Archives

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.

History

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

SPLINTERS SHOWS
YEAR TITLE VENUE DATE
1998
The Westie Canberra Festival of Contemporary Art- Gorman House – Canberra - October
1997
Autogeddon Outdoor spectacular Epic Drive In Canberra November
1996
Mysteries Canberra Theatre Playhouse March
Long Time Earth View Gone Academy of Science- Canberra June
Faust Australian National University – ACT October
1995
Major Work
Utopia/Distopia Springbank Island Springbank Island ACT Nov
One off Events
Closing National Festival Theatre Canberra Theatre Centre Oct
Annual Program
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
1994
Major Work
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
1993
Major Works
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
Ongoing enterprises
SPIT  School for Performance Investigation and Training Gorman House, Canberra -
The Mud Club The Zone Nightclub, Canberra
The Terrace Sessions The Terrace Bar, Canberra
1992
Major shows
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
Ongoing enterprises
The Mud Club (nightclub)  The Firehouse, Canberra
1991
Major shows
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
1990
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
1989
Whirled on a Fatal Floor Yarralumla Brickworks Canberra Fringe Festival March
1988
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
1987
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
1986
Massive Love of Risk Mattara Festival, Newcastle Aug – Corroboree Park, Canberra – September
1985
This Fantastic Lake Downer Community Hall, Canberra International Youth Year – August -

Winter of the Rutting Moon by Splinters Theatre 1991