Between all this, I taught master classes and workshops for Moogahlin, for Broome’s Goolarri Writers (twice!), and at Jamieson High School, and dramaturged Fred Copperwaite’s The Burning, Mari Lourey’s Dirt Cloud and James Elazzi’s play Lady Tabouli.
I launched Summer Time, my third picture book with illustrator Antonia Pesenti, which we followed with readings in Melbourne and at the AGNSW. I wrote a first draft of A Christmas Carol, for The Ensemble’s 2020 season. And thanks to a grant from the City of Sydney, with Greta and Antonia I started work on Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard, an immersive musical theatre for children.
But this year? No idea.
The theatrical highlight of my last six months has been seeing Anthem. Not only is the piece a riveting wake up call, in the context of where we are as a country, it gives us a terrifying portrait of where we are going. The ramifications of a post-truth world impacting on the individual lives of everyone struggling to make ends meet.
The bush fires have only added to the dislocation and isolation felt by many. Stop-gap measures to prevent more fires, not even likely to achieve that goal, ignore the brutal reality of where we are as a society. We were warned by Ross Garnaut’s 2008 Climate Report that, unless we took action against Climate Change that this would happen. And it has. On cue in 2020.
We have to be cleverer and more tactical in our response to a world lurching towards self- destruction. We have to convince the deniers, especially those who have swallowed the Murdoch propaganda or been seduced by the likes of Clive Palmer’s hollow promises. Many of these people live on the edge, a place many of us have little experience of. Many are afraid. Waving placards at them as we drive through their depressed towns is not likely to win them over. Plays like Anthem might. Which is why I’m so excited about the next project 7-ON is cooking up. But more of that later.
On a personal front, my last six months have been typically roller coaster-ish in terms of writing. I’ve finished my book. Worked with a brilliant editor, Bernadette Foley, who guided me and gave me the best (and most detailed) dramaturgical advice I’ve ever had. Feeling very happy about it, especially after my family took me out to lunch to celebrate reaching the end. Now to finding a publisher. A brave new world for a nascent writer of fiction. It’s a very different one to the world of the playwright.
Talking of the world of the playwright, I had the great pleasure of directing Angela Betzien’s Children of the Black Skirt and the impossibly hilarious Popular Mechanicals by Keith Robinson, Tony Taylor and that Shakespeare fella. There is nothing quite like working with teenagers on a show. The first read is, more often than not, met with raised eyebrows and (barely concealed) dismissive comments. Rehearsals involve any number of permutations, all of which have to be negotiated with limitless understanding and patience. Then, as the thing evolves, the doubts about said play disappear to be replaced by a heady mixture of excitement and blind fear (barely concealed). Watching a cast of teenagers extend themselves and deal with a myriad of self doubts to produce a performance never loses its magic. Witnessing their unbridled joy on Opening Night and their (barely concealed) sadness on Closing Night makes you appreciate how important theatre is.
So does Anthem.
On the dreaming or ‘what if’ front: I’ve been thinking about my multi-part endeavour, Can Theatre Change the World? The first work, Dear Scott— my collected letters to the then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, was presented at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs in 2015. (I tried to get a Sydney outing for Dear Scott— without success. Make of that what you will.) I’ve since begun another piece about Scott Morrison, a short called I Contain Platitudes. There are a couple more scripts—still at the rough sketch/idea stage—under the Can Theatre Change the World? umbrella. A blend of agitprop, documentary theatre and poetic intervention, my Can Theatre Change the World? projects are in part about the role of writers and artists in society. About the responsibility we have not only to speak out about injustices, and hold elected governments to account for the things they do in our name, but also, and importantly, to speak out in imaginative and creatively ambitious ways.
At some point during that six months, I fell into a landscape rabbit-hole after a few nights of no-tent camping under the stars in the extraordinarily spooky lands of the Southern Flinders Ranges, plus a series of visits to an isolated part of Kangaroo Island. I think I have been bewitched. I am really quite old now. How come I never understood quite how beautiful my region is?
Then there were the fires at Christmas/New Year, especially on Kangaroo Island. And now we are all inside a national paradigm shift—so very uncomfortable—as we struggle to absorb the fact that we’ve been pitched or have pitched ourselves into an irrevocable and perhaps impossible future. Do I have any answers, personal or communal? Nope.
So I won’t talk of what I’ve done except to offer these sculptures I’ve created. They are part of a series called Relics of the Anthropocene Age: