Doreen Warburton’s theatre legacy is everywhere

A note placed on the seats at the official opening night, July 19, of The Incredible Here and Now, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta gave the news –

Doreen Warburton, 1930 -2017, Founder and Artistic Director Q Theatre

Doreen Warburton and Q Theatre played pioneering roles in the development of professional theatre in Western Sydney

National Theatre of Parramatta dedicates the remaining performances of The Incredible Here and Now in her memory

How often have you attended a funeral where family and friends burst into applause? Tears and laughter, yes, but applause – not just once, but many times? Such was the occasion of Doreen Warburton’s farewell and celebration of her life last week. Doreen died aged 87, July 19, 2017. See the SMH obituary – Evelyn Doreen Warburton OBE, Doreen Gabriel. Actors, family and friends described her as larger than life, charismatic, impassioned, blunt, hugely generous, mother to so many of them, a brilliant artist, administrator and director. She was driven by a fierce sense of social justice and a determination that anyone could be inspired and transformed by their experience of theatre. Doreen grew up in wartime England and trained with the radical Joan Littlewood Theatre. The photo, above, was posted by The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. – the present day home of the Q. Remembering a life well lived.

During a period of four years in the mid-1970s, Doreen pioneered a program of bringing theatre workshops and productions by the Sydney based Q Theatre into western Sydney suburbs. Their focus was young people – exposing them to performance opportunities and providing them with theatre skills, while simultaneously building future audiences for the theatre they planned to establish in the region. It was Penrith Council that eventually offered the use of the old Railway Institute and it was there that the Q Theatre made their home. Above, Doreen, right, opens the Q Theatre in Penrith in 1977, accompanied by the Mayor of Penrith, Eileen Cammack.

At the funeral, David Hoey described his excitement while a student at Colyton and then Rooty Hill high schools, when he discovered the chance to participate in those first Q Theatre workshops. He participated in some of Q’s subsequent productions and had a “brain explosion” when given the chance to work with the team producing the local rock musical St Marys Kid and another home grown musical story Zilch. Hawkesbury costume designer Leone Sharpe provoked laughter when she described her alarm and apprehension as a 20 year old, when her efforts to restore a hair piece for Doreen went wrong. Right, Doreen as Lady Bracknell in a costume later made by Leone.

Hania Radvan is CEO of Penrith Performing and Visual Arts Ltd (PP&VA) which incorporates the Penrith Regional Gallery, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith Conservatorium of Music and the Q Theatre. Although she never actually met Doreen, she described her influence as everywhere – in their workshop and performance programs, especially for children and young people.

In an interview earlier this year, producer – Q programs, Nick Atkins said, “The Q is the Joan’s, theatre-making arm. My job, and the role of The Q, which sits inside the building, is to produce and develop professional local theatre. We make theatre for and from the heart of Penrith. We respond to what the local community wants to see, whilst also ensuring the voice of this community is pushed out into the world. We get to export stories as well as import them. Like others, he was a local high school student at Emu Plains, who was inspired by his exposure to Q Theatre, and went on to study a practice based theatre course at University of NSW.

In March this year he produced Black Birds, a new work by Emele Ugavule and Ayeesha Ash, exploring what it means to be a woman of colour in 2017 in Australia, it’s their personal stories. “The traditional way of theatre is very white, very Western, and very European, which clashes with their experience of the world,” he said.

“We have an artist in residence program. We offer four two-week residencies in our studio. So it’s two weeks space and $2,000 in financial support, and well as drama and technical support from the centre. We also have Propel, which is a play writing program, for 16 to 25-year-old emerging playwrights, in partnership with Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and WestWords. Originate is also for 16’s to 25-year-olds. But it’s more for performance majors and actors. It’s an ensemble project. Eight artists are brought together over three months and create their own work.

Q’s partnerships and influence are everywhere. From August 10 to 12 The Joan wants you to forget your troubles, come on get happy. How to make a happy meal is a new devised performance created as part of The Q’s Originate project and involving two recent WSU music graduates.

