Theatre review: ‘Sepia’ play squirts ink in face of environmentalists

When a playwright frames a fictitious story in a current, local, real-world socio-political issue, the stakes are raised for both the presenter and the audience. In the case of Emily Steel’s original play Sepia, the environmentalists are the ones who come out of it with ink on their faces.

The play Sepia’s name is derived from the Latin name of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish, Sepia apama. These animals have developed fame and notoriety in the last two decades for their mass breeding aggregations between Point Lowly and the town of Whyalla in South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf. In 2007, plans were announced by BHP Billiton to expand the Olympic Dam mine north of Roxby Downs. To satisfy the mine’s increasing thirst, a desalination plant was decided upon as their future primary water source. The desalination plant’s location, and the return of its waste brine back into the waters off Point Lowly were approved by the South Australian State Government and Australian Federal Government in October of 2011. The play was in development at the time, and that event provides the starting block for the fictitious story of Neil, Emma and Matty.

A little background… the short video below from Naturescope introduces the Giant Australian Cuttlefish and some of their vulnerabilities.

 

 

Playwright Steel and director Nescha Jelk establish the audience’s perception of Neil, the play’s central character, before the lights even raise. He sits in his Whyalla home wearing snorkelling gear, in the murky waters of depression after the October Government approvals. Projected video cuttlefish swim by behind him, and when his mouth opens, the portrait of a fool is rapidly coloured.

As the play commences, it is clear that Neil’s passion for protecting the cuttlefish governs his actions. Despite his imposed utility as the ‘fool’, no laugh-out-loud comedy ensues. He is a tragic figure, who has failed threefold: in running a business, keeping his family together, and protecting the cuttlefish from industrial development. Neil is a former Company man, who broke from the fold to invest in the promise of a burgeoning tourism industry in Whyalla. Now he is wallowing in the rotten fruits of his labours.

Presented in RiAus’ unspectacular basement, the play viewed like a draft rather than a finished work. The relationship between the dreamer Neil (Rory Walker) and his conservative wife Emma (Holly Myers) was improbable- devoid of chemistry, and addled with condescension and resentment. Ultimately the pragmatic, conservative voice of Emma resounded as the voice of reason. The one who took a job in accounts, and left Neil and his ideals behind. Was this evidence of the writer’s own prejudice, a representation of her perception of the Australian majority, or was it a creative defence mechanism, an over-compensation against any possible accusation of siding with environmentalists?

Politically, the scope of this work was frustratingly narrow. The writer isolated the desalination plant from the wider impacts of the Olympic Dam mine expansion, and the mining boom which lies beyond it. A single description of the mine becoming ‘the biggest uranium mine in the world’ threatened to open another juicy can of worms, but shied away from the challenge. There was no mention of community action, grass-roots activism or public protest. Whyalla was portrayed true to the Adelaide-centric stereotype, as a BHP company town with a steelworks and a future desalination plant. The State Government’s agenda to heavily industrialise the Point Lowly peninsula with an explosives factory, diesel storage, new refineries and an expanded port facility right through the cuttlefish’s breeding reef was strangely absent. By isolating the issue of the desalination plant and hinging the play on it post-approval, the play creates the impression that we will all have to ‘wait and see’ what happens next. In reality, the desalination plant’s operation is 7-10 years away in BHP Billiton’s timeline, and proposals for Port Bonython expansion and other industrial developments are stacking up around it now. There are clear and present opportunities for public opinion to influence the cuttlefish’s future, and to discourage action by accident or design, is unhelpful to those fighting for their cause.

 

 

Dramatically, the play was at times painful to watch. The director failed to induce the ebb and flow of pace and emotional intensity the script desperately required to maintain interest, resulting in performances which ambled along monotonously. Over-acting was another major problem. Despite the furthest extremities of the audience being less than five metres from the players, Neil and Matt’s (Matthew Gregan) performances were large enough to be seen from an upstairs gallery.

Sepia is essentially a domestic drama, with a few factoids, crude stereotypes and a conservative bias thrown in for spice. Yes, it takes a real world issue, but it simplifies it, freezes it in time and cooly skates over the surface. Once upon a time, playwrights represented threats to the establishment, presenting radical, progressive ideas and challenging the status quo. If that is the brand of theatre that you yearn for, you won’t find it in Sepia.

