Monday, 29 November 2021

The End of Winter

The End of Winter is my new performance essay-cum-monologue. Its premier season runs from 3 – 12 February 2022 at Sydney's SBW Stables Theatre.

It’s a Siren Theatre Company production and features the fabulous team that brought you Good With Maps. Performer Jane Phegan; Director Kate Gaul; Composer Nate Edmondson. And they're joined by Designer Soham Apte and Lighting Designer Becky Russell. 

What’s happening to winter? In hot, bushfire-prone Australia our winters are becoming warmer and shorter. Will climate change eventually erase the season, leaving it to exist only in paintings, fairytales and historical accounts? The End of Winter is about loss and resilience. It’s about the places the writer goes in search of the cold weather she loves—places she can reach via public transport and her imagination. 

It’s a story of winter written in the heat of summer.

More info at Siren’s website

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

# writerswrite


Recent 7-ON email-go-round:

 

I loved that question: what IS ‘lived experience’? It is so much more than biology, so much more even than social identity, it's the books we read, the plants we notice, it’s what makes us laugh, the bizarre dreams we have, our curiosity, the dishes we love to cook, the music that moves us, the fictional and real-life characters who inspire us ...

 

Have just realised … I have never been a gnome. Or any form of garden furniture. Problematic. 

 

Yes, and in my current play, I’ve never been an archbishop. 

 

I was thinking – Chekhov would have been okay. But Shakespeare – disaster! 

 

Oh, don’t even start. I’m not now, nor will ever be, an 11-year-old Chinese giant. Nor a 17th-century anatomist, a 16th-century wild child, an Iron Age bog queen. 

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be, a sort-of-Charon. Or a dead 1940s shop assistant. 

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be a teenage schoolgirl.

 

I’m not now, nor ever will be an octogenarian, dope-smoking, politically active Aunt.

 

I’m not now, nor ever will be a woman working in Foreign Affairs juggling an alternate lifestyle with a high-powered position in the Public Service.

 

I’m not now, nor ever will be an Albatross. 

 

There's a recent novel by Australian writer, Angela O'Keeffe, Night Blue, which is about Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, told through the eyes of the painting itself. I think it's safe to assume that Angela O'Keeffe has never been a famous painting—or indeed any kind of painting. 

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be a ghost hunter. Maybe a ghost one day. Maybe.

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be a terrorist.

 

I have not now, nor will I ever give birth to a fish.

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be a man. Or a boy. Or an accountant working at a local council. Or married to William Shakespeare. 

 

‘There are, it seems to me, four main pathways to truth: science, reason, intuition and imagination.’ Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

 

I’m not now, nor will ever be (sadly) an angel.

 

‘Negative Capability, that is, when a man [sic] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason ... ' Dead (Consumptive) Straight White Male.

 

I’m not nor ever will be a multi-billionaire, a captain of industry, or the shadow president of many countries but for one sparkling moment in the midst of writing, I thought I was.

 

Thanks to John Keats, Iain McGilchrist, Aubrey Beardsley, and Angela O’Keeffe for reminding us of the power of empathy and imagination. And the ability of artists to express them both.



Wednesday, 14 July 2021

What we did the first half of 2021

7-ON
Early June – before Sydney’s current Covid restrictions came into play – 7-ON’s latest publication was launched by Louise Gough at Gleebooks. With an introduction by Lee Lewis, Sharp Darts: Chamber Plays by 7-ON is a collection of fifteen short scripts reflecting our very different voices. You can buy the book through the Currency website, via Australian Plays Transform, or order it from your local bricks-and-mortar bookshop.


VERITY
For me this has been a period of gathering. I’ve been setting up projects that will begin in the next six months, and as is the way of these things I can’t talk about them yet. But they cover a range from poetry to prose to theatre to film so a tad of multi-tasking coming up. And I’m happy and excited about all of them, so ... in these tricky old times, I’ll take that as a positive.

