WHAT WE’VE BEEN UP TO | This series, introduced in our classikON What’s ON (subscribe here), shares our Ambassadors thoughts at this time. They are voices of the audience, with a range of knowledge and history with music, for some music is their life and others it is an escape from their life.
In March this year, Voices of Women was gearing up to present live performances of new Australian short stories, selected from the annual writing competition. Then there was Corona.
We planned the performances over three weeks at the inspiring renovated mechanics shop on the Parramatta Road that is Articulate in Leichhardt. It’s an atmospheric space for contemporary visual work, with high ceilings under exposed roof beams, and a steel staircase running to the top balcony gallery. The acoustics are sharp, perfect for natural vocal delivery.
We planned to present the live performances in conjunction with Rox De Luca’s exhibition of extraordinary works from found plastic. The readings by actors Bellatrix Scott, Julia Christensen and Claudette Clarke, and poet Kirli Saunders, were to have been performed in amongst Rox’s plastic sculptures, garlands of tiny plastic pieces she collects from the beach.
This year we wanted to include music – solo musicians who could reflect the form of monologues. It was overall to be an expression of women’s lives; what we were talking about, and what we were experiencing. It would have explored rehearsed readings, vocal, musical and visual expressions of that lived experience.
The program was called CLEARWAY, referencing the busy highway of Parramatta Road and the ancient track to Baramadagal country, and included Rox De Luca’s ‘Still Gleaning for Plastic, on the Beach’ exhibition.
And then there was Corona.
…in that one week before rehearsals we had to cancel everything and stop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to change, rethink – pivot was a popular word. Unprecedented was also popular…
I decided we needed to persevere. ‘Hold your nerve’ would be our new mantra! I didn’t want to cancel the whole year’s program. I wanted to mark the moment in history and still present something that expressed the ensemble of writers and artists we had brought together, and allow the expression of the stories to take place. All of course within the Corona restrictions, which changed and keep changing.
I was also aware that our tiny organisation, with limited funds, had to produce what we were capable of delivering. We needed some box office income to enable us to support the artists. All around the world, box offices and theatres and performing spaces were closed. To create work without that income was impossible. How could we proceed?
A digital collage
I decided to move ahead with a digital presentation, of CLEARWAY (Corona) as a ticketed online screening and an accompanying Voices of Women podcast. I wanted to continue with Rox’s exhibition and with the amazing collaboration of Articulate, Rox and I agreed that her work could still be exhibited in the space, with or without access to the public, and we could share it online. Check it out here.
In deciding on a film, we wanted to continue to work with all the artists, and came to the idea of collage. It features the multi-artform nature of the project – storytelling by actors, poets reading their own work, new music and sculpture. What has been extraordinary is the process of collaboration that has developed from this project. The project brings together 20 writers, three actors, two poets, an artist and a composer and two solo musicians.
Elizabeth Jigalin had already been writing and rehearsing her pieces. We decided it was best to have her music coincide with the artwork, rather than having it sit underneath the storytelling. In this way each artform could have its moment, to create a collage of storytelling. Read about Elizabeth’s music here.
We needed to reflect the times we were in. I had been working on The Oyster Project and had written a piece that spoke of the First Nations women’s experience of smallpox epidemics in Sydney in the late 1770s. After generous consultation with several First Nations women, Jannice Packer, Deborah Lennis and Tracey Cameron, it became part of the film. Anne Casey’s poems about Corona and the Great Barrier Reef would be wonderful additions, to create links between Rox’s work. We were excited to have this award-winning poet in the film.
It was a great moment when the extraordinary performance photographer Clare Hawley came on board as film maker and the talented performance lighting designer Sophie Parker agreed to light the film. They were curious and inspired to bring their talents to this medium, particularly as the film has ‘readings’ segments, and ‘artwork and music’ segments.
Each day we filmed an individual actor and musician at Articulate amongst the work of Rox. That way we will have minimal people in the space due to the health regulations.
Normally the actors ensemble would bounce things off each other and shape the piece in live rehearsal. Because of Corona, the actors had to focus on their own storytelling skills as solo performers. While we lose the power of ensemble working, and the traction of an audience in a live space, we gain their vocal and visual skills to the camera.
The result is a digital experience plus a live one at Articulate. We’re asking people to watch the film at home and then come to the space to see the work. In between they will experience the craft of music making, acting and storytelling and experience a slice of the lives of Australian women – in the here and now.
Lliane Clarke, Director and Producer.