AN EVENING OF SHORT PLAYS STARRING THE PRIVATE SELVES OF PORT PHILLIP’S PUBLIC FIGURES
On a wintery evening at Gasworks Arts Park, five extraordinary Port Phillip community members shared their stories in the Melbourne Writers’ Theatre production, Beachside Stories.
Beachside Stories, commissioned by Gasworks for its Moving Parts series, features well-known Port Phillip personalities; Dick Gross (Mayor, City of Port Phillip), Rev. Coralie Ling (the first woman ordained in the Methodist Church in Melbourne in 1969), Peter Logan (former Councillor, marathon runner and Vice-President for Save Albert Park) and Tony Manago (South Melbourne Market’s ‘Singing Butcher’), but there is also the story of 15 year old wunderkind Melisand Box from Albert Park College. Each accepted a challenge, to work with a writer from Melbourne Writers’ Theatre to create a short, ten-minute play that would explore their achievements, their failures, their hopes and fears.
Creator and Producer of Beachside Stories, Clare Mendes, says, ‘it was never going to be as simple as writing a script. The interviews were intricate and also quite intimate’. The process commenced with a question; ‘can you tell us something no one would know about you?’
Delving into one’s private self for public display requires a leap of faith. It is no small thing to allow an audience access to one’s inner thoughts, dreams and in some cases, frustrated ambitions. Watching the performances, the rawness of some material was striking. Daring to be seen, not only through revealing that private self, but by stepping directly into the spotlight to perform the short play alongside a professional actor, shows a special type of bravery.
It is not your typical night of theatre, rather, as one audience member described it, “beautiful vignettes of interesting people”. The plays vary enormously; Brooke Fairley’s “The True Imaginings of Melisand Box” leant into fantasy, to showcase the talents and achievements of the effervescent Ms Box, while in contrast, the simplicity of the conversational, anecdotal format in Alison Knight’s “Logan’s run” allowed a light to shine on the history of Peter Logan’s involvement with Albert Park and his efforts to preserve it as a public domain.
Each play was presented as a duologue, which gave the writers broad scope to experiment with the best means to tell the story; Dick Gross, confronted by his Inner Self in Bruce Shearer’s “Only Ghosts can Second Guess”, reflects on key moments from his political career, in a moving, honest but always humorous examination of his successes and failures. “Rhapsody in Purple” by Clare Mendes introduces Rev. Coralie Ling to her Younger Self, full of vigour and fight as she storms the barricades, to whom she describes the battles still to come. In the final piece, Adele Shelley’s “The Singing Butcher”, Tony Manago meets a mysterious but familiar stranger, who prompts him to reminisce about his operatic triumphs and personal joys, with a stunning finale.
Beachside Stories is a celebration of individuals. But these particular individuals, no matter how far they have stepped into the public eye, however tirelessly they have championed their causes, are not generally inclined to broadcast their achievements. This production asks them to do exactly that. Over a six-week rehearsal process, Director Elizabeth Walley has drawn out the best in each, who hold their own with their professional acting partners. During each short play, the joy of the performance and their enthusiasm for telling their stories was apparent. She says, ‘bringing this show together has been a terrific experience, and a humbling one. Trust has proven to be a significant element in the process of creating Beachside Stories. The writers trusted the participants to divulge their stories. The participants, in turn, trusted the writers to represent them accurately in the scripts they wrote. I have seen powerful bonds form between the participants, writers and actors, and I think it’s because this show belongs to all of them and they can feel this.’
The actors from Melbourne Writers’ Theatre who accompanied the local stars, gave strong, supportive performances and overall the production was highly entertaining. Its strength lies however, in the unique opportunity to share the achievements of feminist trail blazers like Rev. Coralie Ling, and highlight local issues, be it Dick Gross’s fight for safe zones for sex workers, or Peter Logan’s campaign against misleading and deceptive claims by the Australian Grand prix.
No doubt this platform has been an incentive for these exceptional people to participate in the project, but it has also been a draw card for audiences from Port Phillip and beyond. At a Q&A session held before the second performance, local theatre goers in particular were delighted with the production, they talked about the show providing a sense of involvement in the community and showed a strong interest in hearing more local stories. Afterwards, audience members from the northern suburbs were heard wondering when their local heroes would be given a similar production.
It is safe to say that when people linger in the theatre foyer, keenly discussing a show with friends, performers and strangers, the production has been a success.
Beachside Stories is showing from 16-22 June at Gasworks Arts Park. Tickets are available online at www.gasworks.org.au.