“This year we have a new project called Highway 234, which is another residency program, it’s in collaboration with PYT in Fairfield and PACT in Erskineville. The objective is to see how can we not just empower performers here, but link them in with other centres – because as an artist, it’s great to have your home, but you need to start linking in with other networks.”

Q Programs are a true extension of Doreen’s philosophy, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Western Sydney still struggles with the same inequitable funding distribution as it did in the 1970s. Nick says, “One per cent of federal funding is being used to try and open up a platform for 10% of Australia’s population to have either some experience in culture, or express their culture. That’s why the programs we run are so vital.”

Independent actor/director Aanisa Vylet, right, last week completed one of the new Southlands Breakthrough Artist Residencies at the Q by sharing a 15 minute excerpt from her new show The Woman and is deeply grateful for the opportunity. “In commemoration of Doreen Warburton, I will continue to create theatre that ‘…opens doors and windows to people’,” she says.



(Photo Credit, the fab Julie Koh)

Roslyn Oades – Abbotsford Convent


More creative opportunities and events which smash conventions

1-Nazanin - exploring identity through calligraphy and ink drawingAdding to last week’s post about opportunities, here’s another valuable offering from Blacktown Arts Centre. With funding from Blacktown Council and the NSW Government, the centre is offering six Creative Residencies in 2017 in the following categories –

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Residency $5000
  • Pat Parker Memorial Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Space Residency
  • Visual Arts Studio Residency
  • Without Borders (Accessible Arts) Residency $5000.

The residencies offer space for the creation of new work and mentoring opportunities for the further development of existing creative projects. Blacktown Arts Centre is recognised for its exploration of dynamic, culturally diverse work that reflects Blacktown, its history and its communities. Above is one of this year’s resident artists Nazanin Marashian combining calligraphy and ink drawing in her exploration of identity. Nazanin came to Australia from Iran as a young child when her family fled the Iran/Iraq war in the early 1980s. A great deal of her art work is influenced by the lingering images of war torn houses and streets and the stories from relatives who remained in Iran. BNazanin - drawing first dayelow, left, is a work from her first day of residency – as she “got a few different ideas flowing.

Central to Blacktown Arts Centre’s program are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities drawing on issues of local and global significance. A free workshop to assist applicants will be conducted by award-winning author and long-time writing coach Janet Fennell.

Writing for Small Grants & Opportunities 
Saturday, 13 August | 10am – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Another will be conducted by Patricia Adjei from Viscopy to answer questions relating to copyright, licensing, fair use and moral rights. Patricia will also explain the Resale Royalty Scheme in relation to your practice, and in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Viscopy Licensing & Copyright Law 
Saturday, 20 August | 2pm – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Applications close Wednesday, 9 September 2016. Blacktown Arts Centre.

Among the people who have made a major contribution to Blacktown Arts Centre’s performing arts program and simultaneously benefited from the centre’s support is Richard Petkovic. Richard is the founder and director of Sydney Sacred Music Festival now in its sixth year. In the course of his musical and regional networking during the last 20 years, Richard has met many highly skilled musicians – many of whom arrived in Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersAustralia as refugees. Two years ago, they launched Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra which combined an eclectic mix of cultural music from Mongolia, East Turkistan, Vietnam, China, Mexico and Indigenous Australia to create new Australian music that explores different cultures, faiths and genres.

“Featuring some of the best ‘world’ musicians in Sydney, SWMCO melds classical strings, Dervish rhythms, Latin Samba and intimate melodies to smash conservative music conventions and create a dynamic journey that changes the internal chemistry of the listener,” Richard says. Now some of these musicians are collaborating with others and leading visual and multimedia artists to create the spectacular Worlds Collide event on Saturday, September 3, as part of this year’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

william+barton+sacred+musicThe festival will be formally launched with The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, Friday, September 2, at 2pm  (Prospect Hill) Pemulwuy. Featuring in the ceremony will be internationally renowned didjeridoo player, William Barton.

