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Alternative title: Appraising Aesthetic Modernisms in Australian Theatre: Patrick White and Beyond
Issue Details: First known date: 2017... no. 71 October 2017 of Australasian Drama Studies est. 1982 Australasian Drama Studies
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'This Special Issue began life as a one-day symposium at the University of Melbourne in November 2015, called ‘Reappraising Aesthetic Modernisms in Australian Theatre: Patrick White and Beyond’. It aimed to re-engage with the question of modernism as a style, a question of form and an approach to dramaturgy and theatricality in the Australian and international contexts. Some of the articles in this issue were first presented at the Melbourne symposium, while those by theatre artists Kerry Dwyer and Nicola Heywood started out as talks given at ‘Ten Questions about the Australian Theatrical Avant-Garde’, a symposium held at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney in November 2016, co-convened by Ian Maxwell and Mike Mullins. As a collection, the articles featured in this issue address the question and the problem of aesthetic modernism and its impact on twentieth-century Australian playwriting, performance and staging practices.' (Editorial introduction)


  • Contents indexed selectively.


* Contents derived from the 2017 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Before the Ham Funeral : 'The Young Man Appears' - John Tasker Returns Home, Laura Ginters , single work criticism

'The young Australian theatre director John Tasker arrived back in Australia in 1959, having spent the previous seven years in England and Europe training as an actor, but also absorbing the rich cultural life on offer. On his return, Tasker soon made the acquaintance of Patrick White, who quickly became convinced that Tasker was the most promising young director in Sydney: Tasker would go on to direct the premiere productions of three of White's plays in just over two years in the early 1960s, beginning with The Ham Funeral. This article serves as a 'prologue' to White's early reception in the Australian theatre, tracing Tasker's own engagement with (a broadly defined) modernism and examining how his early - and today almost unknown - productions in Australia reflected this affinity, attracted White's attention, and indeed presaged the successful launch of the theatrical careers of both men.'  (Publication abstract)

(p. 13-41)
Modernist Drama Decried : Patrick White, Spoiled Identity, and Failure as a 'Logic of Use', Julian Meyrick , single work criticism

This article discusses a hitherto unexamined letter exchange between the author Patrick White and the theatre director John Sumner. It concerns the production by the Union Theatre Repertory Company of two White plays in the 1960s: 'The Season at Sarsaparilla' (1962) and 'A Cheery Soul' (1963). The aperture of the correspondence also takes in productions of 'The Ham Funeral' (1961) and 'Night on Bald Mountain' (1964) by the Adelaide University Theatre Guild in the same period. Thus it provides a seminal example of 'failure' in White's five-year sojourn in Australian theatre from 1960 to 1965, a time when his four best-known plays were denounced by critics and rejected by audiences. By way of analysis, I deploy a range of interpre tive concepts drawn from Erving Goffman's Stigma (1963), most importantly the notions of 'spoiled identity' and 'role discrepancy'. I define the social fact of failure as a certain relation between actual social identity, virtual social identity, personal identity and ego-identity. The article examines the White- Sumner correspondence to show how failure was managed as a job of work by a 'logic of use' pursuant to its being a likely outcome of staging one of White's plays. In conclusion, it lists the features of a 'logic of use' and discusses the adaptive utility of failing in creative situations where the penalty to be paid - being designated 'a failure' - is both probable and heavy.'  (Publication abstract)

(p. 42-67)
Robyn Nevin, Patrick White and the Art of the Modern in Australian Theatre, Anne Pender , single work criticism

'Patrick White's love of the theatre began early in life and he especially enjoyed the company of actors. He wrote roles for specific actors, such as Kerry Walker and Max Cullen, frequently made recommendations to directors as to which actors should play particular parts in his plays, and spent long periods at rehearsals observing quietly. At times, he was overcome with emotion as the actors worked. White also famously 'took up' a few Australian actors and cultivated their friendship, notably Walker and Kate Fitzpatrick. 

'Perhaps more than any other actor, Robyn Nevin brought White's modernist theatricality to life in her extraordinary portrayal of Miss Docker in Jim Sharman's production of A Cheery Soul in 1979. H.G. Kippax described Nevin's performance as 'dazzling', referring to the production as both 'spectacular and poetic'. This article considers Robyn Nevin in the context of theatrical modernism and the plays of Patrick White. Nevin's range is wide and her capacity for comic acting is particularly versatile. Nevin's comic acting in White's plays demonstrates her contribution to an Australian style of acting that is evident in the work of Nevin as well as in that of Walker and Cullen. This style of acting, developed in Australia with directors John Bell, Rex Cramphorn and Jim Sharman, has powerfully shaped our understanding of White's plays and modernist drama, allowing a new perspective on aesthetic modernism. The article focuses on the constellation of White, Sharman and Nevin in creating the landmark production of A Cheery Soul in 1979.'  (Publication abstract)

