Breaking new ground in telling our own stories through theatre and writing

More and more people are telling the stories of western Sydney and regional New South Wales. Felicity Castagna won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014 for her debut novel The Incredible Here and Now. With a spare writing style she evokes a picture of the inner life and thoughts of Michael a teenage boy in Parramatta, who undergoes the sudden loss of his older brother and its impact on his family and his own growing up. It’s a gentle story of a quest for understanding and finding his place in the world and is filled with intimate glimpses of his home and family and the places where he hangs out with friends.

Yes, there is drama, but the story is more about Michael’s responses to it rather than the events themselves. The Incredible Here and Now has a quiet, meditative quality about it so it will be very interesting to see how it makes the transition to the stage. The National Theatre of Parramatta commissioned Felicity to create a play of the same name from her novel, which opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on July 13 and runs to Saturday, July 22. For Felicity, it has been a great learning curve as she works with directors Jeneffa Soldatic, right, and Wayne Harrison. Jeneffa herself grew up in Sydney’s south west, at Ingleburn, and feels that Michael’s teenage experience has many similarities to her own. To make her way in theatre, she had to leave Sydney for New York, where she graduated from the Actors Studio in 2004 and became one of only a few Australians to be accepted as a life member.

Felicity says, “I’ve been attending shows at Riverside Theatres for more than 15 years. To see my own work on stage there, in my own community is such a privilege. The support and guidance provided to me by National Theatre of Parramatta, has been incredibly important in developing my own career as a writer and as a voice in the community that I love so much.”

“Fundamentally,” she says, “it’s a play about language and silence. Our personal grief is such a fundamentally hard thing to articulate whether you’re a teenage boy or a mother. That grief therefore, needed to be expressed in the visual language of the play; a box, a stack of pancakes, an older brother who is not there anymore but continually returns to stage like a memory that is always in the back of one’s mind.”

Performing the lead role of Michael is Bardiya McKinnon, above, (TV’s As the Bell Rings and In Your Dreams) and as Dom, Alex Cubis (TV’s Mako Mermaids and Rake). In addition, The Incredible Here stars Caroline Brazier, Libby Asiack, Olivia Simone, Ryan Peters and Sal Sharah. Information and bookings.

Two young women are taking the concept of storytelling across the regions of NSW to new heights. Natalie Wadwell, left, of south western Sydney and Lucinda Davison of the NSW south coast have been developing a comprehensive website State of the Arts – SOTAau – for the last two years. They “support the next generation of Australia’s storytellers”. It’s a big vision and requires a lot of work and financial investment. This year, Natalie was a recipient of a Layne Beachley Foundation ‘Aim for the Stars Scholarship.’ This money was put towards SOTAau to gain legal support and redevelop their platform. SOTA is also among the first initiatives to be supported by Arts Initiatives Australia – an organisation aimed at making Australian arts more sustainable.

You can now explore the prototype of SOTA’s new platform. Over the next six months they will be shortlisting and targeting five areas, the independent artists within and the organisations servicing them. This will help them learn where the platform can improve and how they can scale it to effectively service the vast geography that is greater western Sydney, regional NSW and the ACT.

They provide publishing opportunities for writers based in suburban and regional areas and access to a growing network of mentors and other creatives to help build sustainable career pathways. SOTA is a social enterprise: a business that generates profit for a social purpose. They say, “Local writers are best positioned to share experiences of art and culture.” Watch this space!

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Counter vilification and stereotype by getting to know the individual

1-khaled-sabsabi-majority-minorityWhat can we as individuals do if we don’t accept the torrent of vitriol, racial abuse and false information currently swirling around us? Quite a lot, really, if we are prepared to be steadfast, patient and respectful. Artists and arts activists in western Sydney have been travelling this path for many years. Through their art forms they have offered insights into what it’s like to belong to one or several different cultures and how that may find individual expression through their personal experience. As artists reveal aspects of their lives, we witness vulnerability, a search for the infinite, for meaning and understanding. Insights may challenge assumptions about each other and leave audiences and participants more open to new ideas and understandings.

Khaled Sabsabi is a western Sydney artist, who was awarded the inaugural Western Sydney Arts Fellowship in 2016.  He migrated from Lebanon with his parents as a 12 year old in 1978 as a result of civil war, and settled in western Sydney. His personal experiences of conflict and dislocation in Lebanon and then in his adopted homeland of Australia, led him into deep social engagement. Independent curator and editor of Artist Profile, Kon Gouriotis wrote in 2014, “As a young artist, Sabsabi began experimenting with sound and poetry within the hip‐hop group COD (Count on Damage) in Granville NSW. He gradually moved to sound tracks for short and feature films, his last work was for Cedar Boys (2009). Yet it was to be media that eventually connected his sound and images . . .”

khaled-sabsabi-majority-minority-with-carmel-and-konFairfield City Museum and Gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of Khaled’s work, Majority/Minority, which Kon  officially opened in January. It encompasses three works which reflect on the complexities of migrant experience in western Sydney and the way in which minorities have gradually become the majority in areas like Fairfield. Kon, centre above, with gallery coordinator Carmel Aiello and Khaled Sabsadi. Top, is a still from Khaled’s two channel video Wonderland (2014), one of the three works in Majority/Minority.

In 2003 Khaled returned to Lebanon for the first time. He was profoundly affected by his exposure to the origins of his Islamic Sufi lineage. Kon considers that some of the Sufi teachings would have resonated deeply with Khaled, “especially an individual’s right to imagine the infinite”. It is generally understood that Sufism predates Islam and was connected to Zoroastrianism. Khaled uses the online name of peacefender and has worked extensively in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugeee and settlement camps. Among many awards, Khaled is a recipient of the Blake Art Prize, Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship and an Australia Council for the Arts Community Cultural Development Fellowship.

In the last year alone he has participated in group exhibitions in Yinchuan City, China; Blacktown Arts Centre, NSW; Artspace, New Zealand; and at Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah, UAE.  Next Saturday, February 25, from 1pm to 3pm, Kon will be in conversation with Khaled at Fairfield Museum and Gallery. They will discuss Khaled’s exhibition Majority/Minority and some of his recent practice and reflect on the broader role of the arts and cultural sector in western Sydney. You are invited to attend and to participate with questions and discussion. RSVP to museumgallery@fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au or call 9725 0190 by Thursday 23 February. Complimentary refreshments will be provided.

You don’t havejason-wing-within-arms-reach to look far in western Sydney for other examples of thought provoking work by artists of sometimes demonised minorities. Within Arms Reach was the poignant and haunting work, right, created by Jason Wing for The Native Institute, a 2013 exhibition at Blacktown Arts Centre. Jason is an artist of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, who was evoking the anguish of Aboriginal parents who camped outside the 19th century institute fence in the hope of catching a glimpse of their captive children.

wagana-woodford-academy-with-n-trust-0117Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba, under the leadership of Wiradjuri descendant Jo Clancy, continue to explore traditional culture and create contemporary dance works. They are developing cultural knowledge and confidence among their young members and sharing their understanding with local and international audiences. Here they are at their first performance for 2017 at Woodford Academy, managed by the National Trust. Later this year, they will perform at the World Indigenous People’s Conference in Toronto, Canada.

The politically-charged marriage equality debate is the subject of a new dance performance at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. In Difference is a production of Form Dance Projects and Riverside in which leading dance artist Craig Bary in-difference-preparationhas drawn together a gifted artistic team. Here they are working on ideas and choreography, right, in preparation for a brief season, March 2 to 4, at 8pm.

“Marriage equality is a real issue for real people so we are making this work for them, and hope to make a significant contribution to the debate in the most creative and inspiring way,’ says Bary. ‘We will also bring the real life of the performers on stage to create a compelling, vulnerable and open environment for the audiences to connect with.”

We all have a need of connectedness, of belonging. Is there really any difference between the needs of a same sex couple and a heterosexual couple? In Difference promises a penetrating and poignant demonstration that dance can communicate important issues and make a social and political impact.

sydney-world-music-chamber-orchestra-rehearsalOther examples of work that defy the stereotypes and demonstrate the riches that come with experience of individual stories abound in western Sydney. Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its seventh year, is under the direction of musician Richard Petkovic. Over time, he has gradually assembled a whole range of highly trained musicians from many cultural and religious backgrounds, who are also frequently refugees. Their explorations of contemporary expressions of ancient traditions is continuous, where they share the transformative power of the sacred as distinct from the potential divisiveness of the religious.

