Transcript of The text list for individual projects

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the podcast (29:41).

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Curriculum Secondary Learners, Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education.

As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played. For they have performed age old ceremonies of storytelling, music, dance and renewal and, along with all Aboriginal people, hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us also acknowledge this living culture and its unique role in the life of Australia today. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders, past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today, who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.

Ravenna – Welcome to the Creative Cast podcast series. My name is Ravenna Gregory and I'm one of the Creative Arts Curriculum Officers with the New South Wales Department of Education. In this episode, I speak to Lisa Jinga about the current HSC drama individual project text list. Lisa has 30 years practical experience as a drama teacher. She's currently head of drama, dance and VET entertainment as well as IB theatre and dance at MLC school in Burwood. As Senior Drama Curriculum Officer for the then Board of Studies, she oversaw the writing of the year 7-10 Drama Syllabus and the advice on programming and assessment. Lisa has written the NESA HSC course prescriptions since 2002. Last year, she completed her role as supervisor of marking the drama projects and written. Lisa and I discussed the 10 plays on the 2019-2024 prescriptions list for design and director’s folio. And we started off by chatting about Molière’s Tartuffe.

Lisa – Moliere of course is a famous French writer and Tartuffe is an incredibly funny play. So, the thing that I love about a Moliere play is you can leave it in its original context or indeed you could move it to a contemporary production if you feel that that is warranted by the concept that or issues that you wish to convey. For example, if you moved it in context, you could do a fantastic costume design by developing a concept about the era that you want to set it in or indeed a fantastic set design because you might see that although it's taking place mostly in Orgon’s House, a guy who is duped by Tartuffe who is a kind of guru character. Well, you might have sliding screens, you might decide that it would interact with lighting and as a director, this would be a fantastic play for you to really imagine how can a classical play come to life in the present. It also has wonderful elements of comedy and so sometimes people might be put off by the fact that it seems like an old play, but it is so relevant today because let's face it, everybody still looks to find meaning in their lives, whether it's through a self-help book, through a modern day guru and Tartuffe presents himself as that guru even though he's a complete fraud, fake charlatan who dupes everybody.

Ravenna – You described Tartuffe as an old play, but you know the themes and ideas in it being very current. One of the really old plays on the list is Sophocles Antigone. Can you tell us a little bit about the context of that play and the characters and setting of the original script?

Lisa – Antigone is one of the great ancient plays. So, the play begins with a war and both brothers are on different sides and Creon, the uncle, is ultimately victorious and makes a decree that the brother who fought on the other side cannot be buried in terms of the customs of the day. Well, Antigone can't accept that. She loves her brother and so she decides to stand up to the king to Creon and actually bury her brother. And so, the play is on a downward spiral into tragedy. You know that she's going to do the noble thing bury her brother. It's a tragedy, she will die, others will die. And of course, Creon is so blind to the truth, just as Oedipus was in that play, that he makes wrong decisions. So, this is a play just like Death and the Maiden that I'll speak about later, which can have a political, anyone who's interested in that kind of political idea and wants to look at how were women treated in a different era. How did they stand up for themselves? What's the idea? Just because it's an ancient play, nothing has changed. People still experience love, hate, the whole gamut of emotions. And so, you might look to see, right, well, how can I stage that play? Do I need an ancient context? Could it be contemporary? You might want to have symbolic costuming to show me, how do the costumes work, either in their original setting or in a modern contemporary world? How could you use lighting to show these people's experiences?

Ravenna – You mentioned Death and the Maiden, which is a play by Ariel Dorfman and maybe one of the ones that I would consider one of the unusual ones for the design list because of the number of characters and settings. I suppose in this, it's a little bit different from some of the others.

Lisa – If you knew how many times I counted the three characters and tried to work out. Were there enough costume changes for a costume design? And there were, however, the reason that I really went for that play, that is for someone who really loves the idea of getting their teeth into a meaty political situation. This play is set in Chile during the Pinochet regime. Well after the regime, which was a terribly repressive time in South America, not just in Chile but across many other countries in South America and the beautiful Paulina was someone who was captured and tortured by the regime who felt that she had opposing ideas to their own. And she was actually tortured to a piece of music, Death and the Maiden. So, this play really is there for aspiring directors who might love to consider how can they get that message about all of us wanting freedom against a political regime and really delving into that process. When I saw the play at the STC many, many years ago, I never forgot its opening moments. I heard the sound of a car approaching, the lights of that car swept across the stage, somebody crunching on gravel and the gravel was on the stage. And I understood then how set and lighting combined to create mood and atmosphere to immerse us straight into the world of the play which was set at a very different time after the regime in Chile.

