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Speakers: Shirleene Robinson (S), Karen Vickery (K), Peter Wilkins (P), Taimus Werner-Gibbings (T), Tim Bevitt (TB), David Whitbread (D)
S: Good evening, everybody and welcome to the National Library of Australia and to this very special event celebrating grassroots performing arts discussion panel and performance. I’m Dr Shirleene Robinson and I'm the Director of Curatorial and Collection Research here at the National Library.
As we begin I would like to acknowledge Australia’s First Nations people, the first peoples and first Australians as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and to give my respects to elders past and present and through them to all Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander people and to extend that respect to any Indigenous people that might be with us today.
We're thrilled to have you all here tonight for this key event which supports the Library’s current exhibition, On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts. If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet please do check it out during the intermission.
So tonight we have key community performing arts figure and Canberra Times theatre reviewer Peter Wilkins who will facilitate tonight’s discussion panel which will be interspersed with performances. Making up the discussion panel are Tim Bevitt representing Unexpected Harmony Choir, Karen Vickery representing Canberra REP, Taimus Werner-Gibbings who’s representing Lakespeare and David Whitbread representing Weston Winds.
Performances will include a reading by Karen Vickery from Our Country’s Good, a bassoon performance by David Whitbread, a performance of a Shakespeare reading by Taimus Werner-Gibbings and a performance by Unexpected Harmony Choir.
As I mentioned before this event will have an intermission and during intermission you may like to wander through the Library’s current exhibition, On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts or you might like to purchase refreshments that are available at Bookplate. So please sit back, enjoy the entertainment, relax and if you join me in welcoming Karen Vickery to present Our Country’s Good.
K: Well good evening and thank you for having me. I’m going to just read two short excerpts from Our Country’s Good. It’s a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker - what a fabulous name – and it will be on at Canberra REP in September. I'm going to be the Director so I’m not wearing my actor’s hat tonight but rather my director’s hat which is quite a different thing, it’s something we might talk about later.
So I’m going to start with no further ado by reading the words of the character of the historical figure of Arthur Phillip when he talks about theatre.
"The theatre’s an expression of civilisation. We belong to a great country which has spawned great playwrights, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson and even in our own time, Sheridan. The convicts will be speaking a refined literate language and expressing sentiments of a delicacy they’re not used to. It will remind them that there is more to life than crime, punishment and we, this colony of a few hundred, will be watching this together. For a few hours we will no longer be despised prisoners and hated jailers, we will laugh. We may be moved. We may even think a little. Can you suggest something else that will provide such an evening?"
So those are the words in the play of Governor Phillip. The play is called Our Country’s Good. Some of you might recognise those words, that phrase. It’s based on Thomas Kenneally’s novel, The Playmaker which again as many of Kenneally’s novels are is based on historical fact and it traces the very first western theatre performance on Australian soil which took place in 1789, performed by convicts for a mixed audience of fellow convicts and the marines who were their guards and jailers. It's a fantastic piece and I hope that many of you will come and see it in September.
Just to finish, I’m going to read an extract from the end of the play which may be familiar to some of you and in fact there’s a piece in the exhibition, On Stage, that you can have a look at. I’m going to read you a little bit from The Barrington Prologue which is on display in the exhibition.
"From distance climes or widespread seas we come, ‘though not with much eclat or beat of drum. True patriots all for be it understood we left our country for our country’s good. No private views disgraced our generous zeal, what urged our travels was our country’s wheel and none will doubt but that our emigration has proved most useful to the British nation."
S: Thank you very much for that lovely reading, very powerfully done, Karen, so wonderful. I’d now like to welcome Peter Wilkins, Tim Bevitt, Karen again and Taimus Werner-Gibbings and David Whitbread for tonight’s panel discussion so thank you very much.
P: Thank you, Shirleene, and thank you everybody for coming out tonight to attend. Is this working? Thank you, I can never tell whether it is or not. Welcome to this panel discussion on grassroots performing arts and how it evolves and particularly the way in which the performers here tonight are involved in that. I’d like to start with Karen tonight and maybe, Karen, you could tell us how you became involved in the performing arts in the first place and what excited you about that.
K: Oh my goodness, that is such a huge question. For me there wasn’t a specific moment, it was just something I did all my life and which I found the most fulfilling thing. But it started with ballet classes in suburban Melbourne with a wonderful teacher who had danced for the Borovansky Ballet and I started when I was three ‘cause I was jealous of my much older sister and I loved it. I went three times a week and I remember when I was probably about eight or so the teacher, Noel Murray, was casting for the end of year concert which was very exciting and she said she needed someone that could act who was expressive to play a certain role. She immediately pointed to me and it was like a bombshell. I actually thought oh I can act, I can be expressive. I never knew that before, I just thought I was one of the ballet dancers and so it kind of led me away from ballet which is just as well given my stature and toward theatre and I did that all through high school and I did it all through university. I did more theatre than study but somehow managed to get a degree and then I went to NIDA and trained there. Yeah.
P: It’s interesting, isn’t it, to see how people actually become involved in the first place. I was actually sent to a drama school because my mother was a Czech refugee who didn’t like the fact that I was developing an Australian accent at school so the best thing to do was to send me off to an elocution drama teacher. Little did she know where that might lead. So they come from different paths so I notice that for example there were 8.7 million Australians who attended a cultural arts festival in 2019 pre-pandemic so a huge amount of people are involved in the performing arts. Now you went on of course to do professional work.
