David Clarkson is Artistic Director of physical theatre company, Stalker, who resides in Brand X creative offices in St. Leonards. David is also Artistic Director of Box of Birds, a company who integrates technology, audience interaction and physical performance into interactive experiences.


David’s creative practice is grounded in his history as a physical performer, his highly successful career has enabled him to innovate as a director, producer, leader and mentor in physical theatre, visual productions and creative experiences. His works have toured to over 30 countries globally and have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.


Here David speaks to Brand X about his incredible career.


Tell us a little bit about why you do what you do.

I was initially attracted to the arts very instinctually, but I immediately saw the potential for arts practice to address social issues and also for it to allow for freedom of self-expression- both mine and others.

In my early artistic career, I needed to express myself physically with movement/dance/acrobatics and wanted to make big bold statements about the injustices of the world: globalisation, colonialism, gender inequality and the evils of capitalism.

These days I am less idealistic perhaps, definitely less didactic. And also with age – less physical!

I also had a huge desire to travel with my work and have been lucky to travel the globe working with a large variety of artists and cultures around the world.

I do what I do to give myself perspective and understanding, hopefully not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that embraces the imagination and learning, both my own and others.


What is exciting you most about your work right now?

I am always excited and inspired by the people I work with, the ideas and arts projects we collectively develop.

This week I am excited by the fact that I/ we just received $20,000 from the City of Sydney and that we are going to use that money to make a dance work in interactive online 3D augmented reality that will be performed at Flying Nun in partnership with Brand X! Way to go!


When was the moment you realised that the Arts was going to be your thing? And who in your life (at that time) thought that was a bad idea?

This was when I was living in New Zealand, in Christchurch in the 80’s

I had been doing movement classes and was involved in theatre for the first time.

I was asked to audition for a new street theatre company (Splinta) that was starting with funding from the NZ Government. At the same time, I was on the dole, and was successful in gaining a year’s work at an Agricultural University, which basically required me to measure quantities of sheep shit and sheep stomach contents.

I turned the job down, and received some mild criticism from my flatmates, girlfriend, and some family, who thought I was better working at a steady job and earning some “real” money.

Several weeks later the work came through with Splinta and we ended up touring the country with an anti-nuclear show called the Famine Show. Within several years I had taken the skills I had developed with Splinta and was touring the world with the work I made with a range of artists under the Stalker banner. 


Can you recall a moment in your career that you fucked up? And what did you learn?

We were performing a show I performed in and helped co-conceived called Angles Ex Machina.

We were in the Netherlands at Oerol Festival on an island called Terschelling, and it was opening night.

I decided to extend my aerial solo by about 10 seconds, in the heat of the moment, performing it for the first time in front of a large audience.

At the end of the two-minute solo I then had to climb a rope to the top of the aerial rig. Those extra ten seconds had used the last of my arm strength. When I made it to the top, I did not have the grip to hold on and I fell seven meters to the ground below. I slowed my fall by trying to hold onto the ropes by my armpits. I had massive rope burns exposing the core of the muscle of my arms. A total mess!

I learnt that under no circumstances do you extend a solo in the air!  Arial strength is very different to that of a dancers, and five or ten seconds can make the difference between life and death!

My luck for the night was that we were performing on a beautiful field of heather. When I hit the ground I bounced! If it had been concrete, I would have at least broken several bones, if not broken my back.


What’s your favourite past collaborative project?

I think this was a range of projects that involved my company working in culturally diverse and somewhat extreme situations.

One was performing shows in the barrios of Medellin during the height of the drug wars in Colombia. We partnered with one of the social agencies in Colombia and were taken to some of the most impoverished parts of Bogota and Medellin. It was humbling to be so lovingly received by people with very little material wealth.

I learnt that ultimately theatre, creativity and art is not a consumer commodity, but rather a birth right of understanding that unites people from around the world.

I had a similar experience performing in Serbia during the war there. We partnered with the anti-war movement and presented shows to many homeless people. We had to break United Nations cultural sanctions to visit Serbia, as Serbia was perceived as the “enemy”. But war is complex, and many people in Serbia were against the war. Our presence supported them.

Working over several years in Arnhem Land was also a profound experience. But there is no room to go into that here!


If you were Federal Arts Minister, what policy would you enact immediately?

Change the inequalities between the “major”, “small to medium” and “independent” arts sectors in Australia.

Globally the arts can be elitist. But Australia is continually reinforcing an arts power structure that gives artistic expression to the few and gives proportionately little to the grass roots of what ultimately is a very creative nation. Power corrupts and trickle-down economic structures do not enhance the arts in this country.


Given the chance to attend one event right now what would it be?

Probably to see my sister, Jay Clarkson play one of her music gigs. She is an indie musician from Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s been too long sister!


People around the globe are experiencing their city, neighbourhoods and environments in an entirely different way. What’s your favourite discovery over the past months?

A couple of things have been standout.

One is that the immediate neighbourhood has banded together really well. And I am now talking with real warmth and intimacy with a diverse range of my neighbours.


The other thing is to do with my learnings from my kids.

I work with interactive technology in live performance. www.boxofbirds.net  Obviously with COVID all our gigs have been cancelled.

But my daughters have been Zooming online playing remotely with several kids simultaneously with interactive games.

The way they have adapted their play to remote multiplayer interactive technology across a couple of platforms is, for 7 to 11-year-old relatively amazing to me and has given me inspiration to bridge the globe with some of the 3D technology we are developing for live performance.


When you were younger, who did you think you’d become as an adult?

An Astronaut!

One of the things I HAVE done a lot of is aerials. The closest I managed to get to space flight!

Many highlights- but one was performing 30 meters above the main stage for the Sydney Olympics, covered in exploding fireworks, directly above Vanessa Amorosi, while she sang Absolutely Fabulous. I had 2.5-meter stilts on with long arm extensions and looked like a huge flying silver praying mantis. The crowd went wild when I launched into the air.

When I landed, I found out my rigger had forgotten to do my carabineer up. Which could have resulted in me falling from 30 meters height at any stage. I always imagined falling “SPLAT” right onto Vanessa in the middle of the chorus of Absolutely Fabulous in front of an audience of millions.….. what a way to go…….


If you could speak to your 12-year-old self, what advice would you give?

Trust your instincts!

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