• 13 Jul 2011 /  Reviews 19 Comments

    Hi Kids, apologies for the silence – I have been out picking cotton – which is code for bum down head up trying to earn a few bucks. I cryptically hinted only recently  I have a day job, so no I don’t live on air or the blue blood of young actors. But it is a job that comes and goes in waves – call it freelance, casual, wotever – it helps pay the bills and it’s lots of fun. Right now I got some work. Last year was quiet – with repercussions for the quality of cat food I could buy for Amos and Nitro. But the system has kicked in again and now I am on a new project (a history of Sydney’s G&L Mardi Gras – more on this later). I mention this other life as people almost always introduce me as a critic, which at parties inevitably increases the likelihood of going home alone. I appreciate that age may may also be a factor at play, but I do remember in my younger days  – at the height of my fame as a critic – the look of fear that would overwhelm a young virgin-type when they suddenly anticipated forensic degustation of their potential upcoming bedroom performance. To assure the said victim that I was hugely inept myself has never seemed to help.

    Anyway, after years of schlepping around the fringes of print media I have mostly given that sort of thing up. The odd essay maybe. And I do have a possible book to work on – on the work of a stage designer – agreed to by a publisher but being expensive needs raising finance first. Meanwhile, as financial philosopher Peter Singer may ask: “how is James to live?” Well yes, true, the kindness of strangers. But, apart from that, since 1993, I have also been recording what are known as ‘whole life’ interviews for the Oral History and Folklore Collection of the National Library of Australia. Quite simply ‘life stories’ of interesting Australians. Because these assignments are not in print, few people know they exist – so here I am to tell you. Not just because it’s about me, but to alert you to the phenomenal archive of stories here, of which mine are but a few handful among many thousands.

    I came to this Library work, nearly 20 years ago now, as a journalist who happened to be living in inner-city Sydney, the physical/spiritual/emotional heart of Australia’s AIDS epidemic. The National Library was embarking on a major new topic: ‘Australia’s Response to AIDS’. Initially I mostly interviewed young men who were dying, including actor Timothy Conigrave, who at that point was halfway through writing his famous  book, Holding The Man, later turned into a successful play. That was a great interview – by that I mean, Timothy (not surprising to anyone who knew him) was funny and heartbreakingly honest. Actors playing the role have been able to listen to his voice and manner of speaking, which is why the part has never been played sentimentally. Tim was bold and cheeky to the end – no syrup.

    Several of us worked on that project, but a decade later I was asked to revisit it by myself. Re-interviewing not only survivors, but doctors, nurses, activists – and catching up with people who had slipped the net the first time around. One result of all this work was an offer to work, more recently, as a researcher on a documentary called Rampant: How a City Conquered AIDS (by the director of Leaky Boat). Rampant is a fantastic film because it shows you just how amazing many of the people were who engaged together at so many levels in Sydney to stop the epidemic from spreading from the gay ghetto (elsewhere via drug users and sex workers) to the broader public. If you’re reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, this is today’s main point. How well do you know the history of your city? And just why is it that you  think we don’t have our own stories of interest to tell?

    Let me put it another way. I hang out a bit with quite a few people young than me – even some in their 20s. And I am shocked how little they know about even the recent history of this city. Being mostly up-and-c0ming theatre people, I am even more dismayed to discover how little they know about the history of this city’s theatre life. As individuals it’s not their fault. If they wanted to know more, where would they begin to look? But I also believe that it’s currently the fashion to think that the past is not important. Belvoir’s recent publication of a book overlooking its creative life thus far is a helpful contribution. While there needs to be a more research and publishing, I think more importantly is the need for us to start respecting the past as a resource. Australian theatre is forever re-inventing the wheel – with not enough building and moving forward as a result. And these histories are quite specific.