1-dth-media-releaseWestern Sydney Literacy Movement – Sweatshop based at Western Sydney University, will launch associate director Peter Polites’ first novel, on March 5. Down the Hume is queer-ethnic Western Sydney noir, the first of its kind, and is published by Hachette, one of the biggest publishing companies in Australia.

Check out Natalie Wadwell’s latest blog post where she reflects on Resilience, it’s a cultural thing and promotes Jon Hawkes’ argument that culture should be the fourth pillar of sustainability. He proposed in 2001 that culture is not an additional policy or a strategy, but a framework through which we assess social, environmental and economic strategies. Natalie links this to her recent experience of a Resilient Sydney workshop.

National Theatre of Parramatta is just one more of many fine examples of companies that seek to defy stereotypes by presenting stories from diverse cultural communities. Still only in its second year, it has already met with great success.

Yes, this blog does have a future – building on each other’s achievements!

Well, hello again! It’s more than two months since my last post. In that time, I have been sorting and culling files, books and other records and generally downsizing. Many were used in the writing of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published in 2013 and in the subsequent publication of this blog Western Sydney Frontier – beginning in 2014. Simultaneously, it has meant a chance to reflect on the last 45 years of arts and cultural development I have witnessed and the monumental changes that have occurred across the region.

1-bsa-collective_blank-slate

In the midst of this period, I was honoured to open the first exhibition of the recently formed Blacktown Studio Artists Collective, Blank Slate. It is a perfect illustration of what has happened in that 45 years. Distance and isolation remain facts of life, but population growth, cultural diversification, growth in social infrastructure like education and the arts and the determined advocacy of hundreds of passionate individuals has produced  extraordinary change.

Above is Blacktown Sun’s photo of the exhibiting artists, Jan Cleveringa, left, Nazanin Masharian, Suzannah Williams, Rosalind Stanley and Alex Cyreszko. Nazanin says “Blank Slate is a metaphor for the collective; we’re not sure what we’re going to be yet. We’re open to the energy of the group and what comes up,” They are all well educated, widely experienced and willing to explore their own histories in a context of local and global issues like displacement by war and colonisation, the impact of changing technologies, and climate change. They came together under the auspice of Blacktown Arts Centre and are also committed to Blacktown and its future.

ian-zammitThen last week I had the immense pleasure of an evening of conversation over dinner with two inspirational people, Ian Zammit, left, and Natalie Wadwell, right below. Our evening resulted from both of them contacting me after I questioned whether this blog has a future. Having reached the age of 75, I am increasingly reminded of my own mortality and the need for me to pass on the baton of networking, support and promotion. Both Ian and Natalie grew up in western Sydney. Each was creative and imaginative, but frustrated by the limited opportunities available locally. Ian grew up in Emu Heights, pursued music and theatre studies and completed an honours degree at Middlesex University in the UK, in 2006. He returned to live in Penrith and for five years worked at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. Then he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people and the support of his wife Michelle. The company survived five years of successful productions and work with local schools, but decided to close last year when facing unending struggles for money and resources.

Far from giving up, Ian recognised the need for more collaboration and mutual support among theatre people and established Theatre Links in the West, which meets monthly and shares theatre information through its Facebook page. His track record is leading to increasing professional employment opportunities for him in Penrith and Liverpool performing artsNatalie Wadwell - ARI forum.

Similarly, Natalie has been confronting the frustrations and challenges for young people in her local area and continually investigates, analyses and instigates creative solutions. With an appetite for learning, strategic thinking and a commitment to improved opportunities, she established an online presence with Wadwell Initiatives, giving her own background as a writer and creative instigator and a summary of her projects, writings, ideas and vulnerabilities. She has a Bachelor Art Theory/History (First Class Honours), UNSW Art and Design (2012-2015).

