Independent Inspiration

Bethany Simons - The Weather and your health
Bethany Simons as her grandmother in The Weather and Your Health

Fresh from a trip to my hometown of Dubbo, NSW for a series of performances and workshops in the largest venue we have presented my play The Weather and Your Health in (my Tour Manager, Ryan, likened it to an arena spectacular –  “next stop, Rod Laver”) – Team Weather now move to one of the smallest, and busiest, theatre spaces in Melbourne: La Mama.

As I write this, I’m sitting, exhausted and aching following a nine-hour seating bank reconfiguration and painting fest at Melbourne’s iconic La Mama Theatre in Carlton. Good old independent theatre. This is a world where everyone steps in and is willing to get their hands dirty, be it cast, crew, theatre staff or siblings. We’re a team, no matter the size of the show or the level of expertise in using a power drill. (Eek!) And we do it because we love it. We just love it. Heaven knows we don’t do it for the money or the glory!

La Mama Theatre present a back-to-back season of innovative, experimental and diverse theatre. And they’ve done so for more than 40 years. If you haven’t yet been to, or been in, a show here, I encourage you to take a risk and see what it’s like to experience new work in such an intimate space. I first performed The Weather and Your Health at La Mama in 2009. Since then a lot has happened for this small play inspired by my Nan’s stories of life in regional Australia. Award nominations, publishing deals and funded regional tours all followed that first dream run. In fact, this current return season in the tiny black box space on Faraday Street marks the last stop for our 2012 national tour of performing arts centres, schools, nursing homes and remote community halls across the country. It’s great to be back where it all started.

The Weather and Your Health will be followed by a myriad of new and exciting productions including Of Words and War – an exploration of wartime women by writer Nicola Germaine. Also inspired by her grandmother’s stories, this new work of story theatre will be presented by Highway One Theatre Co. at La Mama’s Carlton Courthouse in June.

Before I go on, I would like to say that, though we’ve never met, I was informed that Nicola and I share a lot in common. We both love storytelling, we both devote our time and energy to the creation of independent theatre, and we are both drawn to the worlds that our grandmothers experienced in their youth. I have since discovered that there is even more to it than that.

Of Words and War
Of Words and War

I’ll let Nicola explain: ‘In mid 2009 I decided to take my British friend to see a play. I chose La Mama – a Melbourne institution – and the play showing at the time was ‘The Weather and Your Health’ by Bethany Simons. I had it in my mind that I wanted to record my grandmother’s stories and while watching Bethany bring her vivacious grandmother to life on stage, I thought to myself, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’ Upon leaving the theatre that night, I was determined to make a start as soon as possible.’

Learning that my own work had played a part in someone else being inspired, not only to record, but, to share and bring to life family stories through theatre was a beautiful discovery. Sitting with her friend in La Mama Theatre that night something in The Weather and Your Health lit a spark in Nicola’s imagination. Some years later, Of Words and War is the outcome. Theatre inspiring action. How brilliant!

I love real life and true stories. I was telling students during a post-performance forum recently that history should be exciting. There is so much material out there that needs and deserves to be captured, explored and brought to life. I’m especially passionate about preserving a time that, though not terribly long ago, was so vastly different to the world we live in now. Nicola feels the same way.

Hearing stories about the wartime youth of my grandmother – a youth entirely different to my own – I felt compelled to record them while I was able. I had seen it done simply and poignantly in ‘The Weather and Your Health’, so I began talking to my grandmother..’

Over the years that I’ve performed The Weather and Your Health, I’ve had people say to me, “It was just like that. You captured my youth!” It’s incredible every time this happens, because we meet people from all over the world when we perform. The only explanation is the universal themes of family, generosity, joy and the human experience. People can relate. Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to my Nan’s stories as a young girl. Even though I wasn’t there, I could put myself in her shoes…or bare feet as it may be. I can’t wait to sit and watch Of Words and War to see what Nicola has learnt from her own grandmother. I’m ready to discover her world, and I’m ready to sit within the thickly painted walls of an intimate theatre to do so.

My team and I can only hope to continue bringing flickers of light and inspiration during this return season at La Mama. I like to picture small candles being lit amongst our audience as we tell my Nan’s precious and uplifting stories. Candles that glow with warmth and imagination. Pass it on!

The Weather and Your Health is at La Mama Theatre from Tue 15 – Sun 27 May.

Of Words and War previews on 20 June and runs from 21 Jun  – 1 Jul at La Mama’s Carlton Courthouse.

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