mittagong|
|As “Snuff Puppets”|
|Third World Cafe||Gorman House, Canberra|
|Mutter Courage||Australian National Playwrights’ Conference – ANU Arts Centre Canberra|
|The Happy Hermaphrodite||Australian National Gallery – Sculpture Garden|
|The Riot Act||Science & Technology Centre – Belconnen Festival – Woden Festival – Tuggeranong Festival (All ACT)|
|Fuck Jesus Coke||Woodmans Inn, Adelaide Fringe Festival|
|Theatrical Fiasco||Splinters Venue (BITE), Melbourne|
|Howling in the Halls of Night||The Performance Space, Sydney – Causeway Hall, Canberra|
|Whirled on a Fatal Floor||Yarralumla Brickworks Canberra Fringe Festival||March|
|The Naked Splinter||200 Gertrude Street Gallery, Melbourne|
|Gumboot Full of Blood||John Edmund Theatre, Adelaide Fringe Festival Le Club Foote, Adelaide – Apr-Aug-||Apr-Aug|
|No Tickee / No Shirtee||Guild Theatre, University of Melbourne – Next Wave Festival||Aug|
|The Crime of Yelling||Fremantle Fringe Festival, Prism Galleries Feb-Apr – Gardeners Cottage, Canberra|
|Cry Stinking Fish||Seamans Mission, Port Melbourne, Spoleto Festival Gorman House, Canberra||Aug – Oct|
|Massive Love of Risk||Mattara Festival, Newcastle Aug – Corroboree Park, Canberra – September|
|This Fantastic Lake||Downer Community Hall, Canberra International Youth Year – August -|