4 minutes with Milk Crate Theatre’s artistic director

Image Credit: Milk Crate Theatre

This story was first published on former NRMA site Live4 on October 22, 2013. Image courtesy of Milk Crate Theatre.

Milk Crate Theatre is dedicated to sharing stories told  ’through different eyes’. Made up of an ensemble of artists who have experienced homelessness or social marginalisation, their shows are unique, brave and inspiring.

We caught up with artistic director and CEO Maree Freeman to learn more about their work.

Can you tell us a little about Milk Crate Theatre? 

Milk Crate Theatre works with an ensemble of artists who have experienced homelessness or social marginalisation. Our work embodies the experiences and artistry of the ensemble and showcases their uniqueness as contemporary storytellers. We are committed to bringing communities together – to work with us, to share with us, to be experts for us as we create transformative art that challenges audiences. We believe that together we can start a constructive debate and work towards an inclusive future. We create theatre that creates change.

How did it start? How did you come to be part of it?

Milk Crate Theatre began as a joint project between Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Wesley Mission’s Edward Eagar Lodge and the South Sydney Council in June 2000. For the first 10 years of our company’s history we forged partnerships, developed a sense of community and integrity within the arts and welfare sectors and delivered grassroots workshops and interactive community performances for the homeless community. We grew to offer high quality creative opportunities across Greater Sydney – including our first large-scale production for a sold-out general public audience.

From 2010 to 2013 the ensemble’s participation and depth of engagement grew. They were storytellers and artists within their community, but also playwrights, advocates, leaders and employees for the company as well as the arts and community sectors. In 2011, the company incorporated with a new board and administrative base and since then have been presenting works in acclaimed theatre venues, delivering an integrated education program, and this year we launched The Milky Way, our social enterprise.

I joined Milk Crate Theatre at the end of 2010 and became the associate director before stepping into the role of artistic director/CEO at the end of 2012. My first experience was attending a show during 2010 where I was completely inspired by the work the company was making.

How does the unique nature of the ensemble translate into performance?

Our theatre practice is collaborative, involving the ensemble in every stage of the creative process – from concept development to script development, dramaturgy and finally live performance. The ensemble are artists and theatre-makers whose skills are utilised, developed and refined through a peer-to-peer mentoring process with Associate Artists where specific artistic skills, arts industry experience and lived experiences are all highly valued.

What do you think it is that makes theatre such a powerful medium for these stories?

There is something so immediate and precious about live performance – it is a medium that bonds those who deliver it to those who absorb it as each performance is a special contract between those two groups at the time of performance. It is also a live medium – a space for real-time conversation and face-to-face wrestling with some of the complex issues surrounding homelessness. I think it is this that makes theatre a perfect medium for Milk Crate to advocate for social inclusion and change.

Have there been any standout projects or stories during your time at Milk Crate Theatre?

I definitely couldn’t pick a favourite! But most recently I’ve loved working with an amazing group of artists as both contributing playwrights and performers on Full Circle, presented at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. This play unpacked some of the complexity around psychosis and stigma about mental health and the team who worked on it approached the process and content with such insight, humour, passion and creativity that it was a really special experience to be part of.

What projects are in the pipelines for the rest of the year?

We are about to head into a creative development with digital artist Craig Walsh to begin to create our next large-scale production, This House Is Mine. This work will explore mental health, the mind and homelessness and will be a hybrid of live performance and digital art. We also have workshops kicking off across Sydney in October and a Christmas Show to cap off the year.

Why would you encourage readers to attend a show?

To see something they’ve never seen before, performed by a group of artists who’ve seen (and lived) it all.

Visit Milk Crate Theatre’s site to learn more about their work and upcoming shows.