Return to Oz #8
Written by Augusta Supple

There are many reasons why its difficult being a writer and/or a director but the biggest thing I have realised in the last month is that all those reasons don’t matter. They don’t matter for the express fact that it doesn’t stop that feeling in me that there are stories worth telling, and people worth making them with and an audience worth telling them to. The reasons why or how its difficult don’t matter because I continue to do it anyway. I continue to write, I continue to direct and I continue to support an industry that is forever moaning and groaning due to financial or (so called) cultural malnutrition.

Why not use all those skills: skills of analysis and articulate communication, not in the pursuit of complaining but in the creation of art? Why not re-direct that energy and time and just do it?

When I was little, I learnt a valuable lesson about survival. Here I will site a specific instance where I was huddled on my parents 1980s brown velvet couch watching “Flash Gordon.” This is the moment when I first fully understood the heart pounding effects of risk and danger and what makes it so amazing is that risk and danger heighten your sense of mortality and thus your sense of life. It was during a laser-ridden combat sequence when the bad-guy was pursuing Flash Gordon and people were running around getting shot at with neon coloured lasers that I really felt danger: my adrenalin started pumping. My instinct was to shout out at the television (not cool in an era of non-interactive technology) “PRETEND TO BE DEAD!” Surely all these people are shooting at the guys running around and wouldn’t bother with the ones on the ground: you never see a bad guy shoot lasers at a body lying on the ground. My older brother’s rational for this was “it would waste a lot of bullets if you had to shoot at lying down people too.” But I made a pledge to myself, that if I was ever being shot at, I would pretend to be dead. Bad guys are more likely to shoot a living person than a person who they think to be dead. But my 10 year old brother said something that day which has affected the rest of my life “but Gus, if everyone played dead, there would be no movie.”

Theatre is no different. If theatre was dead, if there were no audiences, if it didn’t matter or if it was too hard: none of us would bother. None of us would write for theatre, none of us would act in it, none of us would be directing it , none of us would discuss it, I wouldn’t be writing this article and you wouldn‘t be reading it. Are you reading this? But we are making it. We are talking about it. It is happening and it will continue for as long as we continue to make it. We are clever enough to know when it is better to play dead and when we should plunge ourselves in front of that bullet and go out with a bang. We are human and as such we have a survival instinct which demands that we preserve our own lives through fight or flight. This compulsion to fight or flight is as strong and inexorable for artists as the sun rising and setting everyday. Theatre and art is tied to instinct and that’s what fuels the burning passion which keeps me up at night thinking about my next project and keeps me believing in its importance and its place in the landscape of my life.

If I was to play dead, run away or choose the “flight” option in theatre: nothing would be gained and everything would be lost. And nothing is more painfully disappointing to me than lost opportunity. The easiest thing to do in the theatre is complain. It’s easy to bitch and moan and pick holes in the fabric of the industry. It’s easy to justify why you’re not doing work, or play the blame game or the victim or to try to belittle what has been attempted or contributed. But to do it… That’s brave. To make it , to put yourself out there to even go and see some theatre and support it as an audience member is also an active act. To push apathy aside, to put your money where your mouth is, knowing full well you could fail or not succeed… that is what it is about because that is what living is. I cannot and will not and I refuse to sit idle; waiting for change. No one is going to give me or any artist anything from complaining and waiting placidly muttering things about “not fair” and “that’s crappy”.

In my last column I mentioned the show I produced… (actually they were 10 1 act/short plays which was about to be on.)… And I thought I would let you know how it went. It went beautifully. I was thrilled. Some bits weren’t ideal, I made some mistakes and I take responsibility for the bits that weren’t so good some bits could have been better and hopefully will be better as they continue to develop. I was surprised and delighted with the turn out and the overwhelming support from people (and three weeks on I’m still receiving fantastically supportive emails) The cornerstone of this project, the reason why I created it, was really to give writers a deadline, to create some tangible and meaningful networking opportunities and to foster an audience who is willing to come out to the theatre, and see some work in development. At 4pm on a Sunday I assembled half of the group which equated to about 20 people to move the seating so we could accommodate more chairs as we were 50 people over booked. Wow. Phew! The audience feedback talked about quality, about comedy, about freshness and originality. One audience member (who I am not related to in any way) pushed a $50 bill into my hand to buy the actors some champagne in congratulations.

What I learnt is there is no reason, no value in not being confident in my own country: even in defeat and failure. I was confident over there.. and my exotic Aussie accent helped that a long a little as people take more care in listening if there is an accent attached. But I have learnt, if your going to say something stupid or make a mistake, say it loudly so everyone can hear you… don’t mutter and hide and run away wishing later you had said something or done something. You never know until you try, and no amount of schooling, learning, lectures and qualifications will ever be a substitute for practical learning. I learnt some great things about myself, about theatre makers and audiences: and the great thing about this art is, every new project carries your experience from your previous projects and the burden of being new. And I swing between confidence and being terrified… but now I know this to be certain:

The easiest thing to do is to play dead: close your eyes, lie still, say nothing and restrict your breathing. But it’s not fun. Its not rewarding and nothing will change.