22 07 29 - Worlds within Words

*Speakers: Ros Smith (R), Bec Clode (B), Kate Flaherty (K)

*Audience: (A)


*Date: 29/7/22

R:        So welcome, everyone, to this book launch at the beautiful National Library of Australia. My name’s Ros Smith and I’m the Professor of English at the ANU and it’s my absolute pleasure to chair tonight this event which is celebrating the launch of two books by my colleagues from the Department of English. So, the first of these is Dr Bec Clode’s monograph, Australian Metatheatre on Page and Stage and the second is Dr Kate Flaherty’s collection of essays, Touring Performance and Global Exchange, 1850 to 1960 that was edited by Kate and Professor Gilli Bush-Bailey.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging Australia’s first nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and to give my respects to their elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Bec, Kate and I would also like to express our sincere thanks to Stuart Baines, Ian Pratton, Sonya Brown and the rest of the team here at NLA for partnering with us on this occasion.

So, we welcome you all, friends and members of the NLA, Petherick readers, students, colleagues, family and friends to this event. We extend a ‘specially warm welcome to the contributors to the collection, Touring Performance and Global Exchange, who are joining us tonight from far flung locations via live stream. They include Diana James, Mark Houlahan, Janice Norwood, Laura Ginters, Peta Tait, Gillian Arigi, Kerry Murphy, Joanne Tompkins, Jane Woollard, Anna-Sophia Jurgens, Katherine Preston, Jacky Bratton and Gilli Bush-Bailey.

So after the formal proceedings this evening the NLA invites you to enjoy the On Stage exhibition upstairs which has been ‘specially opened in conjunction with this evening’s event and to purchase light refreshments from the Bookplate Café.

I’ve also got a little bit of information about purchasing both of these books. So on your seat you will find a brochure with QR codes for each of the books. If you follow the QR code you can purchase the book in either hardback or ebook versions. Both versions you’ll be happy to hear are currently discounted by 20% in the publisher’s midyear sale but with this discount I’m afraid to say the hardback does cost and it’s got an eyewatering $201.80 and the ebook, though, $56.80. This offer lasts until the 3rd of August and after that date you can still get the discounted price on the hardback books by using the discount code on the flyer on your seats.

But I also have to tell you that if you follow the Taylor and Francis eBooks link on the site you can also get a free preview of the whole introduction of each book so you can try for free before you buy.

Okay so today’s event is more of an informal conversation than a set of speeches but I am going to start with a little speech by introducing briefly each of these books to you and then we’re going to have a conversation with their authors, with Kate and Bec, before opening up the discussion to questions from the audience. So, while we’re talking please think of some questions and I'm sure there will be things that you’ll want to ask.

So, I’m going to begin by talking a little bit about the collection of essays, Touring Performance and Global Exchange, 1850 to 1960, Making Tracks. This is Kate’s collection of essays which gathers together essays on 19th century theatrical touring to investigate what such mobility might mean, what ideological work it performs and how the lived experience of performance in different places and at different times transforms audiences, societies and our understanding of theatre history.

One of the most wonderful things about this collection is the way in which it takes seriously the remains or traces of that most ephemeral of forms, live performance. These are the tracks of the title, the footsteps in the sand that show where these journeys have been made.

The essays in this book retrieve those journeys from the past and make them vivid again, looking at cultural performance such as the Cantonese Opera performed in the 19th century Australian goldfields, lost practices of stagecraft and lost instances of performance and cultural phenomena such as the origins of female comedy. The essays also recreate the perils and difficulties of the experience of touring across the world for the intrepid performers of the 19th century, re-creating the experiences of loss, grief, illness, ageing and dislocation that are inherent in journey-making.

Finally, the essays show the power of mobile performance, a power to reimagine how places are made and configured, to resist imperial narratives and to reconfigure ideas of centre and periphery and to break down borders between nations, between communities and between subjects. It is an amazing, far-ranging generative collection of essays that intervenes in important debates across a number of fields. It’s also a delight to read, the essays are genuinely engaging and they genuinely uncover new material and give new perspectives on that material. This is not – I think if you had to sum up its achievement you would say that it does map a new history of performance in Australia and across the globe.

So, the second book that we’re launching tonight is Bec Clode’s single authored study, Australian Metatheatre on Page and Stage, also published by Routledge. This I think ground-breaking book explores for the first time the common phenomenon of metatheatre in Australian drama, metatheatre being before grounding of the making of theatre or performative elements within the plays themselves so the play within a play would be an example of metatheatre.

Despite its ubiquity metatheatre in Australian drama has been overlooked and Bec’s book traces metatheatrical techniques across some of our best-known plays such as Dorothy Hewitt’s Man from Muckinupin as well as fascinating noncanonical works that remain unpublished such as Louis Nowra’s Royal Show and there’s an incredible chapter on Peta Murray’s extended experimental performance, Things That Fall Over.

