How are the dramatic forms and theatrical techniques of the plays you have studied used to portray the struggles of the characters? Contemporary Australian theatre employs the elements of drama as well as the conventions and traditions of many theatre movements to portray the struggles of the characters in an interesting and engaging way for both audience and performers.
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This can be seen in Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s “The Seven Stages of Grieving” (7 stages), which portrays one aboriginal ‘every woman’ and her daily struggle against prejudice, as well as this, the text explores a range of struggles aboriginal people have faced since settlement, such as the stolen generations and land rights. The play draws on a number of theatrical styles, using the conventions of epic theatre, stand up comedy and expressionism to explore these key issues.
Another contemporary Australian play that portrays these themes is Matt Cameron’s “Ruby Moon” (RM) this play shows the desperate struggle of two parents to find answers about the disappearance of a child they may never have even had, using the conventions of expressionism and theatre of the absurd. In “7 stages” the female character struggles against racist and discriminatory treatment at the hands of society.
This struggle is addressed in scene 12 “Murri Gets A Dress”, delivered in the style of a stand up comedy routine the ‘every woman’ invites the audience to experience a day being black and humorously shows them the discriminative treatment aboriginals face each day. When we work shopped this scene in class we combined the conventions of stand up comedy with elements of drama to highlight these struggles. The ‘everywoman’ stood in a spotlight with a microphone, when she made a joke she paused for a second while a sound effect of canned laughter played.
As she was doing this a group of students acted out what she was saying, the one playing the ‘every women’ wore a black shirt while the others wore white, singling her out and creating tension and highlighting that the women is alone in this struggle. “7 Stages” also portrays the struggle of all aboriginals from the time of settlement. These struggles are portrayed throughout the play using the conventions of epic theatre. Each scene is a self-contained episode relating to the same theme, the struggles of aboriginal people in both historical and contemporary society.
The play incorporates historical footage, photos and past events to highlight the contemporary relevance of the themes and struggles, such scene 5 “Photograph story” in which photos of past aboriginals are projected on screen. There is also an unfinished set design, scaffolding is visible and half curtains are used, the set also contains many key symbols of the struggles such as the black powder, symbolizing the aboriginal people, which is enclosed by a box of white powder, representing white oppression. Lastly the play also employs a narrator who breaks the fourth wall, being the ‘every woman’, who often directly engages with the audience.
We explored past struggles in our workshops of scene 17 “Home Story”, which examines the struggle faced by the stolen generations and the struggle aboriginal people still face today as a result. The struggle and tension of the scene are created through the apparent clueless-ness of the character to something so important to her culture; we portrayed this in class through emphasizing her confusion using body language, facial expression and her tone, clearly demonstrating her struggle to understand and frustration that she can’t.
As an audience member tension was also created in the sweeping of the piles, the ‘every women’ peered into the audience as she asked them to “imagine when the children are taken away from this” and kept this focus as she swept the pile away. This made the audience uncomfortable, as they felt personally responsible for her struggle. The scenes of “RM” that take place in Ray and Sylvie’s house portray the struggle of the parents to accept the disappearance of their child.
The play uses the conventions of theatre of the absurd to accentuate these struggles; the play shows a meaningless and threatening world where not even an innocent child is safe. The play also portrays that in this world people cling to abstract ideas of love and family to try and find meaning, which is shown in the way Ray and Sylvie refuse to move on with their lives and instead live everyday clinging to the memory of their once happy family. This is shown clearly in the preface, where Ray and Sylvie jump from topic o topic nonsensically and always referring back to Ruby, as well as in the way Sylvie reacts when Ray speaks of Ruby in past tense. In class we explored their struggle to move on in workshops of the preface. Ray spoke in slowly in hushed tones, while Sylvie spoke in a hurried and confused way, creating tension through the differences. The nonsensical dialogue of the opening was spoken in confused tones, demonstrating that Ray and Sylvie could understood the ‘normal’ life the once led and were struggling to try and have it again.
Other scenes in RM take place in the neighbour’s houses and each portrays the struggle of Ray and Sylvie for answers about the disappearance of Ruby. These struggles are portrayed in their relentless interrogation of the neighbours and the uncooperative and secretive way their neighbours respond. When performing scenes one and three in class, we highlighted these struggles through the use of the elements of drama such as lighting, space, mood and focus.
In scene one, we had Ray and Dulcie sitting at opposite ends of a table, lit by fluorescent lights above, this made the space look as though it was an interrogation room and created a mood of unease and suspicion. Ray’s focus was on getting answers out of Dulcie, which we reflected by having Ray lean forward when asking Dulcie a question, closing the space between, however Dulcie remained in the same position, reflecting that she was not afraid of Ray. When working on scene three we placed Sylvie in the middle of the room, while Sid stood off to the side.
When he was pretending to be the detective he would move right into Sylvie’s space, reflecting the intrusion he felt and creating a claustrophobic mood. This changed when Sylvie began to ask Sid questions, Sid would move away from Sylvie trying to create a lot of space between while she would relentlessly pursue him across the stage. In conclusion, contemporary Australian theatre portrays the struggles of characters using the elements of drama as well as the conventions and theatrical techniques of a number of theatre movements.
Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s “7 stages” uses the conventions of Epic theatre, expressionism and stand up comedy to portray the struggles faced by the aboriginal community, both past and present. While Matt Cameron’s “RM” portrays the struggle of Ray and Sylvie in coping with Ruby’s disappearance using theatre of the absurd, expressionism and the elements of drama. All these conventions and elements combine to create a piece that is enjoyable and interesting for audience as well as the performers.