Ravenna – Yeah, I'm reminded Lisa, that opening description, the time is the present and the place, a country that is probably Chile but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship and the freedom of interpretation there for a director's folio in particular, but also for those design projects makes it such a great addition to this list. So from that sort of openness of set and time and place. Can we move to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, which to me is of a very particular time and place?

Lisa – Look, this is a play that needs to be set and to remain in the context in which it was written. In fact all of the plays on the list. If you decide to change the context, that needs to be driven by internal ideas rather than being imposed on the text. And I really think that Death of a Salesman is a play of its time and place and Willy Loman and the tragic story of him trying to be a good father, a good husband. But of course, the more he tries, the more things go wrong, suffering depression. Because in America, imagine going door to door to sell something. It's a bit like these days, cold calling on the phone and that's what his job was. And of course, he's not perfect. Everything goes wrong, and the way Miller tries to show a dreamlike or nightmarish state in some ways that exists for this man. His internal turmoil is shown in his surroundings, which just seemed to be a big city. But imagine that you are the lighting designer and the shadows and the light that illuminate his predicament or cover his shadowy action. So, I think that play, one of the truly great plays of the 20th century, that looks at the denigration of the American dream is something that still lives today. They are still trying to live in American dream, which I think we all acknowledge really is fading.

Ravenna – And I know Miller's estate are very particular about respecting the script as it was written. But I know even though an HSC drama student wouldn't be governed by those same kind of copyrighting rules, it's really interesting to think about the way that constraint actually can help students to be a bit more creative. And you were talking about the idea of the dream like sequences and the playing with past and present as well. There are so many things that could inform a directorial kind of vision and a design vision, I think in this play still. So, let's look at a more modern play then, Tom Wright’s Black Diggers. Nice to see an Australian play on the list. And can you tell us a little bit about the style and form of this one? Because it's a little bit different from the other players on the list.

Lisa –Look, it is different. And I think it's incredibly important to have a contemporary playwright who is looking at a situation that's often forgotten in our historical context and looking at these wonderful men who fought for our nation and came back and were treated so appallingly on their return. This again is not a play to change the context. It's a play to decide how to represent that wonderful past and present of those men's experiences. And to really let us see what it felt like, both at the time and after the experience these days. We know a lot about post-traumatic stress. And of course, it wasn't anything that was even considered then, let alone if you're indigenous. We also had the wonderful David Milroy play Waltzing the Wilarra. And I thought it was incredibly important to have two very different styles of play because in Waltzing the Wilarra, set in Perth in the 1940s against a curfew, Indigenous people were subject to curfew not allowed out after dark, we see these wonderful characters in a club in a vaudeville setting and wonderful musical vaudeville numbers that you can engage with. I remember I had a student a couple of years ago do a wonderful lighting design based on the phases of the moon for this play because your fortunes wax and wane according to the moon. And that's what the Wilarra is. The Wilarra is the moon. And the play begins with the waltz evoking a club. So, I think these two modern plays that look at an Indigenous experience in a very, very different way, were very important. A more comic musical style versus a far more serious style in Black Diggers.

Ravenna – Thank you Lisa for segueing so smoothly into that next one. Lachlan Philpott’s Silent Disco. To me it has the feeling of a much more modern style of play writing than any of the others and possibly accessible to students for that reason.

Lisa – And again, I was lucky to see the play, this time at Griffin many years ago and I loved it when I saw it. But in this play, Tamara, a young teenager at school falls in love with Squid, who is an Indigenous boy. While you say Ravenna, that it's accessible, I agree, however, there are parts about it but are a bit tricky. Like some of the poetic language which is also peppered with different profanities and expletives to give that shock value of this is a real teenage life and hear the voices of those teenage characters versus the adults in the play who, you know, might sound familiar at first. There's a wonderful adult teacher, Miss Petchall. I think it's a very evocative play. And again, using our First Nations people’s experiences to show and provoke our thought regarding where we're going as a nation and how we're treating our young people. Because really in this play, the education that they received doesn't seem to assist them in any way. It doesn't seem to be tailored to them. It's just going through the motions of what a big bureaucracy is demanding except for the passion of that one teacher who actually cares. And it's lovely because Tamara, Squid and the other young people in the play, I think Tamara being the protagonist, we see a young woman, who’s vibrant and really by the end of the play knows a bit more about what she wants and I won't say what that is because it's a lovely, I think, conclusion to the play.