Marrong (Prospect Hill), was a place of Darug ceremony for thousands of years and the highest landmass in the Sydney Basin. It was from Marrong that indigenous warrior, Pemulwuy, observed the approaching devastation of Aboriginal land and led the resistance against the expanding colony. The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people – a place of spirit and a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).

The event kicks off a program that will continue until September 18 and incorporate a wide range of musical events in venues from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains. Program and bookings.

From Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) comes this urgent invitation –

PYT - Tribunal 2016Don’t miss out — TRIBUNAL is selling fast!

Join Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT), Griffin Theatre Company and some of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and cultural leaders to tell the parallel stories of Indigenous Australia and our treatment of newly arrived refugees in a performed conversation at the SBW Stables Theatre from August 12 to 20. LISTEN HERE to the cast talk to ABC Radio National about TRIBUNAL

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW and are selling quickly. Book online HERE to avoid disappointment.

Western Sydney’s own stories inspire students and teachers

1-1-Passion Purpose Meaning Flyer - Schools - Blog imageThanks to the support of Dane Ropa, deputy principal of a northern beaches high school, emails were sent last week to almost 200 high school librarians across west and south west Sydney. “Students of creative arts, Australian history, cultural and political studies will find inspiration and vital information in Katherine Knight’s book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney (Halstead Press 2013). Since 2014, the stories have continued in her blog – Western Sydney Frontier.”

Dane, who grew up in western Sydney and aims to bring his professional skills back to the region in the future, says “Katherine’s book and blog connect young people to their own, often unknown, cultural history. It clearly shows how they can develop skills to effect change in their community. This deeper understanding of their history helps anchor our talented young people in the fabric of western Sydney and offers a critical chance to impact on the future of the region.”

Dane Ropa 2Dane, left, is a music teacher and former head teacher, faculty of arts, at Cumberland High School. His own leadership and enthusiasm is a great motivator of students and teachers to respond to challenges and help them understand and motivate others. He is coordinator of the NSW Public Schools Millennium Marching Band and a board member of Ars Musica Australis.

Within an hour of sending the email to high school libraries, the first orders were coming in. One teacher librarian responded, “As the theme for Book Week this year is: Australia – Story Country, I think your work would be a perfect match! Would you consider talking to a group of students?” The idea of talking to four groups of Year 11 boys is rapidly taking shape under the title Passion and Purpose – Making a Difference. While the inspiration comes from arts and cultural experience across the region, the application of lessons learned in seeing the big picture, setting goals, developing strategies, maintaining enthusiasm and working as a team has value across unlimited subject areas. Associate Professor Elaine Lally of UTS says exposure to book and blog, “enables students to access sources of their own creativity and leadership potential, through engaging with the powerful stories of personal and professional growth of diverse role models within their home region. Students will hear how other people pursued their passions from a young age, in the face of social, cultural and economic conditions that might not have been the most favorable.”

It’s a challenging time for the arts. Recent savage federal funding cuts are affecting artists of all disciplines and small and medium arts companies across western Sydney. Already they have developed a level of resourcefulness and resilience, which will help them survive, but it will take even more powerful advocacy, creative thinking and commitment to get through.

Message me through my Facebook page – Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney – or use the Reply button at the end of this post if you would like more information about the book, blog or talks to groups.

Aboriginal leaders are talking the change and changing the talk

1-IMG_4522An ABC TV report on Sunday, April 17, estimated 1000 people attended the 200th anniversary memorial of the massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children at Appin, April 17, 1816. It was many more than had attended the memorial in any of the last 20 years and a pleasing reassurance to the organisers, led by the descendants of the Dharawal (also Tharawal) people who survived. Dharawal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington, left, explains to an ABC film crew early in the day how he has been working for 30 years to educate people about the consequences of white colonisation for Aboriginal people. He makes frequent school visits and is often amazed how little is known about the history of the conflict and the devastation of his people. He is committed to passing on cultural knowledge to young Aboriginal people, developing their confidence and pride in their ancestry. His work and that of his fellow descendants is clearly bearing fruit, which could be see in the program that followed.

