BWW Interview: Independent Artist Anna Straker
The next guest for our Brisbane Local Artists segment is...Anna Straker. Anna is a Queensland-based, award-winning artist specialising in puppetry and visual theatre. She has over a decade's experience working across theatre and television as a performer and maker, and is known for her allegorical works of 'fierce originality' and grotesque whimsy. She prioritises working with found and recycled objects in her practice as a designer.
Anna won the state-wide industry Matilda Award for audio-visual design in 2016 for her original illustrations in Queensland Theatre's blockbuster production of 'The Wider Earth', for which she was also lead puppeteer. For her sell-out debut production of her gothic feminist fairytale, 'Umami Mermaids', commissioned by Brisbane Festival last year, Anna's handmade and recycled sets and puppets earned her a 2018 Matilda Award nomination for best set design. Anna's solo puppet show, "The Boy Who Ate Teeth' was a critically-acclaimed success at the 2017 Brisbane Festival, and has regularly toured to festivals since, such as Woodford Folk Festival, Adelaide Fringe Festival and the Short and Sweet Festival. I met Anna about a year ago at a cabaret slam that we were both performing at and I'm so so grateful to for her presence in my life and in the Brisbane independent arts sector. Here's what she had to say...
VIRAG: How has co-vid 19 impacted your multidisciplinary creative practice?
ANNA: For me, 2019 was possibly busiest year in my independent career. It was back to back shows working as a set designer, my first fulltime contract as a drama teacher and remounting my 2018 Bris Fest show 'Umami Mermaids' for the Ablaze Festival. I thought this year would be much the same but... co-vid happens. For me creativity loves company; my motivation and imagination work better surrounded by people and when I'm on the move. The shift from in-person on sight productions to online meetings and isolation has definitely had an impacted on my extrovert way of working. I really miss problem-solving on the floor. And op-shopping for props!
VIRAG: As a teacher, how are you trying to keep the kids creative in the classroom? Is there a specific creative outlet that you've been using with your students?
ANNA: I am yet to experience the world of virtual classrooms with my students but from practice there are endless possibilities. In the last two weeks of school I enjoyed putting together online art activities. After doing my own thing for the last few years it was wonderful to get back to the basics so I'd say my enthusiasm for relearning these techniques will be what encourages students to try something new.
VIRAG: As a theatre-maker myself, I've tried to find daily/weekly outlets to foster my creativity as a form of my own personal mindfulness. How have you managed to keep the creative juices flowing and to stay creative during this period of isolation?
ANNA: This year was meant to be my dive into directing, applying "Umami Mermaids" (the play) for festivals and developing a new show. That all but disappeared and to be honest, the magnitude of co-vid's prolonged effect on the industry and my career is only just starting to hit me. Along with the speed in which artists and teachers have adapted and are already making content has felt like some kind of existential whip lash, pushing the creative brake and accelerator at the same time. I think we are still in the early days of this and we should be gentle on ourselves and not feel pressured to be constantly creating. Using the driving analogy, we could risk burn out.
Saying that, I did give myself a project at the beginning of the year; "Bottled Mermaids", painting a bird flipping mermaid on antique glass bottles every week for a year. Making an Instagram profile for it was not motivation enough, averaging maybe one a month but since work finished and staying home I've painted three in the last week.
I post a lot of what I do on Instagram stories and discovered I have a small following of dedicated friends who motivate me to do and post more. Granted, most of it is about my ever-dwindling sea monkey population (a recent iso online buy) and ever-increasing population of caterpillars in my garden but it keeps me entertained. Like a lot of people, I recently discovered gardening, most of which is still alive due to sheer dumb luck.
At the moment I am working with a team of people I had to privilege of meeting this year. They're very proactive in exploring the wild new world of online theatre and are pushing me to get out of my analogue comfort zone.
VIRAG: Do you think this pandemic has brought us closer as a community in the creative industries?
I think so. I'm a realist, so I'm interested to see what we take with us when we all emerge from our quarantined caves at the end of all this.