Member is an Australian history lesson in a sense as it takes the audience onto the streets of Sydney at the height of the gay hate crimes during the 80’s and 90’s. It is a story that had to be told for playwright and performer, Ben Noble.
On writing the piece, inspiration struck Noble when in June 2013, Russia announced their anti-LGBT propaganda law. “My friend’s social media feeds were full of anger, sadness and pain,” he recalls. “The world took a step back in equality. I became obsessed with the topic. In researching the issues that came out of this new law, I went down a rabbit hole and stumbled across stories cemented in our History here, where not long ago, those views were in our backyard and potentially still are today.”
It was there that Noble discovered the case of Scott Johnson whose death in 1988 was dismissed by police as a suicide despite the fact that his wallet was missing and that he had everything to live for.
“His body was found below a spot above the cliffs at Manly where gay men were known to meet. His family have been fighting for justice ever since. I had to write about it. And I thought others may want to. I commissioned 10 writers to write a response to the material. Their response was overwhelming.”
For Noble, the whole process of researching and writing was incredibly intensive – he has been working on the piece for about three years. He indicates that it has shifted many times over that period and, as expected with any new work, has evolved with discovery which includes new happenings in the Johnson case.
“I wasn’t sure what we were creating in the beginning,” he says. “All I knew was that it was a story that needed to be told. In it’s initial form it was eight monologues and eight original songs. A whole world away from where it is now. The Adelaide workshop at fringe was another beast. Less songs and new monologues. What was unclear was whose story this was. It began as the victim’s story, then as mine, now it’s from a viewer of the crimes. I kept going back to the question I was asking when I read the original source material. If you were a part of this crime – how could you live with yourself? And so that’s the story we have explored more. The initial idea, which was titled The Reckoning, has now split into two shows. The first is a dramatic play about a former member of a gang and where they are now. The second is a story of love and family, which will feature the songs. ”
Noble describes the presentation of each idea along the way to an audience as exciting and terrifying. “Some have worked and some have failed but we have learnt and shared that experience with our audience and that is always exciting,” he states. “Theatre only works with an audience, not on a page, so you can only see that work breathe in front of people. The only thing I would tackle differently would be my own expectations of each stage of the process.”
Noble has used court transcripts, witness statements and archival material to create his docu-drama, but those truths often reveal the sometimes chilling reality of human thoughts and actions. “What shocked me was the danger of language,” states Noble. “One of the monologues we wrote in the last draft of the show is 95% verbatim quotes from articles and cases. They are the words of a gang member who had killed gay men by throwing them off cliffs. It was chilling to know that someone thought that way, spoke that way. That has now been woven into a new character in the new draft. The other surprise was the number of cases and the fact that more people weren’t talking about them. ”
Member is presented by Fairly Lucid Productions, an independent theatre company that aims to push the boundaries by presenting work that is courageous and compassionate. It is also part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival.
January 19 – 30