One publication in the immediate future: Five Senses Education has just released The Red Cross Letters, a play of mine from 2016. I’ve also been publishing a bit in Signal House a literary e-magazine which just gets better and better (Listen here to Luke Mullins reading three of Frank Prewett’s poems in an interview with author Joy Porter). And … with my co-conspirator, yoga teacher and Vedic chant expert Sally Riddell, I had to call off our May retreat  in the Flinders Ranges due to a lightning lockdown at the wrong moment in Perth where Sally lives. But we have re-scheduled for May next year at a better venue and with a tighter program, so all to the good really. And I’ve been following up on past writing efforts, which are stubbornly refusing to move. 

The last two points are possibly relevant to other writers. In this punishing environment for artists and culture, we must all learn to diversify and multiply our entrepreneurial skills to survive. I can see I’m lucky here. Not everybody has an impressive health and spiritual practices person in their back pocket to pursue a different and interesting ‘other direction’. But I’m sure there are other choices for others of you that reflect this dynamic. And the other question – when to relinquish a project you are certain has merit because it’s having difficulty getting traction? When does self-believe and tenacity become a waste of one’s good time when after all the potential for narrative is endless? I really don’t know.

My very last point has little to do with writing but much to do with surviving. The thing that has helped me more than anything else during the Covid tyranny has been the natural world. That’s a bit terrifying given it’s under such threat. But this morning I saw a brown bittern sneaking daintily through the scrub on Kangaroo Island. I’ve never seen one of them ever in my life before and, given KI’s losses over the past year, a double cause for gladness; and last night I saw a bold red moon sinking over the silky night-black sea. Thanks, world. 


HILARY
Since March I have been glued to my desk working on a big commercial musical that is still under wraps. More on that anon, but I can say it’s been a great joy working with a wonderful director and producing team.

While that’s taking the lion’s share of my attention, other projects have been humming along. Last month, NIDA mounted a beautiful production of a play that is very close to my heart, Perfect Stranger, directed by Kate Champion and featuring the stars of tomorrow, both onstage and backstage. It was the first time I’ve seen it, though commissioned by Yale Rep 14 years ago! Fitting, for a play that is all about time. An inspired design solution was to put the audience on a revolve, so that the action was always hurtling towards or receding from us, mirroring the way time feels as one gets older.

In April, City Recital Hall presented Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, for which I wrote new verses. Benita Collings performed them with pianists Tamara-Anna Cislowska and Bernadette Harvey. 

My Opal card was kept busy with trips to Parramatta for two creative developments. First, Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard! a family musical based on the picture book I made with illustrator Antonia Pesenti (co-designing with Isla Shaw). Lots of play with director Liesel Badorrek, puppeteer Alice Osborne, performers Justine Clarke and Luke Escombe, and Zahra Stanton and Salina Myat playing Greta Gertler Gold’s music. I returned for The Colour Gold, a devised work directed by Darren Yap with dancers Raghav Handa and Victor Zarallo Muñoz, composer Nick Ng, and actor Nicholas Hope. Thank you respectively, Critical Stages and National Theatre of Parramatta.

I taught just one class, but it was a good one, for the Hunter Writers’ Centre in Newcastle. And I was delighted to be a judge for the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature: look out for a slew of gorgeous picture books grappling with climate change.

Looping back to musicals, last month composer Greta Gertler Gold and I secured the music theatre rights to Picnic at Hanging Rock. We are beyond excited, and while there won’t be a panpipe within cooee, the spirit of the book will be honoured. 


DONNA
I’m writing this in the middle of the latest Sydney lockdown which caused the cancellation of the entire season of my new play Prevail. Part of Morning Star, a multi-writer performance produced by subtlenuance, this piece joins Jump For Jordan and Stella Started It on my list of COVID-cancelled shows. The fact that Susie Lindeman’s performance in Prevail was leaning towards astonishing makes it just that much more terrible … Also stopped in its tracks was Performing Redress, my July keynote address to the Society of Women Writers at the State Library. The event has been bumped to December. 