Earlier this year, she graduated with 16 other young people from the inaugural accelerator program conducted by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for young people wanting to drive social change in Western Sydney. Now, she is working with Lucinda Davison, founder and editor of the online publication State of the Arts to develop the site as an online platform promoting a more inclusive arts and culture conversation across New South Wales. “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.

State of the Arts brings together the broad experiences of art and culture “out there” to take art off its pedestal, because culture is everywhere.” Natalie is determined to ensure that western Sydney is well represented and the platform provides scope for lots of participation. Do check it out and consider contributing. State of the Arts is a more than worthy successor to Western Sydney Frontier and for the time being, we can gladly cross promote each other’s posts. In the meantime, those people who left generous comments supporting the continuation of my blog can feel pleased.

wagana-becky-chatfield-and-jo-clancy-2016While most of the arts and cultural achievements in western Sydney are the result of sustained collaborative effort and many disappointments, some require even more commitment than most. For Becky Chatfield, above left with Jo Clancy of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains, there are daily encounters with casual racism and denial of her own deep sense of identity. Statements like “Aboriginality is just unnecessary. It’s not really in the best interests of Aboriginal people. It’s not good for Aborigines to remain Aborigines.”

A week ago on Facebook, she posted “I tossed up whether or not to watch First Contact last night but decided I had to, the issue is too important. So many people saying ‘ignore it, don’t worry about it, give it no energy’. But unfortunately, I feel that I must indeed give energy to it and I believe we all should, because David Oldfield is not the only one with these sickening views, Australia has many people who think the way he does and I can’t close my eyes to it. I have a responsibility to my daughter and to all of our children to at least try. I will continue to spread the beauty of our culture, and I will call out the bullshit.
I want change and it won’t come unless we actively tackle the situation together.”

Then out of the blue came a contact from Anton Arets, an artist I hadn’t seen for 30 years. It was followed by a completely unsolicited response to my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney  – one that reflects the views of Ian and Natalie. “I have Blog - PPM book coverjust finished reading it. It is such an excellent, well researched and insightful publIcation . . . This book will help everyone contemplating a career in any of the many art forms and cultural support networks, to appreciate that its not an easy road, that there will be challenges, disappointments, limited budgets, rejections, lack of community support and opportunities – just to mention a few.. But they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They need to build on the foundation set by the many dedicated artists and artisans before them, and capitalise on every opportunity that presents itself or is even self created, regardless of how small it appears on the surface. Effort always pays dividends.

“Just thinking….. What the book highlighted in my mind, amongst other things, was how the Aboriginal community and also the European/Asian Migrant population, the New Australians, were basically told to bury their identity or ‘shut up and fit in..’  Art gave them their voice back, and helped them research and regain their identity as individuals worthy of dignity and respect. Its a voice we cannot afford to lose.

“As the powers-that-be continually implement and endorse the time tested quality of not listening to the general populace, this may end up being the only voice we have.”

In officially launching Blacktown Studio Artists Collective exhibition Blank Slate, I gave each of the artists a copy of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney to thank them for their inspiration to the rest of us and to let them see themselves as part of a rich continuum of creative arts development in western Sydney. They work in a wide range of media to give expression to their ideas. Blank Slate continues at Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre in the original Blacktown Primary School, Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, (across from Blacktown Library), until January 28, 2017. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

It’s a pleasure to know that Ian Zammit and Natalie Wadwell are looking forward as much as I am to getting together again early next year. All good wishes in the meantime.

Creative artists present nuanced views of conflict, causes and consequences

ntop-qanonAward wining film director George Miller says, “. . . art is at its best when it allows catharsis through story telling and a nation is at its best when it provides a refuge for humanity to heal and flourish.” It seems that this observation is relevant to three arts events due to launch across western Sydney, where negotiating multiculturalism and difference is a daily  experience.

The first is Diaspora-Making Machines opening at Blacktown Arts Centre, on Thursday, September 29. The second is a public dialogue between writers Ellen van Neerven and Michael Mohammed Ahmad under the provocative title Black and Lebo. The third is The Cartographer’s Curse, a new production created by National Theatre of Parramatta, which explores the complexities of political and social divisions within the Middle East. Above is an image of the qanun, a Middle Eastern instrument featured in The Cartographer’s Curse. Director Paula Abood explains qanun is the origin of the English word canon, encompassing the lore and law of a society.