P: Do you want to just explain quickly why you did that and how that came about?
K: Why? It was irresistible. I think having done so much theatre at university I found that that was the place where I was most at home and the people that I collaborated with felt like my tribe. I don’t know if you know that phrase but that feeling that you have a family beyond your family and that was always something I always felt in theatre, I still do. Then I auditioned for NIDA ‘cause I actually thought oh well, it’s impossible to get into this profession and this is an opportunity that I can have for one day to feel what maybe a professional audition might be like. It was so inspiring because on that day with those particular NIDA staff who were there at that time taking those auditions I actually learnt more in that day about acting than I had learnt in my entire life up to that moment and I thought oh my god, this is thrilling, I absolutely need to study and so when they offered me a place I was very blessed and yeah, there was no turning back.
P: Now you also work of course with drama students at NIDA. What do you think were the benefits that they got out of that apart from obviously the training in the industry, what do you think were the benefits to them personally?
K: Oh that is a really interesting question. I'm actually working with a graduate of whom I’m very fond right now in a show that we’re currently doing here in Canberra and she did the production course and became a production manager for Bell Shakespeare among other things. She is now production-managing here in Canberra for me while she holds down a very high-level fulltime job and has two small children and she is taking that on with me because she absolutely loves it, same addiction that I have. But beyond that, because she says I want to pay back that training that I got, I want to pass that on to others because it has taught me more about collaboration, about creativity, about thinking outside the box and about basically project planning than anything I have done in my serious public service managerial life. So she brings that to bear every day in her workplace and is delighted now to be passing on the mantle to a young woman that she’s mentoring in stage management on our show.
So I think that the skills that you get from working in theatre are way beyond prancing about on a stage.
P: Wonderful, wonderful. I’m wondering if we could move on to Taimus, if I could say – can I just mention at the moment because you need to leave – Karen is currently performing in Three Tall Women at the new ACT Hub Venue. I did see the show last night and I know this is a plug but I highly recommend that you see it, it is an excellent production but that is why Karen would have to leave us fairly shortly. Thank you. Taimus, can you start –
T: Maybe watch it tomorrow night, not immediately after.
P: Yes, yes, not tonight.
T: I had a bolt of electricity and it was when Mum and Dad took my brother and I from Canberra to see Les Misérables in late ’87, ’88, I think, and it was with Philip Quast and the kid who was playing Gavroche got shot and he threw his hat which was theoretically full of bullets behind his head and they caught it on the barricade and I just – that was – how do you do that? That looks like so much fun and that was it in terms of being alive to arts and performance and I can see a little bit and then when the 1994 production of – the Canberra production of Les Mis came ‘round I auditioned for it out of nowhere and got to play Gavroche. Didn’t get to do the throw thing but that was it, I was locked in.
Quite frankly it was just that one moment and then there’s been philosophical developments and I came to Shakespeare and started reading through it and beginning to understand the impact and the stories and the language and then a whole - that turned into a philosophical perspective about the importance of arts being the only thing that we leave, really like no-one cares about the politics in 200 years’ time. Most of the buildings that were built now will be gone in 500 years’ time but if we get a chance to do some really, really good art that’ll stay so that’s how it started but it was that one show. So I took my boys to see Hamilton at the start of this year to see if it would have the same effect.
P: Did it?
T: It’s a long story, we’ll see how we go. Too early to tell.
P: It’s interesting because, Karen, you’ve referred to addiction and you’ve referred to fun and I imagine the fun has also developed into an addiction for you, has it, Taimus?
T: Yes and no. I mean I’ve dipped in and dipped out of it and mine’s all been amateur performance and bits and pieces. I once – but it’s more being part of art and being part of the creativity has encouraged me to just try to go for everything and if there’s an opportunity to be an extra in Rake, I’ve been an extra in Rake and by watching really, really important or really, really excellent performers you do learn a little bit but just being involved in the milieu is brilliant. Watching Karen and her daughter this year in Shakespeare by the lakes was fabulous and then the audience response was brilliant and so it’s not an addiction ‘cause there's also football but it’s one of those things that is – to be able to refer to it and respond to it and build the memories out of what you’ve seen people do, what you’ve had a little bit to do with, that’s the kick, that’s the rush for me’ cause I’ve never been paid for it but I’ve got to watch a lot of stuff.
P: Now you’re involved in Lakespeare and of course you're involved in this new development with the ACT Hub so how does the community fit into your perception of what you want to achieve as an artist? How important is the community, Karen?
K: Well it’s hugely important. It’s both the theatre community and the broader community, people that obviously have an interest and love for performing arts like yourselves here tonight. ACT Hub is established as the first independent theatre in Canberra. We’re at the Causeway Hall and the show that we’re performing tonight is actually the first show of our season and we’ve been supported by the ACT Government for which we’re very grateful. It’s really important to have a home for independent theatre here in Canberra because it is unsupported by and large. The only way you can get a show up is by spending your own money which you earn elsewhere in your professional job for example here in Canberra and you rehearse part-time. The only way you can get support is by the odd good luck of perhaps receiving a grant and that’s by no means ever guaranteed. So artists work for nothing and in fact artists work here, performing artists, actors and directors, at their own expense, it actually costs to perform.