    If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that theatre – of all the art forms – is the most parochial. Sydney’s theatre world is a solar system away from that of Melbourne’s. London, Prague, New York – either now or a hundred years ago – is another galaxy. And yes it’s all very nice to toy with a so-called ‘classic text’, either reverentially or with massive creative disrespect (turning Gogol into Gaga), do as much of that sort of stuff as you want. But if we want a theatre culture to thrive, it also needs to regularly till home soil. And if you don’t what’s in that soil nutritionally, how can you make the best of this year’s sowing and next year’s harvest? Shakespeare may well have set most of his stories in times past and in exotic locales, but that as just a trick: every single one of his plays was also, sometimes mostly, about what was going on in London that year. Were the King’s Men reviving medieval church drama or even the Greek classics: no. Every play they, and their competitors, staged was by a current or very recent local playwright. I believe there is a connection between this simple fact and the huge numbers – thousands a day – that attended the Elizabethan theatres.

    You may say that this job is better done now by TV and film. My argument would be that no matter how much of it is done by those forms, our theatre still needs to rise up out of our own local soil for us to produce truly beautiful flowers and healthy nutritional crops. Okay the plays can be set anywhere in place and time, but to do what we have done in recent years and downgrade the status (almost get rid of) the Australian writer  – and the home-grown story – is, I think, a huge mistake. I am picking up here on the discussion which followed my review of The Business and has continued on other online theatre blogs in relation to a number of other shows – including Baal, The White Guard and The Seagull. Those comments have set me thinking: something is wrong with our current funding and programing priorities? Since I started out in the 1970s, I have never known a time before when at least one, if not several, playwrights were household names. The breakthrough moment was Ray Lawler’s The Summer of the 17th Doll, which in the 1950s not only played to huge numbers in Melbourne and Sydney, but toured up and down the eastern states, a town a night – and then went on to New Zealand and  even London. John Sumner, soon to emerge at the Artistic Director of the MTC, regarded the play’s success to be an aberration, and went to no trouble to encourage any more of that sort of thing  – not when you had so many fine English plays, new and old, to choose from. In his view this was more than fortunate, given the fact (as he saw it) that Australians had no interesting stories of their own to tell. That kind of attitude, I believe has crept back into the group mindset. And while it may be true that Dad & Dave nostalgia, or Home & Away soap are not what we are looking for, that in fact it may be quite difficult right now to know where our home-grown talent could and should be heading that doesn’t mean we don’t encourage it. Those with an interest in the theatre in Australia – audiences as well as theatre-makers – were familiar not only with the names but the work of many living playwrights including Stephen Sewell, Dorothy Hewett, Alex Buzo, John Romeril, Jack Hibberd, Alma de Groen, Louis Nowra, David Williamson. In 2011 I cannot suggest the name of one contemporary playwright as well known or whose work is held in comparable regard. Look to the USA, UK, anywhere in Europe, almost anywhere in the world where a theatre culture exists – and the same would not be true. However else we play with the data available, this tells me something is very wrong.

    I have decided it is not good enough to simply say ‘an international’ outlook better suits these times. For all its success at so many levels, especially skills and competence, our theatre world right now feels unimportant and spiritually empty. We blame the print media for being ignorant in not caring about it. But have we ever  stopped to ask if perhaps we are not newsworthy? I am fairly sure that if we came up with something interesting enough it would be splashed across the front page. When Opera Australia presents La Traviata next year on a massive pontoon moored off Lady Macquarie’s Chair to audiences of 3,000 a night, I am sure it will get media coverage. A work for one actor and one audience member would also attract attention if it were truly interesting enough.

    Rather than comment on the artistic policy of the big theatre companies ( maybe another time soon), I am going to pursue this conversation from another angle: the Indie scene. A few weeks back I saw three shows back to back. Rope at the Bondi Pavilion, The Coming World at Darlinghurst Theatre  and Mum’s In: Stories from Razorhurst. Rope was actually Peter Hamilton’s 1929 West End (London) thriller, Rope’s End, which Hitchcock turned into an absorbing thriller. The play in its time (and place) was well regarded. There was a very good team working on this show including director Iain Sinclair and actors Anthony Gee and and Anthony Gooley. It’s a thriller with a few ‘social issues’ relevant to its time. There is no reason not to do it now, but at one’s own risk. The anti-war themes now appear feeble. So, at best, it’s a thriller. Or needs to be. And this production simply did not not jingle the nerve endings enough to earn that title. I can be done: I saw a production of Wait Until Dark, a very similar kind of play, at Marian Street some years back starring Georgie Parker and Andrew McFarlane – it scared the pants off us!  I felt, watching Rope at the Bondi Pav, that about 80 percent of the effort on the night went into keeping the British accents straight and generally creating the period milieu. All that would have been simply assumed in London in 1927 and the actors would have devoted the bulk of theirenergies to other stuff like like creating heightened psychic atmosphere. Also, I attended a few days into the run (not freebee opening night) and there were only a handful of us in to see the show.

