Australian theatre is so male and white. Main stage subscriber theatre is irrelevant. Theatre is a boutique heritage industry. I have been having these conversations for years and to varying degrees these statements are true. But culture is not static, it grows and evolves and theatre is now transforming itself; driven by the artist that are making it to become relevant, to have central to itself makers of diverse back grounds and to find forms that keep it alive and capture new audiences. A program such as La Boîtes HWY‘s showings, panels, conversations and workshops, is a vital part of this growth.
At the core of HWY is La Boite’s artist in residence, a diverse group of established and emerging artistic leaders including Steven Oliver, Digi Youth Arts Candy and Kim Busty Bower’s Black Honey Company and Suzie Miller. As part of HWY performance program these artist have developed works that have compelling story telling that brings to the fore the truth of their experiences that can be heart breaking but broadens our understanding of what it is to be Australian today which is full of darkness and hope.
Dislocated produced by Digi-Youth Arts and artistic director Alethea Beetson is a dystopian story set in 2024 based on the experiences of young Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders. Beetson said about the process of making the work “The kids had just seen in the media Don Dale, things that were happening in Kalgoorlie and they were questioning what Australians thought of them as young Australian Aboriginal people. ”
The story is set in a suburb of Brisbane where the electricity has been cut off to the residents the “Three Percenters” that live in section 18C. Through this work the young people are asking is history going to repeat itself? They had seen what their aunties and grandmothers had gone through in the 70s and 80s and they were mirroring this and exaggerating it through this story according to Beetson.
Alethea Beetson Interview
Steven Oliver’s play From Darkness Whence We Came also examines history from an Aboriginal perspective. An everyday suburban family who are Aboriginal discover one of their children can time travel and they are forced to consider if they could go back in time and change history would they change Captain Cooks arrival?
The stakes are very high because if they change the past they eradicate themselves and everyone they know. Oliver said that any mob he talked to said they would do it including himself, but in the writing of the play it became so loaded because what right does that family have to make that decision on behalf of all Aboriginal people?
Steven Oliver Interview
Black Honey Company presented Twelve, a musical based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that looks at grief and loss as Bowers explained “The work examines who will lay flowers on my grave,” while “providing a platform for the extraordinary talent that rarely has a place to go in Australia.”
The story came out of 2011 Brisbane floods and the great personal losses that Bowers read about from this time. “We don’t get to mourn and do ritual as much as we should over our losses but the show in part is a healing of that and a celebration of what is lost as well as what if found, which is human connection.”
Interview Kim Busty Beatz Bowers & Candy Bowers
As part of the program there were panel discussions such as Let Me Be Blak, Access all Areas, making work for and with artist with disabilities and a panel I moderated called CONSIDERING IDENTITY: Deconstructing ‘Australian-ness’ through form with Roger Monk (Development Producer, Essential Media) and Ngoc Phan (The Village, A Streetcar Named Desire), Alethea Beetson (Artistic Director, Digi Youth Arts), and Candy Bowers (Twelve, One the Bear).
Post panel an inspired Bowers a vocal Black feminist and activist said “We are not allowed to say the very things that hurt us the most often and when you say it, it’s like whoooo and even when the big bosses don’t acknowledge it we just did and that’s a win!“
This comment really resonated with me as what came through really strongly on this panel and explains why it is so hard to talk out about what is really hurting us and therefore bring about change, is that when an individual points out the damaging sexism and racism of the white patriarchy in which we live, they become the problem. They get shut down because they are questioning the status quo, they get labelled the problem and the real problems are never recognised. Bowers experienced it when working in the television industry recently when she was asked to do her own hair and make up because they weren’t equipped to look after her. Ngoc experienced it when she is continually cast as the Asian character and not able to access other work based on her skill as a very talented highly trained professional actor.
But there is hope Roger Monk from Essential Media who has been developing the script for the web series for Unauastralian also part of the HWY program said “Attitudes can shift slowly, it’s generational, it’s the colonisers responsibility to listen, we need to keep being resilient and active!
Which sums up HWY it’s resilient and active and gave everyone a chance to listen and to my mind that will keep theatre alive and culturally relevant!
Headline Photo: Candy Bowers and Kim Busty Beatz Bowers