In Diaspora-Making Machines eight artists of diverse cultural backgrounds explore some of “the systemic devices (the machines) that generate movement and the dispersal of communities (the diaspora).” From the earliest days of the colony, Blacktown has been a scene of continuous waves of migration. Some were forced, like the Aboriginal and Maori children sent to be “reformed” at the 1823 Blacktown Native Institution, and others like migrants and refugees who made new homes there by choice.

1-blak-douglas-bac-for-diaspora-making-machinesOffering an Aboriginal perspective on the exhibition’s theme of Blacktown’s historic place as a centre of migration, attitudes to newcomers, and notions of belonging and assimilation is Blak Douglas, who grew up in the area. His work, left, Pipe Dreams (Part A), suggests a challenge to the role of the church as a systemic device in the dispersal of Aboriginal communities. Another of the artists is Mehwish Iqbal, who grew up in a small town in Pakistan where art wasn’t even taught in the local school. Nonetheless, she defied traditional expectations to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts and then moved to Dubai. In 2006, she moved to Australia with her family where she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts UNSW. Mehwish has undertaken international artists residencies and has a keen interest in themes of integration, assimilation and separation experienced by migrants living in Australia and issues faced by under privileged children in developing countries.

The other artists are Jumaadi, Nerine Martini, Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong, Luping Zeng and his son Cheng Zeng. Diaspora Making Machines will continue at Blacktown until Saturday, November 5.

ellen-van-nervanBlack and Lebo promises a lively discussion between two award winning young writers, Aboriginal author Ellen van Neerven, right, and Michael Mohammed Ahmad, below, left. Ellen won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize, among other awards, and has just published a new book Comfort Food, a collection of poetry. Michael is the director of Sweatshop – Western Sydney Literacy Movement, a talented actor, and a doctoral candidate at the Western Sydney University Writing and Society Research Centre. He has won several awards for his work and for his debut novel The Tribe. His second novel The Lebs will be published early next year.

Ellen and Michael Mohammed.AhmadMichael will discuss the intersections between race, faith, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary Australian literature, give performances from their latest works and take questions and comments from their audience. Black and Lebo takes place on Friday, September 30, at Western Sydney University, Bankstown campus, Building 3, Room G 55. The event is free with lunch provided and everyone is welcome, but RSVP is essential.

Prof Ghassan HageFrench and British colonialism of the early 20th century in the Middle East is the starting point for The Cartographer’s Curse. Invasion, colonialism and conflict have been common experiences for centuries among people in this region, where borders have undergone frequent change, according to who holds the power. A century ago, it was the British and French who drew lines on a map to divide the area according to their own interests. The consequences continue to reverberate and have led many people to seek refuge elsewhere in the world. Under the guidance of Paula Abood, history is imagined through spoken word poetry and prose, parkour movements and qanunic music. Among the characters are the cartographer, the wandering professor, the poet, the resistance, the merchant and the master of the qanun. The professor is played by Ghassan Hage, above right, an actual Future Generation Professor of global stature.

1-ntop-cartog-curse-thistle“This ensemble captures the very best of Arab Australian artistry in all its different expression,” Paula says. “Each performer in The Cartographer’s Curse brings a particular prowess and this makes for an exciting performance.” The coupling of the melodic quality of the qanun with the edginess of Parkour movement, she describes as “artistically very exhilarating.” The thistle, left, grows throughout the landscape of the Middle East and could easily be perceived as a metaphor for resilience and survival. The Cartographer’s Curse opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on Thursday, October 5 and continues only until October 8.

Western Sydney Frontier – does this blog have a future?

1-IMG_4548Have you ever read posts on this blog and thought how they could be further developed? Feedback has suggested there could be more critical depth to the story telling and discussion encouraged of ideas and creative proposals. A continuously updated “what’s on” section, space for reviews of exhibitions, performances, events, books etc, and listing of opportunities – workshops, auditions, employment? Feature items by invited contributors?

