Tag: Cuttlefish Country
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.
Fundraising with a Lego twist
Back in August of 2011, Emma Sterling and I commenced work on our first documentary feature film project, entitled Cuttlefish Country. Funded initially by our inner circle of family and friends via generous gift donations at our wedding, we carefully considered extra measures to support us through what has became an unexpectedly long production period. Danimations is rarely known to do things conventionally, and we ultimately decided to combine our fundraising objectives with the development of a range of fun products. The rationale was simple: raise money, awareness and smiles all with some clever merchandising ideas, and a few web 2.0 tools.
After producing some project-specific designs and products, a spin-off line of products was created, inspired by our reignited passion for LEGO bricks and building. One of the production techniques we decided upon for our film as the story unfolded was to build and animate replicas of real-world places, vehicles and scenarios from Cuttlefish Country out of LEGO. This in turn inspired a range of t-shirts, apparel, badges, hats and other items derived from and inspired by vintage Lego worlds and figures.
Choosing the fundraising platform
Early in the project’s life, we had decided to crowd-source additional funds for the film, via a listing on the website Kickstarter. To register with Kickstarter, you must offer donors to your project a teared set of incentives, thankyou gifts in effect, to encourage cash pledges towards your project. This decision was ultimately postponed due to a lack of time and staff in our tiny crew, so instead we took a different tack. Having had prior experience with making custom products on Zazzle and RedBubble, we decided to create some LEGO themed products which could act as fun gifts as well as raise some money for our ongoing production. We even threw a LEGO party, and encouraged friends to bring bricks along to help us build our animated sets or buy some of our products to wear for the occasion.
Design, Customise & Deliver
Our LEGO designs began with the dolphin logo which originally appeared on vintage Lego divers back in the 1990’s. Next came designs from townsfolk’s minifig shirts and eventually some classics were released from vintage space and knights lines. You will find them all available for purchase below. If you haven’t shopped at Zazzle or Redbubble before, you’ll be impressed by the way you, the customer, are able to further customise these products. You can easily change the garment style and colour, or in the case of Zazzle, even add your own creative flair by adding extra text or images to the design and modifying the layout. From the maker’s perspective, these web 2.0 tools are excellent, as the service provider handles production and delivery, and simply returns a royalty back to you as the creator of the artwork. Establishing stores on these sites is free of charge, and royalties on purchases are set manually by you, the store owner.
I hope you enjoy our little selection of Lego ispired costumes, shirts and products here. If you do purchase one of our items, we’d love to see a picture of you putting it to use when it arrives. We will be hosting a gallery of our friends and fans over at our Cuttlefish Country website in the future.