Eulea Kiraly, Theatre Program Director, Tuggeranong Arts Centre. Canberra 2001
Sounds simple enough - just another dogsbody arts practitioner. Well, not quite. Since she and her colleagues, the whole Drama Department, resigned from a well-known school back in 1989 when the principal banned a stage production shortly before opening night, Ms Kiraly has become a central figure in Canberra theatre. Only this year however - since she left the Rolls-Royce company (yes, the one which made the cars, or in her case the aeroplane engines) - is she properly recognised as the professional independent theatre director she has long known she needed to be.
Knowing the continual flow of her work directing productions and play readings over many years, I was amused and not a little amazed to imagine her in straight skirts and shoulder pads 9 to 5 as an executive assistant to an aeroplane engine. But this turned out to be the last of a long line of part-time jobs, a "proper day job, nothing to do with real life". Real life began, significantly, on April 1 as Eulea Kiraly, Community Theatre Director, gained employment for 2.5 days per week funded by artsACT, 0.5 days from Healthpact and, from July 1, the rest of the 7 days per week (or more if she fails the executive time management test) at Tuggeranong, funded by Urban Services.
Urban Services? I hear you cry. What are they doing funding a theatre program? The answer reveals the complexity behind the theatre scene in this city.
When I began teaching drama 30 years ago, the wisdom was that in "primitive" societies drama was an integral part of ordinary life, but in "sophisticated" societies - beginning with the Ancient Greeks - drama became separated from ordinary life, as plays were written to reflect on society: and thus began Theatre.
Well, I guess I have to treat Canberra as an example of a modern sophisticated society - yet in the last 30 years "community" theatre has regained status. The Australia Council, for example, a Major Performing Arts Board, but also Board for Community Cultural Development which funds theatre work.
The distinction on the ground in Canberra has long been between "community" and "professional" theatre. We have never succeeded in maintaining for long a professional theatre company, yet there are professional productions and much community theatre. Local professional productions attract very small audiences in competition with Sydney only 3 hours away, or imports to the Playhouse.
And then there are amateur companies, which are not community theatres. So we have among others Canberra Rep (amateur, sometimes with pro input, and essentially social rather than community); Free Rain (amateur, but offering opportunities for young people to work on pro style productions); Women on a Shoestring (pro, yet with community theatre themes); Elbow (pro, but so small it almost looks like a community theatre).
And now Urban Services and Health seem to have picked up on the 1980's idea of the "healthy city" in which the arts are re-integrated with daily life. Healthpact has supported work at The Street Theatre for several years, and Urban Services' recently introduced Community Renewal Program supports projects from the Narrabundah community garden to the Tuggeranong theatre program, in recognition that where local people are engaged in professionally managed creative activities, the community benefits from a sense of cohesion, stability and purpose: the heart which Canberra is supposed not to have.
Eulea Kiraly's work is to create theatre in, with and for the community.
At Tuggeranong, following work with Maude Clark of Melbourne's Somebody's Daughter Theatre earlier in the year, her Thursday evening group of some 28 people - indigenous and multicultural, from teenage to senior - are working on "Fam-ill-ease", expected to open on October 26.
A play by Jay Bannister working with the Karralaika drug rehabilitation community and WIREDD (Womens Information Referral and Education on Drugs and Dependency), "White Track Miracle", will be presented as a reading at CMAG Theatre 8pm September 29 in the upcoming Festival of Contemporary Arts (FOCA). This script has already been critically evaluated by the National Playwrights Centre: Bannister and Kiraly plan to take it on to full production after further development work.
Also for FOCA Kiraly plays her dogsbody role as the organiser of the Australian premiere of David Hare's "Via Dolorosa", with Sydney director Moira Blumenthal, at Tuggeranong October 3-6. Performed by Patrick Dickson, the play is about "the volatile passions of faith" set in Israel and Palestine.
In December there will be a reading of a new play, "Coming to Canberra", by Sri Lankan-Australian Siri Ipalawatte, directed by Kiraly for the Canberra Multicultural Theatre Association.
And, finally, Kiraly is working with "Alphabet Soup", a women's group on a long-term theatrical exploration of their experiences living in the Allawa, Bega and Currong Flats, ranging from the 1950's memories of the Snowy Mountains Scheme era, through the public servant period, to inner city life today. Though no date has been set, this work will be performed, probably within the context of the ABC Flats.
So this is Eulea Kiraly, Canberra's Rolls-Royce of integrated community theatre. She can be contacted at TCA on 6293 1443 or by email: email@example.com
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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