Lab Kelpie | Where are they now?

Melbourne theatre group, Lab Kelpie ran their campaign on the ACF in 2016 to raise funds and awareness for their progressive production, Elegy. Raising 105% of their target they were able to tour Elegy around the country. They’ve since gone on to win multiple awards for their performances. Their creative producer, Adam Fawcett joins us in a new ACF series where we ask ACF alumni, where are they now?

Firstly, chocolate or cheese?

Have you seen the state of the Lab Kelpie boys lately? It’s clearly both!

Summer or Winter?

Red wine, scarves and thawing yourself out in a theatre foyer – it has to be winter, right?

When you first began the Lab Kelpie in 2012, what were you trying to achieve?

To be honest, it was for the same reasons performers often create their own companies or collectives – out of frustration at the sheer lack of opportunity and a need for more varied and challenging roles.

My partner Lyall Brooks (Lab Kelpie’s Artistic Director) is an actor and I was looking for a new challenge at the time, so we both came up with the idea of Lab Kelpie. Initially, we were just looking for plays that were well written and (Patricia Cornelius will kill me for saying this) ‘entertaining’, but it was actually one of her plays – Savages directed by Susie Dee and which Lyall performed in at fortyfivedownstairs in 2013 – that shifted the trajectory of our company.

At the same time, Savages was wowing Melbourne audiences, our playwright friend Katy Warner (A Prudent Man, Spencer) sent us some of her work and it suddenly all just clicked into place for us.

It was then that Lyall and I both realised we wanted to focus on presenting the work of Australian playwrights, and from that point forward we have been working towards developing, presenting and touring their work.

It has been a hard slug over several years getting us to the point where we have now incorporated with a strong board behind us and a slate of new Australian work in development, but we are finally starting to make some serious headway in all of our key areas, which is incredibly exciting.

Elegy grappled with emotional and political themes such as homosexuality and seeking refuge. Describe the audience’s’ response to the show, and any milestones or achievements you’d like to share with us since you bought Elegy to life.

Elegy is actually by UK writer/director Douglas Rintoul and has a special place in our heart as the last international script Lab Kelpie produced.

I think the primary emotion many audience members felt after watching Elegy was empathy – a quality that seems to be ever-diminishing in our culture. In its premiere season at Gasworks for Midsumma I saw audience members embrace one another following the show and had many conversations with people who – just like me – had no idea of the sad realities faced queer minorities from countries less developed than ours who are forced to seek refuge.

Based on the success of the premiere season we were able to team with Theatre Works to present a return Melbourne season from May 16-20 ahead of a Victorian Tour through Regional Arts Victoria. It has taken a lot of effort from all of us to bring Elegy back, and huge credit must go to Elegy’s tireless director John Kachoyan who has really driven its second life.

Your ACF campaign strategy focused on finding 15% of your fundraising target through new business sponsors. Did you achieve that and are you still in touch with the relationships you formed from your campaign?

Yes and yes! As is the case with many business sponsorship opportunities, we utilised an existing private relationship with one of the members of our team to put a business proposal to Quiz Meisters Trivia to support the future touring of Elegy. They came on board immediately and have been instrumental in allowing us to present a return Melbourne season and Victorian tour two years after its premiere season.

The ACF exists to encourage giving to the arts and help artists build a sustainable practice. What did you learn from your ACF fundraising campaigns that you’ve been able to transfer to other areas of your creative practice?

To not be afraid to ask people for help.

That sounds so obvious, but when you are a small company of 2-3 people and trying to not only manage every facet of the day-to-day running of the business but to actually grow it in a way that is actually sustainable, it can be hard to go out of your comfort zone and ask people to provide their assistance – whether that’s monetary through fundraising/giving or just for advice or knowledge.

Our ACF campaigns highlighted to us just how eager people are to assist – from both within and outside the independent theatre industry.

What fundraising advice do you have for your past self?

If you are going to go to the effort of creating a schedule, stick to it!

It can be so easy to get distracted by any number of concerns when running a fundraising campaign that you can forget to do the 1 percenters that can sometimes make all the difference.

What would you say to other artists thinking of running a fundraising campaign?

Don’t leave it to the last minute – start thinking about fundraising six months ahead if you can.

Take the time to really articulate what you need the funds for and how they will be used.

If you want people to take you seriously, be serious about your collateral if you can afford it, create a professionally shot video promo with good sound and lighting.

Where would you like to be in five years from now?

On an isolated island with two dogs, three horses, a handful of chooks and no internet connection! Seriously though, I would like Lab Kelpie to be able to sustain full-time employment for its artistic leadership team (currently three of us), run a bunch of funded programs that support our playwrights and continue developing, presenting and touring the best of Australian writing.

I’m not dreaming, am I?

What’s next for Lab Kelpie?

2018 is Lab Kelpie’s biggest hear so far, with four productions slated for presentation.

We are currently touring Katy Warner’s A Prudent Man across Australia, while Elegy will have a return Melbourne season from 16-20 May at Theatre Works ahead of its Victorian Tour (see here for details).

In August we have the world premiere of Petra Kalive’s exciting new work, Oil Babies while in September we have WA playwright Liz Newell’s new one-woman solo work Alone Outside.

We round out 2018 with the Victorian premiere of Mary Anne Butler’s Broken, which will be directed by Susie Dee at fortyfivedownstairs in November. Please sign up for our newsletter for all the developments.