The pandemic has also kept my Hearing co-writer Felix Cross in London longer than he’d planned, and the development of this commission from ATYP has been protracted as a result. His August return, and our long-awaited workshop, is cautiously anticipated. Similarly, collaborating with Perth-based Trish Ridsdale on my one woman show Ridsdale was stalled by WA’s controlled border. In May, we managed to meet face to face – essential for this project – and will grab these opportunities when her now less frequent business trips to Sydney allow.

In March, I was one of eight Darlinghurst Theatre Company 2020 Season artists invited to record a podcast with a veteran creative nominated by the Actor's Benevolent Fund. It was a joy to discuss the topics of survival, resilience and life in the theatre with the dynamic and whip-smart Zahra Newman. The Luminary Series podcasts should be up on their website soon. 

Green Door Theatre Company has continued to support the development of the full length iteration of Stella Started It, and hosted a two day development in April with actors Zoe Carides, Deb Gallanos, and director Sophie Kelly. I can imagine it more wildly as a result of our time together.

In June, I worked with Nick Atkins, Producer, New Work at the Q Theatre, to develop the concept for a playwright-driven radio play / podcast / AI project called Express Service. I also collaborated with Brisbane composer Lynette Lancini to run a roundtable for the International Focusing Institute called Artists Who Focus where we facilitated a Zoom conversation with other artists who use the modality of Focusing in their practice.

Mid-winter now, I’m midway through teaching the Page to Stage playwriting course at the National Theatre of Parramatta, have marking to do before I wrap up my Scriptwriting course at Excelsia College, and am hunting for a Day Job to replace the one which evaporated due to – surprise, surprise – the pandemic. 


VANESSA
Wow that first half of the year went quick. 

Ok well first off … the PhD research and the work on the practice. The practice is a 6- part television narrative comedy and there may or may not be a lot of lived experience regarding monkeys. Yes monkeys. The kind I used to see in Penang, gnawing on my sister’s face, stealing the instant coffee from Girl Guide camps, scowling and creasing their wizened red foreheads as if they already knew what those pesky humans were capable of fucking up.  

Damn you Cassandra-like monkeys but also bless you because you were joyous and frivolous and cheeky and actually the mascots of my childhood.

I directed a very teeny tiny play I wrote, in Newcastle for the MicroTheatre Festival which was extremely jolly fun and won a slew of prizes for acting, writing, directing and ehm ‘ensembling’. I have to say I like directing. I like the way it makes me think creatively, as a writer.

But as well (as a writer) I did a script development for my new play with awesome director and actors and dramaturg (all names redacted). And it was fab and led to many insights and also new writing, but sadly I’m not allowed to give any details yet. In the second half of the year there is a second script development also planned, depending of course on this horrible ever-changing virus.

And finally, the television series script I’m co-writing is moving along. It’s funny when you work your ring out on something and then it goes elsewhere and you are no longer working on it because other people are. It is, as they say, out of your hands. Cue anxiety and irritating questions texted (by me) to my agent. Who knows. Hmm …

A few posts back I wrote about the Catherine Wheel of Creativity, my thought being that working collaboratively on a creative outcome (like with 7-ON) enables one to work on individual projects.

But I now wonder if it works the other way too, so any creative outcome I achieve as an individual also benefits the 7-ON collaborative project.

It’s the kind of thing I need to ask a Penang based Cassandra-like monkey with an instant coffee addiction.


NOËLLE
Here we are in lockdown again. Last year, the Parramatta season of Good With Maps didn’t happen because of Covid. This year it did. Yay! And then it toured to Tasmania.

With Siren Theatre Company and the Good With Maps team (Director Kate Gaul, Actor Jane Phegan, Sound Designer Nate Edmundson) I’ve been working on a new play/performance essay: The End of Winter. Our second development workshop in March (thank you, Critical Stages) culminated in a public reading. 

