My goodness what a whirlwind couple of months! I needed to take some time off the blog to process my thoughts regarding my last project, The Tragedy of Lucrece, and have also since started working freelance for the Melbourne Arts Centre (which I will write about soon!) so I have been away from the computer too long. I shall use this day dedicated to hats and horsies (Melbourne Cup – what else?) to try to catch up.
*** TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion surrounding rape, sexual assault and suicide. ***
The Tragedy of Lucrece ended a fantastic run at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, with many audience members wishing to stay after each show to discuss the shows themes and impacts with the cast and creative teams. It was a challenging and thought provoking piece, with many people expressing extreme discomfiture at the experience, whilst also recognising that at least a part of the reason the work is so disturbing, is that despite the historical setting these heinous acts are still carried out today with shocking frequency. The rhetoric surrounding women’s assault today – the doubt and suspicion on her assertions, the question of her motives, and the suggestion that any act must have been somehow implicitly invited by the victim – is alarmingly reflective of the words and attitudes being expressed in the historical mists of 500BC. The concept we now know as victim-blaming, passed down to us from our very models of society in ancient Rome and Greece, brings us a startling and challenging thought – have we really progressed so far as a society, when a Roman Prince’s words from 500BC could be paraphrased by a 2013 premier league footballer in the newspaper today?
As a dedicated and outspoken feminist, this work was challenging for me in several ways. Enzo Condello, our wonderful playwright, wished Lucrece to be a strong heroine who, although destroyed personally by the rape, suicides as a political statement and thus sows the seeds of change that would see the collapse of the Roman Monarchy and the birth of the new Roman Republic. However I couldn’t help seeing over and over again, how Lucrece is simply used by each of the men in her life for their own purposes – Brutus uses the rape to advance his political ideas; Collantine stays quiet in concern that the news would reflect badly on his family’s house; even Lucrece’s father, Lucius, succumbs to doubt and opts to approach the King and let him dictate the outcome of the accusation (which of course, is in his own family’s favour).
Knowing the statistics that one in six women will be raped, and one in three sexually assaulted in their lifetime, along with knowing personally many strong, incredible women who have already become victims of these crimes, watching this play daily was a challenge in keeping my anger in check. I felt it was an important play that needed to be seen – one that shocks the audience by presenting such a contemporary problem dressed up in historical garb, and forcing them to realise and reconcile that ugly aspect of our society.
Our incredible director, Brenda Addie, was a rock for me during this production. Sharing my passionate feminist values, she knew that this was an important work with the ability to make a great impact. Plagued by misfortune throughout the start of the production (an entire cast was re-cast, the entire prod team disbanded to other projects, and yours-truly bought on board with only 6 weeks until opening!), Brenda held the whole thing together through sheer force of will sometimes, and was truly the guiding force in making this show happen. She also managed to encapsulate one of the hardest things I thought possible to do well and respectfully – the rape scene – with a brilliant AV / Soundscape montage of images of the rape of Lucrece throughout history, using this multimedia aspect to ingeniously link us right up to the present. With haunting images of Anita Cobby and Jill Meagher, we are reminded that this is not a historical reenactment. With contemporary images of human rights abusers from around the world, including contemporary footballers currently in jail for rape, we are reminded this is not a historical reenactment. And with images from open cut mines and deforestation, we are reminded that this is not just a human violation, but the very violation of nature herself.
With a passionate writer such as Condello, and a visionary bombshell such as Addie at the helm, this was a challenging, haunting, and meaningful piece I am proud to be associated with.
While it was the multimedia aspect, the ability to bring this historically-set story into the present, both in presentation and in narrative that bought me the most joy as a feminist, I have to admit that it also provided the most stress as a Stage Manager! Our lovely venue, the Richmond Library Theatrette, had a basic set up and a raised stage that suited our studio-performance style production very well. The essential component however – the projector – was a very old, very basic, and very lovingly donated to us for free so we can’t complain sort of number which, perhaps unsurprisingly, failed to live up to its duty of projecting anything. So we had a bit of a scramble at 2-days to opening to find a replacement projector.
This is one of those stories that is like a Monty Python farce, with false starts and dead ends, funny walks and an obscene amount of swearing that I will save the dear readers of my blog from going through. The short version of the story is, we hired a projector (that wouldn’t throw the correct dimensions because we mounted it so high). We couldn’t mount it any lower without it literally hanging halfway down the stage, so, in my delirium I had a crazy idea (that actually should have been my first one…) – I turned the projector upside down. The throw rate and angle restored, we had a perfectly functional projector for the entire remaining run. I’m not going to lie, at that stage of stress and delirium I felt like a superhero for the rest of the day.
I loved working on this project, not only because it put me in elements out of my depth that I had to solve for myself, but it was the first project I could say I was personally connected to in terms of themes and philosophies. I was able to grow my skills as a stage manager working on a project and in the company of a Director who’s passionate vision I believed in wholeheartedly. While having such a personal connection to a work is tiring mentally and emotionally, the thrill of successfully achieving something so unique and important is still buzzing. Thank you to all the cast, crew and creative teams who made this show the challenging but special piece of theatre that it was.