For a more detailed study of the issues touched upon by Sepia, visit Cuttlefish Country.

Dan Monceaux

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Lighting: Where to find cheap Tungsten photo flood lights, replacement bulbs and fuses

When starting out with photography or video production, it pays to be resourceful- especially when assembling your first lighting kit. Balancing interests in still photography, filmmaking and later videography I first turned to the secondhand market to purchase my constant, continuous tungsten studio lighting. A combination of eBay, camera fairs and garage sales delivered and I became the proud owner of several tungsten photo flood lights with brightnesses ranging from 450 watts to 1000 (otherwise known as 1k). The thing to understand about these lights is that they are mechanically every simple devices. Its worth considering buying one even if it’s declared ‘not working’. More than likely its only fault is a burned out bulb, or missing or burned out fuse.

Unomat LX6000 1000W Tungsten Photo Flood Light (with cooling fan)

Be mindful of old photofloods without cooling fans

Tungsten lights feature a burning filament inside a glass tube, similar to a traditional incandescent ‘Edison’ light bulb. As they step up in their intensity and power consumption (wattage), so increases the amount of heat they generate. Older lights (1980’s and earlier) often stimpulate ‘duty cycles’ offering recommendations of how long you should operate the light, before switching it off to allow it to cool. Some of these lights had very crude cooling mechanisms, without fans or obvious heat syncs, and were designed during the heyday of Super8 filmmaking- a time when a single roll of film could only record two and a half minutes of footage at 24 frames per second. I found these lights to be generally more trouble than they are worth, though using them in combination with a modern dimmer is a good way to give these old fellas a new lease on life.

Bausch VLG 1000W Tungsten Photo Flood Light (with cooling fan)

Cooling fans are best seen and not heard

Ignoring the duty cycle on such lights can lead to plastic in the light’s housing melting and distorting, and can create potential hazards for the operator, who can risk burns or electric shock as the heat takes over. Fortunately, German manufacturers Unomat and Bausch (and others) produced economical tungsten lights up to 1000W complete with quiet-running fans (thus eliminating the annoying duty cycles of the older, cheaper lights). These are the best ‘bang for buck’ option when buying your first tungsten lights. When considering a purchase, ask the seller if the light’s cooling fan squeaks- replacing the fan bearings is not an easy task, and if you’re planning on using this on a film or video shoot, a squeaky fan can ruin your sound recording.

Finding replacement parts for your photo-flood

When it comes to the maintenance of your photographic or video light, there are two spare parts you will need to keep handy: bulbs and fuses. You will be pleased to know that at the time of writing this post, bulbs are still available for both styles of 1K lights pictured here. If your light dies, and a fresh replacement bulb doesn’t illuminate your situation, you’ll likely need to replace the fuse.

Bausch VLG 1000W Tungsten Photo Flood Light (rear view)

If your light still has its information sticker attached, chances are it will tell you the Ampage of the fuse you require. In my case, both pictured lights required 6.3A fuses, and the existing burned-out fuses had this etched onto their metal caps. Another helpful detail which may be present on the sticker is the fuse’s DIN number. DIN stands for ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization)’ and if searched on Google your number should set you on your way to finding the right fuse for your light. The DIN for the fuse fitting my fan-cooled Unomat LX6000 and my Bausch VLG1000 is DIN 41660. The required DIN number for your fuse will vary depending on the style, age and wattage of the light you own.

Bausch VLG 1000W Information Sticker

Good news, fuses are plentiful and cheap

The fantastic news is that these fuses are still readily available and are very affordable. I bought three today from my local electrical repair store in Adelaide, South Australia: Statewide Appliance Spares. Three of them cost me a little over AUD$11, and the store had them in stock, ready to go. Bulbs for 1K tungsten lights in Australia cost between $20-30, and Osram bulbs tend to be quite readily available. I buy mine from Adelaide’s specialty lighting store, P.J White & Co. It is a good idea to purchase your bulbs locally whenever possible, as they are fragile items and need to be handled with care.

