Paper Presentations # 2 – Session 2C

NZ – 4pm | VIC/NSW/TAS – 2pm | SA – 1.30pm | QLD – 1pm | NT – 12.30pm
WA – 11am

Chaired by Chris Hay

Links to join all conference sessions can be accessed via the program page of the ADSA conference website

Nicola Hyland – De-centring Polly – Decolonisation as a devising methodology

Decolonisation […] takes individual and collaborative action to root out the weeds of colonisation and provide space for Indigenous ways of knowing and being – and more besides. All together, these actions can lead to radical personal and societal change.
-Ocean Ripeka Mercier

This paper explores how decolonising frameworks were adopted in a devised theatrical adaptation in order to ‘root out’ the colonial ‘weeds’ of the host text: John Gay’s Polly: An Opera (1777). This forgotten sequel to The Beggar’s Opera was banned in Gay’s lifetime, yet offers rich fodder for a decentred rethinking, featuring “a cross-dressing heroine and a cast of female adventurers, pirates, Indian princes, rebel slaves, and rapacious landowners–a culture in which all human relationships are reduced to commercial transactions”(Gladfelder). I discuss the devising approach of my 2021 production of Polly as inspired by Pōkā Laenui’s, ‘Five Stages of Decolonisation’ – an unapologetic, Indigenous-centred approach to making and marking the work. We were actively trying to decolonise Gay – a ghost reanimated within the work itself – whether he liked it or not. I draw out ways that Polly became a satire of a satire – a commentary of how many transgressional, ground-breaking performance texts do not have the same gleam in contemporary readings, even with female-identifying protagonists disguised as pirates. Yet I also discovered how complimentary devising and decolonising approaches can be, a confirmation of the liberating potentialities of hybrid forms in the performative post-postcolony.


Hal Gladfelder. The Beggar’s Opera and Polly. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2013. Print.
Pōkā Laenui, ‘Processes of Decolonization’ in Marie Battiste (ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, UBC Press, Vancouver, BC, 2000, p.150–59.
Ocean Mercier Imagining Decolonisation. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books Ltd, 2020.

Nicola Hyland (Te Atihaunui-a-Pāpārangi and Ngāti Hauiti) is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. Nicola’s research focuses on Māori performance and theatre, Indigenous performance and popular culture, gender and sexuality in Māori performance, and devised performance praxes. Nicola recently co-edited a collection on devised theatre practices in the university sector and is co-writing a monograph celebrating the history of influential Māori Theatre Company, Taki Rua. Nicola is currently collaborating on an MBIE Endeavour funded project exploring the performance of affect in the virtual environment. 

Sarah Thomasson – Mapping the Australasian Festival Ecology

The Australasian performing arts ecology is enriched by trans-Tasman links facilitated, in part, by the international arts festivals in each of the major cities in Aotearoa and Australia and the relationships between these organisations. Building on the historical legacy of commercial operators such as J. C. Williamson’s, today these festivals operate as both producers and presenters to facilitate the circulation of cultural production within a transnational network. These festivals must compete for the latest international exemplars of ‘artistic excellence’ and the visitor numbers they attract on the one hand, while working together to share product and reduce costs on the other. This complex interdependence requires new historiographical methods of analysis to move beyond ‘atomised’ festival histories to a transnational approach. Responding to this call from Alexandra Portmann, I propose shifting the scale of analysis from individual performances to their transnational transmission (36; 51).

In this paper, I examine the development of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts (NZIF) in the 1980s to reveal how the organisers leveraged existing relationships within this transnational network within their early programmes. Archival research is here complemented by digital humanities methodologies – aided by AusStage – to visualise and analyse the frequency and patterns of movement of theatrical performance within the Australasian festival network. The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble in April 2021 marks a new chapter in the relationship between Aotearoa and Australia and highlights the need to better understand the cultural role and impact of the festival network within the broader Australasian performance ecology.

Sarah Thomasson is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. She writes on contemporary theatre and performance practices with a focus on international arts festivals and their fringes. Her monograph, The Festival Cities of Edinburgh and Adelaide, is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan. She is co-PI of AusStage’s collaboration with Theatre Aotearoa.

Gillian Arrighi & Anthony Skuse- Revisiting the ‘hidden’ and ‘not-yet archives’ of Australia’s theatre for young people

The title of this paper references the 2011 collection of essays edited by Glen McGillivray, Scrapbooks, Snapshots and Memorabilia: hidden archives of performance (Peter Laing). In that volume, an international group of authors critically examined the myriad influences that determine how, or why, traces of performance are selected for archiving, and therefore, remembering. Using one such ‘hidden’ and ‘not-yet archive’, the records of The Cahoots Company 1988-1998, this paper analyses the complex yet interrelated streams of influence – such as the artists’ training, cultural policy, education trends, aesthetic stimulus – that gave rise to this company’s processes of making, performing, and operating on a commercial (unfunded) basis in the theatre for young people space.