Ravenna – I saw this one too at Griffin and was struck by the beautiful possibilities of using such a tiny space to amplify the feelings of tension and entrapment and that kind of underlying violence in this play. And that's something too that students can think about if they're doing something like the directors' folio or of course that is integrating design.

Lisa – I agree. Because one of the things that I'll never forget was the fact that they used plastic cups that lined a wall and suddenly they lit up and made an opera house. It was phenomenal. I just thought how creative that designer was and that's what we see year after year from our young people who come up with incredible ideas. But this play has a contemporary voice. If you're someone who loves that contemporary feeling, then this is a play you might consider in contrast to something like Death and the Maiden, which is set in a completely different place and time with a different political agenda.

Ravenna – Let's move them to the last Australian play on the list, Lisa, and that's Debra Oswald's Stories in the Dark. And I think a lot of students and teachers will know this play or know Debra Oswald's work. And you were talking about that lovely, the magical transformation of the set at Griffin using something really simple, transformed Debra Oswald's Stories in the Dark. I spoke about Silent Disco being accessible, I guess I really meant appealing. But I think that this one actually is a very accessible play to any student. Lisa – This story is beautiful. It just unfolds quite simply, it's magical and transformative about two young people Tom and Anna in a bombed-out house that might be France or in Europe. But it could be any place in the world which is part of its charm and Anna to comfort Tom, he's a little younger, reads him stories every night to help shelter from the harsh realities of the world that they are facing. And people think, oh, this is just a simple play, but really it's rich in ideas. And we've seen some incredible design work around this play over time. And I think that if you are considering doing a project and you're unsure, then at least even reading this play for enjoyment is a place you could begin. It's easy to understand. It's easy to spark your imagination thinking about the different fairy tales and legends that unfold as the story goes on. It's all about imagining where you might go with it, you might want to present them as puppets, you could do anything, but it's a great place to start. Even if you didn't go on to do the project, you will have read a very enjoyable, accessible work.

Ravenna – There is also great scope for research in this play. The city streets and a derelict house in a war-torn city such as Sarajevo and you know, students who do want to dig into sort of the context in which this was actually commenting on could come up with some wonderfully nuanced designs and director’s visions I think for this

Lisa – or it could easily be used for publicity for the poster promotion where you have to imagine yourself first off as a director, how are you presenting the play? Then you turn to your designer and say I need you to develop all the promotional materials. So, depending on where and when you've set the play and how you see those legends unfolding, everyone can see it in their own way and transport that play to a time and place because unfortunately war is an ever present element, a reality in our world.

Ravenna – The Visit now.

Lisa – Oh my gosh, one of my favourites.

Ravenna – Wonderful. You talk more about why it's your favourite.

Lisa – I just adore Claire Zachanassian. And again, this play was originally set after a war and the position of Switzerland actually was questioned because they were neutral. And so anyway, the play I feel could remain in its context or could be moved to any other town. It could be middle America right now, a bankrupt town anywhere in the world. But this is a story of a woman, it's a revenge tragedy. She's wronged early in her life and her boyfriend deserts her, she's pregnant but she comes back to a town as a billionaire many, many years later and says to the town “I'll give this town” (she doesn't tell them, she bankrupted them, not just then) “I'll give the town a billion dollars and every family here a million, you only have to do one thing and that is put that body in that coffin” and she's referring to her ex-boyfriend who's running to be mayor of the town. So, this is a story with absurd elements. So, anyone who loves that kind of absurd genre or even expressionist genre can look at the play and really tease out what is human breed, would I sacrifice my morals for money? And I think we see plenty of instances of that in the world today. And so, as the play progresses, we see how these towns people one by one, just like dominoes succumb to the lure of the gold that Claire has on offer. So, she is a larger than life character. The play is fun but it has so many moral and ethical questions below the surface that you just can't escape them.

Ravenna – So, you started off by saying that there's a Shakespeare on every list, and this this is the 2019-2024 list, which means it's going to be around for a little bit longer. And the Shakespeare is the Taming of the Shrew.

