Founded in 2017 by Alison Croggon and Robert Reid, Witness was a forum for independent critique and debate about the Australian performing arts. It closed in June 2021.
We put together reports of our activities, including what we covered and who covered it, which you can find below.
We believe performance is much more than a product: it’s a nexus of ideas, memories, disciplines, communities and social and individual histories. At Witness, we aim to trace some of these ideas, memories, disciplines, communities and histories. This means that we are proudly non-commercial: we are interested in talking about the art of performance. That means we focus particularly on covering independent works, as indie artists are the powerhouses of Australian culture.
As well as current reviews and features on performance, Witness publishes podcast and video series that expand discussion beyond the usual publicity-driven coverage of what’s on now. Throughout 2018, Robert Reid uploaded an entire series of Video Histories, which cover the history of Australian performance from pre-colonisation to the present day. Our podcasts include interviews with notable artists who might not be in the headlines, but whose practice uniquely contributes to our performance culture, in this year we’ll be launching our Podcast Specials, in-depth creative investigations of issues in the performing arts.
A central part of our mission is nurturing and mentoring new critical voices, especially from communities marginalised in mainstream critical discussion. We believe that the future health of our performing arts culture depends on nurturing these voices. We launched with the Witness First Nations Emerging Critic program, and worked with Carissa Lee throughout 2018. In 2019 Carissa joined us as an assistant editor and Jacob Boehme became the second Witness FNEC. Unfortunately, as we were unable to secure funding in 2020, we have had to discontinue this program: but we routinely commission Indigenous critics and writers besides FNECs – voices published here include Monique Grbec, Angelina Hurley and others – and other writers from marginalised backgrounds. Weplan to continue this policy. Whatever our budget, we pay our contributors.
In 2018 we also we collaborated on the New Review program with Footscray Community Arts Centre’s West Writers and Malthouse Theatre, mentoring and publishing four emerging critics, and delivered masterclasses with Yirramboi’s Blak Critics program. We also actively seek out new voices when commissioning work. In 2018, we published 215 works from 20 contributors. Of those writers, 14 were women, 3 were Indigenous, 4 were from CALD backgrounds, two were Disabled and one was 13 years old.
Witness is proudly made on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nations. We respectfully acknowledge their Elders past and present.
At Witness, we will do our best to cover as much and as various performance as we can, and all our reviews are free for everyone to read. However, we value ourselves as well as our work, and our coverage will always have limitations. In the tricky balance between comprehensive or in-depth coverage, we will tend towards the in-depth, because we believe that’s what we do best.
Critiquing art is a necessarily subjective experience – in fact, we believe that it has no value if it is not subjective – but it is equally a practice that requires rigour and skill. We expect of ourselves that the work we offer will be informed, honest and independent. We expect that you will often disagree with us. We know that the conversations that ensue from disagreement can be fruitful for everyone, and we hope that Witness will nurture these arguments in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Mentoring and nurturing new critical voices is at the core of our mission, because we believe that without fresh perspectives criticism becomes stale. Our critiques, essays and observations are offered as stimuli for on-going conversation within the performing arts community.
We make no bones about the fact that we are all artists and critics. We believe that artistic creation and critique are intersecting practices that can usefully inform each other, increasing rigour in both. While we work on Witness, we will continue to pursue our own artistic projects. In a small community such as Australian performing arts, this means that often we personally know or have worked with the people we critique. Where there is a current working relationship, it will be noted at the bottom of the review.
As writers, we know that language is important. We want everybody who is interested in performance to feel welcome, and we will do our best to ensure that the language we use is as inclusive as possible. If we stuff up, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will address the problem,
All editorial on Witness is copyright of the authors and may not be republished without their permission in writing. For permissions to republish, contact us.