“We aren’t worth enough to them”

Georgia Kriz reviews revues.

This past weekend it rained a lot. This was unfortunate for the cast of Queer Revue, because the Union assigns us the Manning Forecourt to rehearse in on the weekends, and so, when confronted with a veritable downpour on Sunday morning, we were forced to shop around for another space.

But with all other rehearsal spaces occupied by faculty revues and bands, eventually we had no choice but to retreat to a small, dingy room somewhere in the bowels of Manning that was mildly to moderately cluttered with dead fridges and uninspiringly upholstered Ottomans. And as we spent the day doing vigorous, cheerleader-inspired choreography, more than one face was punched enthusiastically and accidentally thanks to space constraints.

On the face of it, our little Sunday morning misadventure doesn’t seem like much to be worried about. But this mini-debacle actually speaks to a far larger, more sinister issue within the Union and within the Revues community – specifically, the place, prevalence and prominence of cultural, minority and non-faculty revues.

The problems facing non-faculty revues begin at their inception. Entering the crowded revue marketplace is an uphill battle for new revues. After a period of dormancy, in 2011 several women attempted to revive the Wom*n’s Revue. They failed. A number of these women have since described to Honi the difficulty of dealing with the Union when trying to set up a new revue: there were no start-up grants available outside of the normal funding allocations, and there were a myriad of convoluted and unnecessarily bureaucratic processes to negotiate with little guidance from the Union itself. It was, they said, clear that the Union had little interest in supporting and backing a fledgling non-faculty revue.

In the last five years, Jew Revue and Queer Revue have been lucky enough to make it through this minefield of USU bureaucracy and become established productions. However, since non-faculty revues traditionally receive less funding than their faculty-backed counterparts, their road has not been easy. The Union allocates between $4000 and $8000 to each revue. According to a spokesperson from the Programs Office, the exact amount allocated depends solely upon which Seymour Centre theatre space a revue can sell out. Both Jew Revue and Queer Revue received $6000 from the Union this year, and they have performed in the smallest theatre at the Seymour since their inception. Neither revue attracts any corporate sponsorship (despite concerted efforts), which is in stark contrast to, say, the Law Revue, which has often pulled in well-heeled corporate law firms as its major sponsors. Further, faculty revues receive funding from their faculties, too – this year, Arts Revue attracted $8000 from the Union and $3000 from the Arts Faculty.

This funding system clearly privileges entrenched and established revues. With no proven history of success and popularity, new revues can only qualify for lower tiers of funding, and thus can only book the smallest Seymour space. And in order to graduate to the higher tiers of funding, revues have to sell out this theatre completely. But with a limited budget to spend on production, props and advertising, smaller revues are significantly hamstrung. And for Queer Revue and Jew Revue, there is no faculty to fall back on to fill the gaps, no corporate sponsors to court. Our reach isn’t large enough to attract the necessary attention and money; we aren’t worth enough to them. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

In this way, the Union’s funding model prioritises ticket sales and corporate exposure over providing opportunities for traditionally marginalised groups to showcase their talents and satirise and subvert the discourses that oppress them. Christopher Hitchens said that women aren’t funny – unfortunately at Sydney University, an autonomous Wom*n’s Revue might never get the chance to prove him wrong. A revue’s worth shouldn’t be measured by its ticket sales.

Clarification: The Law Revue receives corporate sponsorship via the Sydney University Law Society.

Image: Newtown Graffiti, via Flickr.