(p. 68-88)
Making Room for Modernism : The 1979 Sydney Theatre Company Production of Patrick White's a Cheery Soul, Andrew Fuhrmann , single work criticism

'The question for theatre-makers is: how to make the stage new? How can theatre escape what is already given? 'The painter does not paint on an empty canvas', write Deleuze and Guattari, 'and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with preexisting, preestablished clich s that it is first necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision'. We might say that the stage, too, no less than the canvas and the page, is full of clich s, pre-established rhythms of characterisation and plotting, in dialogue and gesture, setting and design, which crowd on to every stage and ghost every performance. Based on a viewing of a recently restored archival recording, this article offers the example of the 1979 Sydney Theatre Company production of Patrick White's A Cheery Soul. Sweeping aside White's detailed stage directions and placing the character of Miss Docker in an abstract but atmospheric landscape, the production carried its audience into a world that baffled naturalistic conventions of meaning and connection, broke with clich and successfully created something new for the Australian theatre.'

(p. 89-111)
Mayakovsky's Hammer : Experimental Theatre as Romantic Modernism, Sydney, 1968-1970, Ian Maxwell , single work criticism

'Fredric Jameson has written of the 'structures of feeling' immanent to the postmodern condition: the breakdown of temporality and the associated experience of euphoric, intoxicating intensity, what he calls 'postmodern schizo-fragmentation'. For Jameson, this contrasts with the 'anxieties and hysterias' of modernism. 

'Taking up Jameson's concern with what, for want of a better term, we might call the 'dominant moods' of modernism and postmodernism, this article seeks to nuance and expand our understanding of modernism as it was lived and experienced. Specifically, I turn to Robert Genter's identification of 'Romantic Modernism', characterised, in contrast to high modernism's preoccupation with formal innovation, in terms of a search for redemption through sublime, primitive innocence, and instinctuality.

'I use this rubric to think about the work of a handful of innovative theatre-makers working in Sydney in the late 1960s: a brief, romantic modernist moment blooming in the years immediately prior to, and to a large extent overwhelmed by, the Australian New Wave theatre of the early 1970s. Those artists are Nico Lathouris, one of the driving forces behind the Performance Syndicate and the attempts to create a collective practice based upon Grotowski's writings, and the experimental group called the Human Body, members of which included Clem Gorman, Judy (later Juno) Gemes and Johnny Allen.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 112-136)
Eleanor Roosevelt : Theatrical Emotion for Political Benefit, Peta Tait , single work criticism

'This article explores the performance of emotions in relation to gender identity in the fulfilment of public duties in the modernist era. It explains how emotions were knowingly expressed and evoked in public appearances by Eleanor Roosevelt (Eleanor) to political purpose. The article outlines the formal and informal connections between the Americans, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Australians, Herbert and Mary Alice (Mary Alice) Evatt, developed in the play Eleanor and Mary Alice and how these influenced national alliances in wartime and the subsequent United Nations' refugee policies. The article further explains how gendered attitudes to emotion both facilitated these processes as it blinkered recognition of their vital function and obscured the contributions of Eleanor and Mary Alice. Cast in a motherly, caring role as the President's wife, Eleanor contradictorily showed considerable courage - as did Mary Alice - as well as leadership. 

'It is argued that the consideration of emotions in modernist politics and within its gendered patterns can be framed as an identifiable theatrical process and by utilising the idea of substitution. While these historical events proved foundational to subsequent alliances between Australia and the United States, the emotional dynamics surrounding political events remain implicit. Yet such examples of performed emotion as a controlled condition offer crucial insights about political decision-making.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 137-156)
Recompositions : Images of Patrick White in William Yang's My Generation, Edward Scheer , Helena Grehan , single work criticism (p. 157-177)
From Grotowski to Betty Can Jump, Kerry Dwyer , single work criticism

'In Nancy, France, at the Centre for Theatre Training and Research, Kerry attended a workshop with Jerzy Grotowski, whose work at his Theatre Laboratory in Poland was exciting the European theatre world. Grotowski and his leading actors taught the international students their basic approach to actor training and dramaturgy. The work was intense, rigorous and spiritual, and had a profound effect on her. On her return to Melbourne, keen to share her discoveries of the intensity and power of Grotowski's work with colleagues from university theatre days, she found that they were engaged in fostering a new Australian theatre. It was 'Ocker' theatre with a decidedly male point of view and in no way sacred. Determined for women's voices to be heard, Kerry and a group of women created Betty Can Jump, a powerful, witty, provocative feminist theatre piece at the Pram Factory, partly in response also to Grotowski's question to her, 'Who are you?''  (Publication abstract)

(p. 178-193)

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Last amended 19 Jan 2018 13:11:01