    A couple of night later and it was much the same thing. The Coming World by American writer Christopher Shinn is relatively recent (premiering in London in 2001), but it suffered the same challenges as Rope in that so much work had to be done by the cast in mastering the Connecticut accents that few acting resources appeared leftover to bring the play to life. It was a good cast – Cheree Cassidy and Ian Meadows, and a director of promise in Caroline Craig. But did the earth move for me – I sat there rigidly disengaged. Again I was attending a couple days after opening night and the audience was tiny.

    While this is hardly a scientific survey, I found it fascinating to discover that I had to fight my way in to see the next Indie gig in my diary. There was a queue down the street. After the mind-numbing experiences of Rope and The Coming World, I trotted out on a very cold night at the end of that same week to Mum’s In: Stories from Razerhurst. This was the creation of Vashti Hughes – a show for one performer (Vashti) with piano accompaniment from partner Ross Johnston (co-writer credit), and a script involving many characters – male and female -  from the era of east Sydney’s razor-gangs, including Tilly Devine (brothels), Kate Leigh (sly grog), Nellie Cameron (prostitute), Frank green (thug) – all getting ready to attend  the funeral of Guido Caletti, leader of Darlinghurst’s razor-gang Push.

    It takes a lot of guts to create your own one-person show, though credit must also in this case to others, including director James Winter. But here’s the thing. Mum’s In didn’t even have the support of a recognised co-op or Indie venue. It was put on in a ‘secret venue’. Nor did it have what you might call ‘a budget – a nearly bare stage and one outfit. What Vashti does do however is throw herself into creating a script that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go. She just dug into the soil beneath her own feet and pulled up this story like as giant sweet potato (apologies for the extended agricultural analogy). The ‘secret location’ (you only found out where it was after you booked) was in East Sydney, not far from the East Village hotel which for most of its life was better known as The Tradesman’s Arms, famous for the sawdust on the floor in the Razorhurst era, put there to soak up any blood. Of which, apparently, there was lots.

    Vashti would be the first to admit that Judy Davis is the better actress. But with a good story and loads of commitment, help from her team, she pulled off a fun and successful Indie theatre gig – certainly one of the best Sydney has seen this year. All advertising was done at no cost by social networking, as they like to call it, and word of mouth. If you arrived in 1930s gear you got a discount on your ticket. You also got a shake down for hidden weapons. Inside, at the tables, you could buy ‘sly’ grog served in jam jars. Despite the secret venue not being exactly of the era the story was set in, a general ambiance was created. I sat with a friend and two older women who could well have been Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh in their senior years: they certainly dressed up for the occasion.

    So this theme of telling our own stories. I am trying make two points. Our theatre culture’s past if full of stories, and we should know them. and our Australian culture more broadly – past and current – is loaded with many fascinating stories. Where to find them. Back to my day job. For one thing, nothing is stopping you dipping into the National Library’s Oral History and Folklore collection. I will finish with this. After the AIDs project I was invited to start interviewing eminent theatre professionals. I have completed dozens of these now. There are more from another interviewer and there is a huge collection from dance world. Personally, I had no idea when I started out how fascinating out theatre past – say from the 1930s – has been. But you can access these interviews – that’s what they are there for. I am off the theatre topic for the moment while I concentrate on an oral history of Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. But, I suggest, listen to my interviews with directors including George Ogilvie, George Whaley, Peter Oyston, Doreen Warburton, Arne Neeme, Richard Cottrell, for example. Hear them talk about directing the classics as well as their many premieres of new Australian plays. Not everyone has been interviewed, and not all the interviews are equally successful. And no interview is uniformly fascinating. But I can assure you, put in the time, keep your ears open – and you will learn heaps. The struggles, the ups and downs, the hits and flops, the great personalities – great stories – all om a theme – striving to create an exciting home-grown Australian theatre culture.