That’s something that we would like to change and I think that a lot of audiences don’t actually understand that, that actually paying for the price of a ticket is in some way hopefully in the end going to reimburse artists for the time and the passion and commitment they put into their work. Independent theatre works in that way, it works on an oily rag and on a shoestring. It’s so fantastic to have this facility now that we’ve been able to set up at our own expense but supported by the ACT Government in trying to do so, not in monetary support but actually the support of using this wonderful historical hall. The idea is that that is for the community because theatre doesn’t exist without an audience so it is for the community of Canberra in order to see Canberra artists actually doing professional work.
P: Alright, thank you. I suppose, Taimus, the Lakespeare example is that these are free performances so far for the community so again what benefits do you think the community is deriving from that?
T: Yeah so far as long as we can keep doing them free but I mean if we charge everyone $5 then we’d be able to pay for four massive shows and 2,000 people each but the idea of making it free is to make it risk-free so anyone can come along and if they’ve got lots of family or they’re worried they won’t understand the words or bits and pieces don’t make sense, it doesn’t matter because you're there - I mean in front of the Patrick White Lawns just in front of the Library this year we had 2,000 people which as far as I can tell is – and I haven’t done much research to test it because it doesn’t suit my narrative but it’s probably Australia’s biggest Shakespeare audience. The Canberra Theatre, it’s the big one, sits 1,500 people. Two thousand people is a lot of – and then we’ve repeated that over various nights, people coming to Tuggeranong, people going to Gungahlin.
There's a lot of people in the ACT who are really, really interested in being part of a performance and we start – and it’s quite interactive and we’ve started it once and then people start sending emails, are you doing it again? We can’t wait ‘til you come back. Oh god, it was so long during COVID and that’s all we can offer, really, our performers apart from thank you very much, that was amazing, we're really, really grateful but is audience love for – and it might not be Shakespeare but it might be the community event and being part of something that is – there’s nothing hanging on it, it’s just there because it’s fun and it’s there because it’s good and interesting and to be a part of. So people keep coming to see it and the audiences have kept growing and so that’s the – that makes it viable, is we can tell people that we get big audiences because people love it, because Canberra is interested in supporting artists.
P: I think when we’re talking about grassroots it’s really important to understand that we’re talking about the performers and the audience as one. Thank you. Tim. Ah yes, now Karen is off so wish her well everybody for tonight and do go and see Three Tall Women and ACT Hub. Support your local theatre. Thanks, Karen.
K: Thank you.
P: Tim, if we can go back to how you became involved and your passion for your particular field of the arts.
TB: Yeah, that was an interesting question because I was thinking about it as people were talking and it’s so dynamic, there’s so much – there’s been so much to foster my creativity, the teachers of the shoulders that I stand on today, there are so many. But I started to narrow it down a little bit and realise that I grew up in a very small country town like my school only had 80 kids in it but at the end of every year the principal, whose other talents for teaching were not great, he had the ability to put on these amazing end of year performances and it was in a country hall and I just remember early like either in kindergarten or Year 1, I just remember the feel of the hall.
There was a dungeon underneath that was – we called it the dungeon, it was like – I’ve been back in later years and it’s manky, it’s full of dust, there’s all these old cardboard and chairs and things but when we went down there on the night of the performance I just remember the electric feel of shhh, the teachers’d shhh and oh we can’t make noise and just this building of energy that I didn’t have anywhere else, I’d never experienced anything like it before. Then the walking up the stairs and the waiting in the wings and the moment before the moment is the one, that’s – we talk about - there was a talking of people saying it’s an addictive thing. Sometimes it’s a thrill-seeking adventure but other times it’s just so fulfilling, you can’t express it in any other way than to just do it.
In my second concert I remember I had to sing a solo of I do like to be beside the seaside so being the ‘80s I just - classic very short shorts, some sort of terrible shirt and then a couple of things of zinc underneath my eyes and I went out to sing it and then I – again the microphone didn’t work so I just – I don’t know what went through my head but I just took the microphone stand, I moved it to one side and I just belted it out so that I could just hear my voice bouncing off the back of the hall. It was amazing and I was just so – myself, I was just really who I was in that moment. Then when I finished the solo I went back and then started singing and people were all clapping and I didn’t understand what had happened so –
P: That’s a wonderful vocal projection exercise, take the microphone away and get them to belt it out.
TB: And go from there so that was a really important part of the first moment.
P: Were you conscious of the community and how they responded to you in that situation?
TB: Yeah, I remember the people I could see at the back ‘cause I was looking to the people at the back ‘cause my dad who did a lot of singing and public speaking, he actually said well you got to make sure that people up the back hear you so I made sure that people up the back could hear me and now I’m a teacher so I’ve been doing it ever since.
P: How did that lead then to developing the choirs and the various music workshops that –
TB: A woman’s car broke down and the short story long is that she – because this person couldn’t make a gig at the YMS, the Young Music Society summer school that year and I just happened to get a phone call at the right time in a place that didn’t actually get phone reception to do a two-week teaching thing which I was completely unprepared for, it started there and I just got into this thing of teaching kids to do stuff and then that fell into – I was studying classical piano at the School of Music and I went along with my friend who was accompanying the choirs and I just started realising how much fun it was ‘cause it’s so much fun. Then we just – then I would just go and sit. I wasn’t paid, I’d just sit in there and I’d just watch and I’d watch the conductor and I’d watch my friend who was an accompanist and then over the years I went from doing that to becoming an accompanist and then becoming the conductor.
P: So the moment of magic is when the artist is having fun and the audience is having fun –
TB: Perfectly aid –
P: - and those two come together in a perfect combination.
P: Great, thanks. David, how you all began and the passion that led you to playing the bassoon.
