The Famous Spiegeltent; CSU research at conference in Portugal

1 JANUARY 2003

Research at CSU recently presented at an international theatre conference in Lisbon, Portugal, suggests that the international touring performance and entertainment space known as The Famous Spiegeltent has contributed to the evolution of alternative theatre in Australia.

Inside The Famous Spiegeltent - image by David SimmonsResearch at Charles Sturt University (CSU) recently presented at an international theatre conference in Lisbon, Portugal, suggests that the international touring performance and entertainment space known as The Famous Spiegeltent has contributed to the evolution of alternative theatre in Australia.
 
Ms Kate Smith, a tutor and PhD student at the CSU School of Communication, at Bathurst, says the aesthetic space of The Famous Spiegeltent has made it an agent for change in contemporary, commercially successful popular alternative performance in Australia.
 
Ms Smith’s research critically examines how the discipline of the space and the aesthetics of The Famous Spiegeltent create a unique experience of performance for artists and audiences.
 
Spiegeltents (Dutch for ‘mirrored tent’) are constructed from wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and coloured glass. They were first made in Belgium in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as portable dance halls for towns or regions without one. The Famous Spiegeltent was built in 1920 and is capable of holding an audience of 300-350. Many famous performers, such as Marlene Dietrich, entertained in it at some time in their careers, and The Famous Spiegeltent featured at the Sydney Opera House forecourt in October 2008 and at the Sydney Festival in January 2009.
 
Ms Smith says, “The Famous Spiegeltent, owned and operated by Mr David Bates, an Australian arts entrepreneur, has brought the experience of a particular style of theatre culture to Australia.
 
“The dramatic influences of The Famous Spiegeltent can be traced to the carnival traditions of traditional circus, and in a contemporary parallel, to the current trend of vaudeville-style light entertainment programs on television. It echoes genres such as American vaudeville from the turn of the century until the late 1930s, and European cabaret from the between-war period of the 1920s and 1930s.
 
“Australian theatre has evolved from its beginnings in travelling tent shows and vaudeville programs in the early part of the 20th century, through traditional dramatic works in the 1950s, alternative approaches in the 1970s, to the expression of a new-found identity in the 1980s based on political, avant-garde and feminist theatre.
 
“The growing popularity of physical theatre and new circus in the 1990s and early 21st century has coincided with an explosion of arts festival culture worldwide and a growing emphasis on the work of independent artists. The popularity of The Famous Spiegeltent as a venue – with performers and audiences - has both reflected and fostered this,” Ms Smith said.

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