Well, now is your chance. By the end of this year I will have reached the age of 75 and would like to pull back from my current engagement. Having a range of contributors would greatly increase the value of the blog, but would require clearly developed policy, shared management and editorial responsibility and more sophisticated technology. A multi-platform website may be one answer and/or a collaborative blogging platform. Clearly, this needs skilled advice. If Western Sydney Frontier is now superseded by other blogs and websites, I am happy to let it wind down and just deliver occasional posts myself.

NPRAG rally T shirtIn the meantime, it’s worth considering some facts. Two subjects which have attracted the largest response are those around Aboriginal experience (see Appin Massacre 200th anniversary commemoration, photo above) and national heritage issues particularly the convict Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in North Parramatta, left, and the former Parramatta Girls Home.

What has been the response since the launch of Western Sydney Frontier in February 2014? WordPress statistics seem to be a bit contradictory, e.g. in recording Facebook links, but the broad figures seem consistent. There are only about 100 followers – people usually “follow” in response to a particular story, whereas the broad reach of the blog across the region and across art forms is usually too broad for most readers – in its present form, anyway. At the time of writing there have been 12,000 visitors in two and a half years and 18,500 views. Best total views in one day – 263, Feb 11, 2016 – Confront the racist crap and create real change – though WordPress later credited those figures to a different story. The vast majority of visits come from within Australia, but views are recorded from a multitude of different countries. 144 posts have been published and 103 comments recorded in response – the reply facility on this particular blog design (Twenty Eleven theme) is disappointingly obscure, so that conversations that begin, rarely have the chance to develop.

What is the anecdotal feedback? Feedback is mostly verbal and generally enthusiastic, though infrequent. Those who are the subjects of stories, usually express great appreciation and share the stories through Facebook, Twitter etc. There are plenty of others who share the links through social media, too. As you know, there is such a plethora of online information and comment, it can be hard to register in the public mind.

If you would like to reply with comments or suggestions – preferably about what you would do, not what I should do, please click on the Leave a reply link at the bottom of the post, click on the Join In page under the blog’s header, or message me or comment under the link on the Passion Purpose Meaning Facebook page. Many thanks.

william+barton+sacred+musicIn the meantime, some of the best developments occurring across the region are represented in the opening events of the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival. Director Richard Petkovic has worked in partnership with Cumberland Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee. “Come and see Sydney in a 360 degree panoramic view and be part of The Gathering Ceremony, on Friday, September 2, at 2pm.” he says. “Featuring internationally acclaimed artist, William Barton, above, The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong (Prospect Hill) as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people. A place of spirit, a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).”

On the following night, at 7pm, Sydney Sacred Music Festival launches Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound – A live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music on Wentworth Street Carpark in Parramatta’s CBD. Here is a short video promo of the music element

Richard says, “The roofworlds+collide+sacred+music+festival top will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabsabi, Marian Abboud and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s Sitar Funk, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).

Worlds Collide will invite the audience to move their bodies, from meditative drones and sacred African chants to full on dance beats with soaring vocals and hip hop rhymes, this performance is designed to take the listener on a journey into the new sound of multicultural Australia.” Program details and bookings.

Opportunities galore!

And now we are six! A new baby in the household means that blogging has to take second place to grandmotherly duties, so just brief notes on a fantastic range of opportunities:

ICE - ISLAM I AM

ISLAM. I AM | EOI closes Friday 5 August

ISLAM. I AM will be a ground-breaking series bringing together Muslim filmmakers to tell stories about contemporary Islamic life in Australia. The series will be created for ABC1, produced by Jungle FTV in association with I.C.E.

Muslim filmmakers, artists, storytellers are invited to submit a proposal to be considered for the next stage of development and production.

Submit your Expression of Interest here! 

CPAC - Staging StoriesSTAGING STORIES: ADULT SOLO THEATRE WORKSHOPS, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre,
Mondays | 8 August – 12 September, 23 September and Tuesday 4 October
7 – 9pm | $150 for 8 sessions

Facilitated by respected theatre professionals, STAGING STORIES is a solo theatre workshop designed to unlock your potential as a both a writer and performer and put your story in the spotlight. Building over a series of weeks, STAGING STORIES workshops will give you an overview into performance and storytelling like you’ve never experienced, providing you with an opportunity to develop your confidence, expand your network and explore your ideas. Bookings.

