• 28 Dec 2011 /  News 6 Comments

    So where have I been these past three months? I got asked to be part of the team working on a TV doco about the history of Australian theatre. Called Raising The Curtain, it’s been commissioned by Stvdio. And a while yet in the making – probably screening towards the end of 2012. It’s a three-part series, three hours all up, starting with convict beginnings all the way up to the present. It focuses on three themes. Episode One – the entrepreneurs and dreamers, including the crazy cats, especially before government funding who put their money and reputations on the line, time and time again. Episode Two looks at the ‘voice – namely the emergence of Australian playwriting. And Episode Three – the theatre-makers – directors, actors and designers – and some of the best ‘Australian’ work they have produced.

    Cordelia Beresford, Ian Walker and me - photo by Ross Wallace

    Quite a sweep. I got to work with the research team for five weeks and then spent four weeks doing the on-camera interviews. That second part was pretty intense – two interviews a day on many days – maybe eighty hours – to be cut down to three! Luckily the complete interviews will be deposited in an archive and will be able to be accessed in the future by researchers. Plus some re-enactments, live footage and lots of photos. And lots of big names – around forty all up – including from senior ranks the likes of John Bell, Robyn Nevin, Geoffrey Rush, Jacqui Kott, Jim Sharman, Jack Hibberd and Evelyn Krape, Ray Lawler, Louis Nowra, Stephen Sewell, to the latest generation including Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Simon Stone, Lee Lewis and Lally Katz. Among the sweetest interviews was a double we did with Ken and Lilian Horler and among the most moving, Jack Charles. Kosky was interviewed in Berlin.

    Where it all began in Carlton and still going strong.

    Director Ian Walker now puts together a rough cut and somewhere around May 2012 there will be another round of interviews – including some more big names who were too busy this time round. Among the highlights was Ross Wallace’s evocative and highly adaptable set, and Cordelia Beresford’s elegant cinematography. Who would have thought talking heads could look so good! We used theatres as locations, from rehearsal rooms at Belvoir, The Stables (original Nimrod) to the Fig Tree Theatre on the old NIDA site, to the new Melbourne Theatre Company complex, and of course cute little La Mama in Carlton where so much that is Australian theatre today began. The producing team included Aline Jacques, Julia Peters and Margaret Murphy.

    Asking the questions was an interesting challenge because your truly is not in the doco – no slouching back in loafers Andrew Denton-style. Rather questions that prompted the talent to speak directly to camera. It took a lot of concentration and quite different to the more easy-going approach I use for the National Library’s oral history interviews. The interviewees were great: some fascinating and hilarious stories were revealed – perhaps for the first time.

    The original Old Tote (now Figtree) on the UNSW campus.

    The challenge to the series is doing justice to what happened before the emergence of Pram Factory and Jane Street. But that is the goal – a 200-year sweep focusing on the people and the events that played a part in making our theatre ‘Australian’. That wrestle to get away from all that was British and whatever else all-American.

    Don’t want to say too much here – too early. Apart from thanking Essential Media for the fascinating job. TV is hard work but I think there is a good doco in the spawning. Much to be done in the editing room. And thanks to all the interviewees. You were very generous with your time and thoughts. It became quite obvious as the days unfurled that theatre attracts a particularly generous kind of human being – not much money in it so why do it? There’s a whole lot of love. Camaraderie, crazy adventurism, and communal creativity.

    Well let you know more over the coming months.

    Posted by James Waites @ 6:29 pm


6 Responses

  • Cameron Woodhead Says:

    This sounds truly excellent James. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

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  • James Waites Says:

    yep should be good – thanks for dropping by…

  • Alex Galeazzi Says:

    hiya james – sounds fascinating – especially the early days – have been invited to “the boys” opening next month – 20 years since my first production – god time passes quickly !!!
    hopefully see you there ??? cheers alex xxx

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  • Robert Love Says:


    Looks really interesting. It is an important addition to the historical material currently available . Great that it has had the benefit of your knowledge on the case. Look forward to seeing it eventually and rediscovering the known history and seeing for the first time some of the unknown history as well as hearing the “fascinating and hilarious stories” that the interviewees reveal.
    Congratulations in advance!

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  • James Waites Says:

    Hi Robert and Alex thanks for dropping by xx

  • Julie Lynch Says:

    sounds amazing James, Congratulations….looking forward to seeing it on the big or little screen, xx Julie

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