Cassie Workman Photo: Brett Boardman

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By Rita Bratovich.

When Phil Spencer and a group of associates started tossing around ideas for a small, alternative arts festival, they kept referring to a “batch” of performers and “batch” of shows. The subliminal messaging lured them down to Batch Brewing Co for some experimental beer drinking and it was here that the name and concept for the Batch Festival finally fermented.

Spencer is the Artistic Associate for Griffin Theatre Company, the creative force behind the inaugural Batch Festival which takes place over three weeks at the SBW Stables Theatre. Batch Brewing Co has done more than share its name; it has come on board as a supporter and will be supplying beer for the festival bar.

It’s a perfect partnership since Batch Brewing Co is a grass roots, independent brewer that is not afraid to experiment with new flavours, while Batch Festival is a program of innovative and vastly diverse works that stretch the boundaries of conventional theatre, both in content and presentation.

“The diversity of applications we got through the door in terms of cultural background, sexual persuasion, political outlook was staggering,” says Spencer in reference to the open submission callout which attracted more than 100 applicants. In curating the festival, Spencer wanted to avoid having a theme or even influencing the vibe of the festival, instead wanting it to evolve as a natural reflection of current society.

“It’s actually about letting the artists, the writers, the performance makers dictate what conversations we should be having on our stages.”

Or off our stages, as is the case with some of the festival’s free sideline offerings.

Glimpse is a collaboration between designer Jonathan Hindmarsh and director Scarlet McGlynn that transforms the company office and back of theatre into an “ethereal urban secret garden”. Patrons are encouraged to wander barefoot through this experiential space in a guided 15 minute conversation/performance tour. When Spencer read the submission for this work, he thought.

“Yeah, we’ve got a back deck, let’s turn it into something extraordinary for a few weeks.”

You Must Come Alone To Read The Last Book On Earth is an object work by Georgia Symons. Led to a secret location, participants will be allowed a restricted time alone to read and contribute to the last book on Earth – and possibly find out what happened to all the other books.

“It’s about world building and kind of layering of story…it’s really beautiful and an added bonus of the festival to be able to come and experience that work,” says Spencer.

Exclusion Zone: A Walking Tour by Caleb Lewis, takes groups of up to 20 people on a role-playing adventure through post apocalyptic Kings Cross. Participants are part of a covert operation to re-map the city and investigate unaccountable crypto-cartographic activity at ground zero.

There are various other free events, designed to augment the festival experience in an accessible and affordable way.

Among the paid events, Spencer nominates Since Ali Died by Omar Musa as an absolute highlight. Spencer believes rapper/poet Musa is “one of the country’s most talented writers and most incandescent live performers” and describes the show as “a really fierce, angry and kind of cathartic storytelling show about, basically what it means to be a Malaysian Muslim Australian living in this country right now.”

Spencer is also thrilled about the inclusion of Melbourne underground cabaret sensation Mama Alto (Club Mama) who has “one of the most unbelievable voices” and is performing a smouldering set list late in the evening.

One award winning artist of whom Spencer, and many peers, speak highly, is Cassie Workman, who’ll be performing her solo, multi disciplinary narrative work, Giantess. 

Giantess tells the story of Sam, a young girl living with her single dad, who is abducted by a car park troll. He takes her back to his place and keeps her captive for 30 years, during which time she develops Stockholm Syndrome. It is not until she acknowledges her destiny of becoming a giant that she is able to escape.

It might be easy to interpret the play as self-referential when you know Workman’s own story. She is transgender and started transitioning only last year. However, while she admits it has autobiographical elements, Workman says Giantess is more a general exploration around transition issues.

“From a transgender perspective I think the themes are universal of not being able to be who you are, presenting something that is a parody of yourself or a caricature,” she explains. “But it’s also very much a fairy tale, a moral fable, and it’s presented as such and I think it’s quite fun and it’s quite cute,” she adds.

Workman spent much of her career on the stand-up comedy circuit, winning awards and a faithful fan base. This current work will incorporate stand-up comedy as well as music, storytelling and illustration. Eclectic and rarefied performance style are associated  with fringe and underground entertainment, but both Workman and Spencer hope to bring it to the mainstream.

“I think the time is right to start a move towards broader audiences, I think it’s a good time to start getting into the world of theatre and even getting into the world of alternative circus and cabaret,” says Workman. “I definitely encourage people to get out and see some weird things and see some experimental things and be inspired by it …”

Spencer hopes that hosting the festival at the well-established Stables Theatre will introduce a new crowd to an edgier genre.

“There’s no point supporting the next generation of artists if we’re not also growing the next generation of audiences, so that’s what Batch is about.”

Apr 11−28, SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross. Various Prices. Tickets & Info: www.griffintheatre.com.au