— FROM PAGE TO STAGE —

Putting the nation on stage, National Theatre of Parramatta is calling for expressions of interest to its inaugural playwriting program

NT of P Joanne Kee“National Theatre of Parramatta is committed to building an ecosystem for the theatre in Western Sydney. It is harder for our artists to be visible beyond our communities. We know that we have stories that resonate beyond these geographic limitations. We are providing a platform to not only showcase these artists but also to develop additional networks and skills that will enable them to fine tune their craft. We are offering a chance for Western Sydney voices to be heard,” says Executive Producer of the National Theatre of Parramatta, Joanne Kee, left.

Presented in association with Playwriting Australia, From Page to Stage is a free program that provides playwrights with a unique opportunity to hone their skills whilst aiming to assist new Australian works come to life on the stage.

Ten applicants, with a demonstrated commitment to writing, will receive guidance from some of the industry’s best playwrights and facilitators. Commencing in October, the 15-month course includes mentorship, tutorials, workshops and script development opportunities. Participant’s plays will also be considered for inclusion in the National Theatre of Parramatta’s annual season and the National Play Festival, Playwriting Australia’s major industry showcase of new Australian works.

NToP - logoRiverside Theatres’ resident company, National Theatre of Parramatta, is committed to capacity building in Western Sydney. With the launch of From Page to Stage, National Theatre of Parramatta will further nurture and develop committed writers who live and/or work in the region.

Applications for From Page to Stage close on 28th August. For more information and to apply, visit: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP/engage/from-page-to-stage

At last your chance to respond to the proposed National Heritage Listing of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Submissions

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct - heritage listing

FORM DANCE PROJECTS – Fostering Dance Culture in Western Sydney

CALLING CHOREOGRAPHERS AND DANCERS 21 & UNDER

SHARP SHORT DANCE IS BACK!

Sharp Short Dance is a dance festival that unearths the best up and coming talent in Sydney.  The festival celebrates dance in all its forms and encourages young aspiring choreographers and dancers to showcase their work to industry professionals.

Choreographers can enter one work to each heat, which are curated by genre:

Heat One Jazz, Tap, Lyrical
Heat Two Classical, Contemporary
Heat Three Hip Hop, Street, Cultural

This year selected finalists will be awarded secondments with Sydney Dance Company (Pre-Professional Year), Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dream Dance Company and Shaun Parker & Company.

“This program is one of FORM’s best and that’s why we are awarding an industry placement with the Dream Dance Company. I can’t wait to see what talent emerges this year.”
Marko Panzic, Director – The Dream Dance Company

REGISTER NOW
For registration forms and info visit form.org.au
DVD, Youtube and Vimeo applications preferredForm Dance - Choreographers - Photo - Dom O'Donnell

REGISTRATION CLOSES
17 OCTOBER

REGISTRATION FEE
$15.00

HEATS 1, 2 & 3
15, 16 & 17 NOVEMBER 7:30PM

FINALS
19 NOVEMBER 7:30PM

Registrations via form.org.au or  this downloadable form.

Photo : Dom O’Donnell

Flight from despair to hope, opportunity and creative engagement

UNHCR - RefugeesAccording to a report released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last month, wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR records began more than 65 years ago. The report, entitled Global Trends, found a total 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier.

Large numbers of people have fled Afghanistan and Somalia in recent decades and more recently, countries like Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and Central America. Settlement solutions are becoming harder to find as countries close borders against an influx of distressed people and there is little sign of regional cooperation between countries that might receive refugees. Worldwide, Turkey is the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosts more refugees compared to its population than any other country. In 2015 children made up 51 per cent of the world’s refugees. Many were separated from their parents or travelling alone.

