Izzy Roberts-Orr: Making waves in the Melbourne arts community

Izzy Roberts-Orr has a broad range of creative experience. Picture: SIMON KUPERMAN

By SIMON KUPERMAN

In a dingy underground carpark in Paris, a bunch of students from a local clown school were putting on a play, using whatever they could find to make a set.

The proud writer of that play was Melburnian Izzy Roberts-Orr, who took a 30-hour bus ride from her university in Glasgow to watch her words come to life.

It was an incredible adventure for the young playwright in 2014, and now Izzy is on another she finds just as exciting.

As co-CEO and artistic director of the Emerging Writer’s Festival (EMF), Izzy is back in her home town following her creative passions.

Poet, playwright, audio producer, curator, and more – at only 26, the multi-disciplinary artist has already produced an incredible amount of work.  

She will bring this extraordinary experience to her appearance at the Creative Directions media festival at Monash University starting tomorrow, discussing the topic “The price of creative work”.

Izzy says her upbringing –  growing up in Alice Springs from age eight to 13, then moving back to Melbourne and living in Footscray from the beginning of her teen years – has given her a unique perspective on the work she does.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival aims to inspire and support young writers.

“Having those two juxtaposing aspects of growing up have been really useful and important for me in terms of considering different perspectives in the programming I organise for the festival,” Izzy said.

“It’s nice having had a regional upbringing in some regard and then bringing that to the way I think about arts and community inclusion.”

She’s already put in years of hard work to get where she is.

“It’s been 10 years of volunteering in different places, working with Express Media, Voiceworks, assisting with the Victorian Indigenous literary Festival black writers group, working as co-director on the National Young Writers Festival in 2016,” Izzy said.

Of the many different “hats” she wears, Izzy describes poetry as “definitely one of the most consistent”.

“I tend to write it and want to engage with reading other people’s work fairly regularly,” she says.

Her inspiration came through a radio play by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas that she grew up listening to.

“The one connection that I have between my grandfather, my dad and I is that we all loved Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.” It is a play designed to be heard, rather than watched. 

She also credits the publication Voiceworks and teachers who mentored her in high school for building her love of poetry.

“I was lucky to have a couple of teachers who mentored me a lot within poetry. Footscray City High School’s Peter Walsh would like flick me something to read and introduced me to Voiceworks when I was about 13,” she says.

“I started reading it, and then joined the editorial committee when I was about 19 and stayed till I was 25. It was a really important space to nurture that interest in poetry as well.”

Izzy Roberts-Orr is an inspiring leader for the Emerging Writers Festival.

Izzy has also delved into many creative spaces as a volunteer, making waves through community radio (SYN, All The Best, Triple R) and community theatre (Australian Theatre for Young People, Malthouse’s Provocateurs Program). She’s also produced two podcasts, Sisteria and The Rereaders.

However, the space where she’s been able to combine all of her different creative interests is site-responsive audio – something you listen to while moving through a specific space.

“It’s almost like performance art, it’s got that theatre-making background, as you’re thinking about how the performance is located in the space and how your audience is moving through the work,” she says.

“It has the technical journalism background, the sound aspect of being recorded and making creative audio that sounds good for the person experiencing it. Then the writing side crosses over into poetry as well as performance.”

Through her work as a curator and artistic director for the EWF, Izzy says her multiple interests have been helpful.

“I find my experience with a lot of different art forms is really valuable. As when working with different artists who are multi-disciplinary as well, I have an understanding of the different forms that I do, and those that I don’t work in, I know how to find the way into understanding it from a core perspective,” she says.

Izzy Roberts-Orr’s role in leading the Emerging Wrtiters’ Festival is her latest adventure. Picture: Simon Kuperman

“Because when you’re working with artists that closely, you need to be able to learn how to speak their language to ask what they need as so much of the EWF is about developing artists.”

Her co-CEO Will Dawson says her unwavering commitment to supporting storytellers and inclusion is incredible and that all her work is “about how can we support new and emerging voices”.

“I think her commitment to inclusion is fantastic as well and making sure that there is a broad and diverse array of voices represented in the festival and that the festival is open to a diverse array of people as well and that’s not just in background but in form and genre and approach and all of those kinds of things as well.”

Close friend Bethany Atkinson-Quinton says Izzy is well established at the heart of Melbourne’s thriving arts community, writing poetry has incredible beauty and depth.

“She is an incredibly influential person in the arts and creative space in Melbourne. She’s so well respected, not only for her work, but for the way that she approaches people,” Bethany says.

“She loves meeting new people and has got a lot of time and space for other people.”

“She’s got an amazing capacity to unpack the human experience in a way that’s really accessible. It’s like when you read something that articulates something that you’ve been thinking, but haven’t been able to put into words yourself and it’s  almost a sense of relief.”

Izzy’s next adventure sees her organising the programming for the Digital Writers’ Festival, only in its fourth year, and run by the EWF team. It starts on October 24.