So, across these diverse texts Bec shows how an interest in metatheatre allows these works to critique and also celebrate the cultures from which they emerge. Metatheatre emerges as a particularly powerful vehicle to register the marginalised or, as Bec says, backstage place of indigenous voices in Australian society and to show the complex place of women at particular historical moments in Australian culture.

These are not uncomplicated narratives however and one of the strengths of this book is the way in which it represents nuanced, very detailed readings of the intersection of text and performance to comment on how self-referentiality or metatheatre functions in these plays and in Australian life more generally.

So metatheatre here becomes a site of critique but also of opportunity. Australian Metatheatre on Page and Stage places this mode and the plays it focuses on as newly important, I think, to Australian theatre history but also to broader global understandings of how national dramas might develop. It’s a stunning first book of complexity and depth that introduces a new and important voice to Australian theatre studies.

I’m so delighted to be able to launch both of these volumes tonight and I’d like to ask all of you to join me in congratulating all of the contributors to them but especially Bec and Kate.


So, we’re going to have a small panel discussion for maybe 10 to 15 minutes next and before we go into that I'm going to introduce the panellists and tell you just a little bit more about Bec and Kate. I'm sure you know them very well but there’s some people from Kate’s side, some people from Bec's side.

So, Dr Bec Clode is a lecturer in drama and English at the ANU and a Fellow for the Tuckwell Scholarship program. As well as teaching drama, creative writing, Victorian literature and first year English Bec undertakes research on contemporary playwrighting practices and Australian theatre history. She is a PhD graduate of the ANU and also holds an MA in Text and Performance Studies from King’s College and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London.

Prior to her academic career she was a theatre practitioner and she now maintains her practice locally, for example as dramaturg for playwrighting development projects with the Street Theatre. Outside of university Bec enjoys visiting galleries, making art, gardening and various domestic pursuits as parent to two young kids. She likes to imagine she is a whizz at the arts of pasta necklace-making, Ikea furniture construction and facepainting.

So, Dr Kate Flaherty is a senior lecturer in English and drama at ANU and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She was 2019 winner of the ANU Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education and Teachers with a Specialisation in Early Modern Drama. Her courses include Queensland Tyrants, Gender and Power on the Early Modern Stage and the Politics of Comedy from The Globe to the Office.

Kate’s research maps the ways in which plays and players shape the politics of education, gender and nation. In 2011 she published the first book-length study of Shakespeare performance in Australia, Ours as We Play It, Australia Plays Shakespeare. She has since published many chapters and articles on Shakespeare and performance including in The Guardian and in The Conversation. Her current book entitled Moving Women explores how touring actresses shaped political movements of the 1800s.

In 2017 Kate read Gilli Bush-Bailey’s wittily titled book, Treading the Bawds, Actresses and Playwrights on the Late Stuart Stage. She loved it and she sent Professor Bush-Bailey an email. This got the show on the road in which as you will hear they were joined by many wonderful contributors.

So, Gilli Bush-Bailey is the other editor of the collection of essays, is sadly unable to join us this evening because of a personal emergency. She is Professor Emerita of the University of London Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her first career as an actress informs her approaches to research on women’s performance histories. As a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow her research on Emma Stanley’s one-woman show, The Seven Ages of Woman, 1856 to 1860, brought her to Australia where as a guest of ANU in 2019 she cocurated a conference with Kate Flaherty on the International Touring Circuits of the Long 19th Century. This led to their further collaboration as co-editors of one of the books we are launching here tonight, Touring Performance and Global Exchange, Making Tracks.

So, these are our interlocutors, and this is – this will be the discussion. So, I’m just going to begin by asking a question of you, Bec, and this is really how you came to write this book like what was it that prompted you to write the book about Australian metatheatre in particular and what was it so much about this topic of metatheatre that interested you?

B:        Thanks Ros and thanks, everyone, for being here, good to see all your faces and welcome. So yeah, I suppose there were two starting points for the book, Ros. One was an interest in playwrighting process which probably began during my years as a drama nerd as a high school student but particularly as an ANU drama student attending lectures given by Dr Geoffrey Borny on the likes of Tennessee Williams and Bertolt Brecht.

The other starting point was an observation on my part of what seemed to be a tendency in contemporary drama and also contemporary theatre production of emphasising metatheatrical techniques and I’m not saying in any sense that metatheatre is a new thing, it isn’t but around the time that I was starting my research, and that was well over 10 years ago when I was doing my PhD, I just became aware of this emphasis in production on metatheatrical techniques, for example Bell Shakespeare Productions and Shakespeare is inherently metatheatrical, full of inner plays and inner references to its theatrical form and other theatrical works. But there were these stagings by the Bell Shakespeare Company that produced and performed the plays with an external framework as though they were themselves plays within plays and this kind of thing I also noticed occurring within new plays, this heightening of metatheatrical techniques. It just led me to become more curious, I suppose, about metatheatre in Australian drama and in the works that were being written by Australian playwrights.