The day began with a free sausage sizzle in the Cataract Dam Recreation Area, supported by Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown Councils, community organisations 1-IMG_4531and schools. Aboriginal families gathered – some of Dharawal descent – others more recently arrived from different Aboriginal lands. Yet others were non-Aboriginal like me – there to give support. Later, we all descended to a large site near the wall of the dam, overlooking the spillway into the gorge, where the crowd could be seated in a wide circle for the ceremony. Nor far above, in a rocky, sheltered niche, right, lay the memorial plaque –

The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal nation occurred near here on April 17, 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the real number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Wing Myamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Council.

A ceremonial program and smoking ceremony led by Uncle Ivan began, watched by special guests including – Dharawal and Gundungurra descendants, Aboriginal elders, the Governor of NSW, General The Honorable David Hurley,  state and federal MPs and the mayors of Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown. The Welcome to 1-IMG_4548Country was given by Dharawal descendants Frances Bodkin (in Dharawal language), Uncle Ivan, Glenda Chalker, and Gavin Andrews. Gavin told the story of the massacre from a Dharawal perspective and described Governor Macquarie’s instructions to ‘punish the hostile natives by clearing the country of them entirely’ as effectively giving vigilante groups permission to pursue this instruction to the military with a free hand, which he said they continued to do. Pictured above are Dharawal descendants and musicians Matthew and Ken Doyle accompanying Linda in an evocative dance.

For an illustrated background story to the day and to the massacre see the excellent account by professional historian Dr Stephen Gapps.

Wagana in Canberra for the meetup festival 0416Two other noteworthy events were taking place during the same weekend as remembering the Appin massacre. Young members of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba were participating in the meetup youth dance companies festival in Canberra, left, from April 15 to 17. The company has been evolving over a long period under the leadership of Wiradjuri dancer and choreographer Jo Clancy. She was raised and still lives on Gundungurra and Darug country in the Blue Mountains and the dancers’ consultation with elders is a vital part of their growth in cultural knowledge and confidence in their identity.

The other activity was mentioned in the last blog post. On April 14, Moogahlin Performing Arts, based at Carriageworks, posted on Facebook, “Today we kick off ‘NgAl-Lo-Wah Murrytula (Darug: together we share/enjoy)’ – a walk and cultural reclamation project that was initiated by two Western Sydney Elders, Uncle Wes Marne (93 years old) and Aunty Edna Watson (75 years old). Over the next three days they are taking 14 young people who were nominated by their community to participate along arterial roads/walking tracks of Western Sydney, laying down and recording their knowledge along the way.

Moogahlin Perf Arts - Darug elders 0416“Chookas to our Elders, young people, and the rest of our creative and production team! We hope you stay warm and have a wonderful time, and look forward to the stories you’ll share on your return!” Pictured: Aunty Edna Watson, Uncle Wes Marne, Uncle Allie Watson. Image by James Photographic Services.

There is little doubt that the title of the Fairfield exhibition earlier this year was absolutely timely. Talk the Change/Change the Talk. Although painfully slow, change is occurring in Australian race relations under the sustained leadership of Aboriginal people. On April 18, the Sydney Morning Herald carried an item by lawyer Tim Dick Reconciliation is still not on the horizon. Next day, his opinion was refuted by a letter writer Rivers of reconciliation running towards true healing. There is substance in both positions, but the scales of justice are tilting towards Aboriginal people and more Australians appear to be responding.



Get FUNPARKED this weekend!

