The highlight of my almost daily cultural experiences in Melbourne last week was seeing the play ‘Bright World’ at Theatreworks in St.Kilda. I was fortunate to win two free tickets to see it, but I was planning to see it anyway. The play is a collaboration between two female playwrights – Elise Hearst and Andrea James. They both star in the production and play multiple characters (including themselves).
The play was inspirational, especially because of the way it modelled a cross-cultural collaboration. Elise is a Melbourne-based Jewish woman whose Austrian paternal grandparents escaped the Nazis in 1938. Andrea is a Sydney based great-great-niece of William Cooper – a Yorta Yorta Aboriginal activist who led a groundbreaking protest over the Nazis’ treatment of Jews in Europe after Kristallnacht in 1938. During the protest, William Cooper and supporters of the Aboriginal Advancement League marched to the doors of Melbourne’s German Consulate. What makes the protest even more remarkable to me is that it was done at a time when Aboriginal people were experiencing immense persecution themselves. They didn’t even have voting rights.
The play explores three different worlds (with two worlds both taking place in 1938 in opposite parts of the world) : Elise’s grandparents’ experiences in Nazi occupied Austria, and William Cooper’s world in Yorta Yorta country. The third world takes place in present day Australia. It focuses on the relationship between Elise and Andrea as they transform their initial awkwardness around each other into one of mutual respect, collaboration and friendship.
I stayed for the question and answer session after the show. William Cooper’s grandson, Uncle Boydie, now in his eighties, also attended the performance and answered some questions about his grandfather.
Some audience members had not heard of William Cooper prior to seeing the play, and were keen to find out more about him. I suggested they read the biography ‘ William Cooper: Gentle Warrior’ by Barbara Miller.
It was great to find out that the play is now on the syllabus for Units 3 and 4 students of Theatre Studies. Ventures like this need our support and encouragement. At a time when Jews around the world are preparing for Passover, (a Jewish Festival of freedom), such collaborations create a message of hope and inspiration. ‘Bright World’ is on until April 30, 2016.
For more information, go to www.theatreworks.com.au