Mrs C Private Detective is a nonfiction audio script I’m researching and writing for ABC RN. It’s about a woman who operated as a private detective in Brisbane in the early decades of the last century. It brings together two of my enduring interests—detective stories and investigating little-known and/or overlooked histories of women. 

On the subject of history, I’m one of the judges for this year’s NSW Premier’s History Awards. (The 2021 judges are all listed on the Awards website, so I’m not revealing anything confidential here.) That has involved a massive amount of reading etc.

From Create NSW I received a small/quick response grant to develop a new audio-cum-live theatre script, Flying Saucers Over Fairfield. With fellow 7-ONer Donna as Dramaturg, work on this project will be happening in the second half of the year.

Also in the ‘to be developed’ pipeline, I have a suite of queer-themed projects across performance, poetry and prose. Too early to say much more about them. 


NED
The absolute writing highlight on my last 6 months was the launch of Sharp Darts.

Not just the fact that we were able to come together to create such a diverse work but the way we collaborated on the launch itself. Gleebooks was the perfect venue and their support was crucial to such an exciting evening. It was amazing to see so many people there and to experience the buzz of the night. And, of course, reading Vanessa’s hilarious play was a standout moment. Except for the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing—very unprofessional.

My other highlight was to finally find a path to publishing my first novel as an independent publisher in partnership with Broadcast Books. The next step is to settle on a title and a cover. Then it’s getting it into bookshops, online and out into the world at large. It’s a very personal story and one I hope resonates with readers. Stay tuned! 

Oh … and I ‘spose I should mention that I had so much fun playing a grey nomad in Foxtel’s Mr Inbetween, even if I did meet a rather sticky end. 


CATH
In the last six months I’m most thrilled that my eyesight was restored from the deepening fog of cataracts. I had two relatively quick procedures by excellent specialists. It’s left me gazing at the crystalline beauty of the world. I’m finding it gives some respite – meditative moments shoring me up against the cruelty currently engulfing the world. 

Here’s one of my new paintings-in-progress since the eyes were fixed –


This painting and others will soon be up on Bluethumb Artists Online Gallery soon. You can see my work here -

I’ve also been making more of my mysterious horses out of air-dried clay. Many have trotted off to pride of place on the desks of collectors. It brings me such joy they are much loved. 


I’m also immersing myself in the figurative. It’s highly technical and tender as I consider each step of the prep and painting. Here’s one that is in progress -

Now onto the more mundane issues – I have had a number of projects this year that I so wanted support for but didn’t get the grant or the award or the whatever. Of course I will continue working on them, but my deepest desire to have that writer/theatre superstructure in place and to be a part of making something beautiful, dangerous and I hope profound. But these are strange times and it is chaos out there. I’ve spoken with literary managers and there’s such a backlog of scripts. So I think I can only do what I can, and must create in whatever way I can.

But there was a bright light in my writing adventures when subtlenuance picked up my short play The Family Name for their Morning Star multi-play project. The pitch was to present plays that are concerned with pernicious ideas touched with evil.

‘those ways of looking at the world
that, at first, seem so positive and helpful,
but ultimately just add to human misery … ’

Unfortunately, there were only two performances before season one of Morning Star was cancelled because of Covid. It must have been a heart-breaking decision when so much striving, excellence and energy had gone into it. I only hope that subtlenuance will recover and recoup their losses psychically and financially.

So that’s it from me. It’s raining outside. There are birds making a racket, maybe wondering what the hell is going on with the humans. It’s such a good question even if egocentric – ‘What the hell is going on with the humans?’ As artists we search …










Monday, 21 June 2021

Bright Sparks

On Friday June 4th 7-ON released a collection of works entitled Sharp Darts, published by Currency Press. It was subtitled “Chamber Plays by 7-ON” and contained 15 short works for theatre and/or audio. 