Funpark 2016 - WorkshopsWow! It’s happening already! School holiday workshops are underway this week in preparation for FUNPARK at Bidwill on Saturday, April 23. Now making it easier than ever to participate in popular activities from previous FUNPARK celebrations are workshops in Parkour, hulahooping, art and craft and “Let’s paint Bidwell” – see times in poster, left. A packed program will run from 12 noon to 3.30pm, on Saturday in Bidwill Square and the adjacent Bidwell Uniting Grounds. FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project continues to involve participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt.

FUNPARK is the brainchild of award winning theatre director, Kaz Therese, whose own childhood was spent in Bidwill and inspires so much of her creative output. It was launched as an event of Sydney Festival in January 2014 and became an annualFunpark 2016 boy event as a result of popular demand. Professional development workshops began in January for FUNPARK 2016. Kaz and her team promise food, live theatre performances, games, and workshops in a whole range of activities, including filmmaking, hip hop, food making and mural creation.

There is a close link between FUNPARK, the Bidwill community and last weekend’s walk and camp in which Aboriginal elders from the Mt Druitt area passed stories, knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next: “Ngal lo wah murraytula”. CuriousWorks in partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts will be working with the young people who attended this camp over a number of years, to help them tell their own First Nations stories of life in western Sydney. “Ngal lo wah murraytula – Culture is the foundation, learning flows from here. Biaime, Stars and Grandfather Sun. Always today and every day.” Mt Druitt and Bidwill are on Darug country.

The community engagement and skills sharing of FUNPARK has already transformed Bidwill by drawing attention to its previous loss of community facilities and achieving recent upgrades to the square itself, and to shopping and services available.

Funpark 2016
Now in its third year, FUNPARK is supported by a coalition of six companies – Bidwill Uniting, Blacktown Arts Centre, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, CuriousWorks, UNOH and Learning Ground. FUNPARK is now cemented as a long-term creative program for Mt Druitt. Come and see what it’s all about at FUNPARK 2016! APRIL 23rd.

An enterprising thrust in the search for creative space

1-Theatre Links #15Looking for creative space that won’t cost a fortune? Join the queue. Despite big distances that challenge getting together across the region, there is actually a shortage of space. That is, easily accessible, low cost space available for community creativity, experimentation and the chance to fail as well as succeed. At the February Theatre Links in the West meeting in Penrith, above, and then in March, the issue of space was under discussion. Where is there a Penrith venue to host regular play readings, performances of short plays, somewhere to allow testing and development for writing and performance?

It’s the same issue in Blacktown, Campbelltown and many other communities across western Sydney. The established arts centres are very valuable, but the demand for their spaces is strong and hiring charges can be prohibitive for small groups. The cost of public liability insurance can be another barrier. Theatre Links itself meets at San Churro cafe in Penrith led by director and producer Ian Zammit, above right. Blacktown playwright and drama tutor Rob Escott, second from left, has temporarily solved his space problem by conducting activities at home.

WestWords seminar 0216Space was certainly an issue on the minds of participants in WestWordsWriting the West: Future Directions for Western Sydney’s Literary Culture, a seminar and workshop, held at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on February 4th, left. The first priority to emerge from the event was strategic partnerships with other groups seeking similar resources and services. This led naturally to the second priority – a creativity centre or hub with the capacity to co-ordinate ‘writing mentors’ at satellite sites across western Sydney and to host writers in residence – among other roles.

Someone who has been pursuing solutions to the need of creative space in the Campbelltown area is Natalie Wadwell, third from left, front row, below. She successfully applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs for training to assist her in establishing The Access Point – an independent art space particularly tailored for the western Sydney community. The Access Point, she says, “will operate at the intersection of community, culture and business; contributing to the region’s capacity to prosper culturally and economically. Investing in this venture means: community activation, artistic innovation and meaningful social collaboration.”