I would also have to say that The Ham Funeral by Patrick White is one of my favourite plays and it’s very metatheatrical, it begins as many of you would know with a sort of framing introduction by the young man who in many ways represents White himself. He introduces the play and – well he actually introduces it in quite abstract terms to begin with. I’m just going to quote from it because I love it so much.

Before the curtain rises the young man appears and speaks the following prologue.

Young Man: I’ve just woken, it seems, it is about – well the time doesn’t matter. The same applies to my origins, it could be that I was born in Birmingham or Brooklyn or Murwillumbah. What is important is that thanks to a succession of meat pies and many cups of pink tea I am alive therefore, and this is a rather painful point, I must go in soon and take part in the play which as usual is a piece about eels. As I am also a poet, ‘though, to be perfectly honest, I’ve not yet found out for sure. My dilemma in the play is how to take part in the conflict of eels and survive at the same time, becoming a kind of Roman candle fizzing forever in the dark, somewhat stern. Probably a number of you are wondering by now whether this is your kind of play. I’m sorry to have to announce the management won’t refund any money, you must simply sit it out and see whether you can’t recognise some of the forms that will squirm before you in this mad, muddy mess of eels.

That’s from The Ham Funeral. So that’s where it began and I suppose from there I embarked upon this investigation of metatheatre in Australian playwrighting and I was a bit conflicted between wanting to achieve a kind of scope and write about what a whole bunch of playwrights had done and were starting to do but I also felt very strongly that I wanted to write about the works on both the page and on the stage.

Dorothy Hewitt, one of the playwrights that I write about, says in an interview with Bill Stephens, a play on the page is nothing, and that really resonated for me as a theatre historian in the making still and a theatre-maker. So what I ended up doing was an in-depth analysis of the works of four different playwrights and yeah, I made some I think exciting discoveries along the way.

R:        You definitely did and one of the things in reading your books is - that I found just the most revelatory, actually, was the combination of very sort of – you know all the ephemera performance combined with what you could retrieve about performances combined with the more sort of theoretical analysis of it that was to –

B:        Incredible.

R:        - has a beautiful kind of – sort of doubleness that enriches the analyses.

B:        Yeah, thanks, Ros, and I think that it was genuinely a very exciting part of the research and those sort of discoveries from the theatre archive and two of the playwrights who I write about, Dorothy Hewitt and Louis Nowra, have manuscript collections here at the NLA and to be able to look through those collections and find – I mean Hewitt’s manuscript collection is extensive and some of the stuff in there’s quite frankly bizarre but appropriately so, I suppose, for Dorothy Hewitt in her eccentricity. But to find prompt copies of scripts and to look through those and to be able to see handwritten notes from playwrights but also theatre-makers and gain insights into the decisions that were made along the way to staging plays. That helped me work out in many cases what purpose the metatheatrical strategy served within the play but also just to gain a better insight into these works of Australian theatre which are part of our history.

R:        Yeah. So my next question actually is for you, Kate, and it’s a very similar one, it’s sort of what was the starting point? I mean your collection has 16 chapters and 19 contributors so what was it that made you want to bring all of these texts together in one volume?

K:        Thanks Ros. I think in a sense it was that travel changes people and that that hasn’t really been taken into account in theatre history. Theatre history tells stories of what happens on the stage but I became interested when I began to learn about the tremendous amount of movement across the globe that was happening from the age of steam onwards in the experience of travel and how that shapes performers, how it shapes dramatic repertoire so how it shapes performance itself and also we began to think about this, how it shapes the experience of the theatre historian who travels to look at archives and see things in archives.

So, a really informing example that inspired the whole collection was of course the Seven Sisters Songline and that’s our opening chapter by Diana James and Inawinytji Williamson and this is a story told over thousands of years and thousands of kilometres so a wonderful example of how movement across geographical space actually shapes dramatic storytelling. But we’ve also got stories in there of how individual performers are affected by travel on tour. We have a wonderful chapter by [Milish Feitser] 22:27 on shipwreck narratives in the autobiography of an actress. There are several shipwrecks in the collection, actually.

We have Kerry Murphy’s chapter which looks at the wonderful Thomas Quinlan’s operative extravaganzas and how travel didn’t seem to deter him from bringing hundreds of people, from bringing, as Kerry puts it, Covent Garden on wheels to Australia. But there is strain there that show in his very sad demise in mental health terms towards the end of his career.