The blurb on the back of the book referred to the fact 7-ON had “collaborated over multiple projects” Reflecting on this event, a few days later, I realised that although as a group we had indeed collaborated (for example, early on, as a group we created a script using Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ that was developed further and produced at the University of Wollongong) in actual fact our most successful projects were those made up of separately written works, perhaps under an umbrella theme such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (conveniently 7, we wrote the names on bits of paper and drew them out of a hat) which was our first project. The seven plays were picked up by Sydney’s Griffin Theatre and were performed one at a time before a main play, and upon the set that had been created for that play. Mine (Vanessa's) was first, entitled Hunger and set in a garden, it was performed on the set of The Night Watchman by Daniel Keene. I remember looking at the set of Keene’s play, the design contained words stencilled onto the floor using ashes or sand.  The word “garden” could be seen clearly and I remember musing on the coincidence. 

The seven individual plays were also published, amongst other short plays commissioned by then Griffin Theatre’s Artistic Director Nick Marchand, by Currency Press under the title Short Circuit.


7-ON has been in existence for a mighty sixteen years. We began the year before my baby was born. As a group we have created many plays, mostly containing short works under an encompassing theme, but there have been many meetings, projects that went nowhere, scripts stashed in drawers, a week-long residency with Sydney Theatre Company’s young actor Residents using scripts inspired by Peter Doyle’s book of early 20th century Sydney police photographs: City of Shadows. Our project-in-response was called Long Shadows. It was never produced.

In reflecting on 7-ON, output, creativity and collaboration and sixteen years of feeling supported and encouraged by playwrights you respected,  I thought about the effect of being surrounded by such collaborators. It had to be positive, I thought. There was lots of encouragement and admiration, there was very little envy (although Noëlle winning that fabulous Windham-Campbell Prize from the USA might have niggled ahem). As a group we could try any writing style, we could float ideas, we could express disappointment to an empathetic crowd. We listened to readings of each other’s works, we signed petitions, we gave notes and we didn’t get offended if they were ignored. And, like a Catherine Wheel,  old fashioned firework causing widespread delight, spinning and shooting off coloured sparks in all directions, we could find inspiration and support in this environment, and then rocket out our own works and words, writing new works, new words.

Talking to Yet Another Playwright about not theatre or 7-ON but Billy Joel, piano-man musician and pop star, we discussed an interview Billy did in the 1980s about artistic success. Success of course is a much thought-about topic amongst scriptwriters and here was Billy Joel chatting about success and how he always knew he would achieve it. How? Joel explained that he knew he would be successful because he was competent. He could play piano, he could write songs, he could sing songs. He would achieve success. And the trick it appeared, was as long as you could work alongside competent people you would succeed. This made me think about the Catherine Wheel and 7-ON again. If you write and create in an environment of creative people, competent people, the energy that can be created, whether collaborative or individual leads to success. And indeed, there has been. Not just 7-ON branded works but individual projects, creative outcomes.  Exhibitions! Kids! School Triumphs! And on we go ...

Since 2005 I’ve had one large scale puppet piece produced, a full length puppet adaptation of a children’s book, several short plays produced, two 30-minute radio pieces, four full length plays produced, one full length play re-produced, an adaptation of a book for children that toured for several years, three full length plays published, academic article and a number of poems and stories published, an audio guide to an major art installation, and started and completed a PhD. I guess I've been busier than I’d thought. 
-Verity Laughton

Since 2005: Three AWGIE winning radio plays produced; one AWGIE award and Griffin Award winning play produced, read in Santiago and LA, and on HSC drama syllabus. A play in Melbourne and Brisbane Festivals and at Sydney Opera House. Doctorate got in 2017. Taught at Uni of Wollongong 2012-2019. Lots of dramaturgy. Lots of mentoring, teaching, workshops. Narrative writer at Royal Commission. Two plays published by Currency Press. Numerous plays in short works events. Still writing, still dreaming.
-Donna Abela

