Written by Emily Kennedy – Contributor
It’s about time Australian Theatre stepped up and played its part in the future of our national identity. For too long now, it has sat back on its tired repertoire of old English ‘Greats’, relied on Government funding and catered almost solely to our wealthy, ‘Baby-Boomers’. What happened to the momentum of the ‘New Wave’ in the 1970’s? We are as far from defining an ‘Australian Theatre’ as we were at the time of Federation. The Australian people need a theatre that we want to go to; a theatre that reflects and promotes our values; a theatre that is firmly planted in the here and now, especially (not despite) being in an age of technology, with so many readily accessible sources of stimulation competing for our attention. We need something to bring us together physically and force us all to stand up for our individual beliefs, to take action and to drive our country forward – a True Australian Theatre.
This Theatre could go some way to combating the ‘sit back on the fence’ attitude that has slyly crept in to our culture, under the guise of ‘a relaxed outlook on life’; the way in which we all get on with our separate, life paths and trust that someone else, higher up, will take care of the bigger picture and drive our nation forward for us. This works perfectlywell until we, as individual Australians are forced to make a decision and act on behalf of the greater good of society… I happened to be ina public toilet on the weekend when some poor soul feebly moaned from one of the cubicles: ‘I need water. Does anyone have some water? I feel faint….Help!’ I turned and looked at the line of five ladies behind me. Theyjust stared straight back – immobile, frozen with mild shock at having stumbled into such a situation in the middle of an ordered, civilized, modern department store. How could this happen?
Basically, when faced with even a mild crisis, with no higher authority to offload the responsibility to, we all become rabbits caught in the headlights. Now this is a large generalisation; there are still those Australians who would readily chip in for a fellow human being in need, regardless of the situation without blinking an eye. The overwhelming reality however, is we baulk at an interaction with a ‘stranger’ beyond the ‘acceptable’ – for example ‘beautiful weather out – was that credit or savings?’ The social norm is to courteously ignore their presence in public and get on with our own lives. In breaking this, we risk social rejection: ‘what a creep’, or ‘she’s a bit of a slut’. And to justify our adherence to these unwritten rules, we tell ourselves, ‘it’s not our place’, ‘someone else will stop and help the poor girl’.What gives us the right to place our lifestyle above that of another person’s – the excuse ‘we don’t know them’?! What happened to the classic Australian values of Nous and Mateship?Or do we not feel the need to embody them beyond our social media personas?
Now, it’s all very well for me to write this or you to silently read it and concur – but will you or I change our habits and lifestyles? How often do we ingest a message through journalism, novels, TV shows or theatre thenactuallycarry it through to our actions?
The tide of our society is against us – as individuals. Change must be made by standing together.It is for this reason that theatre as an artform has proved throughout history to be one of the most effective tools in empowering the people and instigating social change. There is a reason why it has been feared and tightly controlled or outlawed by the ruling bodies of countless societies – namely, the power that one well timed and skilfully executed piece of theatre can wield. This power is derived from a group of people collectively experiencing and contributing to thecreation of something momentous,unique to that point in time.Centuries of dedicated theatre creatives have recognised this and used it ingeniously. By keeping their finger firmly on the pulse of their people, they have produced work cleverly crafted to push and prod specifically at thecollective social conscious–resulting in many a riot, town fire, political coup or media storm –and ultimately waking the people up and achieving social change.
So in 2012, when Australians desperately need a social institution to get us out from behind our screens and onto our own two privileged feet, physically standing for our beliefs, taking action and marching our nation forward – where is our True Australian Theatre?