    To look at a list of the people I have interviewed for the National Library go to this address. Better still – head to HOME – and take a snoop around the whole collection. People have been interviewed from all walks of life. Right now the Library is working on a series of interviews with Forgotten Australians – people raised in foster and institutional care. I worked in this briefly in its pilot stage – oh my gosh. You think we don’t have stories – are you kidding me. Sorry no photos with this story – too busy. After all, I am currently immersed in a near permanent state of Sydney’s G&L Mardi Gras – from 1978 to 2011. That’s a lots of bums up (and tits out) and I have to deal with as many as one person can single-handle. Occasionally coming up for air!

    Posted by James Waites @ 11:40 am

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19 Responses

  • epistemysics Says:

    This sounds eerily familiar. :D

    I watch a show called Quite Interesting – no idea if you’ve heard of it. Anyway, by watching this show, which is a cross between weird-trivia/myth-busting/game-show, I learn rather a lot of new things. One episode about a year ago was all about Gardens, and one of the questions put to the panel was, “where’s the best place in the world to discover an entirely new species?”

    One answer was “the Amazon rainforest”, which lost the contestant points for being (a) wrong, and (b) too obvious. They then went on to say, as a joke, “Kent”, which, much to their surprise, was much closer to the answer than they’d thought.

    The idea was that nature is so diverse that you can, within reason, look at any piece of land, and you’re bound to find something there. They quoted Gilbert White, a naturalist, who said, “nature is so full and so varied that if you want to find the place with the most variety, it’s the place you most study.”

    I go off on this long tangent because I think it’s quite relevant, as it seems that, as you’ve noticed, James, Australian theatre is looking to the Amazon for new species, when there’s plenty up for grabs under the Hills Hoist. I can understand why this would come about, though, as the Amazon sounds much more glamorous than the backyard, after all. But humanity (and it’s humanity that makes a play stand the test of time) is the same everywhere.

    I had a point, now let’s see if I can remember it… Nope. I’ll just keep rambling.

    I too, like you, find this trend of independent theatre putting on plays from overseas rather disappointing. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sitting through a dreadful production, bored out of my mind, wondering, “why bother staging a crappy American play, when we could instead be staging a crappy Australian one?” Perhaps I’m placing too much faith in Australian writers, but surely we could have the same hit-and-miss rate as randomly-selected international plays? From my perspective (which is one of little knowledge about new writing from anywhere), it seems that we’re importing a bunch of no-name writers from overseas, when we could be watching no-name writers from here, and if we do watch no-name writers from here, then there’s the chance of some sort of relationship between writer and audience being built, surely, as opposed to the latest German wunderkind who has one play at Griffin and isn’t seen for the next ten years.

    I think half the problem is that the audience at large sees an Australian name they’ve never heard of, think, “I’ve never heard of them, they’re probably no good,” then, turning to the latest offering from abroad, think, “I’ve never heard of them either, but out of all the international plays, this theatre group has chosen this one, so it must be something special,” even when it’s in all likelihood not.

    Anyway, that’s enough logorrheic nonsense from me for the moment. What I’d be interested to know is, James, now that you’ve diagnosed the problem, what would you prescribe?

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  • James Waites Says:

    Delightful response Episto. I visited Kent once, Virginia Water to be more exact.The plant life is indeed spectacular, most of it driving up to a party at Elton John’s, who lived next door. No prescriptions or proscriptions at this stage – quite exhausted merely nosing round in the body politic trying to find where the heck the queer smell comes from.

  • Alison Croggon Says:

    It seems worth pointing out that very recently, every single main stage theatre in Melbourne, ie, four in the MTC and two in the Malthouse, were occupied by new Australian plays. I see a goodly proportion of new work on and off main stages. Maybe it’s a Sydney thing?

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  • James Waites Says:

    Hi Alison, well isn’t that interesting indeed – thank you very much for that. And who knows, maybe we are just going through an unplanned statistical blip. Though I do hold to my point that not one leading current Australian playwright is a household name – apart from in your household perhaps!