There are other examples of how repertoire is shaped so in this period, which is our period, 1850, particularly towards the end, towards the beginning of the 20th century, frontier dramas were for obvious reasons very, very popular. Janice Norwood has a chapter on Madam Celeste, a French actress who finds herself playing an indigenous American character in frontier dramas so that’s complex in so many ways, isn’t it?

My own chapter is actually about this very experience, the way that an – in this case the actress, Fanny Campbell, originating from London goes on tour to the United States of America and without knowing it marries someone who is about to inherit a slave-run plantation fortune. She becomes an extraordinary and problematic in many ways voice for abolition but it’s because of her understanding of this transatlantic entertainment trade and her travel, the fact that she’s a travelling actress so I don’t really talk about her performance at all but I talk about how she as a performer is shaped by the experience of travel.

Then of course we have our own reflections on how travel shapes us so we have Jane Woollard who writes about a delightfully named actress, Eliza Winstanley O’Flaherty, no relation I don’t think, and Jane actually uses experimentation with the repertoire to learn about this touring actress who moved between Sydney and Hobart throughout her career. Of course my wonderful colleague, Gilli Bush-Bailey – I'm going to wave, I don’t know where the camera is – Gilli Bush-Bailey and Jacky Bratton together authored a chapter on an actress who brought this extraordinary one-woman show to America and to Australia and they retraced her steps as a research method. I think they’ll both tell you that that experience, even though travel is a lot easier now, gave them a sense of how covering that expanse and shifting across those cultural contexts influenced this one-woman show, The Seven Ages of Woman.

So, the impetus was that idea, that travel shapes people. Perhaps it became that we were all missing travel so much and it was wonderful to be connected to 18 other people who are fascinated with travel and missing travel after we had all travelled to be together. But another really important imeprtus I have to say is the wonderful affordances of the National Library’s collection. So, I had a lovely message from Joanne Tompkins saying that she had this ah ha moment looking at the silk program in the On Stage exhibition and Laura Ginters told me that she saw this theatre in Ballarat which relates to her chapter on how Medea, the classical play played in the goldfields of Australia so lots of connections with the exhibition and with the archives.

I know, Bec, that you have worked in the archives here and used the materials in these collections and Bec’s told me that she made kind of an interesting discovery so I’m going to pass the baton to you now and tell us about what you discovered in the National Library’s Performing Arts archives.

B:        Yeah, so there were two things, one was a document in the Hewitt archives called – which she had titled Genesis and in it she outlines the starting points for her play, The Man from Muckinupin so it’s typewritten but she also made handwritten notes in the margins. I think that she probably wrote it after the first production of the play, probably while she was writing program notes for a subsequent production, maybe the second, the 1981 production at the Sydney Opera House but she – so she calls it Genesis and she talks about how when the play was commissioned, which it was commissioned for the 150th celebration of the British settlement of the Swan River Colony, Perth. She was asked to write, quote, a celebratory play with reconciliation built into it, end quote.

So she talks about how conflicted she was by the terms of that commission but then outlines some of the ways that she managed to achieve that and that gave me insight into how the metatheatrical play within the play, the sort of night-time ceremonies that she depicts within the play and they offset the daytime scenes, how she uses them to create this carnivalesque kind of subversion of the daytime world which then become the daytime world in very broad and probably generalistic terms, becomes the sort of surface world of Muckinupin and Australian society. But in the night-time ceremonies this sort of plays within plays, she gives voice and stage to the marginalised, to the disenfranchised, to the town misfits and these include indigenous Australians, these include ageing women, these include artists, these include environmentalists and note she wrote this play in late 1978.

The other really exciting discovery for the archive of course was the prompt copy of Louis Nowra’s play, Royal Show, which had never been published. It’s his – it is his unpublished play and that was fascinating because the play had been staged by Lighthouse, South Australian theatre company which for a short time was under the artistic directorship of Jim Sharman. Royal Show is this wonderful and ambitious play which includes a sideshow sequence and that was heavily influenced. It was an ensemble work of theatre and so in its making Nowra and Sharman worked very closely together and Nowra drew upon Jim Sharman’s experience. Of course he grew up in a way in the sideshow circuit, his grandfather, Jimmy Sharman senior, had founded the Jimmy Sharman Boxing Troupe and that was later taken over by his father and so on. So there was that shared interest in sideshow culture which becomes the metatheatrical subculture that is depicted within the broader play of Royal Show. Long answer.

R:        Good answer, Kate, very interesting.

B:        Can I reply with a question of you, Kate?

K:        Of course.

R:        We haven’t planned any –

R:        It’s not scripted in any way.

