Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong. Faculty of Creative Arts


With subsidy culture on the wane and entrepreneurial, often globalised, culture becoming a necessity for survival, this thesis explores vital questions of long term career and company sustainability. How might Australian independent theatre practitioners develop sustainable companies and careers? A secondary question in relation to this subject asks how independents might develop a common approach to sustainability while remaining true to their individual style, values and vision?

The major outcome of this research is the development of a non-economic and non-funding reliant framework for improved sustainability of Australian independent theatre careers and companies. Constructivist grounded theory is used to collect, analyse and interlink a unique collection of data from the fields of independent theatre and positive psychology. This process generates a theoretical set of conditions for improving career and company sustainability that is tailored to the dynamic ecology and energies of independent theatre.

This thesis gathers and interprets unique interview material with leading Australian theatre practitioners who collaboratively devise their own product/s with an aim to create live performance which reflects the social, political, and cultural influences of its time. The data from these primary sources and from secondary literature sources underlines the rich, diverse, yet often exhausting careers independent theatre practitioners manage. This exhaustion leads to cycles of drop out and dispersion. Energy, and its flow, is a universal emergent theme from the data and relates not just to physical energy but to all forms of energy that practitioners expend and receive in their day to day and long term work. Independent practitioners constantly juggle administrative, financial and creative processes while facing fragmented resources and a highly competitive, ‗glocal‘ environment. Many cannot envisage a long term future in the sector. The concept of energy and its flow emerged as a major hurdle for career and company sustainability in the sector. These findings meant this thesis was no longer looking simply at the data as a general way to discover issues and trends but as a way of tracing energy flow in, out, and through the considered work span of an independent theatre practitioner or company.

This thesis calls for an identification and assessment of the Australian independent theatre sector in other than economic terms. Given the divisiveness generated through existing economic frameworks, Together Alone acknowledges the positive impacts that a diverse independent theatre sector has on our culture but suggests shared, non economic and potentially strengthening characteristics as a basis for building a more cohesive approach to sustainability. Key characteristics emerging from the data indicate that Australian independents are passionate, creative, flexible, intuitive, resourceful, and reactive. They focus strongly on their own artistic style and process, audience, and achievements. And although they need to earn a living, career satisfaction is developed through a dedication and contribution to Australian performing arts rather than through making money.

The data indicates ongoing tensions in the independent theatre sector between concepts of risk and sustainability, between diversity and shared experiences, as well as between independence and collaboration. This thesis proposes that these tensions are only part of the picture relating to sustainability. Rather than taking a purely economic approach, Together Alone develops a definition of sustainability that reflects the energy and conditions inherent to Australian independent theatre.

The thesis is in two parts: A and B. In broad terms, Part A discusses the context for sustainable careers and companies in independent theatre in Australia and introduces the thesis‘ findings in relation to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s flow theory. Part B uses the data outlined in Part A to develop a projected framework of conditions for improved sustainability that is responsive to the sector‘s values and dynamics. The five conditions of flow that this thesis proposes can facilitate sustainability in Australian independent theatre are:

  • a sense of oneness (a sense of being at one with one‘s self, and one‘s processes and environment);
  • clear goals;
  • a feeling of control;
  • a dynamic balance of capacities with challenges (or opportunities); and
  • immediate feedback.

This thesis‘ framework for sustainability interlinks the independent theatre data with the above conditions for promoting flow in independent theatre. The correlations between Csikszentmihalyi‘s flow theory or optimal experience theory and the themes of the independent theatre data emerge through the hermeneutic and ongoing processes of data collation, evaluation and conceptual development of constructivist grounded theory methodology. Such connections are not arbitrary. They form an interrelated response to the original research question about how Australian independent theatre might sustain its practitioners and companies.