D: Playing the bassoon. I guess I began in performing arts when my parents started the Woden Valley Youth Choir and my father started the choir the year before I was allowed to join it and I thought that was pretty bad since he started a choir and he said nine-year-olds were the youngest and I thought I’m eight, you could have said eight-year-olds. So I knew all the words by the time – because it started in our loungeroom I knew all the words by the time I turned nine anyway so just turned up at the rehearsals the following year officially in front of the conductor instead of behind. Then music was a very big part of our family growing up and of course it was a huge part of my grandparents’ lives as well.
But then I was also lucky enough to go to Melrose High School and there was a fantastic music program there headed by Gillian Bonham and it was very early in Melrose High School’s days, in fact I think they didn’t even have the full complement of years. You know how they start first year and second year and build it up? So in my first year of high school in 1973 they offered me to play an instrument and I said yes, I’d love to play the clarinet. They said no, we don’t have any more of those left but we’ve got a bassoon and I said what is a bassoon? They said well you're in luck because one of our senior students is a bassoonist and our wind quartet is rehearsing this lunchtime so come and listen to them so I went and listened to the – like name a public high school that has a senior wind quartet like just name one. This public high school had a full symphony orchestra and a training orchestra. It had string quartets, it had wind quartets and so it was a very dynamic program.
It also had - every Year 7 boy had to be in the Canberra Eisteddfod singing in the Year 7 boys’ choir. Now name any school in Canberra that has a Year 7 boys’ choir – well public school, let’s say, because there might be some private schools that can manage it but – so I started the bassoon then and in fact it’s 50 years of playing the bassoon next year so I’m threatening to do a 50-year recital, jubilee recital. So yes, I’ve loved the bassoon but the bassoon was never going to be a career for me because bassoon players simply have to teach the bassoon and so I had one student - I was telling a few people earlier that I had one student for one term and thought if I taught the bassoon I could hate the bassoon very quickly. So I decided I’d prefer to love the bassoon like I do and I just said I’m sorry, you’ll have to find another teacher and that was the last I taught so that was I think in 1975 or 1976.
P: We’re getting this theme running through of addiction, fun and now you’ve mentioned love. They’re such important elements in –
D: It truly is, yeah.
P: - why a person becomes involved and hopefully why a person excites an audience and encourages an audience, not necessarily to be involved but at least to be going to music, theatre, dance, whatever. Also then the teacher ‘cause you’ve mentioned Gillian Bonham whom I remember very fondly, again that inspires you.
D: Yes, truly – very inspirational teacher and incidentally the first female conductor to conduct at the Sydney Opera House ‘cause it was new and our school orchestra was also the first school orchestra, public school orchestra to perform on the stage of the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House so 1973, big year.
P: Is that when she did it?
D: Yeah, October 1973. She was the first female conductor on stage at the Sydney Opera House.
P: Ten years later she was my musical director for my production of The House at Pooh Corner so very versatile, very –
D: Oh she was fabulous, yeah.
P: Terrific. In terms of community again because you’d worked a lot with the community over those years. Some of them have gone on to assume professional careers, some of them have disappeared. How have they developed from that experience?
D: Well as you said a number of them became professional musicians and of course there was a very – it was the heyday of the Canberra Youth Orchestra Society as well and a number of us were in the school orchestra and then also in the Canberra Youth Orchestra and then would study music at university and then pursue it professionally where they could. But also a number of the other musicians went – well for example there’s the – it started off as the Canberra Community Orchestra but it's now the National Capital Orchestra and that started in 1983 and that was formed by a number of students of Gillian’s and also Canberra Youth Orchestra players and that sort of thing but community players to increase the music that was being made in Canberra in a symphonic sense.
You can see that, I played with the National Capital Orchestra at their concert a couple of weeks ago. I’m playing a concert with the Australian Wind Symphony next week in Queanbeyan at the Q – get that plug in – and of course every Thursday night I play with Western Winds which is the Western Creek Community Concert Band and in fact they’re rehearsing tonight so I couldn’t bring the whole band with me so you’ve got the bassoonist anyway. But yeah, community musicmaking is very, very important, I believe, because Western Winds performs at fetes, we perform at schools, we perform with other bands, we perform in regional areas. People turn up at a shopping centre and we are there to thank the firies for their work through the bushfires and to raise money for them and that sort of thing.
They just turn up and turn a corner and go wow, that’s live, that’s real music live, being played live. We get so lulled into music being perfect and music being streamed and that sort of thing but there is a special thing about experiencing live music and experiencing live performance and I think that’s probably what all of us here know very – in a real sense. It is something that excites us as performers but we know that it excites audiences as well. People get a very pleasant surprise that it’s being made for them, it’s a gift that we can give as performers to our community and people receive it as such in many ways, I think.
P: Yeah, no, I remember 10 years ago, and David Williams whom I know is in the audience may be able to remember this as well, but I used to have discussions with [Hunts Moma] 33:33 –
P: - and he used to argue that the choirs were really important, the community choirs were really important and that the Arts Development Board was not paying enough attention at that time to those grassroots people who simply wanted to sing. They didn’t want to make a career of it, they didn’t want to perform necessarily in any large public performance but they wanted to express themselves creatively.
