The Honey Bees is a play about economics and our relationship to the natural world – Can we learn from the mistakes of others? Or are we doomed to repeat them? The play is set as the world’s honeybee population is dwindling and a family-owned apiary struggles to keep up with demand. Driven by matriarch Joan’s iron will, the business continues to grow. And then Melissa arrives out of the blue. Melissa is young, enigmatic and asking too many questions. The Honey Bees is a tale of Family and Empire; Action and Consequences and what happens when the bee finally stings.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a very real phenomena griping many land masses including North America and Europe. For the moment, Australia has remained absent from the list of countries affected, which is a very positive position, but what inspires a playwright to explore this topic through a theatrical work.
For Award winning playwright Caleb Lewis, The Honey Bees began with two questions: What is the endpoint of our relentless growth and expansion? And what happens to us if the bees disappear? “It is estimated that about one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination so their disappearance is a big deal,” says Lewis. “Up until recently Australia was making vast sums of money live-exporting bees to replace vanishing stocks overseas. As the last remaining country yet unaffected by Colony Collapse Disorder – a phenomenon that has decimated the world’s bees – Australia’s position is unique.”
“Often in Australia I think we feel at the edge of current affairs. Events of global significance often seem to happen somewhere else. And yet in this instance, Australia stands at the epicentre of an argument that directly affects not only our own future but the rest of the world’s. The stakes couldn’t be higher.”
Lewis’ plays have been produced both locally and internationally with this work developed as part of Red Stitch’s successful INK program. As a playwright, Lewis is interested in stories that challenge and ask for deeper thought on issues he may have only grappled with superficially.
“When I was younger the story came first and I was focused primarily on craft and form,” he says. “As I get older my writing is becoming more political. A lot of entertainment today serves as distraction. I’m not knocking it in cinema (in moderation) but I expect more from theatre. Personally I think that’s why the classics have become so popular. Because the present is scary and the future is terrifying and so we hide our heads in the past. These plays don’t challenge the Status Quo with the same vigour and force.”
“I see my role as that of a storyteller and attempt with each story in my own small way to chronicle the time and place in which we live. I’d like to see playwrights grapple with bigger issues in the same ways that foreign correspondents do. I worry that our stories sometimes feel small. By dramatising the great stories of our time we can raise awareness and debate these issues on the national stage.”
The Honey Bees is directed by Ella Caldwell and stars a wonderful cast – Eva Seymour, Rebecca Bower, Christopher Brown, Marta Kaczmarek and Katerina Kotsonis – who are all working hard towards bringing this world premiere to life.
For Lewis, it’s been an absolute joy to be attached to Red Stitch as a resident playwright and to see his play realised on the stage. “There are a lot of development opportunities out there for playwrights but few lead to concrete outcomes like a production,” he says. “Massive thanks to Red Stitch for backing new Australian work.”
Lewis confides that writing is a lonely business with vast amounts of hours spent alone inside one’s head, grappling with the characters and the world of the play. But the finished work, in the hands of actors, director and other creatives inside the rehearsal room and beyond, becomes a kind of pinnacle of pleasure for Lewis. “It is such a joy – one that’s terrifying – to share this world with others, to answer their questions and invite their feedback and finally to watch them breathe life into your words and lift your characters off the page, transforming them into living, breathing, deeply complicated people.”
The Honey Bees
June 14 – July 16