  • simon Says:

    I suspect that Williamson is really the only Australian Playwright who ever made it to gold-plated household name status (although even he’s possibly less well-known than theatre-people may assume – I just checked with my less-theatre-informed partner and he confused him with John Williamson the singer).

    But it’s true that you really do have to be paying attention to notice the emerging playwrights- it may be that the promotion-path is not as easy as it once was. Wiliamson, for instance, was snaffled up pretty quickly from the fringe into the mainstream (commission for the MTC by his fourth play “Jugglers Three”). But it’s also possible that there just isn’t the “good middlebrow playwright” around as much any more, the way, for instance, Nick Enright, Alex Buzo, Hannie Rayson (up until about “Two Brothers”), certain Alma DeGroen plays (although I’d exclude anything from “Rivers of china” onwards from that category)… Even, in the late 80s/early 90s, Louis Nowra’s work went through a populist/mainstream patch.

    It’s possible that this is just because it’s easier for Australian playwrights to become successful (and better paid) elsewhere – Jonathan Gavin, Deb Oswald and Tony McNamara, for instance, are all probably better paid from the couple of episodes of “Offspring” they might write a year than they would be from a full season at Belovir or Griffin…

    Also, I’d be interested to know how the changing legal state of development has affected how new plays are slotted – the cases where Belvoir promoted “The Seed” and “Rueben Guthrie” from downstairs to upstairs might be in trouble if the legal-action that took place over “Rueben Guthrie” got any traction (regarding actors who appeared in the downstairs production not being cast in the upstairs).

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  • James Waites Says:

    I think my main point is even in this household of one (me) plus two highly literate cats – and I go to the theatre several times a week – no playwright is a household name here. Gavin, Oswald, McNamara, Bovell, Mulvany, Holloway, Katz – are all as good, if not better than the names I trotted out from the 1980s. But none has traction in the public mind. If that is a naive proposition, well let’s just stick to theatre industry people and regular theatre-goers. It is clearly the era of the director and I really don’t care what texts they use. But when you have current names like the above-mentioned, I can’t see why we aren’t heading off to see some mind-blowing home-grown scripts brought to life on a regular basis. Mind you Lachlan Philpott’s point on this site not long ago that his play Silent Disco got up because it required only ‘four actors’ is worth absorbing. Mueller’s Zebra at the STC required only three actors. Yet STC can afford the risk of The White Guard with a cast of more than a dozen, even if that was fewer than the number to play it in the London production. Why do the big theatre companies believe – and they probably have got evidence from their marketing/promotions/sponsorship/benefactor schmoozing departments (usually full-time casts of more than a dozen) – that they cannot afford to risk producing Australian plays with larger casts? This surely limits the Australian playwrights’ options significantly in coming up with something special, spectacular and inventive. How has it come about that Australia audiences are not prepared to pay to see Australian works – how did that happen – when that was not the case in the 1970s and 80s? And what can be done about it?

  • simon Says:

    To be fair to Griffin, I don’t think they can fit a cast of over a dozen on the stage of the stables … Pretty much everything they do has a maximum of six actors. (although possibly I’m wrong… now I’m thinking of it, back when Nimrod was first there doing Shakespeare, they would have had to, wouldn’t they?)

    And even in the 80s, plays with large casts were a rarity – I can remember Louis Nowra’s “The Incorruptible” looking very sparse in the wilds of the Drama theatre with a cast of about five, three of whom played multiple roles.

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  • epistemysics Says:

    Re: Alison – give the universe a million years, and all the planets are bound to align at some point. (Joking aside, I know next to nothing about Melbourne, so I can’t say anything on the subject.)

    Nor can I say anything on any other subject, methinks, but why let that stop me?

    I think, James, that the reason STC could afford the risk for The White Guard was because of Miranda Otto (though I get the feeling it wasn’t quite the money spinner they wanted it to be – I only surmise this because it didn’t sell out, like Uncle Vanya/Streetcar/Zebra/Long Day’s did). What’s interesting about that, of course, is that it had nothing to do with whether the play was Australian or not…

    But I think you’re right about it limiting Australian playwright’s options, especially – especially – when it comes to spectacle. I don’t think I’ve seen a single independent play that had anything even approaching spectacle (somewhat understandably, I suppose). But what’s worse, I don’t think I’ve seen an Australian play on the mainstage with spectacle either. Which feeds back into the theatre-system, such that an audience associates spectacle with international classics only – no wonder it’s a director’s theatre at the moment.