D: That’s one of the sad things about COVID is that it stopped choirs and in fact I think that community musicmaking is actually a community healing in lots of ways. If you look at a number of choirs in Canberra they’re special interest choirs where they bring carers and people with dementia together, for example, and the choir experience and the music experience can break through dementia and it’s something the carer and the dementia sufferer can share together and it’s this beautiful thing. It’s a mental health thing and I think we really need that sense of really good mental health to come back. I tell you, get out there and sing, sing with a choir. Even if you have to behind a mask.
P: Absolutely, absolutely. Not only in singing but I know for example Nancy Tingey who runs the Parkinson’s program for people who are suffering from Parkinson’s and that art program and how important that is. Sometimes we may tend to avoid the word therapy in the arts yet that can be a consequence of involvement –
D: Well I think it is. There is definitely a mental health aspect and in fact I’ve used the arts as the way through my day job. When I get stressed I go home, sit down and play at the piano or play on the bassoon and I can sit there sometimes for hours getting rid of everything that happened through the day but it is a mental health thing for me. I think that’s something that community musicians share, is that sense of sharing their wellbeing and they want to share that also with audiences but I think choirs, it’s the easiest instrument. You’ve got it, it’s with you so you may as well turn up and use it.
P: That’s right. Now, Tim and Taimus, do you follow that kind of feeling towards the arts and community arts?
TB: Yeah, definitely. Certainly with – because we have choirs and tonight our community choir is going to sing. We also run a family choir as well where mums and dads and kids and grandparents come and sing together and that’s a – the energy that is built, the health that is built through it is something that you - it’s so easily accessible. The only problem with singing is yes, it’s there, it’s also one of the most terrifying things to face, is the sound of your own voice when you’re singing.
As far as bringing people together it’s just so rich, honestly it’s the highlight of my wife and I’s week. We do so many different things and we do from all ages, from preschool through to retired people, we interact with the full gamut of society every week but those two-and-a-half hours we spend every week with these choirs, we just come out – even though you drag yourself there ‘cause you’d really rather sleep but by the time you finish it’s always worth it. It’s so important and what David was saying about just building music for everybody or not even just music but performing. The arts are just so, so, so important.
The studies again and again and again just prove - people don’t even bother looking at the studies anymore ‘cause we all know it, it’s just we’re waiting for it to be backed by government authorities in a genuine way, not just some way that’s just half-hearted. We really want to see more opportunities for everyone to make art because expressing ourselves is our human right, it’s our human – it’s our human experience. Every day is a work of art and if you get to actually do it through something as amazing as making music or performing or writing a poem or whatever it is.
We just went to a friend’s wedding recently who is a dancer and she interpretively danced her wedding vows. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life and it brought so much joy to every single person. There was 200 people watching and you could just feel everyone was there and really – the value of being involved in the arts, there’s just no other substitute for it expect football.
P: There’s a lovely – is it a commercial – a thing on television at the moment about that 90-year-old Italian man who says that he sings every day. It’s something which people can do in their own bedrooms, homes, living rooms, whatever just to –
TB: But the value of doing that with other people, it’s like the sum of the parts thingy –
P: That’s right.
TB: - but it’s bigger, it’s more when you share it with other people.
P: We now have another performance, actually, so Taimus, we might wait until the next part of the discussion but David is now going to entertain us and probably instruct us with a wonderful performance on the bassoon.
S: Look, while that’s happening I would just like to extend my thank you to the panellists. It was a really interesting discussion, thank you so much. If you could give a round of applause.
D: As I mentioned Western Winds couldn’t be here tonight because it is their rehearsal night and I thought the first piece I should play as I was asked to play something and I'm representing Western Winds. It’s something that we have played together and I am going to play Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. It came from the second film in the series which was released in 2006 and it is written by Hans Zimmer and it is a bassoon solo when you have a Western Winds performance. So I’m playing that one first for you and we’ll see how it goes without the rest of the band.
Now the other thing that I did a couple of years ago – in fact after 40 years of playing the bassoon I decided I should do a recital ‘cause I’d never done one. So I looked around and there’s not very much bassoon music, bassoon recitals tend to always by the same, Mozart bassoon concerto. There’s not really a whole heap of solo music written for the bassoon so I called it Things you shouldn’t do on the bassoon and stole the music from all other instruments. So I started getting backing tracks so this is with a backing track for a violin, it’s actually a book for a violinist but it sounds better on a bassoon so let’s see.
D: Thank you. Now as a little bit of a contrast I should day that in fact if you’re around next year in about April there should be the 50th anniversary concern that I’m talking about because these two pieces will be on the program because I’ve just started rehearsing for that particular concert program. This piece has been a bit tricky to track down. It was written by Luisa Sobral in 2017 for her brother, Salvador Sobral, and he ended up winning Eurovision that year with this song. It’s – was the first time that Portugal who’d been in Eurovision for 53 years, was the first time that they won Eurovision. Not only that, that was the longest run without a win of any country ever. Also it’s one with the highest score ever and that was because he won the jury vote and the popular vote with this particular song.
The other thing I should mention about it is that the words are a plea to a lost love to come back because I have enough love for both of us and I think that’s a really sweet song. Thank you, Adam.
S: Okay, I think we’ve got most people joining us again so we might – I might just welcome you all back to tonight. I hope that you were able to either enjoy some refreshments or a walk through the wonderful exhibition, On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts and that exhibition will be open until the 7th of August in case you haven’t had the chance yet.
I’d like to now welcome Taimus Werner-Gibbings to perform for us and if you could perhaps give a minute to get set up that would be wonderful, okay.
