Theatre from the cracks in the psyche of culture










SCREAM No. 61 : January 2013


A questioning letter from Joe Woodward

How much of my recounting this is simply a marketing or promotional strategy and how much is sincere investigation into the evasive and elusive elements that go into theatre making?


Do you ask the question? When you face your students or try to design a sales point for your next show? When you invest so much of your ego, vanity and sense of what you are supposed to be doing with your life? Do you ask the question? ie:

Why should someone spend a sizable amount of money and/or time to support your offering? Your work? Your indulgence? Your contribution? Your whatever it is you are asking people to support; to witness; to discuss and take seriously ...

When you know you are not Mozart or Brecht or Shakespeare or Picasso or Spielberg? When you know people can probably get a ticket to see a movie by Ridley Scott or David Mamet for half the price of even a modest theatre offering? Why should someone spend to be a part of your audience?

I posed this question to my cast of Our Lady By The Beach Over The Sea earlier this week. It was motivated by the fact of no bookings registered on the Canberra Theatre's emailed booking data info. With less than six weeks to opening, I needed colleagues' advice on what might attract people to see the work; and also to hear from them what was important about the project and why they felt it should be supported. 

I had been through terrors in simply asking these extremely talented individuals to come into a project that was clearly going to extract an emotional investment that went far beyond that required by involvement in some amateur or community project or even professional theatre where actors can still conceal so much of themselves behind technique! The discussion that ensured threw up some surprising thoughts which I wish to share here. 

At first, discussion centred on the content. Why the content might be relevant for audiences. I found it exciting that the cast members clearly believed in the work. The notion of "memory and the idealization of past love" and how this might entice an audience. But I was left uncomfortable by simply discussing our work. The real question was WHY theatre? Why THIS particular theatre? WHY, when there are so many cheaper avenues that might satisfy one's curiosity within the areas defined by our show.

If you haven't done this with your colleagues recently, then I suggest you do. The voices of people close to you in a work are most significant signifiers of what the work can mean and its real potential. But our discussion took on different and more fundamental turns when Andrew opened up the necessity for theatre and culture. For many people in the world, cultural awareness defines who they are. In western post modern cultures, the ennui of cultural awareness leads to cynicism and skeptical acceptance of cultural activity including theatre. Yet there is still a perception of cultural need. It is still in the vernacular.

He said that people want to be part of their culture; their cultural events; the external presentations that define them. Does our play contribute to this?

Trish suggested that our play does contribute to the sense of mystery that exists when people, like voyeurs, gaze on to events which they all recognize but which are normally left unspoken. Seeing this done with real people on stage has an almost magical or mystical effect. Oliver picked up on this and spoke of those things which are experienced by everyone over a lifetime at some time ... but NEVER discussed. Lucy then aptly stated:

"theatre gives voice to thoughts not heard and never stated". 

The fact of such voices being live and spoken by real actors provides an even more powerful connection.

An eighty two year old actor playing a seventy one year old character and discussing sexual activity in detail within a context of a re-discovery of youth within age ... it has a ramification that cannot be discovered or experienced on a page or on a screen. Only on the stage can the dimensions of extreme elements of the human psyche be fully utilized and evoked. It isn't the content as much as the dynamics of theatre and its complex matrix of relationships that provoke the potential power of such aspects of human kind. Sex is not only for youth! Sex, dream and art are interwoven. But some mediums for expression of this are better than others. Our discussion suggested we were clearly on to a unique interplay with this work.

From our discussion, we came to the conclusion that no where else but in theatre can this dynamic be realized. And so this is where the power of our play lies:


So what if that moment in your life that you'd rather have kept hidden was revealed to others or to the specific OTHER you thought would never appear on your horizon again? 

Yes ... our show is confronting. The deconstruction of human relationship is challenging preconceived notions. Our own especially! 

But while we asked the question and had a great discussion, have we answered the question? Have we found reasons why people should spend $35 to attend our production and find it a satisfying and worthwhile experience? 

We certainly cannot know until the event; until after the event. How much of my recounting this is simply a marketing or promotional strategy and how much is sincere investigation into the evasive and elusive elements that go into theatre making. I want people to see this work. Not only out of vanity and ego! 

Oliver said that having been involved with theatre since the age of twelve, and he is now eighty two years of age, he has never seen anything like this. Our Lady has certainly developed a life of her own. I know of people travelling from interstate and even from over-seas to glimpse her ephemeral apparition on a Canberra stage. What I started with a simple text has taken on a life well beyond anything I could have conceived. And this is a result of an organic and mysterious series of relationships that is the result of working in this medium of theatre! While I can see it sometimes happening in film; only in the theatre can it have its full manisfestation.

Now my conclusions will be tested at the box office as I wonder if the wider community will also accept them.

Joe Woodward

18th. January 2013



Performances: Feb 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28 March 1, 2 at 8.00pm
Special matinee Feb 24 at 5.30pm.
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Ticketing information: Ph. (02) 6275 2700   book HERE



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