Paper Presentations # 3 – Session 3A

NZ – 2pm | VIC/NSW/TAS – 12pm | SA – 11.30am | QLD – 11am | NT – 10.30am | WA – 9am

Chaired by Tessa Rixon

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

Liza-Mare Syron- (Re) positioning an Indigenous Standpoint as theatre making practice

In her article, ‘Towards and Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory’ (2013), Aileen Moreton Robinson argues that the individual experiences of Indigenous women will differ due to intersecting oppressions produced under social, political, historical and material conditions that we share consciously or unconsciously. She also states that, ”These conditions and the sets of complex relations that discursively constitute us in the everyday are also complicated by our respective cultural differences and the simultaneity of our compliance and resistance as Indigenous sovereign female subjects” ( 2013, p 332). For Moreton Robinson, an Indigenous woman’s experience of the world is intersectional, our lives are marked and shaped by our race and gender, our values are positioned and framed by the hegemonic, yet we are determined by our respective and specific cultural heritage and localities. These intersections regularly converge and are made apparent through a discursive practice of sharing our day to day experiences with a diverse community of people often constituted by people from different cultural backgrounds, and under a variety of conditions such as in contemporary setting like a rehearsal room. In this paper I discuss a recent transcultural and transnational study on the rehearsal practices of Indigenous women theatre makers from Australia, and Aotearoa New Zealand. I ask, what can we understand about the role of Aboriginal, and Maori women playwrights in the theatre making process, and Indigenous women more broadly, by employing an Indigenous standpoint, specifically an Indigenous Woman’s Standpoint. In seeking to answer this question I present two stories – one from Australia and one from Aotearoa New Zealand that highlight moments in rehearsal where the Indigenous women theatre makers were involved in the process of weaving their real life stories with those of the imagined play worlds in ways that situated their play texts in the intricate landscapes of their own lives, cultures, histories, and epistemologies.

Liza-Mare Syron has family ties to the Biripi people from the Mid North Coast of NSW. A theatre maker and academic, Liza-Mare is currently an Indigenous Scientia Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts and Media at UNSW. She is widely published in the field of Indigenous performing arts and has just published a book on the Rehearsal Practices of Indigenous Women Theatre Makers: Australia, Aotearoa, and Turtle Island (Palgrave Macmillan 2021). She is a founding member of Moogahlin Performing Arts, and as a key member of the company’s Co-Artistic Directorate for over ten years has recently been appointed Senior Artistic Associate. As a theatre maker Liza-Mare has been involved in presenting numerous First peoples shows such as The Fox and the Freedom Fighters (2014), Broken Glass (2028), The Weekend (2019), Rainbows End (2019), The Visitors (2020), and is the creative producer of Koori Gras (2017-2020) a celebration of queer black performance. Liza-Mare also works as a dramaturge and lectures on First Peoples theatre practices at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts NIDA.

Katy Maudlin – Director/Outlaw/Mother: A study at the intersection of directing practice and mothering

This paper draws on my PhD research project, which chronicles internationally acclaimed female theatre directors discussing their directing practice and mothering experiences. It is framed with Andrea O’Reilly’s 2019 matricentric feminism, which repositions mothers into the foreground of feminist theory. Through this lens, coupled with Adrienne Rich’s concept of the mother outlaw, which delineates between mothering experience as a site of empowerment and motherhood, a patriarchal ideology, I will examine director/mother/outlaws who are directly pushing against the restraints imposed by motherhood.  

Drawing on interviews with Kate Davis (Australia), Sarah Giles (Australia), Miriama McDowell (New Zealand), Weyni Mengesha (Canada), and Katie Mitchell (UK), this paper explores participants’ postpartum experiences in the rehearsal room and the effects more broadly on their careers. I will discuss the implications of mothering on creative processes and dramaturgies, professional logistics, and theatrical ecologies through a range of embodied counter-narratives. Specifically, I will propose how these women, who have co-currently done mothering and directing, have created significant momentum for change in their fields through living Rich’s mother outlaw. 