T: To be or not to be is not what I’m doing. I’m going to do a little bit from a play called Henry V written by a bloke called William Shakespeare in 1599 if some of you might have heard of him. It’s an interpretation that I’ve been playing around with for about 20 years. It’s fair to say that the nice lady at NIDA didn’t agree with my interpretation but she probably wouldn’t have agreed with Orson Wells. Peter’s got a little bit to do, Peter, just wait ‘til I give you a big wink and I want you all to think three minutes before the grand final.
Oh that we now had here but one 10,000 of those men in England that do no work today. Eh, what’s he that wishes so? My cousin, Westmillan, no, no, my fair cous, if we are marked to die we are enough to do or country loss and if to live the fewer men the greater share of honour. By jove, I am not covetous for gold but if it be a sin to covet honour I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my cous, wish not one man from England, rather reclaim it, Westmillan, through my host, that he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart. His passport shall be made and crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not fight in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us. This day.
Alright, everyone, that’s the siren, alright, get in tight, nice, tight, eyes on me. Grab a jumper, listen up.
This day is called the Feast of Crispin, he that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand tiptoe when the day’s named and rousing at the name of Crispin. He that shall live this day and see old age will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours and say tomorrow is St Crispin’s Day. Then will strip his sleeve and show his scars and say these wounds I had on Crispin’s Day. Old men forget yet all shall feel begot but he’ll remember with advantages what feats he did this day then shall our names as familiar in its mouth as household words parry the King, Warwick and Talbot, Bedford and Exeter, Salisbury and Gloucester will be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. This story will the good man teach his son and Crispin, Crispian will ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me is my brother, be ne’er so vile, this day will gentle his condition and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here and holds their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks that fought with us upon St Crispin’s Day.
Okay, people, let’s go to work.
S: Thank you so much, Taimus, for a very stirring rendition there, lovely. As you can now probably gather we are going to return to our panel discussion so I will now hand over to the panel and of course being led by Peter so thank you.
P: Thank you, Shirleene. Inspiration is at the heart of the arts and we find very often that people are inspired by others, audiences are inspired by plays that they go to see. I just want to say to Taimus as a great artist that I can now see where Sammy J had his inspiration so thank you very much, Taimus, for that rendition.
We were talking before about the involvement with the community but I didn’t get a chance to ask you about your response to that sense of community and how you develop.
T: Well silky segue ‘cause it’s also - what I was thinking about comes in with the idea of inspiration and I tend to – I think my super talent is seeing what other people have done really well and then adapting it a little bit for Canberra. We were speaking about choirs and there is a really good idea – I’ve just shot a picture to Tim as we speak about a popup choir that is being done in a lot of other countries that would work brilliantly in Canberra and I can see people coming around with kids on a Friday night talking, having a little chat and then learning to sing a song and then going away again and then we’ll do it again in Belconnen or something like that.
The willingness of people to enjoy themselves, you’ve got to not encourage it because people like to turn up but make them feel confident that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it and you do it as well as you can and then you come back the next week and try and do it better. The better you get the more fun you have but if you do it with a lot of people in the same situation it can be brilliant. I was listening – I mean I was listening to what Tim was doing with his choir during the intermission and that’s going to be brilliant. That is the inspiration. I mean I keep coming back to the fun but the reason that I have this idea about this choir is I really want to do it, I just need someone to tell me how to sing it and then it’ll be so much fun.
P: On that point you may be aware of the pub choir –
T: Well that’s exactly it but a bit smaller.
P: - that’s what it is and I’ve been at a pub choir in the Spiegeltent, for example, which is quite an enclosed space but they have all those people at once and then to have artists like [Leore] 57:20 come out and work with them and develop them and Paul Kelly is another one who did a lot of work with the community in developing that absolute love of joy and singing.
T: We got to call it ready own choir or maybe choir up, I haven’t decided yet but I went to the pub choir in 2019 at Canberra, 2,000 people blasting What’s My Scene by the Hoodoo Gurus and it was unreal.
P: Can we extend that then into other artforms? I mean for example theatre, dance –
Male: I think we can extend it particularly into dance because so many people feel the music and after you – I guess after you’ve been through the nightclub scene and that sort of stuff where is it acceptable for you to dance in public? So people go to dance classes because it’s acceptable to go to dance classes or they might dance in some shows and that sort of thing but dancing is great for people of all ages and I think it’s very, very similar to music in that effectively – I mean it’s very similar to choirs because your voice is something that you have.
Well you don’t have to buy anything for dance, if you can walk you can dance. Even if you can’t walk you can dance so there are all sorts of ways that you can move your body and move it to music and move it to the way you feel and express things with your body. I think it’s next most accessible whereas I think theatre is that step removed. I don’t think it’s a way - I don’t think it’s too far away but I think it’s a bit further away than choral music and dance.
Male: You’re a little bit further away from getting your finished product.
Male: Yeah, that’s right.
Male: Like you can do a song in an hour-and-a-half or you can do a dance in an hour-and-a-half with a big bunch of people you’ve never seen before but if you wanted to do a performance you’ve got to probably rehearse it a little bit but you could certainly –
Male: I don’t know, Peter’s looking sceptical about –
P: Well it’s an interesting question and it’s one which audience members may become involved in when we open it up for questions in a few minutes but I'm reminded of the Albert Hunt era, for example, which was the spectacles that are created. For example I went many years ago to [Oh Bramaga] 59:47 which some of you may know of or have even been to which is the –
Male: Re-enacting the story of Christ.