    As for what can be done – a good pinch of omnipotence for critics wouldn’t go astray, so they could lead their flock to more Australian fare, but given that newspapers are going down the plughole, there’s probably not much use anyway. (Democracy’s only good for government, methinks, and then only because it has the slowest decline of all the forms – is there a single critic in Australia that could sell out a show nowadays with a good review (and hence break an audience out of its Australian-malaise)?) It’s either that or finding some artistic directors who are extremely courageous (if for instance, the STC put on a play from all those household names in the ONE season, as well as new Australian plays, do you think that might fix things?). It’s interesting to note that when Summer of the Seventeenth Doll comes on at Belvoir later in the year, it will be the first Australian classic – true classic – that I’ll have seen in two and a half years (the last I saw was Mukinupin, I believe).

    Okay, enough rambling. Hopefully all the above doesn’t sound too ridiculous.

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  • James Waites Says:

    Bjzarre, I have been replying to comments from various folks of late – but forgetting first to put up the said contributor’s post I am responding to – sorry folks – the line of thought will no doubt be skewiff. Episto: your note that you are seeing only your 2nd Australian classic in 2 1/2 years is a telling on. How well I remember Rodney Fisher’s sweeping production of Hewett’s Fields of Heaven on the Drama Theatre stage etc etc – huge show, big cast, much loved!

  • simon Says:

    I can only think of two Australian plays with spectacle that I’ve seen, both more than a decade ago (and, not coincidentally, both a case of Belvoir playing outside its normal theatre) – “Dead Heart” and “Cloudstreet”. “Dead Heart” was probably better spectacle than it was a script (The movie probably leaves the weaknesses of the script more exposed than the theatre experience did), and Cloudstreet I remember as having an uneven opening before it emerged into full-blown brilliance. The other attempt at big scale spectacle I know Belvoir tried (Black Mary) I know fell apart due to an accident in performance (I was booked to see it, but performances were cancelled)

    Actually, that’s a fib, I also found “Love ME Tender” last year spectacular in its own separate way. And don’t forget “Speaking in Tongues” had its revival earlier this year – a major Australian Classic celebrating its 15th anniversary (and given Griffin’s usual “new writing” mandate, it’s rare for them to do revivals, the only other one I can think of is their production of “Away” a few years ago). Although it’s noticable that Speaking is, again, better known for it’s very different Film adaptation than it is for its theatrically inventive original.

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  • At Any Cost? | Ensemble Theatre at Augusta Supple Says:

    [...] dramaturgical. There’s a great history/context lesson in James Waites’ recent post (click here) about Australian playwrights being household names. Well, Williamson certainly is that… and [...]

  • epistemysics Says:

    Hmm, I’d forgotten about Love Me Tender, though I’d probably class that as ‘spectacle-lite’ – compared to, say, the set of August: Osage County or Streetcar, it wasn’t much, so yes, spectacular in its own separate way.

    Though now that I say that, I find that you’ve got my memory working a bit better, so I have to admit that I HAVE seen an Australian play with spectacle. Unfortunately it was Don Parties On. Thankfully it was completely outside the mainstage/independent spectrum (in Sydney at least, where it was purely commercial and unsubsidised and not related to any of our theatres, though in Melbourne it was part of the MTC’s season, I believe). The set in that was pretty spectacular, I suppose, though that was its only merit. Indeed, I probably would’ve enjoyed my time at the play more if I’d just stared at the set for two hours (I would’ve had some time to contemplate life, for instance – something hard to do when actors are shouting at you).

    As for Speaking in Tongues – I hadn’t forgotten it, for I consider it, I suppose, a ‘modern classic’ (in the way that Penguin publish 10 or 20 year old books as opposed to the black-cover ‘true’ classics). Though I do admit that it is a rather good play. (I left it out for the above reason, and, also, if I’d put it in, I would’ve been forced to concede that Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith (on last year at the STC) was also a classic. And I’d rather chop a foot off than do that.)

