The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
An organization tuning out world-class actors Talking with the Director of The National Institute of Dramatic Art of Australia
Aubrey Mellor
Aubrey Mellor
People are tired in Australia of theater as TV, I am convinced of that. Why go to the theater when you can see it at home for nothing? Audiences want something different, and that is why they flock to our festivals, where they can see startling and imaginative productions.

Unfortunately, in many ways we have gone back to the days of the old cultural cringe in Australia. I think we are more Anglocentric now in our theater than we have been for a long time. Very conservative. The Sydney Theatre Co. is looking more and more like the Old Tote. In fact, programming in all the state theater companies is looking like late ‘60s programming, when British plays dominated our stages. The state companies are underestimating the aspirations of their audiences. We need new themes, new designs, new theatricality. And what we are getting is a lot of red lights and smoke.

We do have our own non-naturalistic forms. We have a great comedic style in Australia. (This even turns up sometimes on television, as with the hyperbolic antics of the mother-and-daughter team of Kath and Kim.) But this is limited. Big theatricality is rarely seen on our stages. Audiences are hungry for big cast plays, for instance, for plays with imaginative narrative. Audiences, remember, are really part of the performance too. The performance isn’t there without interaction on some level. We do have directors and writers who are aware of this. Many of John Bell’s productions for Bell Shakespeare use asides and direct playing to the audience. Playwrights like Louis Nowra and Steven Sewell have written plays that are highly theatrical, and the plays of our greatest playwrights, now deceased, Patrick White and Dorothy Hewett, have not been seen here. I would love to see productions of them in Japan.

There are also a lot of theater collectives now, groups that are experimenting. We have not seen such activity on this scale since the days of the renaissance in Australian theater that started in the late ‘60s. Groups like the Australian Performing Group (APG) at the Pram Factory in Melbourne, La Mama, also in Melbourne, and the Nimrod in Sydney were rebelling then against what was a staid theatrical establishment in Australia. The small groups working now may not be consciously rebelling like that, but they are defining their own distinct styles. They want to stand out from what came before and also from each other. So, they’ll bring in an Iraqi string instrument player or a Polish actor and do a play. This kind of non-naturalistic input is rare in the established Australian theater.

Australia is not just a bastion of Anglocentric culture but a vibrant multiculture, with a mixture of the indigenous, the Celtic, the Anglo, the American, the European and the Asian. The good news is that now there is more cross-racial casting, and a lot of groups are working with Japanese, Indonesian and Malaysian theater practitioners, to name a few. Whether our present ultra-conservative government wishes to admit it or not, we are in Asia, we are a part of Asia, geographically and now culturally. There is no going back.
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