B:        So, Kate, in the intro to your book you talk about how the book redraws gender and genre maps of touring performance. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

K:        Thank you for that wonderfully spontaneous question. How the book redraws gender and genre maps. The reason why I asked you to ask me this question, Bec, is because I think the structures that we use to understand theatre are actually, or I should say understand performance as a whole, are inherited from structures that took place in London a long time ago. So, when I say this I’m thinking about the structure whereby there is an actor/manager like Charles Kemble, like Charles Kean who actually owns and runs a theatre and this is a kind of Kenneth Branagh figure really because they do everything. They run the theatre, they own the theatre, they direct the plays, they cast the plays, they act in the plays. Apart from a few extremely exciting examples these are all male so that sense of male narratives are shaping how we understand theatre.

The other structure is to do with genre and this also goes right back to London and the idea that there are from Shakespeare’s time, really, only two theatres permitted to operate. They’re granted a Royal patent by the Queen in that case and later by successive sovereigns and those theatres can do legitimate drama which is spoken word drama, theatre as we would understand it today and then there’s all the other stuff that happens on the side. The other stuff has become extremely exciting to investigate, particularly in the last 30 or 40 years and my colleagues, Gilli Bush-Bailey and Jacky Bratton have really led the way with some of that work.

But this category of legitimate drama and everything else is problematic and in an exciting way it gets messed up when we leave London so we’re very interested in what happens when we leave London. So in terms of gender we have a wonderful essay in the collection by Katherine Preston about enterprising female opera managers travelling around the United States so that’s a really exciting chapter.

Another shakeup gender-wise is a chapter by Veronica Kelly on female black musical artists coming to Australia in the post-World War two period and engaging with race politics in Australia and Shirley Bassey whom you would all have heard of is one of those three as is Lena Atwell who is in the exhibition. I just remembered that so look out for Lena Atwell in the exhibition.

In terms of gender – in terms of genre and remapping genre we found all sorts of interesting connections between performance forms that would not usually be considered together so a theatre historian tends to be a historian of dance or a historian of opera or a historian – yeah, we have these tiny categories in academic study but we found that it was really productive to look at how movement and how touring affected all of these performing arts in similar interesting ways. So we have as you mentioned Anna-Sophie Jurgen’s chapter on the lady clown evolving in Germany. We have Peta Tait's wonderful chapter on female animal acts or you might know as lion tamers and highwire acts. We have a chapter by Mark Houlahan on this wonderful spectacle that was evolved in New Zealand of the eruption of – I’ve forgotten the volcano. Justin, what’s the volcano? My New Zealand husband. That’s the one – Justin is a New Zealander – so the eruption of a volcano which quite unusually went from New Zealand to Australia. So usually theatre went to Australia, to New Zealand but Mark’s chapter shows us the Land of the Moa, a wonderful spectacle of volcanic eruption moving from New Zealand to Australia. I’ve promised myself to mention everyone and I owe you a drink, fellow contributors, if I don’t manage to get to you in here.

Another really important one of course, Gillian Arigi’s chapter on child players who did their training in Australia and then travelled in the Asia-Pacific region and often returned to London. So, there we have this interesting, reversed flow which messes up again the genres of performance and the categories of performance.

Then Sarah Balkin’s chapter on Artemus Ward, an American comedian who took performances of English comedy to England, being an American so there’s these wonderful crossings that take place.

When we loosen the story of performance from London and from a paradigm where performance radiates out from one cultural centre, we find that there are a lot of things that dance, comedy, opera and spoken word have in common when we stop thinking in terms of legitimate drama and everything else. So, does that answer your question, Bec? Such a great question.

R:        It’s all becoming very metatheatrical. Actually, I must say reading the essays, once you read those essays cumulatively you cannot believe somebody has not written on this before, you know?

K:        Yeah, every single one of them.

R:        It’s just such a powerful topic and it has so much potential for just shifting perspective on a whole lot of cultural phenomena.

But the final question I’m going to ask before I turn over to the audience is around the power of performance for political critique which is something – one of many things that links your two books, that both of them are very concerned with this question of how performance can change things in the world. So, I’d love you both just to reflect a little bit more on that and maybe talk about some of the connections that you’ve seen in each other’s work so maybe, Bec, start with you.

B:        Yeah, I’m thinking about this in terms of to give voice to someone, to give someone the stage either literally or in any other sense is in itself a political act and potentially such a powerful one. To give an example the fourth play that I write about in my book is by a Melbourne Playwright, Peta Murray, P-e-t-a Murray – hello Peta watching – so this is a magnificent work of feminist theatre which premiered in 2014 and I was able to attend that premiere. Its title is Things That Fall Over but I need to read the full title which is Things That Fall Over, an anti-musical of a novel inside a reading of a play with footnotes and oratorio as coda.

You have to read the book to really [unclear] 39:42 except to say that it stages the challenges faced by the mature-age female artist. It was first performed by a cast of more than 30 women and it’s a modern-day pageant play with a five-hour running time. It occupies space and it did occupy several different spaces in the way that it was played out. Actually, it was first performed in the week of International Women’s Day and it has this – its oratorio is a wonderful afterpiece titled Swansong of the Musical.