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  • Niall Tangney Says:

    This post has been so interesting, there is so much to think about. I once had the pleasure to meet the late theatre historian Leslie Rees and his friend Daphne Jones from WA when they were both in their 90′s i think. Leslie died in 2000. For those reading who don’t know Leslie was head of ABC drama (in 1938 Rees founded the Playwrights’ Advisory Board) and also wrote children’s books, but also a significant called the History of Australian Drama and it has had various updates and publications dates. Here is a quote from Leslie’s entry in the Australian Live Performance hall of Fame site. http://www.liveperformance.com.au/halloffame/leslierees1.html
    “Until the Australian theatre found its own voice, expressing its own ethos and values, Rees felt, we would remain exactly what our theatre was showing us we were: a second-rate, imitative, grovelling, colonial culture of amateurs subsisting on a diet of imports.’
    It is great that Leslie made so much effort to change this in his life.
    I have come to theatre as an audience member relatively late, after going a lot when i was younger and drifting away, but since October last year have been seeing almost everything i can in Sydney. It has been such a rewarding experience for me i can’t help but want other people to share this experience of live theatre. I think part of the reason people you might find yourself in a small audience sometimes (as you mentioned you were at the play, The Coming World at Darlinghurst theatre), is because many people simply have not heard of some of the smaller theatre venues, and also that perhaps we don’t have the theatre-going culture on a scale that i’ve heard other (perhaps European) countries may have. This is the reason why i have created my website which i have attached here. It aims to be a comprehensive listing of Sydney theatre venues. I have recently been telling a lot of people who don’t currently go to theatre about my website in order to get them to come to the theatre. (I created it because i felt there was a need to show all the venues in a single spot ….rather than have to google for theatre info all over the place.)
    This reminds me, i recently tried to give away FREE tickets i had won to a play over at the Deckchair Theatre in Fremantle, WA. It is a new play by a West Australian http://www.deckchairtheatre.com.au/productions/2011/GARDEN Anna Houston . Unfortunately the reaction i got from the 50′ish non-theatre-goer in Perth who i attempted to give the ticket to was “is it any good or not?”. I said “i don’t know, it is a NEW play, you will have to go to find out and make up your own mind”. She said she did not want to go, and i was very disappointed in her unadventurous spirit. I suppose i mention this just as a lament that some people can’t just go to see something new and Australian BECAUSE it is new and Australian. Theatre-going, for the sake of it! That’s what we need here in Australia, maybe less of a culture of drinking and sport (though of course sport is theatre in itself too) and more a culture of following writers, artists and actors and directors etc etc. It is so engaging and stimulating for me, i regret missing out on all the theatre over the years when i was often working nights in hospitality. Now i am glad i have returned to enjoy it.
    Gosh there is plenty more i wanted to say on this post but that will probably do . Vashti Hughes’ show was great. So funny too. And yes, the history of theatre in Australia is something i am very interested in, and it is an interesting point you make about reinventing the wheel. Thanks for your blog I enjoy reading it.

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  • simon Says:

    Sorry to be a double-post nutbag but … from my experiences in the indie-theatre sidebars, Australian writers (or, to be more accurate, their agents and representatives) don’t exactly do them any favours – it is usually more expensive to get the rights for an Australian play than it is to get the rights to a US or UK play. Which means, given the independant theatre sector is not overflowing with cash, they’re going to pick the cheaper option (“Rope” over, say, a Stephen Sewell or a Louis Nowra play).

    Now, I’m not saying Australian Playwrights have to go poor, but … why are they so badly served by their agents?

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  • James Waites Says:

    Interesting anecdote about tying to give away those theatre tickets. And did you put you theatre info website up? Am I blind I can’t see it.

  • James Waites Says:

    Interesting again….

  • niall Tangney Says:

    i did put the link on you had to click on my name to see it . Here it is : Theatre In Sydney http://sites.google.com/site/theatreinsydney

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  • geoff parkes Says:

    (with finality). Crritic!

    *sends hugs from the womb of two bahs*

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  • James Waites Says:

    There you are. I was searching my emails – i knew you had sent me a message somewhere!

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