Katy Maudlin is a director and dramaturg with a focus on collaboration, new writing and feminist dramaturgies. She has worked extensively across Australia, New Zealand and Europe and is currently is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Katy holds a Masters in Directing from the Victorian College of the Arts, where she received the Melbourne Global Scholars Award (2016) and the Orloff Family Charitable Trust Scholarship (2015).

Corinne Heskett – Costume and the ‘Scandalous Memoirs’ – How a design-led approach to playwriting can de-centre and challenge traditional processes.

Most approaches to playwriting address costume design as an afterthought, or as a decorative vehicle for providing intimations of character development. Stephen Jefferies in his work Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to Write (2019), describes the process thus:

“A playwright is an artist who plans four-dimensional events. These events begin in the playwright’s imagination and, over a period of time, get set down on paper. Then a group of fellow artists (a director, and lighting, sound, and costume designers, etc.) apply their imaginations to create the physical conditions to realise the dramatist’s vision.” (2019, p 14).

My research diverges from this traditional method by placing costume design at the heart of the writing practice, directly using costume as a vehicle to inform the narrative. This paper outlines how a costume-led approach to creating new work can de-centre and disrupt conventional playwriting processes, through discussing the development of my original play, A Memoir of Scandalous Women. Based on the real life writing of ‘Scandalous Memoirists’ from the eighteenth century, A Memoir of Scandalous Women tells the story of Arabella, an infamous courtesan, and her ward, Cecily, a young woman questioning her identity, amongst the world of the demi-mondaines of Covent Garden. By focusing on the performative representations of these women’s curated identities, the play explores gender politics, the use of clothing-as-masquerade, and the disembodied impact of personal trauma. Yet unlike conventional approaches to costume and new work creation, the costumes in A Memoir of Scandalous Women are not an after-thought, but rather play a central role in each characters’ respective journeys. Performing costume-objects are utilised within the script to conjure Arabella and Cecily’s past traumatic experiences, providing insights into their interior lives, and affecting plot development.

Dramaturgically, this design-led process positions costume as central to each character’s identity. Hilda Kuper, in “Costume and Identity” (1976), describes why it is important to think about clothing as more than just a passive reflection of a person’s social structure and status. Kuper ‘s work suggests to me that in many ways clothing can be viewed as a language which demonstrates and expresses the social identity of the person who wears it. She states:

“Given the critical importance of clothing as an expression of an individual’s social identities, origins, commitments and allegiances, it is no wonder that persons should view their clothing as almost an extension of themselves” (1976, p. 366).

Through the development, in production, of disembodied costume-objects, this work will attempt to convey the changing personal identities of the principal characters through their clothing. These costume- objects will assume the role of the performer on stage and will test and explore the boundaries of technical innovation. By placing costume at the centre of the playwriting process, ultimately my research seeks to examine the relationship between costume and identity and challenge traditional methods of thinking about play and character development.

Jeffreys, S 2019, Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to write, Nick Hern Books, London.
Kuper, H 1973, ‘Costume and Identity’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 15 no 3, pp 348-367.

Corinne Heskett is a practicing Costume Supervisor, Costume Maker and a PhD Candidate at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. Her experience as a theatre practitioner includes working on numerous large-scale musical theatre productions, Opera, and high-profile drama pieces. Corinne’s production credits as a Costume Supervisor and a Design Associate both within Australia and internationally, include Love Never Dies (Australia, Tokyo and Hamburg), School of Rock the Musical (Australian/Asian tour), Driving Miss Daisy (Australian tour) and Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Australian tour). She has worked and toured extensively with Opera Australia, The Really Useful Group, Bell Shakespeare Company, The Gordon Frost Organisation (GFO) and GWB Entertainment (UK). Corinne is an Associate Lecturer in the Costume Department at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), where she graduated with a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts in Costume Production (2007). She also holds a Master of Applied Theatre Studies from the University of New England, Armidale (2018), a Masters of Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney (2011) and a Bachelor of Arts (Hons History) from the University of Sydney (1997). In 2009 Corinne was awarded the prestigious Mike Walsh Fellowship to study costume management at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.