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Gripping New Play 'Unprecedented' Sparks Urgent National Conversation on Australia's Climate Crisis

HotHouse Theatre in Wodonga, Victoria, is set to debut their most exciting touring production to-date — a scorching new play called Unprecedented on August 10, 2023. The play stands as a rallying call, raising urgent questions about our collective response to Australia’s growing climate emergency.

This world premiere production will open at HotHouse Theatre on Friday 11 August 2023, and is set to tour to five fire-affected areas, including the Blue Mountains on Friday, 25 August.

Written by acclaimed Sydney playwright Campion Decent, Unprecedented delves into the events and aftermath of the 'Black Summer' bushfires that swept through the nation during 2019-20.

In preparation for touring the production, HotHouse Theatre undertook extensive pre-engagement efforts in every affected community — including the Blue Mountains and its local resilience representatives — to better understand the local resilience landscape.

During the meeting last month, Anne Crestani from the Resilient Villages Blue Mountains said that storytelling is a big component of recovery and resilience-building. 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.

The pre-engagement efforts focused on each location's recovery journey to ensure utmost sensitivity in their play's portrayal and providing clear communication of the play's intent to the community.

Through powerful storytelling, Unprecedented aims to spark a national conversation about community resilience, emergency preparedness, climate change, and the political and media landscape.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Decent reviewed countless reports which fuelled his anger at the inaction surrounding climate change. This fervour became the spine of Unprecedented, providing a poignant contrast to the narratives conveyed by the media.

The play meticulously weaves together an account of the fires, reflecting on the choking smoke that engulfed the country, the communities left to fend for themselves, the heroism amidst tragedy, and the pivotal coronial inquests.

At the helm of this ground-breaking theatrical endeavour is Karla Conway, an award-winning director, dramaturg, and theatre-maker, currently serving as the Artistic Director & CEO of HotHouse Theatre.
Karla emphasises that this is a protest play, led by artist activists who recognise the urgent need for change where our institutions and leaders have fallen short.

Drawing upon her expertise, Karla believes that as theatre-makers, it is their responsibility to encourage dialogue through art and challenge the nation with one profound question: ‘Are we ready?’

The play includes six performers, including two from Sydney — Noel Hodda and Billy McPherson. Noel has an extensive theatre background with notable work at The Sydney Theatre Co., QTC, Griffin, and others, as well as screen appearances like Home and Away and numerous other shows. Billy recently appeared in various screen productions like Queen of Oz and The Twelve, with stage performances in popular productions such as Belvoir’s Boomkak Panto and STC’s Battle of Waterloo.

The cast has a strong Indigenous representation with three First Nations actors – with stage legend Lisa Maza, and rising star Ari Maza Long, joining 30-year veteran Billy McPherson.

“It is a story of the land. We can’t tell this story without the commitment of First Nations voices,” says Decent.

Despite tackling weighty topics, the play is skilfully presented in a way that contextualises the issues and avoids overwhelming audiences.

“Our job as a company is first, to entertain our audiences – from gameshow to vaudeville, verbatim to bouffon, these 6 incredible actors take on 70 characters to carve a path through the story, helping audiences navigate through this important information that at times feels overwhelming. We bring every theatrical trick in the book to shift the audience from a place of knowing to feeling and in doing so, hopefully we inspire them to take action,” says Karla.

The play's message is further reinforced by the words of the Chair of the 2020 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, who warns, "Unprecedented is not a reason to be unprepared. We need to be prepared for the future."

"It is sensitive subject matter; therefore, we need to be able to give people a better sense of the experience they will get which is dynamic, funny, contemplative, ironic, and incredibly moving. Theatrically - 6 actors draw on 70 characters to take audiences on an absorbing ride.”

With a blend of verbatim, history, and polemic elements, Unprecedented not only examines our ability to endure environmental disasters but also confronts the political stagnancy that hampers adequate responses to the climate crisis.

It expands on the critical conversation ignited by Decent’s previous work, Embers, which centred around the 2003 North East Victorian fires, now widening the lens nationally.

Karla remarked, "The word 'unprecedented' became the buzzword of the Black Summer fires. It’s a scapegoat word which suggests no one could have conceived this could happen or that we could have been prepared for it. The play sets out to challenge this notion.”

Unprecedented challenges the audience to consider whether the status quo is sufficient, or if we must demand more. It calls for a critical reassessment of our values and how we perceive climate change as a nation.

Unprecedented promises to be a transformative theatrical experience, provoking audiences to contemplate their role in shaping a sustainable and resilient future.

It is not a play about the past. It is the warning bell for the next fire season to come. Are we ready?