Lisa – Taming of the Shrew is a wonderful play that seems incredibly politically incorrect in our lifetime and that's because women in Shakespeare's time were often second class citizens. They were the property of their father, their husband and they really didn't have all that many individual rights. And so poor Katerina in this play is actually treated as a second-class citizen and Bianca her sister even worse, she can't marry until her older sister does. And many young women are disturbed by the end of the play because Katerina kind of succumbs. She is forced into this marriage with Petruchio, but actually they fall in love and at the end of the play, rather than some people think she's not seen as an equal, she gives this manifesto about, you know, pleasing your husband. However, I secretly think that she is really just manipulating him in that speech to show that she is going to get what she wants and she knows how to get it. So, you can read something from a feminist perspective, even if it seems at first that it is not espousing the feminist values that we might value today. I would just say that the text itself can't change. We can't change the language of the play ever. But we could change the setting if we wanted. We could think of another time when women were trying to assert themselves or other countries perhaps where they're trying to assert themselves and that's why a Shakespeare is still so vital and vibrant and lives today because we can move the time and place if we want to. Again, it suits all the projects and a director who was doing the folio could have a lot of fun at envisaging how they might present their view of Taming of the Shrew.

Ravenna – So Lisa, I haven't given you any notice of this, but I would love if you could just give us a quick run down from our first to our tenth play. Just giving us maybe the style of the play and one of the key ideas you up for this.

Lisa – Sure, I'm going to give it a go.

Ravenna – Molière’s Tartuffe.

Lisa – Molière’s Tartuffe is a farcical comedy and the key idea is that people can be duped by false profits and so be true to yourself.

Ravenna – Number two Sophocles’ Antigone.

Lisa – Sophocles’ Antigone. The style is obviously an Ancient Greek Tragedy and it's about the individual, a woman versus the state. And that is a very relevant idea in our world today. Ravenna – Number three, Death and the Maiden.

Lisa – Death and the Maiden is a play in the style of heightened realism. It's a highly political play and it's about survival and how surviving in the utmost horrific circumstances and being able to come through the other side as a fully functioning human.

Ravenna – Number four, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Lisa – Heightened realism with moments of expressionism. Breakdown of the American dream, and how one man fights to achieve his dream in spite of all of the negative pressures from the society in which he lives.

Ravenna – I think we're up to number five, Black Diggers.

Lisa – Black Diggers is in the style of a pastiche, a combination of contemporary elements and contemporary drama. So very modern in its style and its theme is essentially one cantered in racism and looking at how people of different race and culture or creed are treated differently, ignoring the great contribution that they often make to our society.

Ravenna – Number six, I think we're up to Waltzing the Wilarra.

Lisa – Waltzing the Wilarra is in the style of the vaudeville musical with comedy and its key idea is again the treatment of our Indigenous people across time. This group meet curfew in the 1940s. We see them later in their lives, but it's essentially also a love story.

Ravenna – And number seven was Silent Disco.

Lisa – Silent Disco is also heightened realism. The style of heightened realism, a contemporary play using a number of modern elements. The key idea there is that young people have a voice to be heard.

Ravenna – Debra Oswald's Stories in the Dark is number eight. We're nearly there.

Lisa – Stories in the dark seems like realism. It has a shifting timeframe. So, it has this idea of magical realism associated with it. And its key idea is that in a world of turmoil, war, and uncertainty, literature, drama, the imagination through books can take you to a place of safety, of shelter and wonderment where you learn lessons about life.

Ravenna – Number nine, your favourite, The Visit.

Lisa – The Visit is in the form of a comic, absurd, revenge tragedy, and the key idea is that greed and money can corrupt our values just as they corrupted Claire Zachanassian to the core.

Ravenna - And lucky last number 10. The taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.

Lisa – Is a comic Shakespearean romp. The key idea is that love can bloom in the most unlikely place between the most unlikely people and that the treatment of women should be addressed and looked at in perhaps new ways.

Ravenna – Well done for taking on that challenge.

Lisa – Just very quickly, I'd say that any teacher or any student should be brave and dip their toe into this wonderful area of design or directorial folio. Some of these plays simply bring our world to life and I think you'll find that there's something for everyone on that list.

Ravenna – So lovely to chat with you today, Lisa. Thanks so much for giving your time to the drama teachers around the state as you have for so, so long.

Lisa – It's been a pleasure, Ravenna.

Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team of Curriculum Secondary Learners, Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by joining our Statewide Staffroom through the link in the show notes or email our Creative Arts Curriculum Advisor, Cathryn Horvat at creativearts7-12@det.nsw.edu.au .The music for this podcast was composed by Alexander McWhirter of Coonabarabran High school and the promotional tile designed by Kaitlyn Scott from Winmalee High School.

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