Why new Australian work is important for the ecosystem of indie theatre in Sydney

In this guest post, co-founder of Sydney indie theatre company Edgeware Forum Jessica-Belle Keogh writes about her company, the importance of the indie theatre ecosystem and re-examining what an “Australian Story” looks and sounds like.

Jessica-Belle Keogh
Jessica-Belle Keogh: co-founder of Edgeware Forum

I came across a Broadsheet interview following the release of Simon Stone’s The Daughter which struck a chord with me, and it challenged my perspectives of how to approach Australian material. He stated: “I think this idea of looking for the ‘real’ Australian essence is something we need to finally let go of. Australia is nothing but the individual stories of the people who live here..”

One year ago today Edgeware Forum sat down with snacks and a script and a playwright, Dominic Witkop. He’d been working on his play Contrite Spirit for the past 4 or so years and it wouldn’t leave him alone. For a reason. Little did we know we were invited to step into the Locke household, living in a haphazard house in rural New South Wales; a family so dysfunctional, so brutally candid and surprising that one year later we’d be performing Contrite Spirit at this weekend’s Site and Sound Festival at Leichhardt Town Hall.

I’ll admit, working on a piece like this was unlike anything I’d taken part in. The development of the work was enormous. Not only did I have preconceived ideas about what Aussie theatre was supposed to look and sound like, but I was forced to re-examine it’s value.

Soon we’d built a unit of people that by all definitions seemed to fit the bill of a ‘traditional’ Australian family. But their crushing breakdown draws stark parallels with the disintegration of old Aussie theatre formulas and communicates the distinct and necessary need to reconnect with theatre. That’s not to say that issues around family aren’t important, but that we can finally let go of the need to depict them as ‘Australian’ and nothing else. Rather, we see these characters as specific people dealing with very specific issues. The Locke’s troubles signify an exciting change of the guard—and it is with great urgency that the youngest member of the Locke clan states, “I want to hear a new story.”

The play draws on a myriad of cultural sources like the work of Sam Shepard, it rings of Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides, and resonates with the ghosts of the past in Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate. First love. Isolation. Family. Memory. Violence. Beauty. Sex. Children growing up to parent their Parents. Blood. Sweat. Desertion. Redemption. These aren’t themes confined to an Australian experience – they’re human.

The inclusion of so many dynamic and complex female characters is also refreshing. It is vitally necessary we pursue, produce and perform theatre works from diverse voices within the Australian context because they reflect and inform what’s going on here and now, which is precisely what storytelling is all about.

The theatre medium is worth defending and seeing. There’s no use tackling with the dregs of an old argument. Particularly, what does and does not determine an “Australian Story”. Frankly, it’s boring. Depictions of ideals, perpetuations of “myths” and the identification of cornerstones which help to define national identity is out. The pursuit of new work that comes out of this country, regardless of what background, sex, age, orientation or class they come from – is very much in.

Edgeware Forum presents Contrite Spirit by Dominic Witkop runs from 29 April – 1 May at Leichhardt Town Hall as part of the Site and Sound Arts Festival.

Tickets and more information at: edgewareforum.com

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