P: - stories of Christ etc all done by the community and by the people in the community and they have to cut their hair so barbers go broke for a year and then there’s a glut at the end of that time when they all have to get their hairs cut. But that is very much a community spectacle and we used to have those in Canberra too, I remember, and we seem to have lost touch with developing a sense of theatre for the wider community. You have the York cycles etc, etc.
Male: Well there was that big production of Aida at the indoor stadium at AIS which had Canberra Symphony, Canberra Choral Society, Woden Valley Youth Choir, the dance company, the Canberra Modern Dance Company, I think. It had huge numbers of people and an elephant and two camels so it was spectacular and Canberra produced that in I think the 1980s and it was literally 2,000 people on stage, it was amazing.
P: It was a magnificent event.
Male: It was, it was great.
P: I suppose we’re getting to that point now where we’ve talked about inspiration, fun, addiction, the various artforms. What about what we would like the audience here but public in general to do about involvement in the arts? How do we encourage –
Male: Buy a ticket, get to a show.
Male: Get into it.
Male: Join a choir. Turn up.
Male: I think one of the tricky things is that we’re all a victim of the convenience of our devices, our streaming services, our free music, everything just on demand. There’s – I think that people have – over COVID have really just immersed themselves in that isolated world so much that we need to talk and find ways for people to start exploring live music like you were saying before, David. As people walk around the corner and go whoa, it’s live and then all of a sudden there’s this magic moment again and we need to help people realise that. A lot of it’s got to come from when you were talking about like the theatre and things like that, a lot of it’s got to come from this beautiful mix that we need to see of the experts in their fields, of the mentors and the teachers mixing with that community level of the arts so that it’s not so removed.
I had a – and I tried to find it but I couldn’t find this quote that I had up on the back of my wall for the first two years at university and it was just a Gough Whitlam quote. It was quite long which is why I couldn’t find it but it was - the essential gist of it was that we need all of the arts from the run of the mill through to the highest achievers because without one we don’t have the other. I think that’s something that’s really important but the other thing that I’m really interested in now is the mixing of it and the passing of wisdom from both because this idea that you’ve had, that’s great and we need that. We need to be a lot more open to being able to access - for people who are in the community level to access connection to those who have done the training and through that we will be able to expand and develop.
D: It is of course a two-way street, artists have to meet people where they are, I think, and that’s the beauty of Lakespeare, is it’s meeting people where they are. People could actually just be wandering past and go what’s that over there? It’s a Lakespeare production and they could just happen upon it. Well this is the thing with community music, you can happen upon it.
Western Winds did a thing during COVID where we played in the park outside a nursing home and they opened the top floor windows of the dining room and the bottom floor windows of the dining room and we played for them over dinner in the park. But what was amazing is the people walking past in the park with their dogs and their kids and their bicycles and this sort of thing and going shit, what’s happened? Where did this band come from? They’re just wandering along and it was only the person who had the headphones on and was skating that missed the whole thing. But it’s taking the arts to where people are rather than expecting people to buy a ticket and go to an expensive theatre or to a special place for the arts. We have to be a bit more broad and obviously the arts are that broad but we need to get back to that space.
Peter: I think you’re absolutely right and I mean that’s where someone like the [Doug Anne Neil Stars] 4:54 that began in [Gurena] 4:54 Place – well they began at Youth Theatre and then [Gurena] Place and then developed from there and Taimus, you were about to say something?
T: Are there street pianos in Canberra?
Peter: Are there street pianos?
Male: There were until COVID took them away because they couldn’t clean them down so they took them away but there were about six in Civic and I hope it comes back.
Male: [unclear] 5:14.
Male: Yes, I know, I think it was just Civic to start off with but – yeah.
P: So that’s something to develop.
Male: Street table tennis tables.
P: Now the time is moving on and we’re back on schedule, if I now ask members of the audience if they have any questions of any of the panellists and about the things that they’ve discussed or any opinions that you might have.
S: Thanks, Peter, and I’ll just add that if you have a question that you would like to ask if you could just pop your hand up we can make a microphone available to you. So on that note if you do have a question and you’d like to pop your hand up. There’s a lot of wisdom, generosity and inspiration here so please feel free. I’m sure they’ll indulge us if you’d like to ask something.
Male: Don’t be shy.
P: By the way, we can’t see you except in these wonderful shadows, it’s very ethereal so please speak into the microphone.
A: I have a question, hi, can you hear me? Tim, can you hear me? It’s more about the accessibility of theatre, you made the point that theatre perhaps isn’t as accessible as dance and choir. How would you feel about say table readings? I used to belong to a theatre group in Japan and my favourite part was when everyone sat down and just read the play from beginning to end. So what’s –
P: One of you like to take that?
T: I do it myself, try and get the boys to get involved but it’s brilliant. I’ve got three plays at home, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Art, Amadeus and Shakespeare in Love which I had to find in England. You can read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the movie or Shakespeare in Love with the movie, this is the play that it came from and explain it like that is a lot of fun just around a table. It’s a lot of fun for me just around a table. Other people in the family have their own views but I mean the only thing – I think that’s a great idea, the only thing would be one, trying to get advertising so if you had a play that had a lot of parts, trying to get enough people to come and read it and two, if you had more people than there were parts, things like that. But in terms of the actual idea that would be – I come back to the word but that would be a lot of fun.
A: We’ll sign on, yeah, we’re there.
T: Leave it with me.
