Paul Osuch’s secret ingredient for creating a thriving independent theatre festival is the last thing you might expect.

The founder and artistic director of the popular and perennial Anywhere Festival originally studied business at university and used that knowledge to hone risk assessment templates that would make other theatre makers weep.

The proof is in the pudding because across 14 years and almost a thousand productions staged everywhere from garages and bookstores to community pools and graveyards, there has not been a single insurance claim against the festival.

Osuch happily shares a treasure trove of DIY resources with Anywhere Festival participants spanning everything from how to coordinate front of house, to developing a marketing budget and managing risk.

“We really focus a lot on not just saying – okay, you pay some money and it puts you in a program. It’s more about saying – right, if you’re an emerging artist, here’s a whole training course that will take you from go to whoa to actually put on that show. And providing a lot of those resources, that mentorship, that in a big festival you’re not really going to get.”

Osuch originally studied business at QUT, while pursuing his first love – writing. He spent his spare time teaming up with friends at the University of Queensland including future screenwriter Stephen Vagg. The duo produced a trio of hit plays at the Cement Box Theatre, and also contributed sketches to the UQ Law Revue.

A year studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) followed, before a teaching gig at a drama college in the UK, and then sitcom writing work in Los Angeles. With the birth of his second son looming, Osuch returned to Brisbane with his family, and decided to stage the first Anywhere Festival in May 2011.

The inaugural festival was a pragmatic response to a lack of established theatre spaces in Brisbane.

“I was looking to open a venue and I just could not find the right space,” Osuch says.

“I had all these people that I’d been working with before I went overseas, and they were still struggling to find more than one venue to perform in a year. So, then I thought – why don’t we just eliminate traditional venues and we’ll set up a festival that is all about performances anywhere but a traditional venue?”

The industry loved it and Arts Queensland funding was secured in the second year, and has been provided ever since. Although Brisbane remains headquarters for the festival, the event has expanded beyond the city since 2014 including to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
Osuch and a small project team help creatives broker leasing agreements with the many unorthodox venues that allow the festival to take place, well, just about anywhere.

“We want people to use the space as much as it is,” Osuch explains.

“We don’t want them to convert it into a theatre space because if you’re going to do that, then you might as well just use a theatre. What’s interesting is when you say:  well, let’s use the space and make the most of what it looks like and turn the constraints into something that actually inspires the creativity.”

Theatrical experimentation has always been at the heart of the Anywhere Festival ethos. A standout show in the first program was You Were Invited – performed live in multiple locations around the world, and beamed to the audience via Skype.

“It was in six different countries, and it was six different 10-minute plays, and they were all happening at the same time, and they were performed six times. And what you’d do is you’d log in with nine other people – because that’s all Skype could do –  and you would watch this 10-minute play and then at the end they’d give you the next Skype connection code to go to the next one. It was brilliant.”

Another memorable collaboration was with Queensland Rail for a performance on a train that whizzed back and forth between Roma Street and the Exhibition station, which is ordinarily closed outside of the Ekka.

Osuch is proud that many local theatre practitioners got their start with an Anywhere Festival show, and some have established successful companies of their own.

This year’s festival marks the beginning of a new era – it starts in July instead of May which avoids clashing with the Brisbane Comedy Festival, and just as importantly, will position the event to capitalise on the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We’ve already had support from a number of different councils,” Osuch says. “And the goal is that during that time, it won’t just be happening in Brisbane. There will be this Queensland-wide activity that people coming for the Olympics will be able to experience.”

Anywhere Festival runs from July 19 to August 4

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