Back to all News

In Conversation with Next Wave Festival Creative Producer Erica McCalman

"The Abbotsford Convent is no exception. The diverse gathering of people who ebb and flow through the site bring an exciting energy, the unique history and architecture of the buildings, the beautiful grounds and the presence of the Wurundjeri elders create a place unlike any other in the heart of Melbourne. The possibilities are endless if you’re creative."

The diverse group of artists selected for Next Wave Festival 2018 converged on the Abbotsford Convent last month to continue their year-long learning program Kickstart Helix. Combining professional development, creative discussion and critical feedback, Kickstart Helix helps Next Wave artists and producers develop their work for the festival program in May 2018. We speak to the festival’s Creative Producer Erica McCalman about the process, what the artists learn from professionals and each other, and how Next Wave Festival 2018 might be shaping up.

As part of the selection process for Kickstart Helix, you travelled across the country last year to meet with prospective artists. What were you looking for and what commonalities tie this seemingly diverse group together?

Travelling to meet with artists was an exciting journey! Between Georgie (Meagher, Next Wave Artistic Director) and myself, we had one-on-one conversations with over 90 artists, and presented information sessions to over 300 people in 9 cities around Australia. The country is vast, inhabiting a space which is home to hundreds of First Nations mobs, modern and new Australians on a land mass the size of a continent. Every Kickstart Helix participant is eager to create ambitious new work and launch their practice through a supercharged learning and presentation opportunity. They bring their own strengths and experience from their places of origin, which is why Next Wave can truly say we present the next generation of Australian art.

Does the Kickstart Helix program change the focus on the types of artists it works with each season? How do you try and keep each Festival different from the last?

Our focus remains on ensuring we have a generous spread of works from all art forms. Because we operate mainly on an open call model, it is striking how the collective unconscious comes into play each round. There are always a few strong threads of works which are unique to the time and space the festival occurs in because good artists are always tuned to what is happening within the culture and thinking about what they can bring to that. Each Next Wave is different from the last because we are constantly bringing the next conversation from the artists to the fore.

As well as artists, you’ve brought producers into the fold for this Kickstart Helix. How are they being integrated into the workshops and what will they be delivering for Next Wave Festival 2018?

We have been very fortunate to have incredible speakers from the industry come in to the intensives to speak about their practice as programmers, producers, festival directors and other arts management disciplines to expand the helix producers’ knowledge. Kickstart Helix is unique in that the intensive sessions are largely presented in a ‘choose your own adventure’ format, which allows the four streams – artist, producer, curator and writer – to self-select which pathway works best for them. This has allowed the producers to learn on their own terms alongside who I believe are the best teachers – the artists themselves. The helix producers will also be attending the Australian Theatre Forum and the Australian Performing Arts Market as part of their program. As for their contribution to the festival… you will have to come in 2018 and see!

The 2016 Next Wave Festival forwent the use of a festival theme. Are Kickstart Helix artists operating under a similarly broad directive for 2018?

I think we can all agree the world has been experiencing a cycle of rapid change. Part of an artists’ role is to articulate the times we live in and a path through. I really do see creatives as leaders in times like this. I wanted the artists to have the space to evolve their projects and ideas throughout the development period to make sure they are able to present work which is contemporary to May 2018.

You recently undertook an intensive three-day workshop with the artists at Abbotsford Convent. What have you covered with the artists so far and what are the next steps in the Kickstart Helix process?

The Abbotsford Convent workshops have been host to the most exciting part of the development process: the Kickstart Helix group completed their professional development program. On day two and three we were joined by the new group of festival artists curated through our Next Wave x program for our festival ALL IN. Kickstart Helix covered everything from killer grant writing, project planning, deeper conversations about art and introductions to key industry people. The ALL IN was the start of the next part of the process. We spent two days at the Convent as an entire festival plotting out the steps we will all take toward May 2018.

Beyond mentorship and guidance, what does Kickstart Helix provide participating artists?

Through the intensives the Kickstart Helix group have created a wonderful supportive cohort of fellow arts practitioners who have exchanged their knowledge, pushed and challenged each other, shared their processes and had a really great time along the way. Each year’s group dynamic is as unique as the people who are in it and I am constantly inspired by the generosity the artists bring to each other.

Does Kickstart Helix sometimes provide a scary reality check for emerging artists who aren’t familiar with the budgeting, marketing and administrative tasks associated with producing works as part of a large-scale festival?

I like to think of the Next Wave experience as one which is challenging and career changing paired with an unprecedented level of hands-on support. Each artist has an Associate Producer from Next Wave assigned to them from the moment the Kickstart Helix program begins to after the festival. Self-producing your work can be a bit scary and daunting at times, but the AP’s and the entire Next Wave team are here to help every step of the way. It’s a commitment for both the artist and Next Wave: we want our alumni to confidently go on to present their best work at the festival and beyond.

Next Wave prides itself on developing works in unusual spaces, from private homes and sports clubs, to wheat silos and underneath freeways. How does the Abbotsford Convent stack-up as a unique space for the workshops and as a festival site?

Next Wave is a place to push what art can be, where it takes place, and who will be watching. The Abbotsford Convent is no exception. The diverse gathering of people who ebb and flow through the site bring an exciting energy, the unique history and architecture of the buildings, the beautiful grounds and the presence of the Wurundjeri elders create a place unlike any other in the heart of Melbourne. The possibilities are endless if you’re creative.

Beyond selecting the artists for the Kickstart Helix development program, how else does your role as Creative Producer help shape the Next Wave Festival and its content?

I have been an enthusiastic festival participant for a very long time, and I see festivals as a place of convergence, celebration and community. I’m genuinely humbled to produce Next Wave along with my colleagues. My role as Creative Producer is a balance between ensuring the artists have the best possible context for their work and delivering an incredible experience to our audience. I look at opportunities for possible connections between projects and Melbourne, and how an audience can navigate the physical, thematic and artistic landscape of the festival. I want our audiences and artists to be able to go deep together in 2018, to encourage conversations, new discoveries and new visions.

What are you most looking forward to for Next Wave Festival 2018?

The big reveal. I am privileged to have an intimate view into the development of all of the projects and the personal journeys of our collective as we walk towards May 2018. Seeing our producers, artists, curators and writers’ step into their moment in the festival after an incredible amount of work will be a very special moment for me. We think they are all extraordinary people. I can’t wait for our audiences to see that too.

Next Wave will return to the Abbotsford Convent in May 2018 as part of the festival program.

Photo credit: Greg Holland @grolland