There wasn’t an empty seat in Sydney Theatre’s Richard Wherrett Studio when Alfred Deakin is Afraid of the Dark, a play written and directed by a postgraduate Theatre student at the University of New England, was staged there in two performances last Friday evening.
“It was a sell-out,” said Carla Moore, reflecting on her achievement. “Now I’d love to take it somewhere else – particularly (considering Alfred Deakin’s association with Melbourne) the Melbourne Fringe.”
Carla Moore is a Sydney-based drama teacher and director. A graduate of NIDA (as a playwright) and UNE (as a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Theatre Studies), she is now working towards a Master of Applied Theatre Studies degree from UNE. “Someone approached me about writing and staging a new play at a time when I needed to be involved in just such a project as the core component of my Master’s program,” she said.
The play evolved from the words “Alfred Deakin was afraid of the dark,” which she had heard years before in a radio broadcast about the life of Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister. These words opened the possibility of creatively exploring what she calls Deakin’s “dark side” – for example his active belief in Ouija boards and spirit mediums.
“We got a group of nine people together,” she said, “including a ‘Dame Nellie Melba’ with a wonderful voice, and we all researched aspects of Deakin’s life. Then we came together to improvise scenes, which I’d write up when we were happy with them. It was a slow process, but very interesting – and we had a lot of laughs along the way.”
A month before the production they “workshopped” the play in front of a large invited audience, and Ms Moore made adjustments to the script in the light of audience reactions. “And I was still making adjustments a few days before last Friday’s performances,” she said.
UNE’s Master of Applied Theatre Studies degree program enables theatre practitioners and drama teachers to develop and apply research skills in testing and evaluating the knowledge gained in the creation of a practical project. Ms Moore, who gained her first degree from UNE as a distance education student, is also studying for her Master’s degree by distance education. “It’s lovely being able to do it this way,” she said. “I love the people who teach the course, and the course content.”
Dr Anne Pender, a Senior Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies at UNE, has worked with Ms Moore in the Master’s program over the past year and was present at last Friday’s performance in Sydney. “It was a remarkable piece of theatre that brought together Carla’s dramaturgical research and artistic strengths exceptionally well,” Dr Pender said. “Carla managed to bring this mysterious political figure from Australian history to life, and showed the resonance of his ideas about race and social justice for a contemporary audience.”
Alfred Deakin is Afraid of the Dark was produced in Sydney by RGP Productions and Carla Moore taurus productions. Audiences at the Melbourne Fringe are in for a treat if Ms Moore can find the funding to stage it there.