Plays long and short; audio works across drama and nonfiction; performance essays; poems, prose, books--one a mix of environmental history, poetry and memoir, the other my first poetry collection. Practising my toor dahl and ginger cake recipes until—well, pretty close to perfection.
-Noëlle Janaczewska

As life has gone on, I am overwhelmingly obsessed with the visual arts. (Sometimes I think I don't even like words anymore but one must communicate...!) I studied at the National Art School and since then I've been in both solo and group shows. I've also had paintings shortlisted/ finalist in a few art awards. In the world of words, I have had numerous radio and short plays commissioned and produced. Full length plays have had support and development, a film script optioned and another shortlisted for an IF Best Unproduced Award. Like many of us I have more than a couple of works that would love to see the light of day.
-Catherine Zimdahl

16 new plays produced (and some re-produced), and a few still waiting in the wings; 8 new musicals/song cycles;  a handful of screenplays, treatments, TV and digital eps; 2 radio plays and 3 museum audio guides; an exhibition, publications of 4 plays and 4 picture books, a fellowship and 4 awards. Sundry articles, introductions, teaching, mentoring, readings and workshops. And 2 beautiful kids launched into the world.
-Hilary Bell

school triumphs?
I survived! 
-Ned Manning

Oi - haven’t you published both books and articles about drama and education somewhere there since 2005? What about Alice Dreaming - publication and productions? What about that awesome blog that straddles art, education, theatre and poetical advocacy? What about all those kids shepherded through their Drama HSC? Credit where it’s due Ned! 
-Verity (to Ned)

In my own case there has been several produced and published plays written (full length and shorts), a web series, researching and screenwriting episodes on various television shows, produced audio scripts, a literary non-fiction book, forays into directing, the start of a PhD, the quite intense rearing of a child into a young man.

Like my collaborators I am still on the wheel, still writing, still working, still thinking, still sending off sparks into the night sky. 

Of course, the other meaning of the Catherine Wheel is a very nasty medieval torture device. 

Yup. Life of a writer, eh?
- by VB

Monday, 7 June 2021

Louise Gough's launch speech

 SHARP DARTS Launch

GleeBooks, 49 Glebe Point Road

Louise Gough

4 June, 2021


I would like to extend my acknowledgement that we are on unceded lands and that this area of Glebe, Gadigal Land, is an important and thriving community hub then and now for First Nations people. I’m grateful to be here and acknowledge the First Nations people who are present this evening.

It is an honour to be asked to launch a new publication, particularly when it’s a publication that assembles a tremendous body of work, by a tremendous group of people.

My name is Louise Gough. I am the recently appointed Executive Producer / CEO of Australian Plays Transform. APT was established in 2021 through the consolidation of two organisations, Playwriting Australia (working in play development) and Australian Plays (working in play publication, promotion and licensing). This new APT is Australia’s national play development, publication and licensing organisation.

APT has the deepest respect for Currency Press, the oldest active independent publisher and pre-eminent publisher of the performing arts. What and how they contribute to the theatre making community and to playwrights and our wider community is powerful, important and longitudinal. Thank you.

Moving through the Currency catalogue is to walk through the conversations our nation is having locally, domestically and internationally through the voices of our playwrights.

7-On is a group of playwrights who came together in 2005. They create work as a group and also support each other’s individual projects. They don’t all think alike, but they are simpatico in their belief of the transformative properties of the theatrical and performative artform and its place in Australian culture.   

The 7 writers of 7-ON, through the publication being launched RIGHT NOW, SHARP DARTS: Chamber Plays by 7-ON, contributes to the canon of Australian playwriting, national narratives, and future-making.

Playwrights are our truth-tellers, our heart-warmers, our challengers, our community builders and of course, our storytellers. They gather us, alone into togetherness.

Surely us all being here tonight is evidence of this. 