So, what I love about this play is its ambition and the way that it attempts to stage a resistance to the exclusion of women. Now Peta Murray was motivated to write this play at a time when she was feeling the effects of this exclusion but also it was in the late ‘90s, there were significant – the beginning of some significant cuts to the arts in Australia but particularly women’s arts organisations like play works and organisations which had for some decades in some cases previously championed the works of women artists. This sort of contributed to her motivation to respond in this way.

So, she stages this resistance to the exclusion of women, particularly mature age females from theatre practice and more broadly symbolically the stage of Australian culture. But I think what’s interesting and challenging about that work as well is that in doing that she also embeds those challenges that she’s talking about, that she’s seeking to protest. So in my chapter I ask well how does a work with a cast of more than 30 women and a running time of five hours and a script that seems almost as changeable as plays emerging performance history continue into the future to find a space on the Australian stage? Which is part of why I wanted to write about it.

R:        It made me want to see it.

B:        Yeah, and you can read a draft of the play because as part of my PhD I got permission from Peta to include the play in its current draft form as an appendix to the PhD which is kind of an unusual addition to a PhD but it’s available in the ANU library collection.

R:        Same question to you, the political critique and conditions.

K:        Political critique in performance. I think - with Rebecca I think that being on stage is a kind of political presence but it’s a kind of physical political presence. Why I think this is that when we look at the 19th century, prior to the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870 an actress could be tremendously popular and influential and not by law own anything if she got married. Or she could be tremendously influential and loved and known all over the world but not vote. So there’s this massive gap between the kind of real in person influence that a person could have and the ripples of their celebrity but not actual formal legal political influence which draws me in to understand what kind of power is that.

Then there’s the other wonderful level, the imaginative level in that an actress by playing characters can operate almost by stealth because she’s not standing on the stage and being herself as an activist, she’s just speaking words written by Shakespeare and that’s safe, right? We know there couldn’t be anything going on there. So, there’s a wonderful sense in which – in a subversive – there’s something subversive about theatre altogether because of the game that it is, because of the imaginative game that it is and I think that’s why I’m eternally fascinated in the actress, particularly in the 19th century, where she seemed to be becoming such an important cultural entity and yet in terms of the law had so little agency or political power.

R:        Great. So, we’re now going to turn over to the audience questions, I’m sure you have some. Now I’m going to ask people to raise their hand and wait for the microphone if you don’t mind so first question is from this gentleman at the back. Thank you.

A:        Thanks to all the panel for that fascinating discussion. Historians of the book have talked about how inventive the reader is, they don’t necessarily take away the message that the writer intended. You’ve told us a lot tonight about the genre but I’m wondering in the archive and in your collection whether you talk much about audience responses and how audiences respond to theatre as it evolves on the stage?

K:        In the collection? I think we talk about audiences in terms of our evidence of reception of productions and this is the one area in which – I meant to say this but didn’t get to so thank you for this – the National Library’s wonderful collection of newspapers, digitised newspapers, Trove, it spoils us because when you go to look for reviews of theatres in other countries you expect there to be something like Trove and there just isn’t. So I guess how we get a sense of what audiences think is by looking at reviews of theatre and that’s been hugely informative for very many of the contributors to this collection.

What’s so exciting is that that’s a free electronic repository open to anyone so anyone can go and find out what people thought about Nellie Melba on the day she performed in a particular place because of Trove. So that’s – audiences I agree are really, really important because they’re part of the dynamic, even the political dynamic of theatre and a wonderful resource like Trove gives us a feel for what audiences think and feel importantly about performance. Thank you for a great question.

R:        So this person here and then you can go next.

A:        Thank you. Yeah, really nice to hear you guys talk about that. I was just going to ask Kate, obviously having written about performance in Australia previously I was just thinking about whether you found that there were connections between your previous writing and themes that came up or whether you gained any new insight on your previous work through the explorations in this collection.

K:        Thanks Kayla and hello and thanks for coming. Certainly it contextualised my other research so I think when I was a PhD student and my wonderful supervisor, Penny Gay, suggested that Shakespeare in Australia would be a great topic for a monograph I thought of Australia as this exciting but slightly locked off little entity in the world when it came to theatre and this research has shown me that Australia is a centre of gravity for what was going on in performance in the 19th century. Why? Because of gold so that’s been one of my latest, most exciting discoveries and a lot of the contributors in this book look at circuits that are pulled out of shape by the discovery of gold.

So touring performers, there’s a reason why they go to California and then they go to Victoria, because that’s where people have the money to build beautiful new theatres and some of those will be in the On Stage exhibition. People literally have gold; they have money to go and see plays. So yeah, I think contextualising theatre in Australia and of course Rebecca’s work does this brilliantly as well, as a real centre of interest for theatre history, a generative centre of interest for networked theatre history rather than little old Australia doing its thing.

