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Producers of new ‘bushfire’ play by Campion Decent meet with local community resilience representatives

On Tuesday 6 June, Blue Mountains Theatre and Community Hub hosted a meeting with Wodonga-based HotHouse Theatre producers and local resilience representatives to share the ideas behind an important new play, Unprecedented by Campion Decent, and to better understand the local resilience landscape.

The play itself aims to encourage dialogue and spark a national conversation about community resilience, emergency preparedness, climate change and the political and media landscape.

Karla Conway, Artistic Director HotHouse Theatre, believes that as theatre-makers it is their role to encourage a dialogue through art and to ask the question, ‘are we okay with this?’.

“The play is meticulously researched by award-winning playwright Campion Decent, drawing from coronial inquiry reports, testimonials and submissions to the royal commission, and explores how politics and media reporting contributes to people’s understanding of what is happening (in a bushfire emergency),” Karla says.

Over fifteen ago, Campion Decent wrote Embers. The acclaimed play explored the experiences of around 75 people, telling their stories about the 2002 bushfires in Victoria. The play was performed in the affected communities.

Embers took a 360 degree look at the fires from the personal experience of those who lived through it,” Karla says. “It had a profound effect on the communities, hearing their own voices (through the play).”

“However, Unprecedented is not ‘Embers 2’, instead it casts a national lens over the fire season, asking what Australia is doing about climate change and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters,” Karla says.

The play includes an ensemble of six with three First Nations actors. The cast are Lisa Maza, Noel Hodda, Ari Maza Long, Billy McPherson, Rachael McNamara and Craig Alexander.

“The work indirectly proposes a national reckoning on climate change, seeking to examine the tensions that are at play and opening conversations about land management policies and First Nations peoples’ knowledge of fire management.”

“Fire is part of our landscape, part of our lives,” Karla Conway.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Anne Crestani from Resilient Villages Blue Mountains, shared some of her stories of the resolve and ingenuity of the people of the Blue Mountains, Bell, Clarence, Dargan and the Mounts who experienced first-hand the most recent, 2019/20 bushfires.

“Communities are leading their own preparedness,” Anne says. “They (the residents) have gathered lessons together… there is anger and conflict but trauma can co-exist with hope.”

Anne says communities have learned they need to have the capacity to live with uncertainty but that they are not alone. One example is the community-led ABCD (The Association of Bell Clarence and Dargan Inc) where residents have come together to collectively strengthen resilience and capacity.

“ABCD Inc have developed high impact projects on risk reduction and preparedness and communication materials that educate and inform,” Anne says. “What we are seeing here is hope in action.”

Anne says storytelling is a big component of recovery and resilience-building and that connections are the scaffolding of resilience. But she says it is a collective crisis for the nation and those outside of directly bushfire-affected areas have a big part to play.

Programs Coordinator at Blue Mountains Theatre, Yvonne Hellmers says the play asks the audience to consider how they can play an active part.

Unprecedented includes a transparency of opinions and questions how can we make this better for our community,” Yvonne says.

“We are so proud to bring this important work to the Blue Mountains community, given our unique relationship with fire in the region.”

Karla Conway and co-producer Beck Palmer also met with Blue Mountains City Council Manager Community and Library, Vicki Edmunds and BMCC Library Outreach Officer (Megalong Valley and The Mounts), Conal O’Neill, and Springwood Neighbourhood Centre’s Shari Driver and Jo Fielding who manage the Resilient Blue Mountains Project.

Unprecedented is touring NSW and Victoria and will be performed for one night only on Friday 25 August at Blue Mountains Theatre. Tickets are available here

Photo: Shari Driver and Jo Fielding, Yvonne Hellmers, Karla Conway, Anne Crestani, Conal O’Neill and Beck Palmer (Vicki Edmunds absent from photo).