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Short+Sweet Theatre 2015

By Emma Salkild

Short+Sweet Theatre, the world’s largest short-play festival, is underway and after a bumpy ride it has managed to hit the ground running.

Since it was founded in 2002 at the King Street Theatre, Short+Sweet has gone on to a variety of venues including the Seymour Centre in Chippendale and the now-closed Sidetrack Theatre in Marrickville.

Over the last 14 years the festival has continued to grow at a steady pace. While Sydneysiders are only too eager to participate in the festival both as audience members and practitioners, the organisers have continued to struggle with securing a suitable venue.

Late last year City Hub reported that both, “The Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst and Short+Sweet founder, Mark Cleary, have both been driven out of venues due to Sydney being one of the most expensive cities in the world.”

The City of Sydney told Tap Gallery Director Lesley Dimmick that she didn’t have the correct zoning for the upstairs space and needed to cease using it as a theatre after she had spent $10,000 on renovations to make her theatre fire-compliant.

Mark Cleary faced similar problems with Marrickville Council. A Council spokesperson told City Hub last year, “During the inspection of 8 July, Council officers discovered that the premises were being used for residential purposes without the necessary approval and without the necessary fire safety controls in place.” The spokesperson also said Short+Sweet’s eviction was exclusively a matter of safety. Mr Cleary told City Hub it was his understanding that Council had known he was using his office as living quarters for over a decade.

While several other local government areas have zoning provisions to allow spaces for artists to both live and work, Marrickville currently does not allow this in any capacity, making it very difficult for artists to operate in the area.

However, despite all this the festival is thriving and this year sees Short+Sweet Theatre moving back into Marrickville to the Factory Theatre. It will also be using New Theatre in Newtown.

“This year I am most excited about our change in venue,” says this year’s Festival Director Peter Malicki. If the New Theatre offers a stable, reputable foundation for the festival then the Factory Theatre is the more adventurous, fresh breath of air. “It is quite modern. Their bread and butter is comedy and bands, but we are coming in and transforming the space to an actual theatre space which is really fun and interesting.”

This year is Malicki’s fourth year as Festival Director, but he is also a prolific writer who is known as one of Australia’s leading new generations of playwrights. His plays have won 17 national and international awards and he has had 50 different scripts performed in productions around the globe. On January 15, punters will be treated to a free masterclass he is facilitating on writing short plays.

The playwright explains that every year the overall quality of the festival increases, especially people’s short-form playwriting skills. “The masterclasses are a factor but overall it’s the exposure to ten-minute plays.”

Short+Sweet festivals are not only found across Australia including Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne, but also across the pond to various Asian countries which gives Sydneysiders the chance to travel both nationally and internationally. “There is opportunity for cross-pollination. So winners from Short + Sweet Chennai in India are sent here and vice versa. The same goes for example with Melbourne and Canberra. We are always sending winners to go interstate for the festival.” The winning play from last year’s festival in Kuala Lumpur is performing next month in Sydney with its original overseas cast.

Even though the festival is expanding and always evolving, Malicki maintains the heart of it has stayed the same. “Our main aim is to put on a good quality show and we hope the cast and crew walk out having a positive experience. Particularly for the artist, something I always love seeing is the networking that happens and the friendships and professional relationships that build out of it. Very often the people who meet in the dressing room or at rehearsal will go on to produce work in the Sydney Fringe or an independent show somewhere. So I always hope that it enables them to continue working.”

Malicki describes the event as fun, interactive and full of variety and says his hope for festivalgoers is that they have a good time. “[Audiences] can come along and see ten different plays on any night at a bargain price,” he continues. “What we love is that on the way home there is always a discussion about each play, weighing up its merits. If we can get anything more than that, we’d love for them to consider getting more involved in theatre and perhaps Short + Sweet next year. We always have room for more.”

New Theatre, 542 King Street Newtown, tickets from $28/33,