Blog - PPM book coverAll too often fear is the constant companion of refugees until they find respite. Now, with increasing frequency, fear has taken hold of people in countries that might offer protection – fear of terrorism, fear of losing jobs to refugees, fear of strained health, housing and education resources, a loss of law and order. Australia swings between cycles of fear and cycles of generosity. Our constitution for the founding of Australia as a federation of states in 1901 was influenced by fear of foreigners and totally ignored Aboriginal people. It still has the racist statement that the Commonwealth has the power “to regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races . . .” Two years later, the White Australia Policy was a direct outcome. By contrast, multiculturalism as a concept was introduced during the years of the Whitlam Government in the early 1970s. Under the following government of Malcolm Fraser, Australia opened its doors to Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat. Associated stories appear in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney and in this blog. They demonstrate repeatedly just how many migrants and refugees have gone on to become outstanding arts practitioners and community leaders. Research also shows that the economic costs of accepting migrants and refugees is far outweighed by the value of their ultimate contribution to society.

Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) is conducting a two day forum on Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20 to explore the relationship between refugees and the arts. “Open to artists, performers, art therapists, educators, researchers, art workers and creative producers, the Arts and Refugees Forum also welcomes humanitarian and community development workers to share their experiences and discuss various aspects of artistic practice by, with and about refugees.” It is a free event that will provide a platform for greater networking and development opportunities. The forum will take place against a background of photo-media and video works made by local Sydney-based artists who are former refugees, current asylum seekers and first generation Australians whose families fled war to settle here.

CPAC - refugees - curiousworksBeyond Refuge: Citizens has been assembled by CuriousWorks, which describes it as “an exhibition that asserts the beautiful and fundamental rights of every human being to freedom and peace. It is also a cry to those who have lost their freedom, through the structures and exertions of power.” Image above: Soheil Ettehadolhagh, “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”  –  Báha’u’lláh universal peace, 2016. Photograph.

Both the forum and the exhibition take place in the context of a major exhibition, Refugees which brings together works by 22 world-renowned artists who share a refugee background. Important works by these high profile artists have never before been seen in western Sydney. The artists are Khadim Ali, Frank Auerbach, Christian Boltanski, Yosl Bergner, Judy Cassab, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Lucian Freud, Mona Hatoum, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Guo Jian, Anish Kapoor, Inge King, Dinh Q. Lê, Nalini Malani, Helmut Newton, Yoko Ono, Aida Tomescu, Danila Vassilieff, Ai Wei Wei, Ah Xian and Anne Zahalka.

CPAC is located in one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in Australia, with 40% of the population born overseas and over 150 languages spoken. The arts centre sees the exhibition as an opportunity for advocacy and empowerment of refugees in the local area, as a key to creating social change.

In the meantime, a yoHelen Boris - shards-life-poems-ung woman who arrived as a displaced person from Ukraine in 1949 and later settled with her husband in Seven Hills, is about to launch her first commercially published book. Helen Boris had her university studies in Kiev interrupted by the Soviet occupation and the Second World War and was never able to complete them. Despite the upheavals of terror under dictatorship and the death of family and friends, Helen never lost her love for literature and writing and her interest in sharing it with others. From her earliest days in Australia, she wrote poetry in English and her native Ukrainian. She became active in local chapters of organisations like the Fellowship of Australian Writers, conducted workshops with others like Ann Stewart Galwey to support local writers and helped their community publication. Next Saturday, at the age of 96, in frail health, but of very clear mind and with the support of the Ukrainian ambassador, she will launch her book of poems Shards of Life. You are invited to join them at the Ukrainian Hall, 59 – 63 Joseph St, Lidcombe, at 1pm. Shards of Life is a selection of Helen’s English language verse, through which she shares some fragments of her story, the “shards of her life”.

And thenSyd Sacred Music Fest 16 - Worlds Collide there’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its sixth year under the leadership of founder and director, Richard Petkovic. This year it begins on Friday, September 2 and continues across locations from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains, until Sunday, September 18. In the course of two decades, Richard has identified and come to know an extraordinary range of highly professional musicians, from many different cultures and faiths. Many were living in western Sydney following their escape from war torn countries. They have been working together with wonderfully enriching results.

This year, they will present a live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music at Wentworth Street carpark in Parramatta’s CBD, on Saturday night, September 3 – Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound. The rooftop, they say, “will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabasabi, Marian Abood and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney, photo above, and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s ‘Sitar Funk’, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).”

Program details and bookings.