It’s that time of year in Adelaide again. Late summer and spring in the southern capital is the time when most of the performers and comedians seem to converge on a rough hectare in the centre of Adelaide for the riot of content that is Adelaide Fringe.

But alongside the street performers and the Spigeltents runs a more business-like event, arguably more important to the Australian performing art sector.

It’s the Australian Performing Arts Market, or APAM as everyone calls it. Bringing more than 600 delegates from around the world to Adelaide’s Festival Centre (starting on Sunday until March 1), APAM is a kind of trade fair of the Australian stage, putting presenters, promoters and programmers in touch with artists and producers with the hope of securing shows, seasons and tours.

As APAM event producer Ian Scobie told Crikey, this year’s market is the biggest ever: “We’re well past our capacity of 600 delegates and we’ve had to close off registration. We’ve got an extensive program of Australian work, ready to tour, and people ready to talk about their new productions that they’re trying to get interest in.

“Of the 600-odd delegates, nearly half of those are international [including delegations from South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Chile]. We certainly aim to get groups that work together, so if you try to organise a tour to a region, you get people from different venues who regularly work together to see the work, so people also go home and you’ve got more of a collective sense of the work that’s going on Australia.”

Scobie says there are no stand-out trends in the sort of work that gets picked up for international tour. “It’s fairly varied,” he observed.

“I guess one of the success stories over a period would be Circa from Queensland. They really are highly regarded internationally as a leading contemporary circus and physical theatre company. They tour extensively in Europe now; they’ve got an agent in the US.

“When they first started coming to APAM, not only weren’t they so well known, but they’d admit as well they hadn’t quite worked out the business of how you tour. One of the things the market does provide is a rapid training ground.”

Circa’s general manager Brett Howe says the troupe has attended “six or seven” APAM’s since 2002. The company has been able to build an impressive international touring presence that marks it as one of Australia’s most successful performing arts exports.

Howe explained APAM is a little bit like speed dating: “We don’t approach the market with the intent of doing a deal at the market. The intent of coming to the market is to build relationships and meet people. The likelihood is you’ll meet someone and it’ll take three or four or five other conversations before a deal is struck. But what we want to do is be able to form a relationship that talks about, are they right for us and are we right for them to continue working together; is there a simpatico there that makes sense?

“So while deals do get done at the markets and there are definite outcomes at the markets, the biggest thing for us when we approach a market isn’t about running up to every presenter in the world and saying ‘look at us’, that’s unrealistic. The thing is finding out about presenters and finding out what they want and what they’re interested in, it’s kind of like a dating methodology. Rarely do you get to third base on the first date, but you exchange numbers and you grow the relationship from there.”

And the people that companies want to meet are the international presenters like Fruzsina Szép, program director of Hungary’s massive Sziget Festival.

“I am hoping to see loads of innovative exciting productions,” she told Crikey, “some that I can invite in a couple of years to play at our festival.” Szép has a long-term interest in Australian music, recently booking Empire of the Sun to play at Sziget. “I’m a huge fan,” she said. “I am also a huge fan of production company Circa, and I am in contact with them; they have been to Sziget already.” This year she’s booked well-credentialled roots act Blue King Brown and Melbourne gypsy-folksters The Barons of Tang.

It’s important for Szép to see a live performance before she books an act, which is why the many showcase performances at APAM are useful. “I don’t invite acts I haven’t seen live on stage, it’s very different if you hear somebody on a CD or if you watch a video clip on the internet,” she said.

“I like to see how the artists are reacting with the audience, to sit in the audience, to feel the energy that comes from the stage, production-wise, artistically, and also I like to watch the impressions of the audience, how they react to a performance that they watch, so these are my measures,” she said. “Really, it’s the energy.”

If Szép likes an act enough, she’ll open discussions with their management. “I would approach the management or the agent, then discuss the detail: how big is the travelling party, are they in Europe in August, and discuss the technical needs and the financial conditions. When I fall in love with a production, I usually immediately approach them,” she said.

Michael Mushalla is another international delegate attending APAM this year. The president of New York-based Double M Arts and Events, Mushalla represents top-shelf international acts such as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the National Theatre of Scotland.

“I specialise in people who are creating new work, the progenitors of new work,” he told Crikey, “so I have a very small and select roster of artists I represent worldwide.”

Mushalla says APAM is “a great way to meet with the community in the arts in Australia”. He’s interested in managers and programmers as well as artists here. Talking to a wide range of delegates allows him to gauge the local scene. “It gives a real sense of where things are in Australia at the moment,” he said.

Mushalla is not looking for a particular genre or style of act — “I’m an open book,” he quipped. But, like Szép, it’s critical to experience a performance live. “It’s such an individual thing: go into a room, let the lights go down and have that experience,” he said. “That’s why I’m coming.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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