“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” Voltaire once said. A small theatre in North Melbourne shares both the French philosopher’s name and his motto.
Club Voltaire is praised by director Lindsay Saddington as “the number one venue for emerging performing art practitioners in Melbourne”.
He described the intention of the club as allowing “freedom of expression – with the audience in mind” through a variety of concepts.
Club Voltaire, in a four-storey building housing a bookshop, art gallery and an intimate theatre, came into existence in 2005.
Since then, some of its acts have gone on to the Melbourne Fringe Festival and, in the case of one group, this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Slutmonster and Friends, a controversial stage show, was described by critics as a “sick, twisted and perverted play that’s gutbustingly hilarious”.
The Slutmonster itself is a pink, fluffy monster with blue skin, unfortunate teeth and male and female anatomy adorning the outside of its otherwise cuddly-looking body.
The performers who tread the stage at Club Voltaire range immensely. Wednesday nights, dedicated to comedy, now feature the Impro Box troupe. The 15-strong group has trained with Impro Melbourne and Impro Quest.
Thursdays are for musicians and Fridays focus on performance art – through movement, sound or multimedia.
Saturday nights are the most successful; the Dark Night of Desire theme invites edgy, gothic and burlesque acts to perform.
Sunday afternoons showcase short theatrical or artistic pieces – hence the name, “Sunday Shorts”. Almost anything goes: they range from dance numbers to poetry, skits, films and animations.
Mr Saddington also heads the Australian Centre of Performing Arts (ACOPA). ACOPA ran a full-time acting school for two years before limited resources forced it to concentrate on workshops and private tutorials. Unlike more traditional acting courses, ACOPA, established 10 years ago, encourages holistic study of many elements of the arts, instead of a focus on one aspect.
Melbourne, Saddington told The Newsroom, is a very conservative city so much of what is performed at Club Voltaire is about pushing the city’s boundaries. The acts can be likened to Dada, avant-garde, surrealist, vaudeville and futurist styles of theatre. Given that niche appeal, pulling in large audiences can be difficult.
“Political correctness makes people too scared to say what we really think,” he said. “We all have a right, as a person, to let our opinions be known.”
He blamed the introduction of technology into our lives for limiting our ability to express feelings.
Many physical and mental conditions – “anxiety, anger and suicide” – come about “due to the fact we don’t allow ourselves to express ourselves” he said. “We need to reconnect with ourselves, reconnect with one and other. We have tools to communicate but we need pure communication.”
According to Saddington, technology is used as a defence mechanism in an attempt to avoid interacting.
“People need to reclaim the power within themselves. Their power is being dissipated through external manipulation. We need to decide for ourselves what we want, not leave it up to others.” – Kate Ball, the Melbourne Newsroom
Club Voltaire is at 14 Raglan Street, North Melbourne.