[ask the writers to come to the stage]

To you Donna,

to you Vanessa,

to you Hilary,

to you Noëlle,

to you Verity,

to you Ned, and,

to you Catherine:

thank you for your words, your heart, your spirit and the work you do in being lightning rods for us all. I want to acknowledge your vast bodies of work and as now expressed in SHARP DARTS your wonderful Chamber writings.

Congratulations to you all.

Keep with me. I have a little bit of audience interaction I would like to do. Don’t be frightened. I’m now going to say SHARP DARTS is launched, and the audience interaction bit will become clear, and I need you to be vocal. Ready?

I say:  SHARP DARTS is now launched. Now I say: Hip Hip. And you say: Hooray.

Ready?

Hip Hip

Hip Hip

Hip Hip

[Photo opportunity]

And finally, show your love, show your support, buy, experience and read.

Thank you. Now, enjoy.

 Reproduced with kind permission.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

WE ARE LAUNCHED.

 SHARP DARTS: CHAMBER PLAYS BY 7-ON was formally launched last night at Gleebooks.


Introduced by Verity...


first, a fine performance of 'Small Hard Truths', by Vanessa Bates,


a play about two world-weary garden gnomes, 


featuring Vanessa and Ned, in hats.


The champagne bottle was smashed against the side of the ship by Louise Gough. Hip hip hooray!


Mid-festivities, a 7-ON snap with that great stalwart of new Australian playwriting, May-Brit Akerholt.

A big shout-out to Louise for her beautiful speech, to Gleebooks for hosting us, to all at Currency for making it happen.  And thank you to all our friends and loved ones for being there to celebrate with us: it meant the world.

SHARP DARTS: CHAMBER PLAYS BY 7-ON is now officially out in the world. Order your copy through Currency Press, or Australian Plays Transform.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Culture Grief

I remember when the news reached me, as news does these days, in an email, an email-bomb shocked-absorbed by my unsuspecting body - pow. 

Lovely Noëlle recently emailed us about unlovely plans to restructure the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. In the slicing and dicing, some small departments are under threat - including Theatre & Performance Studies. 


I felt sick. Another full frontal kick in the cultural guts. This is not an isolated bit of butchery. This is a diabolical coincidence. In this last year: 

  • The theatre major at the University of Newcastle has been suspended. 
  • Monash University plans to close its Centre for Theatre and Performance and no longer offer theatre and performance majors.
  • Flinders Drama Centre, 50 years old this year, looks set to be restructured out of existence. 

Some nations, no matter how poor or divided, would never amputate art from life, or punish their universities. But across Australia, on the back of stagnant arts funding, and too little too late pandemic bail outs for most of the sector, universities bearing immense COVID-related budget pressures are now accomplices in the effort to demolish homegrown arts practice, decades of distinct and distinguished scholarship and training programs, and dismiss our collective critical and creative labour which strives to enrich our hearts, minds and repertoires with potent works steeped in the lived experiences and languages of this land.


In the weeks after Noelle’s email, I walk through Parramatta. Parramatta is a construction site. Parramatta is a metaphor. Demolition is everywhere. Crews in high viz vests take snaps of gaping shopfronts and upper rooms and inner fragilities - bricks, tiles, beams, lino - that don’t know what hit them. The cafe where my first serious boyfriend took me for coffee after work is gone. Not that I care particularly about that cafe - it was just a room above a shop - but I care about good process, and I don’t think that is what is going on right now. That day in Parramatta I feel naked. I feel the dust from the bulldozers on my skin. 


I am experiencing - on top of climate grief - culture grief ... for ... the loss of cultural infrastructure, wisdom and community ... the loss of skills and practices attuned to reconciliation and truth-telling, hearing and sensing, sharing and expressing, and entering into experiences beyond our own ... the squandering of generations of insight, labour and love ... all that heritage and living legacy, lost or under immediate threat.


Please support the effort to save the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney if you can, and rally on Wednesday the 2nd of June. You can follow the crisis at Save USyd Arts


Donna