R:        Another question from this young gentleman here in the orange shirt.

K:        He looks familiar.

R:        Has he been briefed?

K:        No. He’s the only one who hasn’t been.

A:        I just wanted to ask – I’m surprised I don’t know the answer to this question but what inspired you to do theatre, Mum?

K:        What inspired me to write this book?

A:        Yes.

K:        Friendship I’m going to say because I sent that email to Gilli Bush-Bailey – wherever you are, Gilli, I miss you, I wish you were here – totally cold. It was one of those Dear Professor Bush-Bailey, I’ve just finished reading your magnificent book Treading the Bawds, spelt B-a-w-d-s, actresses and I loved it and I would love to begin a conversation and Gilli, who you’ve met, Rueben, just came into that conversation and we’ve – began to forge a friendship and we made this symposium happen at ANU and Gilli and Jacqui trekked out to ANU and we tried to find kangaroos for them on Mt Majura –

R:        Live ones.

K:        Yeah so that’s been – yeah, live kangaroos on Mt Majura and then – now we’ve gone through COVID together apart doing terribly timed Zoom calls to pull all this together from London and Australia and so yeah, friendship.

R:        Now we have one more question over here and perhaps yeah, just two more and then we’ll release you into glasses of wine so Kate here in the red jacket.

A:        Can I just ask –

R:        I think for the streaming and the –

A:        In a way this follows on from the question that Ros asked about theatre and – theatre as a political act or the link between theatre and politics. I was thinking a bit about the connection with Australia for both of – well Bec, for your book and Kate, for aspects of the essays and thinking about I guess nationhood and the role of theatre in reflecting on Australia’s national identity. I know in your book I think you also write about Our Country’s Good which if I’m remembering correctly is quite an important play or about an important play for Australia’s theatre history. I just wondered if you wanted to say a bit more about that or for both of you generally that sort of yeah, Australia’s theatre history and nation-making.

B:        I’m thinking of a moment in the Man from Muckinupin when the town comes out and they perform this farewell to the soldier and he dresses himself in the soldier’s uniform on stage and it’s this moment of celebration but of course when he returns from war it’s not Jack Tuesday, this character but actually his no-hoper brother, Harry, who’s turned out to be the war hero but he’s shell-shocked and there’s this kind of undoing of the idea of the war hero that takes place within that play and metatheatre becomes part of that.

Our Country’s Good is different again, it’s a play about the staging of the first performance by British colonials in Sydney Cove and that actual performance took place in 1789 by a mostly convict cast. The play is based upon Thomas Kenneally’s book, The Playmaker. But yeah, there’s some interesting stuff that played there too in terms of nationhood because the play was conceived and written by a British company and playwright and first performed by a British cast. There’s a kind of interesting thing that I talk about in the book in terms of nationhood where the year after the first performance which took place in the bicentennial year the English cast toured the production to Sydney and it was performed, hosted by the Sydney Theatre Company.

Concurrently there was a production done by the Melbourne Theatre Company and there was a sort of key difference between those two productions in that the role of the indigenous Australian described in the script as the Aboriginal Australian was played in the Melbourne production by Tom E Lewis, an indigenous actor. The British cast, and this is another little gem that I found in the archive, insisted upon that role being played by its original British cast member although the then Director of the Sydney Theatre Company flagged that that may be problematic in the aftermath of the bicentenary and the protests that happened. Yeah, there’s a very interesting sort of letter that was sent by Max Stafford-Clark, the British director resisting the idea that they recast in favour of the British ensemble.

So yeah, certainly there’s a lot that I have to say about nationhood. In terms of how well that answers your question I’m not too sure. I might hand over to Kate.

K:        I think the experience of performance and touring decentres people’s internal sense of nation and their nationality and my own chapter about Fanny Campbell brings that out in that she heads off to America from London with a very snobby attitude towards America and Americans and she even publishes a journal – publishes, sorry, her personal journey about Americans, praising some things but being quite critical. Then after spending time on her husband’s plantation her life falls apart in many, many ways and she comes back to England during the American civil war and is horrified at the support for the south that England is giving America. So she almost does a complete turnaround, she actually publishes her journal of her time on her – on the plantation as a reaction against British support for slavery and for the south.

So I think movement reconfigures people ’s internal sense of their own belonging nationally and this is very important when we’re thinking about performers whose own imagination and sense of self is the art because performers don’t travel like paintings, performers don’t stay the same as they move, they’re affected by illness and they’re affected by grief and they’re affected by different geographical landscapes. The way people are impressed by their settings and shift their sense of national or other kinds of belonging as they move is – has been really exciting for me to investigate.

