I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors who I can chew that fat with and a great network of friends, it’s amazing to sit and have a cup of tea with friends to help you figure things out.
Susan Provan is Director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, one of the largest comedy festivals on the planet.
It has flourished under her leadership for the past 23 years and sold more than 550,000 tickets last year.
As you’ll discover she has worked her way from the stage floor to the top.
Martine Harte: Susan, congrats on your recent Victorian Honour Roll of Women inclusion, we are curious to hear how this amazing journey started, how did you get your break?
Susan Provan Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
Well it really has all felt like a natural progression as I had started in student theatre when I was at Melbourne Uni.
As luck would have it a few of the people I worked with on shows became comedians. I also worked at the Last Laugh as night manager for seven years. My bosses and mentors were among the group of performers who created the Comedy Festival.
Another break was meeting the Circus Oz people when I was Associate Producer at the State Theatre Company in South Australia. I very much jumped in the deep end with that job.
So coming back here to the Comedy Festival was sort of like coming home!
What role do you think comedy plays in Australian contemporary society?
Susan Provan: Comedy is a great contemporary art form like music: theatre, visual arts, it is one of those great forms that responds to, explores and is inspired by our social and political environment.
Everybody needs to relax and have a laugh, comedy fulfils that basic human need to be with friends or on your own or just be in a room and enjoying a moment.
Do you laugh a lot?
Susan Proven: (Susan laughs) I’m not a big loud laugher, maybe because I sit in so many shows around the world. I’ll laugh a lot on the inside, every now and again I’l get the giggles though…
How have you managed to keep the festival relevant despite the evolving world we live in, particularly with disruption?
Susan Proven: I think by paying a lot of attention to the building blocks; the developmental aspect of comedy.
For people to grow up and want to be a comedian it can be tough. You learn to be a comedian by performing in pubs.
We have paid a lot of attention to running innovative developmental programs. For example, ‘Deadly Funny’ for Indigenous comedians, and ‘Raw Comedy’ which is a huge open mic comp that we run nationally.
Also we’ve paid attention to providing venues, you can’t grow a festival if you haven’t got anywhere to put your shows.
I guess I always, look to the future, touring with the roadshow all over Australia then expanding into Asia.
I’ve always got Edinburgh Fringe selling a million tickets last year as a carrot on a stick.
But we don’t have the critical mass of Edinburgh?
It’s more difficult for us as Edinburgh has all the regional cities
Twenty percent of our audiences come from elsewhere, stand up comedy has really been burgeoning as an art form in India, and South East Asia, and big cities in China.
I think there’s huge growth potential for us, in the Asian market in terms of work opportunities for Australian performers.
How many women comedians do we have, do you have the numbers at hand?
Looking at Comedy Festival Program, certainly in the last ten years 18 – 19% of the program has been all-women shows and if you add in shows that are mixed bills; it’s been probably around 26 – 28% of shows by women or shows that include women in mixed casts.
We absolutely need to work at at.
I think in Australia we are proactive at supporting women and making sure we have women at every mixed bill. In the US and the UK it just doesn’t happen, quite often you will sit in a showcased show and it will have all blokes.
As you know Engaging Women is a platform for social good to raise the voices of our women, how did you find your voice?
Susan Proven: I guess I’ve always wanted to do a job that I loved.
I’ve never been driven by making a lot of money or anything like that, I just wanted to work on something that gives me joy.
I’ve also been lucky to have some great mentors who I can chew that fat with and a great network of friends, it’s amazing to sit and have a cup of tea with friends to help you figure things out.
Since I’ve had my daughter I’ve felt quite challenged by that responsibility.
I struggle a bit with the guilt that I’m either letting down my daughter or I’m missing something at work.
Almost every accomplished woman we speak with talks of the struggle of the work/life blend.
Susan Proven: I think we do ourselves a disservice if we try and pretend we have it all under control. it’s better to be honest.
Can you share one business learning which has held you in good stead?
Susan Proven: I try not to be surprised.
Before I do anything, I do a budget.
You can’t just plunge into things without having modelled what the numbers might be.
Do a cashflow on what you are going to have for lunch, otherwise you could wind up in great financial difficulty.
I do take very seriously the financial management side of things, I have lots of big ideas but I never swing anything into action until I’ve modelled to the best of my ability what the financial consequences will be.
Browse this Melbourne International Comedy Festival line up by zipping over here:
OUR PICK – MANSPLAINING
Award-winning duo Alice Tovey and Ned Dixon are rewriting the man-ual with their brand new show, Mansplaining.With their iconic razor-sharp humour and unforgettable original songs, Tovey and Dixon will take audiences on a journey of how men made the world, and how the world has made ‘the man’.
Following much acclaim for previous productions Malice and Personal Messiah, Tovey and Dixon will premiere Mansplaining at the Butterfly Club as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
WANT TO HEAR FROM MORE ENGAGING WOMEN?
Read our chats with Rosie Batty, Natasha Stott Despoja and other exceptional women in our library here.
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