A rehearsal with a public audience – reflection by guest blogger, ANU researcher Bec Clifford

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September 20, 2013 by wandalusst

P1100061(Pictured: Peta Williams, composer, at the keyboard, with Musical Con-Sorts, Stefanie on violin, Shani on viola, and Fiona on cello.)

Last weekend I travelled down to Melbourne for the ‘showing’ at the Bluestone Church in Footscray. This was an exciting trip for me, because I’ve been following the progress of Swansong, along with the epic work in which it is nested, Things that Fall Over. A chapter on this emerging work will make up the last section of a PhD on metatheatre in Australian Drama (this is a project that I’m completing as part of my job as a Drama lecturer at the Australian National University, Canberra.)

I arrived at the Bluestone Church at 11am, in time for the intensive rehearsal that had been scheduled to take place before the 1pm showing. I suppose the first thing I noticed, was what a relaxed and friendly, yet productive environment there was in this rehearsal space. There was so much going on, both on the stage area and behind the scenes, but everyone knew what they had to do (or seemed to 😉 and just got on with it.  During the rehearsal, which seemed to go very smoothly, I took the opportunity to look around the Bluestone Church and think about how the space was being used. I’ve been reflecting upon the issue of space a bit, because in the larger play that is Things That Fall Over, there’s this idea that a group of women have been trying to rehearse a play, but they’ve had all their props and resources taken away from them, and they’ve had to “mock it up” (as the Narrator puts it,) using whatever they can find. They end up rehearsing in a barn, which reminds me (and I think it’s probably meant to) of a Biblical image – Jesus being born in the manger. There’s also a metaphor in there for Women’s Theatre and the ability to be inventive when denied access to mainstream theatrical spaces. This inventiveness was certainly evident in Sunday’s rehearsal and showing. But back to the Biblical thing (bear with me if this all sounds academic!) …there’s a lot of religious imagery in Things That Fall Over, and so I suppose one of the things I was reflecting on was how fitting it was to have performance space that was set up in a Church! It was this visual mix of theatre and religion, and it worked wonderfully for Swansong.

The sound of Peta Williams’ music along with the voices of the cast was truly beautiful and really quite moving.  In this space of both theatre and church, there was something very powerful about it, and part of this, I believe is that as a viewer I felt I was being told an important story. Looking around at the other people who attended the showing (a complete mix of people from the very young to the elderly), I sensed a real concentration and interest in the Swansong recitative.  This suggests to me that all the elements of Peta Murray’s play are working together really successfully. You have this music which is poignant, yet fun and up-beat, a narrator, Lisa who not only has an amazing voice, but strikes a really warm and welcoming connection with the audience, a wonderful cast of women and, most of all, I think, a story about women’s creativity that is begging to be told. One of the most powerful moments for me in watching Sunday’s rehearsals (both behind the scenes and the public rehearsal that was the showing) was when Rosie, as the Child, says that she will finish the Swansong, and asks us to Listen. We were certainly listening – the play makes us want to listen – and it’s wonderful to listen to! One of the women in the audience pointed out, in the Q&A session, how timely this play is in relation to recent political events. I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks to Peta Murray for allowing me to continue researching and writing about her work in progress. I think it’s really important to be able to do this. So much of our theatre history is written about (or re-written) after the event. As a researcher, it can be challenging to piece together what something was actually like many years down the track, especially with older plays which tend to have limited archival recordings (either of the performed works or in the form of any kind of records.) And with Women’s Theatre, which has so often tended to take place outside mainstream theatre spaces, it can be even harder to find out what happened and how. For me, being invited into the space and atmosphere of your process is a real gift, as is being able to read your thoughts and reflections via the blog. So I look forward to writing about the making of both Swansong and Things that Fall Over and hope to see you all again at a future showing or performance.

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TTFO, Things That Fall Over, concerning the creative development of an (anti-) musical of a novel inside a reading of a play, with footnotes, and oratorio-as-coda.

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