Designing a new republic: Behind the creation of Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic

Learn about the process creating Brisbane Festival's Theatre Republic from site designer and QUT lecturer Dr Sarah Winter.

For a number of years, Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic has been a haven of imaginative, fringe activity at QUT’s Creative Industries Precinct. Someone who has been at the forefront of creating this captivating world is the site designer and Bachelor of Creative Industries lecturer Dr Sarah Winter.

In 2018, Theatre Republic underwent a highly successful reiteration, with intricate details added to the enlarged scale, compared to the two years prior.

The House of Common Hopes allowed people to share their future aspirations and messages of support and celebration with fellow Theatre Republicans.

Meanwhile, mainstays like The Book Exchange and The Seed Library enabled visitors to share food for the mind and the soul.

The House of Common Hopes. Image by Parisa Bong.

The Book Exchange at Theatre Republic. Image by Parisa Bong.

Sarah was pleased with the overall outcome, suggesting that additional rooms and playful, wayfinding signage encouraged more visitors to participate in the space activations.

“The space just flows so much more. People go in there and just start investigating,” she said.

“The design and the space encourages more exploration, which is exciting.”

Sarah said she was happy with the progression of Theatre Republic over the years, which aims to build a new world, steadily going through developmental stages that any society would.

“The first year was just about setting up a communal area, which was kind of like a barn; building some walls and windows,” she said.

“And then the second year there was a real focus on the governance. So, you could vote on the charter of the Republic and what was important, what rules; and I based that on the World Charter of Rights.

“And then the third year, of course, you get telecommunications as you get more advanced as a society. So, we introduced the phones and things like that.

“And as the Republic grows, it becomes more self-referential. So, there’s a bit more of a sense of time passing and preparation.”

The inspiration for creating this evolving world, incorporating theatrical performances and creativity, came from questioning what a new republic really is, what it means to visit and how stories can be used as currency instead of money.

“The key things are around sharing stories, sharing ideas and exchanging – here,” she said.

One way of interpreting Theatre Republic could be an artistic, post-apocalyptic world where the environment is considered more, with reclaimed materials used in constructions complimenting the natural surroundings.

“If we’re going to build a new world, it’s going to be green. It’s probably going to be scavenged from the bits and pieces found,” Sarah contemplated.

Building The House of Common Hopes

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Image courtesy of Sarah Winter.

For the outdoor space surrounding some of the heritage listed teaching facilities of the Creative Industries Faculty, Sarah said the design needed to coexist with the aesthetics of the location.

“To try and make that design make sense, it’s just a combination of the two elements that are already there,” she said.

“There’s that big metal structure that sits counter to everything else and then you’ve got all the old buildings, and they’ve all got that Queenslander-esque feel.

“So, it feels like it kind of belongs there.”

Sourcing the materials for Theatre Republic became a fascinating task in itself. Some of the hardwood came from a former Spiegeltent build while one birdcage was gifted on by none other than prominent Brisbane artist Judith Wright.

Procuring other materials took Sarah on a journey to various hoarders and suburbs “in the middle of nowhere”.

“I just go on Gumtree and drive to the strangest places,” she said.

“It’s sourced all from around Brisbane or from the Bris Fest stores. But I think I’ve pillaged just about everything I can from the Bris Fest stores.”

In 2019, Theatre Republic will build on Sarah’s vision of a new republic with the assistance of third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts students. Through their new Situated Creative Practice activity, they are responding to the new republic’s design.

Sarah has provided a curatorial framework via her site design, her site introduction and induction to the students, and her participation in the audition process to select the site activation works.