The announcement from the ANU Drama Department says 'papermoon' presents a 'moonlight' productionThe Good Person of Setzuan, a classic play by Bertolt Brecht. The season will run from Friday October 15 until Saturday October 23, 2004, at the Drama Studio, ANU Arts Centre.
All this mooning about has a story behind it from a deathbed bequest to a future professorship, intrigues in between, and the rise of the young turks. How does lecturer Cathy Clelland get to be directing The Good Person in addition to her day-job? How does head of department Tony Turner justify moonlighting? What value has there been in Moonlight putting on 3 Brecht plays this year?
To find the answer to the last question, go to the ANU Arts Centre at 8pm (or 2pm matinee on Saturday 23rd), but be aware that the Drama Studio has less than 80 seats and was close to full most nights for the previous Brecht productions. Tickets are $10 at the door.
The Edith Torey [Tory?] Bequest to ANU Drama has enabled a Chair to be advertised. More than 20 applicants are being considered from around the world for a professorship in Drama and New Media Arts, expected to be in place from the beginning of 2005. Since Turner has been Head, he has put a greater emphasis on practical work embedded within the drama courses. In the end, he believes, if there ever is to be a proper theatre training course in Canberra - rather than the current arrangement where drama is one course taken alongside maybe law, business management, or whatever - it should be in the Faculty of Arts with the same status, and working closely with, the School of Art and School of Music. Since those schools were brought into the Arts Faculty, there has been more cooperation with drama, as well as some new forms of confusion as the ANU Arts Centre venue is now managed by the School of Music.
To add intrigue, the technical theatre course privately run by AnuTech has no connection to the Drama Department, despite being on campus. May the new professor be the person to hang all this together. The young turks will surely be living in hope.
These are the Moonlighters, graduates of the drama course, who approached Turner with a need for a performance space and a different ethos from other groups such as Canberra Rep which they might have joined to gain performing experience. Clelland came up with Moonlight as an extension of the department's longstanding Papermoon theatre group. Turner came up with a small amount of money from the Torey [Tory?] Bequest, which specified drama education as its purpose.
This explains why, though the graduates are not students enrolled at ANU, their program is closely related to the undergraduate teaching program. Each year a major playwright will be chosen, with productions of up to 3 plays planned. Brecht was an obvious beginning point since his work is seminal to the development of theatre in the 20th Century, giving current undergraduates the chance to see complete works on stage in addition to their academic reading and the small-scale practical work available in the drama courses.
It also has given the graduates the opportunity to extend their previous experience into a more concentrated development program. The first 2 productions were entirely self-managed, though keeping in close contact with Turner and Clelland, while for The Good Person of Setzuan the usual sorts of disruptions to young turks' lives has placed Clelland in the director's role.
Probably this is a good thing, apart from Clelland's delight in working with enthusiasts who have done all the background study. She is putting into focus the issues about performing Brecht which have arisen in the earlier productions, particularly how to establish the style of his form of epic theatre and find the right relationship between the actor and audience. The legacy of Brecht has been to open up the nature of theatre to the audience while at the same time engaging them in the illusion of theatre. It has been very much in Australia that modern acting methods have grown from understanding Brecht, and why we produce so many actors who make it on the world stage.
Of Brecht's plays, The Good Person of Setzuan is one of the best to explore for actors and audience, and remains absolutely relevant in its theme for modern times. As Clelland says, it's still just as difficult for the individual to maintain a moral standard as it was at the time of writing in 1939, as Brecht, the left-wing German, was in Denmark waiting for visas to take his family to America. As it is when money and threats to security come into play. As it is today.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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