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.
It’s been great being a part of the maturation of Tomorrow Studio, South Australia’s first ever digital media business incubator, as its first birthday officially rolls by. From launching a bold idea brimming with promise, the SA Government’s Department of Trade and Economic Development can now take pride in the the tangible outcomes for start-up businesses they’ve helped facilitate. South Australia’s digital media sector is indebted to you.
When we moved danimations into the Tomorrow Studio in Adelaide back in June last year, we could not have predicted how attached to the initiative (and the community growing inside of it) we would become. As one of the original wave of tenants, we’ve seen businesses come and go, but more importantly, we’ve seen our own attraction to the place shift from the dangling carrot of Government-subsidized rent to the more valuable ready access to business partnerships and opportunities to learn and grow.
Entering the Tomorrow Studio (and enjoying the low overheads) allowed danimations to tool up to offer new services, and position ourselves well in the emerging market of online video service providers. It also provided us with a very attractive and functional premises in which to hold meetings and generally operate. As months went by, we got to know our fellow tenants and built trusting relationships with the more compatible businesses. As you would expect in a space populated with businesses in start-up mode, not all collaborative projects have had happy endings. From our own successes and failures, and those of others, we have identified and realized present and future business opportunities that we simply would not have been exposed to otherwise. We’ve also made some wonderful, new, creative friends in the process.
Moving into the incubator dragged Emma Sterling and I out of our home-office, and into the beginnings what has become a burgeoning and vibrant digital media community. Our commercial collaborations really fired up after we presented a workshop to fellow tenants on the merits of developing a video showreel to promote your business. Intelligent Software Development then contracted us to deliver a promotional video for them, in under a week.
The delivered product attracted our next job, for a start-up engineering firm WirebyClick. We worked with Extra Artists’ (now Soda Cube) on the Wirebyclick video incorporating 3D animation for the first time, satisfying another client and developing a collaborative workflow with our studio neighbours.
Fellow neighbours Proactive then saw our work and contracted us to deliver a video to help them market their product, Proactive Vue. Again, we delivered on spec, on budget and on time and in the process developed some new production techniques.
Since then, we have included the skills of SodaCube and those of Awesome Fighter Animation in several more commercial tenders. On a more exciting front, we are also embarking on some speculative ventures with Boomerang Books and Cresell IT independently. Another great thrust of creative energy has already been invested in the Triple Threat Animation project, along with fellow artists Awesome Fighter Animation and games developer I Love Biscuits. With a focus on developing entertainment-based intellectual property designed for online commercialization, you can find out more about that project after it officially launches at AVCON on the 23rd of July. What do you know? Adelaide’s premiere video games and anime event is a studio tenant too.
The experience of calling an industry-specific business incubator home for the past twelve months has been (for the most part) overwhelmingly positive. We’ve grown and developed faster, and with better integration into the digital media community here in SA than we possibly could have while working from our home. I sincerely hope that news of the Tomorrow Studio’s many virtues and success stories spreads far and wide, and that the model is transposed to benefit emerging business and cultural communities in other sectors in the future.
Locals in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia will recognise that we’re in the early stages of an unusually wet winter. Since we’re placed in one of the less fortunate corners of this arid continent of ours, I never view rain as a curse and instead take great delight in seeing the foliage and watercourses flourish in times like these. In the past fortnight I’ve also taken pleasure in catching another symptom of the season, the awe-inspiring rainbow, on several occasions- recording them with whatever devices I had handy at the time. After proving popular on Twitter, I thought I’d break the Creativity Base blog-post format, and post this triptych of recent rainbows for your enjoyment. Of course, we have the divine science of refraction to thank for these gifts, and if you’d like to read some more on rainbows, Wikipedia provides a pretty good catch-all for the curious.
Shot on Emma Sterling’s cellphone, I tweaked the saturation to bring up the rainbow colour intensity in the above image.
You’ll notice in the above double rainbow, the colour band order is reversed in the outer, feinter rainbow.
This one was snapped through the windscreen on my cellphone while driving. At the rate cellphone cameras are improving, i won’t be bothering with a digital point n’ shoot by the last quarter of 2010… but that’s another blog post! Enjoy the rainbow season, everyone!