Wow. Last Thursday night at the Playhouse got pretty heated and I have not previously associated the Arts Centre with vigorous debate. Strangely enough though, the few times that I have visited the venue this year, I have been prodded and encouraged to form an opinion. (Last time as I exited the Spiegeltent I was asked to answer questions on camera about the play reading I had just witnessed). Narcissistic as this may be, the level of interest the Arts Centre has shown in my viewpoint and theatre-going experience this year has made me feel very special.

In addition to feeling special, I was pretty impressed by the discussion they facilitated last week entitled Objectivity & Dissent: The future of Australia’s old & new media. Thank you to the Arts Centre, MTC and the very vital Melbourne Conversations for putting on such a glorious event and for engaging with the passionate Melbourne theatre going public!

One thing is for sure, if you get intellectual and creative powerhouse, David Williamson on a panel with Stephen Mayne, Dr Margaret Simons and Dr Leslie Cannold, things are bound to get interesting and indeed, stimulating. It was excellently convened by Cannold and provided me with an inspiring and unconventional evening at the theatre. Just being able to witness Melbournians in action, asking social and political questions and sitting on the edge of their seats to hear about what spurred Williamson to write Rupert, (his latest play about media mogul Rupert Murdoch) was truly refreshing.

I must say at the outset that unless you were one of my audience brethren the other night, you’ve missed out. The talk was for one night only and was (for many people I would imagine) a prelude to Rupert that was showing at the Playhouse that evening. While I’m on the topic, I would implore you to see the production which has been running since the 24th of August and until the 28th of September. I for one have been inspired to see Rupert after the talk because we, the audience were given such context.

When asked what inspired him to write Rupert, David Williamson spoke about his favourite Shakespearean play, King Richard III. He was fascinated by the character arcs engendered by someone who was misunderstood and then rose to greatness. Williamson spoke eloquently of the parallels he saw between Richard and Rupert, acknowledging a number of times that while Rupert has accumulated an unprecedented amount of power, he has done this (in Williamson’s eyes) for a reason. The reason the playwright highlighted and what is obviously explored in the play is Rupert’s desire to push his free-market ideology fervently to the world.

After perusing my extensive notes from the evening, I remembered that some of the other issues Williamson wanted to explore with Rupert are topics such as absolute power, the role of public interest journalism and the role of journalism in democracy. Sounds fantastic doesn't it?! One thing is for sure, there was no better time for such a discussion two days shy of the Federal election.

I must say that I have always been secretly intrigued by Rupert Murdoch. Truth be told I spent an entire night in Mongolia watching the Leveson Inquiry unfold until the wee hours of the morning when I could have been having cocktails in the hotel lobby. I guess I’m fascinated by him for one of the reasons Dr Margaret Simons raised and that was the question of whether Rupert was saint or sinner. She subsequently answered her own question with something to the tune of “…like most of us, he’s both”. Other panellists were less kind in their assessments of Rupert. Simons certainly provided the middle ground and I responded to her hope for the future. In the face of her relative positivity, I did feel that there was a cloud of negativity and despair over a majority of the discussion.

While the discussion prompted me to take two full A4 pages of printed notes it is impossible without dedicating thousands of words to the complexity of the topics covered to fully encapsulate the event here. I will just say that the discussion focussed primarily on media ownership in Australia and the inherent bias that dominates Rupert’s monopoly. On this, while I thought the concern raised regarding Rupert Murdoch’s monopoly was completely legitimate, I wondered if the panellists lacked faith in the Australian public’s ability and eagerness to pursue other means (other than print media and Fox news) of gaining information. I felt a glimmer of hope with Simmons’ comments about just how exiting (and indeed frightening) new forms of social media could be in facilitating this.

To conclude, I thought the event was excellently convened and encouraged   some interesting and relevant discussion. Without Dr Simmons I would have left feeling quite depressed so I particularly warmed to her and I felt she made the discussion more balanced. I have two more things to say. Firstly, I can’t wait to see Rupert and will take my brother who works in finance just to keep the evening interesting. Secondly, David Williamson has inspired me to seek out as much information as I can get in order to stay informed. He reminded me (as did all of the panellists) not to be lazy when it comes to watching the news. Lastly, Melbourne Conversations have a Facebook, YouTube and twitter page so I’ll be tuning in for more of their exhilarating discussions.

 

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