Tag Archives: verbatim

183: Aftershocks

13 Nov

This verbatim play by Paul Brown is a moving tribute to some of the people affected by the Newcastle earthquake in 1989, which killed 13 people. Aftershocks centres on the Newcastle Workers’ Club, which was one of the worst affected sites and collapsed in the earthquake resulting in nine deaths.

Newcastle Workers Club after earthquake

The Newcastle Workers Club after the earthquake in 1989

I was fascinated to read about the process Brown went through to write the play: he was employed as a Writer in Residence by the Workers’ Cultural Action Committee, specifically so that he could write a verbatim play about the earthquake. Straight away this makes Aftershocks community theatre as well as verbatim theatre. Brown worked with a steering committee and research team and licensed the stories from the interviewees, giving them control of their own stories and a say over what happened to them and how they were represented.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster of you want to create theatre that will play anywhere outside the community it’s been written for, and yet Aftershocks is a powerful and moving play. It’s tempting to refer to it as having universal themes and to talk about the courage of ordinary people as they put their lives on the line to rescue their colleagues, but I think this is a very specific play about particular people who showed great courage and selflessness. And, yes, there are people who display courage in every disaster, but this story is so intimate and personal, that it is these particular individuals we need to stand up and cheer for at the end of the play and not the generic Aussie battler.

Being a verbatim piece means the individual voices are incredibly clear and distinct: they’re rough, unequivocally Australian and working class, and their observations are often surprising. When Bob comments that it was so dark “it was like being inside a cow”, you get an immediate, visceral image of the scene.

Some of the recollections of the moment of the earthquake are also incredibly vivid and striking.

LYN: Something’s falling off the roof. I get up from the desk, walk one step, and then the lights are out. One more step, and I see all the bricks come down … just at my doorway. And everything just keeps tumbling. The big unit, the air conditioning unit, comes off the roof … just sheers straight down in front, and everything just keeps on falling. I don’t scream. And as quick as it starts it stops. And I sort of stop, and look around. I know every inch of that club, but I can’t orientate myself. Just nothing left there. Just quietness, you know, really it’s just so still. Then the alarms and the screaming …

HOWARD: The walls were basically like flags in the wing, just flapping in the wind. Unbelievable that brick walls could do that […]

KERRY: The ceiling, it was … just like it was gradually crawling towards the bar the way it was coming down and … then the first thing I saw that did come away was the back wall … and that’s when the whole roof just kept coming and coming.

Aftershocks manages to be true to the stories of the particular survivors who were interviewed and also a dramatic and gripping play in its own right.

Publisher: Currency Press (1993)

Cast: Can be doubled with 3M, 3F or 7M, 9F without doubling.

108: Snapshots from Home

7 Jul

Margery Forde’s Snapshots from Home was commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific. 24 oral history stories were taken and Forde was given 600 pages of transcripts from the interviews. From these she fashioned a touching and insightful look at the impact of the war on some of the young people who lived through it.

Snapshots from home

The play has been written to be played by four actors, but it could also be played with a large cast. Music plays an integral part and the cast need to be able to sing and dance to old numbers like Chattanooga Choo Choo, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye.

The lines in the play are divided between four voices, with the character they’re playing denoted in brackets.

VOICE 2 (PRIMARY SCHOOLGIRL): I lived at Graceville. Dad was sure that when the Japanese came, the first thing they’d do would be to bomb the Indooroopilly Bridge. But I went off to All Hallows every day knowing that I was quite safe. If the bridge was bombed and I wasn’t able to get home, the nuns would look after me. The nuns could pray like nobody’s business. They were going to fix everything.

There’s a lot of nostalgia in the script as you’d expect from a verbatim piece about people’s memories. But there’s also a reminder that times weren’t as innocent as we’d like to think.

VOICE 4 (YOUNG MAN): We didn’t see much of the black Americans. They had to stay on the far side of the river, at South Brizzie. There was a place called the Dr. Carver club. It was just opposite the railway station. They said it had the best music in town.

VOICE 2 (YOUNG WOMAN): We never saw American Negroes in Queen Street. And of course, they didn’t come to our homes.

VOICE 3 (A BOY): I was fourteen years old when the Americans came and I’d never seen a black person. Never seen an Aboriginal. The first American Negro I saw I nearly dropped dead with fright.

VOICE 1 (YOUNG WOMAN): They were these huge beautiful looking men. You’d see truckloads of them travelling along Sandgate Road.

VOICE 2: I wouldn’t have gone out with a black America … but then I wouldn’t have gone out with a white one either.

[…]

VOICE 2: They came out here to fight for our country and they weren’t allowed to mix with ordinary people. We rejected them.

Margery Forde has structured Snapshots from Home really well so that instead of just reminiscing, the play is shaped thematically and chronologically and travels from the start of the war to the celebrations at the end, including the haunting images of the return of the prisoners of war.

Publisher: Playlab Press

Cast: 2M, 2F or a cast of many