P: Tim or David, did you want to –
Male: Oh just I’m thinking about these things and often with my business hat on I’m always thinking oh yeah, it’s all wonderful that we ask artists to do all this cool stuff for nothing but I’d just like to keep thinking about how can we change that? How we can actually – you look at Europe for example and you look at the way that their artists are supported by the government and by the people in general and just how can we throw more money at that or how can we put aside or put forward because when we spend this kind of money it’s not just oh I went and did a table reading like the ripples of it, mental health. I mean we’re talking some serious mental health since COVID, surely we could look to the arts and to the providers of that to do such a thing.
Male: To give some governments their due I think one of the things that has been good, I think, is the New South Wales Government Bushfire Recovery Fund which has funded a number of artistic events and I think that there’s been some really great community events funded through that. That just means that people who have been affected by fires or by floods or by COVID or whatever don’t have to then find their own cash when they’re very cash-poor. If governments and if corporations can join with governments to fund the artists to go into the communities and provide these opportunities it really does have that mental health build-up for the community. I think that is being recognised, it’s just possibly –
Male: Slow action.
Male: Faster, more.
P: Yeah, that’s it, we always want more and we want it more quickly. That’s the dilemma. Yes.
A: Sorry to go backwards but the point that the lady behind me made, I’d just like to add a bit to that because I think rehearsal in theatre is gigantic fun –
Male: Sorry, do you mind repeating that?
A: I think rehearsal in theatre, never mind performance, rehearsal is gigantic fun and I think the whole idea of getting people together with a script, any old script, how would you do this bit? Then how would you do this bit? You discover all sorts of different interpretations and people are not threatened by having to put on a performance. So it’s an extension of the table reading if you like.
Male: I run an acting course or several acting courses and one of the exercises in that is to take a [one-eight] 10:47 play, usually a Chekov play because they’re very good for exploring character and for that to be divided into what Stanislavski called motivational units and it was his way of devising a rehearsal schedule and his way of working with actors to understand their motivation for their performance.
But if you have say 12 in a class and there are three characters, three will do one part, three will do another, three will do another so I think that’s following on from what –
Male: That’s exactly what I'm talking about, yeah.
P: Yeah and that way they get just the other interpretations but more than that, they don’t have that pressure on them. So we are looking this evening at the actors who decide that is what I want to do professionally and they will go to a training school etc, etc and those people at the other part of that spectrum who will say I just want to have fun then I’m going to go and do macrame or I’m going to go and do lead-lighting or I’m going to go to a dance thing but for this I just like to have fun. So I think all artforms can probably accommodate that kind of approach. So we can’t see if there are questions or not. Yes, here we go.
A: I’d like to just point out that there is a popup choir in Canberra and it’s run by Rachel Hoare, a non-audition choir that I was part of for a while and in terms of paying for it the participants, and there's usually 60 to 80 people, are paying monies to Rachel. I mean that’s how she earns her living and it’s probably not quite the scene that you are imagining it could be partly because I think it’s gotten too successful for its own good and you can’t pop up at some place with 60 to 80 people, it would need to be a smaller, tighter group. Thank you.
P: That’s fabulous, thank you for that and you might have been aware of that, I don’t know but thank you.
Male: Is it fun? Yeah. Is it on Facebook?
Male: Yeah, should be on Facebook. She’s a consummate –
Male: It is on Facebook or it isn’t on –
A: I’m not sure ‘cause I'm not a Facebook person but just put in pop-up choir Canberra and see what happens.
S: Okay, I can’t see any more hands up so we do have time for one more if there’s anyone who’d like to get a quick question in but otherwise – okay, brilliant. Well thank you so much for your generosity, panel, and I think we’re now going to have another treat, it’s been an evening of treats that we’ve enjoyed. I will just ask everyone to give perhaps a round of applause to the panel again for sharing that.
S: Now I would like to if I could introduce – let you know that there’ll be a performance from Tim Bevitt and the Unexpected Harmony Choir so Tim, would you like a little setup time? Yeah, great, excellent. Okay.
TB: So tonight we’d like to close off with two songs, the first one is a – we wanted to do something with a little bit of oomph and a little bit of energy, just we talked a lot about fun tonight so this is one of our fun songs and this is called – it’s called Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi and then we’re going to finish up with our funner showstopper, The Chattanooga Choochoo.
S: Look, I think we just – thank you so much, that was a beautiful performance that really captured the spirit of the evening so thanks Tim Bevitt and The Unexpected Harmony Choir. I would just like to ask if we could just join together to give one final thank you to our panellists and performers who’ve put on such a great show for us tonight.
S: Thank you all as well for being such an engaged and interested and supportive audience and we hope that we’ll see you all back at the Library very soon. Don’t forget that On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts, the exhibition will be open until the 7th of August and I’d really urge you not to miss it ‘cause it’s something quite special. So thank you everyone who was involved in tonight, it was just really lovely.
End of recording
At this event, key community performing arts figure and Canberra Times theatre reviewer Peter Wilkins faciliates portions of discussion between panelists, interspersed with performances from representatives of local performing arts organisations.
Making up the discussion panel are Tim Bevitt (Unexpected Harmony Choir), Karen Vickery (Canberra REP), Taimus Werner-Gibbings (Lakespeare) and David Whitbread (Weston Winds).
Performances include a reading by Karen Vickery from Our Country's Good, a bassoon performance by David Whitbread, a performance of a Shakespeare reading by Taimus Werner-Gibbings, and a performance by Unexpected Harmony Choir.