Natalie Wadwell - Social EntrepreneursThe School for Social Entrepreneurs was clearly impressed by her application. Natalie is thrilled with her experience. “I’ve just finished the first block of SSE and had to share with you how amazing the cohort is! They are tackling a range of issues, with three of us focusing on some form of the arts which is great. The commitment and dedication from the SSE team to deliver this opportunity to young people in Western Sydney is nothing short of remarkable. They genuinely care and are invested in us. The cohort is a sample of the diversity of young people in western Sydney. Their ideas and drive to promote social change in the region is inspiring to be around and I cannot wait for the next 4 months as we develop our ventures.” Natalie has been matched with a “fantastic” mentor from an established law firm.

She is keen to start building the network of people who share the same interest and invites you to contact her. Click here.

The School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia nurtures those in our community that see big opportunities where others see big problems – social entrepreneurs drive local actions to meet local challenges. SSE is about helping communities to help themselves.“ – Emily Fuller, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation

SSE Australia was founded in 2009 by Social Ventures Australia, SSE UK, and serial social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence AO.

Light shines from hidden stories and can illuminate us all

Christina 1-1-The Life of Riley 0614There was an unexpected but entirely natural connection between two events last Thursday, February 25. The first was the funeral of Christina Green, also known as Christina Riley, whose story appeared in this blog two weeks ago. The second was the opening night of Teacup in a Storm at Q Theatre, Penrith, that evening. It was only Chris’s extraordinary physical strength, her deep spiritual connection with the land and her mental discipline that had allowed her to survive a childhood and adolescence of extreme cruelty and abuse to become an adult where caring for others, including her own four children, was a constant characteristic. Teacup in a Storm was a play created from stories gathered by Therese Cook, actor and teacher, from people who are carers in western Sydney.

Chris’s book, The Life of Riley, above, which detailed her early life of abuse and incarceration, stood prominently on her coffin among the colourful flowers. Her long time counsellor, friend and colleague, Kay Lamport, read a quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe Chris and the impact she had on others, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.” She didn’t have an ounce of self-pity and family and friends made frequent reference to her loud laughter and love of talking. Of the many children who came into her care, Kay said Chris had no thought for herself, but was always entirely child centred.

1-Q - teacup-in-a-storm-MarieTeacup in a Storm featured lives that have been dramatically altered when people find themselves caring for a family member or friend who is heavily dependent on them. Whether it is an autistic child, a partner increasingly affected by dementia, a teenager who feels cast out when a disabled sibling requires round the clock care, a gay man caring for a foster child, a single mum who has enjoyed her independence but has to resume care for her child after her former partner is killed in a car accident. Each story is different, but there is the constant round of caring, the domestic drudgery, the endless battles with an unresponsive bureaucracy, and more often than not, the social isolation as others fear close contact and time does not allow outings and visits. With multiple roles played by just two people Teacup in a Storm took off into poetic fantasy and fairytale references in an imaginative and illuminating insight into the lives of carers. In one of the roles the carer observes her sleeping child, admitting to a mix of love, sorrow and resentment – such utterly human responses.

Andrew Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald described the background to the development of Teacup in a Storm in Weaving some magic into the world of carers. Therese Cook proposed the show to Q Theatre’s producer Nick Atkins after having recorded many interviews with carers and drawing on her own experience. A team of four devised the show – Therese and Marie Chanel, pictured above, who were also the performers, writer Noelle Janaczewska, who gave the piece its poetic flow, and Nick Atkins as director. The staging, light and sound took the audience immediately into the ever demanding roundabout of the carer’s life and clearly struck chords for many present.

Q Project Whisper 1Q is the resident theatre making program based at Penrith’s Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, “The Joan”, and a direct descendant of the original Q Theatre. It maintains the original commitment to make contemporary theatre works for the local area and beyond. Tomorrow, Friday, March 4, at 6.30pm, they are presenting another show created with young, local LGBTQI people Project: Whisper as part of Mini Gras ’16. As they say, it is “not about coming out, but about welcoming in”. In the midst of current ugly arguments against gay marriage and the safe schools program, this collaborative project with Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District asks “What are we meant to be other than who we are?” Accepting difference and finding confident voice as an individual is an enriching outcome. Phone 4723 7600 or tickets at the door.