R:        I think - we’re going to finish up very shortly but I think we have one more question if that’s okay so just one more quick question. So that’s at the front here.

A:        Thank you. I just have a quick question about why that Nowra play is unpublished.

B:        Yeah. There’s a letter from Louis Nowra in the manuscript collection where he writes to Veronica Kelly about the play which he’d spoken to her about at some point or written to her about at some point. He indicates that the play’s coming along well but he suspects it will be not quite right for publication and I think it was to do with how long it was, actually. Also the fact that it was this ensemble work that was experimental.

When the company – and it was only ever staged twice so by Lighthouse and then the following year by New Moon Theatre Company which was a company that toured in far north Queensland to four towns. Both companies felt that it was never quite successfully realised. Each of the actors played more than a handful of roles, five to 10 roles. The sideshow alley sequences happened quite late in the play and some of the exchanges that I’ve had with people who were involved in that production and their memories of it suggests that yeah, it was kind of a great idea but never quite got there. So I think between its length and all those other elements it was never published but to me it’s still somewhat surprising. Thanks for the question.

R:        We might finish up here now. I’ve just got a few more words of thanks and just some concluding comments. So first of all it’s thanks to Bec, Kate and all the contributors of the Touring Performance volume who are joining us this evening or who might be listening to this after tonight’s event because you all made these amazing books that we’re launching tonight. They’re two really, really important books about theatre and it’s a privilege, really, to be working in a department with you two and to be able to launch them.

We'd also collectively like to extend our warm thanks to the teams at the publisher, Routledge, especially to Laura Hussey, Swati Hindwan, Naliana Usri and Lou Olsen. Bec and Kate also want to thank their colleagues and students at the ANU who’ve contributed to and supported their research, and most of all their families, some of whom are here today. Also sincere thanks to the National Library for hosting this event and to you for coming along tonight and to our online audiences. Don’t forget that you have information on your seat for ordering your copy of the books or for accessing a free preview. Finally we really hope you will have the opportunity to have a look around the On Stage exhibition. I think we’re all – Kate’s seen it but Bec and I haven’t, we’re really keen to have a look. So to get there you go through the main reading room upstairs and I guess we all look forward to having a glass of wine and glass of champagne and celebrating the launch of these two fantastic books so let’s consider them launched.


End of recording

In this panel discussion led by Rosalind Smith, panellists Kate Flaherty and Rebecca Clode discuss their latest books. Each of their books captures a broad range of performance history, and each use different lenses to investigate the historical evolution and importance of the performing arts.

Rosalind Smith (chair of discussion and Professor and head of English at ANU) Rosalind Smith is Professor of English and Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the Australian National University, editor of Parergon and general editor of the Palgrave Encylopedia of Early Modern Women’s Writing. She works on early modern women’s writing, with an interest in gender, politics, form and materiality, and her books include Sonnets and the English Woman Writer, Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing and Early Modern Women’s Complaint. She is a current ARC Future Fellow working on a project on early modern women’s marginalia, and she leads a Linkage project with State Library Victoria on the Emmerson collection, a recent bequest of 5000 early modern rare books.

About the panellists:

Kate Flaherty (co-editor of Touring Performance and Global Exchange 1850-1960) Kate Flaherty is a Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at ANU. She is writing a book about how actresses shaped political movements in the 1800s. Her first book, Ours as We Play it: Australia Plays Shakespeare, looks at Shakespeare in performance in Australia. Other work investigates the public interplay of Shakespeare’s drama with education, gender, imperialism, and riot in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among her many publications are articles for The Conversation and The Guardian. Kate was 2019 winner of the ANU Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Rebecca Clode (author of Australian Metatheatre on Page and Stage) Rebecca is a lecturer in Drama and English at the Australian National University. She is a PhD graduate of the ANU and also holds an MA in Text and Performance Studies from King's College and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Research interests include Australian Drama (history and practice) as well as contemporary European and American Dramas. Rebecca is also a theatre maker with a background in directing and dramaturgy. Her recent engagements include dramaturgical projects with The Street Theatre’s First Seen program, Katie Pollock’s People Inside Me and Helen Machalias’ People Might Hear You.

Gilli Bush- Bailey (co-editor of Touring Performance and Global Exchange 1850-1960) [not present at this event]. Gilli Bush-Bailey is Professor Emerita of the University of London (Royal Central School of Speech & Drama). Her first career as an actress informs her approaches to research on women’s performance histories. As a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, her research on Emma Stanley’s one woman show The Seven Ages of Woman (1856-1860), brought her to Australia where, as a guest of ANU in 2019, she co-curated a conference with Dr Kate Flaherty on the international touring circuits of the long 19th century. This led to their further collaboration as co-editors of Touring Performance and Global Exchange 1850-1960.