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Elaine Acworth during the creative development for My Father's Wars
Why we are

Okay. Some history from me.

Frustration plays a big part in this. Frustration and timing.

The slow accretion of little frustrations and the happenstance of a fellowship at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ).

Many moons ago, with papoose, husband and truck packed to the rafters, I returned to Brisbane from a 7 year stint in Sydney for other work. After sorting kindys, red frogs (for me), and paid work asap, I got back in touch with Queensland Theatre Company (as it was then) and La Boite, eager to discuss possible ideas for new projects. I was told variously:

  • that ‘marketing couldn’t sell that kind of show’

  • that you had to grow theatre audiences by introducing them to performance through adaptions of other mediums

  • that the idea was too radical and non-theatre

  • that the idea was not radical/experimental enough

  • that the ‘slots’ (so to speak) for writers were kind of filled and had I thought of doing a Masters degree and teaching?

  • And no, no-one else was free for a chat, it was the job of the artistic/program co-ordinator/liaison to speak to artists; if I wanted to send in a further short outline, the company would of course be back in touch if yada-yada-yada-yada …

Make of those what you will… I’d been away 7 years, I didn’t know the current Queensland climate – perhaps some of it was fair call. I can’t judge that.

However…

As a result of all that, I founded Umber Productions in 2008 and produced a couple of shows – RISK at Metro Arts and Water Wars, co-produced with the wonderful Lewis Jones at the Empire Theatre, Toowoomba. We jumped through funding hoops and were very fortunate in receiving Creative Sparks, RAF and Arts Queensland funding, found some private sponsorship and were supported terrifically and financially by the Empire and by our Brisbane venues. We were able to pay people – not Equity but not bad – and I gave myself vertigo at the steepness of the learning curve I went on as writer/producer, overseeing multiple venue arrangements, hiring and contracts, and organising the movement and accommodation of sets and technical equipment, cast, creatives, production, AV and stage management.

And in the middle of all that I realised that my driver’s license had just expired.

Cue: emergency trip to Toowoomba Main Roads Customer Service Centre.

Anyway – long story, short: good shows, great performances and direction, nominations for awards, didn’t quite make it to the last round of Artour voting… you know the story. All that time and effort over 4 years and then – poof! – it all disappears, just peters out. And the next obsession (a kind of musical) is actually too big for Umber on its own.

So, next chapter – I write a play with songs for Queensland Theatre Company (Gloria, 2014) that has a sold-out season and won a Matilda for best mainstage production. QTC explore touring but it’s a 2 day bump-in and cast of 5 – too big for the regionals; and STC and MTC simply don’t take Queensland originated work.

Deflated is not the word.

Baby African elephants throw themselves head first into mud when they are grumpy.

However, I approach Wesley Enoch (QTC Artistic Director) about another idea and there was some seed funding for an early draft. In the meantime, I’m awarded a 2015-16 Q Anzac 100 Fellowship at State Library of Queensland, researching the experiences of a young lieutenant on the Western Front in 1917/18. Fabulous! Movement on two fronts …

Then people move on from QTC, new people arrive with their own vision and agendas, and, with the best will in the world, things get pushed to the sidelines. It happens. Momentum … gone. Work … stymied, not happening.

There’s been a lot of conversation around career pathways, resilience, sustainable careers. But what does it mean? Who has a ‘sustainable career’ in the performing arts? The small percentage of people who work in the funded arts bodies (and that’s fine) but everyone else works in a gig economy.

There has to be a better way. Not a perfect way, just a better one.

The research at SLQ began as the basis of a live performance piece. Possibly at Metro Arts, or the Visy – probably an Indie show, playing to multiples of 100s of people, even with a packed audience. And an audience based in Brisbane – possibly South-East QLD.

But I was reading the WW1 diaries of jackaroos from stations outside Charter’s Towers, the letters home of young men from Cunnamulla, from Yelarbon near the QLD – NSW border, from Gympie and Rockhampton and Mackay. Their families and townships were the people I wanted to address. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren were the ones who, like me, were asking what happened to our men over there? What was it like over there?

A Brisbane-based audience just didn’t cut it.

I needed to find another way to talk to this audience. Something that was available to people throughout the state, that was free, that could be consumed at a time of their choosing – and that would be comparatively cheap to produce. Podcasts. Audio.

So I wrote the work as an audio piece – My Father’s Wars that was a finalist in the 2018 AWGIES. Downloadable from iTunes and Stitcher and playable through SLQ’s A State of War website.

This is my new obsession. Other ways to tell story.

Interestingly, the Library asked me to do a live read of the script for Remembrance Day just passed. And it went great guns, to use a military analogy. People kept coming up and saying: “that was fantastic, brilliant, my aunt/sister/next door neighbour would love that… did you get those cufflinks, the ones with the dancers?” (a reference to a line in the script)

Hmmm … word of mouth, eh? …

And that’s the fourth time a reading of some of the work has had people coming up to talk to me afterwards.

And the actors keep saying ‘there’s something here; this has legs; you should talk to…’

And I will.

And maybe, there’ll be a kinda, maybe regular-ish gig for some actors and operators. Not perfect, but better.

So, the plan is: Assembly of Elephants works across media – live and recorded.

So, the plan is: listen; follow the audience – where they want to go, you go; what they want to see/hear/be in, you make.

So, the plan is: to support artists – even just a little – with regular on-going work. A drip-feed to start with, but something.

So, the plan is: to find a better way and make it happen.

So, the plan is: invent new shit and make new friends.

So, the plan is: dive headfirst into mud whenever necessary –

And then get out and walk on.