On the 13th October of last year I got on a plane to Melbourne. It was raining. I was flying into the sunshine. It should have been easy but it was the first time I’ve left the country without actually wanting to leave the country. Not that I hadn’t been looking forward to two months in Australia researching and interviewing, but the hard reality is that I lost a friend just a few weeks earlier. A very beautiful friend. One who had not been sick and who – if anything – exuded more life than the average person. Moira Brady Averill became ill and, within a week, had succumbed to a tumour that the oncologist described afterwards as being one of the most aggressive he’d seen in 35 years of practice. Losing Moira floored me and so leaving behind friends and family to travel thousands of miles away with a broken heart was a really, really difficult thing to do. But arriving in Australia with the fog of grief around me had some unexpected advantages. Apparently a body that shaken switches off its ego a little bit. There’s no energy for throwing shapes. There’s no extra words. There’s just the bare bones of you. So you do more listening, and thinking, and rooting into yourself, hoping you don’t get lost. I think there’s a strange strength in that essential state. A weird clarity. It was in this mind I began to ask questions.
Where to start…
I’ve found it really hard to begin this research blog. How much context do I offer? What’s interesting? How much do I want to try and summarise my thoughts in advance? I offer bare bones here with a promise that more interesting references and links are live within the posts themselves. I will say this though; I was really surprised when I learned that professional Australian theatre is essentially only two generations old*. The oldest theatre company in Australia is Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) who originally formed as Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1957. The first theatre training was established in ’58 when the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) opened its doors in Sydney. It’s an industry founded on traditions inherited from a colonial history, and most obviously from a British tradition. And in some ways that makes it endlessly familiar to a daughter of a postcolonial nation. But seeing those short roots you get a different sense of the thing; that it might be a bit more flexible, a bit less defined by a history of buildings, capable of evolving more quickly with cultural shifts. Or so it would seem when you look at the conversations happening at a national level within arts communities; conversations about race, gender, privilege and access. I had never been to a relaxed performance before this trip. I had never seen indigenous performers on multiple stages speaking from their experience and culture at the launch of a major Arts Festival. And I had never spoken to so many female and feminist theatre professionals with such myriad experiences and practices.
*Resisting the imperial gaze I acknowledge the deep and ancient history of performance in Australia’s Indigenous Aboriginal culture. Accepting its vastness, however, I also understand that it’s an entirely separate area of study and – for the purposes of critiquing contemporary practice in a focused way – I am narrowing my investigation to these modes.