An environmental footnote

On an environmental note, it’s true… Tungsten lighting does burn a lot of power. The good news is that tungsten lighting is rapidly being replaced by LED lighting which generates very little heat, and is far more energy efficient in producing its brightness. There is no doubt in my mind that LED and similar technologies will replace the need for tungsten light in the near future, but for the time being, saving one of these well-crafted lights from landfill and putting it to work with a new bulb or fuse still serves an immediate environmental benefit- and is a good economical option for low budget creativity. While the three R’s of waste management typically include Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, I’m a firm believer in the 4th ‘R’… repair.

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Fundraising: Coles ‘Sports for Schools’ vouchers redistribution scheme to help rural, remote and aboriginal Australians

Do you shop at Coles for your groceries? Have you heard of the Sports for Schools program? It would seem that the Australian supermarket behemoth Coles has decided to act charitably of late, with primary school students the lucky recipients. Coles’ time-limited program (running September and October 2010 only) is offering shoppers the chance to help primary schools around the country acquire new equipment for their students. The gesture appears to be inspired by Australian atheletes’ recent Commonwealth Games endeavours in India, and is bound to encouraging more physical activity in a time of growing national concern over childhood (and adult) obesity statistics. While I am not a parent, I have been collecting these vouchers, and as the final date of issue draws near (October 31st) I have been carefully considering where best to dispense these vouchers. I concluded that helping an aboriginal school in a remote area with a small student population and limited resources was by far the best way for my points to be spent.

Last year Emma Sterling and I travelled with Slingsby, a local South Australian theatre company, touring as video technicians on the children’s theatre production WOLF. The tour reminded us how difficult it for schools in rural and remote parts of Australia to gather the necessary resources to offer their students the breadth of extra-curricular activity schools in major cities enjoy. While these students are generally more physically active than their city counterparts, their smaller student populations struggle to garner the financial support that schools in more affluent communities are able to for resources such as the Coles’ program is offering. Australians will know the range of additional disadvantages indigenous Australians face in navigating the two jarring worlds of indigenous and migrant Australia, so I went to the Coles Sports for Schools website to see which aboriginal schools were registered, so I could offer them my coupons.

Sadly, the majority of aboriginal schools in the state have not been registered to date. This is understandable in part, as many of these schools are more than a far cry from a local Coles supermarket. Indigenous communities like Yalata and Ceduna Area School could really benefit from a program like this, but since the nearest Coles to their communities is in Whyalla or Port Lincoln, over four-hundred kilometres is a long way for them to drive for a fist full of coupons and only the possibility of a few new footballs.

The program, while seeming generous, has a sigificant problem: waste. Points are redeemable in a way similar to frequent-flyer points or other loyalty schemes, so a school needs a minimum of 80 coupons before they can claim a package. The intervals between redeemable packages are also great, meaning that inevitably, at the end of the program, every school with have a surplus of useless vouchers. What if these surplus vouchers could be gathered and redistributed to the most wanting schools, in remote areas? Whether intentional or otherwise, the rural and remote school communities are far less likely to benefit from this scheme than the affluent suburban schools of our capital cities. It needn’t be this was though, so here’s my proposal.

After the final tally…

  1. all the registered schools should send their surplus vouchers to a single address (below)
  2. These surplus/waste vouchers could then be re-bundled into valid package sizes
  3. And can be redistributed to school in remote, rural and aboriginal communities

Making this work will take more than my single-handed efforts of course. We will need Coles to extend their deadline to allow for this extra processing, so we’ll have to write to them in appeal. We will also need to contact unregistered schools in these areas, and encourage them to register.

If you’d like to turn wasted opportunity into real community benefits for rural, remote and Aboriginal Australian school students, encourage your schools, post-tally to send their surplus coupons to:

Sports for Schools rural redistribution scheme
c/o danimations
Flinders Partners, Mark Oliphant Bldg
Laffer Drive
Bedford Park SA 5042

In the meantime, I’m sending my coupons to an Aboriginal school in the Coorong called Raukkan. If you’d like to do the same, here’s their mailing address:

Debra
Raukkan Aboriginal School
Taplin St
Raukkan SA 5259

If you’ve read through this and you’re nodding in agreement with my proposal and intentions, please retweet, blog or share this blog post on Facebook with as many Australians as possible… let’s make Coles’ charitable gesture go as far as it possibly can!

Dan Monceaux

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