From 17 year old soldiers’ letters home to podcasts, to readings and conversations, to theatre…
My Father’s Wars explores two journeys – that of a young man to adulthood in a war, and the intergenerational impact of that trauma on his family.
That young fella was my dad. He enlisted as a private in February, 16 months after the start of the war, trained at Enoggera and was shipped out 2 days before Christmas as a 2nd lieutenant, in charge of 150 young men, all going over by ship to reinforce Battalions in France and Belgium.
There’s a photo of the junior officers of 26th Battalion, taken somewhere in Belgium, I think.
My Dad is standing on the end of the back row, hands in his trouser pockets, his face guarded, his eyes staring straight at the camera. The rest of these young men – 8 of them – stand in the same row, lounging and smiling, or they sit, hands jammed into pockets, legs crossed at the ankle, grinning – there’s almost a vivacity about them. They are bursting with life.
I showed a friend and colleague the photo – one of the actors in My Father’s Wars. She said, “You can really tell who has already seen action on the frontline, can’t you?”
I asked if she thought that of Dad, and she replied,
“Oh yes. It’s the eyes. There’s a few of them there, I think – but yes, Bill’s been there.”
Dad died when my sister and I were young so we never got to have that conversation – about the war. (We were Dad’s second family; he met Mum in his mid-60s and they married 9 months later. No-one expected kids. SURPRISE!)
More importantly, we never really understood why Dad was the way he was – a tough bugger, intolerant of fools, furious at miscommunication and impatient of dithering… but deeply, quietly loyal to family and friends, informed and considered in all of his responses despite a lack of schooling, and in love with beauty, especially the beauty of a captured moment in a painting, or performance.
My Father’s Wars is a tribute. It’s an exploration of how war shapes soldiers and their families. It’s the story of how a young person becomes a soldier, and what that offers, and what it costs. It’s a story about staying alive – and how that’s not the same as staying whole. But It’s also the story of the good things that can come out of damage.
This work began with primary source research at the State Library of Queensland for a Fellowship; it became an AWGIE-nominated limited podcast series –
and then was noticed by QPAC for regional and educational touring.
So, we began to develop the script with this in mind, then… COVID.
And we started reimagining the purpose of the piece.
Now, we are producing the live theatre production for digital capture this year and possible touring in 2022-2023. Since November 2020, we’ve spoken with a number of drama teachers around the state – thank you Bundy, FNQ, GC, Brisbane, Darling Downs and Lockyer Valley crews and DQ peeps! You know who you are. We asked what they needed in this time of huge challenge in their schoolrooms, and in the world – and they responded in detail!
So, the digital capture will become the centrepiece for a bespoke, downloadable education package: videos and hard-copy material tailored to support learning in secondary drama units – as much or as little as each teacher chooses – that responds to teachers’ specific, stated needs. And that includes some things we would never have thought of – the basics. Things we now just do, without thinking. But, if you’ve never done them before…
‘How do you write/storyboard a performance?’
‘How do you direct?’
‘How does rehearsal work?’
As a personal work that uses primary resources, captures the cost of world events and transforms them on stage through a kind of theatrical transubstantiation, My Father’s Wars is an ideal conduit for a lot of drama kids’ questions. Not least of which is – ‘what would I do?’
For more information. come talk to us – email@example.com
This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and has been supported by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Tivoli, and also through the QANZAC 100 Fellowship Program run by State Library of Queensland.
There are also individual supporters who heard a reading at SLQ and came forward to say – we want this to happen; thank you KTAB, IW and SS, ML and RY, JV.
Image: Guy Webster (director) and Barbara Lowing (actor), My Father’s Wars creative development 2020. Photo Shaun Charles.