The Cahoots Company had its genesis at the 1988 Adelaide Fringe as a sprawling troupe of young performers. After trimming down the cast to just three people, they moved into an intensive schedule of touring shows to high schools across the vast region of NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. The company maintained their schools touring project 1989-1994, then diversified into making shows for a range of different audiences and environments. ‘Theatre in Education’ (TIE) had been dominated by substantially funded troupes since 1980, but by the late-1980s cultural policy and education trends had shifted and schools became an open market, with bookings in schools across eastern Australia hotly contested by small, independent, unaligned troupes that were managed by several stables of booking agents based in Sydney. By the early 1990s, the education marketplace, formerly a minor interest for flagship organisations such as Musica Viva, the Sydney Theatre Company, and Bell Shakespeare, was targeted and cultivated by these major companies as another income stream. The cultural capital of these companies disrupted the education marketplace again.

In dialogue with the theme of this year’s conference, this paper identifies the ‘hidden’, ‘not-yet archive’ of The Cahoots Company as a point of intersection, and analyses the factors that gave rise to the company’s production activity as a strategy for illuminating a rarely considered element of Australia’s not-so-distant performing arts ecology.

Gillian Arrighi was until recently the head of Creative and Performing Arts in the School of Creative Industries, University of Newcastle, Australia. Her primary research interests are popular entertainments from the late-nineteenth century to the current day, acting theory and practice, and child actors. Her many refereed journal articles and book chapters appear in scholarly publications such as Theatre Journal, Australasian Drama Studies, New Theatre Quarterly, Early Visual Popular Culture, Theatre Research International, Theatre Dance and Performance Training, and in edited collections. She is co-editor of the scholarly e-journal, Popular Entertainment Studies (eleven years of publication), co-editor of the books Entertaining Children: The Participation of Youth in the Entertainment Industry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and A World of Popular Entertainments (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars: 2012); editor of a focus issue on circus for the journal of Early Popular Visual Culture (2017); and author of the monograph The FitzGerald Brothers’ Circus: spectacle, identity and nationhood at the Australian circus (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015). Her current book project, due for completion in 2021, concerns child actors performing on trans-national popular stages, 1880-1910. Her most recent book is the Cambridge Companion to the Circus (2021) co-edited with Prof. Jim Davis (University of Warwick).

Anthony Skuse is Head of Performance at the Actors Centre Australia where he has worked since 1994, teaching Mask and Performance Practice across the three years of the undergraduate degree and directing student productions. He was Associate Lecturer in Performance Practice at the National Institution of Dramatic Art from 2009-2012. At NIDA he taught across all undergraduate disciplines while also teaching into the post-grad programs for playwrights and directors. During his years at NIDA Anthony also directed first-, second- and third-year productions. He has also directed and taught at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), Australian Institute of Music (AIM), and the Academy of Film, Theatre and Television (AFTT). Beyond the higher education sector Anthony works extensively with various theatre and production companies, including Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Ensemble Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, MopHead, Pantsguys, Secret House, and Workhorse Theatre. Maintaining a focus on new work and new interpretations, both in development and productions, Anthony’s credits include: Lorca’s Yerma, (AFTT, Belvoir Upstairs); Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, (KXT, Secret House); Katie Pollock’s Normal (Uncertainty principle); Joanna Erskine’s Air (Old 505); Simon Stephens’ Birdland (New Theatre); Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (Old Fitz); Suzie Miller’s Sunset Strip (Uncertainty principle & Griffin, and with Critical Stages National Tour); Charlotte Jones’ Airswimming (The Vaults, London); Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class (AFTT, Belvoir Downstairs); Nick Enright’s Man With Five Children (Darlinghurst Theatre Company); Christopher Harley’s Blood Bank (Ensemble Theatre); Jane Bodie’s Fourplay & Ride (Darlinghurst Theatre Company); Suzie Miller’s Caress/Ache (Griffin Theatre Company); Jessica Bellamy’s Shabbat Dinner (Rock Surfers, Rocks Pop Up Festival, Griffin Theatre Company); Nick Payne’s Constellations (Darlinghurst Theatre Company); Simon Stephens’ On the shore of the wide world (Griffin Independent); Michael Gow’s Live Acts On Stage (Griffin Independent). In 2010 he presented the paper ‘Bodies transformed: an approach to mask in actor training’ at the ADSA 2010 conference at ANU.