20/02/2016 - 24/02/2016
02/02/2016 - 06/02/2016
Award-winning show, HART, brings stories from Australia’s Stolen Generations to New Zealand.
After a critically acclaimed sell-out season at Melbourne Fringe 2015, She Said Theatre is touring for the very first time to bring HART, a new performance based on the testimonies of Indigenous Australia’s ‘Stolen Generation’ survivors, to Auckland and Wellington in February 2016.
Between the years 1910-1970 an unknown number of Indigenous Australian children were forcibly removed from their families. HART examines this difficult and harrowing part of Indigenous Australia’s history from the perspectives of four men spanning three generations.
Featuring proud Noongar man Ian Michael, HART won two Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Awards to present the work in New Zealand and Adelaide, as well as Best Emerging Indigenous Artist for Ian Michael.
She Said Theatre’s co-Artistic Directors Penny Harpham and Seanna van Helten worked closely with performer Michael as HART’s director and co-writer respectively. They explain that HART represents the company’s aims to open up space on Australian and international stages for new perspectives on contemporary society.
“We founded our company in response to a perceived lack of women in creative leadership roles in Australian theatre,” say Harpham and van Helten. “But we also wanted to present stories that activate or unearth histories not often seen on stage.”
Michael says, “As a young Indigenous person and performer, it’s vital to be able to tell the stories and the truth from my people. Especially stories of survival and resilience.”
Director Harpham shares Michael’s passion for the project, explaining, “Making HART has been a way for us to educate each other, to keep informed, and to create a considered and highly personal shared experience. I am a white Australian woman with no Indigenous heritage, but our company, She Said, is committed to creating a space for all voices – not just the dominant or the popular – to be heard.”
She Said Theatre and Ian Michael are excited to share HART with New Zealand audiences, opening up discussions around Australia and New Zealand’s shared but disparate histories of colonisation and its effects on the Indigenous people of our nations.
“A brave and quietly devastating performance… Moving theatre that handles some emotionally harrowing material with dignity and grace…” Cameron Woodhead, The Age
“In simple prose, it tracks the doleful story of dispossession… [but] the play itself is warm, big-hearted and often very funny…” Ben Eltham, Arts Hub
“Beautiful, heartbreaking and liberating storytelling… Once told, stories cannot be lost and we have to keep telling them until everyone listens.” Anne-Marie Peard, AussieTheatre.com
“Deeply moving, simply and powerfully told.” Richard Watts, critic for Triple R Smart Arts
The Studio, Basement Theatre
Tue-Sat 6:30pm | 60 minutes
$20 Full; $17 Concession;
$15 Cheap Wednesday
Tickets available from www.basementtheatre.co.nz
or call 09 361 1000
The Propeller Stage, BATS Theatre
Sat-Wed 8:30pm | 60 minutes
$20 Full; $15 Concession;
$12 Fringe Addict
Tickets available from
or call 04 802 4175
For more information on the Stolen Generations please visit www.stolengenerationstestimonies.com
Produced by Anna Kennedy
Lighting design and technical management by Shannah McDonald
Composition and sound design by Raya Slavin
Set and costume design by Chloe Greaves
Photography and graphic design by Gabi Briggs
Theatre , Solo ,
Reveals the pain felt by the stolen generation and those that followed them
Review by Ewen Coleman 14th Mar 2016
Developed and performed by Noonger Aborigine actor Ian Michael, these are the stories of Australia’s “stolen generation”.
As he explains at the beginning, the show features the verbatim stories of four men through three generations that were part of Australia’s “stolen generation” which, as presented, could become confusing, but that this is intentional as it is an essential element of the show and defines much of what these men experienced. [More]
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An impressionistic representation
Review by John Smythe 21st Feb 2016
A large circle of white flour adorns the floor of BATS’ Propeller Stage. A person huddles at its edge. A chair in the gloom is somehow redolent of institutions of incarceration.
The voice-overs that set the context for the testimonies to come are led by Australia’s (so-called) Liberal prime minster Tony Abbott’s infamous, “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.” He said that less than a year ago, while still in office.
Only in retrospect do I discover this came seven years after Labour prime minister Kevin Rudd stood in Canberra’s house of representatives to “honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment,” he said. “We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
“To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.” Fine words – superseded by Abbott’s brain-dump.
The HART prologue quotes some of Rudd’s speech too. As the various voices ebb and flow with ignorance-based prejudice and glimpses of relative enlightenment, it is clear that fine words from politicians fall far short of “righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.”
The words used by solo performer Ian Michael – a Noongar man from Western Australia and graduate of the WA Academy of Performing Arts – are the verbatim testimonies of ‘stolen generation’ survivors Sam Dinah, Paul Parfitt and ‘Hart’ (name changed to respect his privacy), and his own perspective, edited into this performance text by himself and co-writer Seanna van Helten. There is no mention in the media release or programme notes as to why women’s voices are absent from HART.*
It’s a surprise that the first words Michael utters live are upbeat and lively, recalling a childhood in a mudbrick house in the middle of a paddock, the smells of the shearing shed and the delights of the farmer’s wife’s cooking. This man was born in ’63. And is it he whose great great grandfather was the captain of a ship that arrive in Albany; whose “life was really good before things changed”? At some point Michael has switched to the testimony of someone who was “given an age by the government” and thinks he was about three and a half when the Welfare came and got him in 1954.
When Ian Michael introduces himself and pays his respects, he tells us we will be confused by these stories that date from the early 1930s to today but that’s all right because it’s a play about confusion. What follows is heartfelt and compelling in its unavoidable authenticity: an impressionistic representation of countless lives which reverberate with endless repercussions that resonate enough in even the most privileged life to command our empathy.
That said it’s also worth noting that HART does not use the ‘channelling voices’ device we have been treated to in local verbatim works like The Keys Are In The Margarine and Munted. There we are left in no doubt as to whose story is being shared, leaving us free to empathise fully with those who are speaking.
Here Ian Michael’s performance persona is the conduit for all the stories. The flour is theatrically used to denote the attempted ‘whitening’ of the aboriginal children – yet at the same time it reminds us of the chalk dust and body paint used in traditional corroboree (not that Michael references such movements at any point). Audio-visual projections also enhance the theatrical experience. But it is the testimonies that have the greatest impact.
The policies and practices of the dominant culture hit home with the drafting of ‘stolen’ children into Anglican or Protestant, in order to determine where they’ll be sent; in the lies told about why they were taken. The fundamental importance of family connections – especially the child-mother and son-father bonds – shine through as common to all human experience.
We get insights into the causal chain that brings alcohol into the lives of the dispossessed; the place of sport in giving a young man status; the difficulties faced by a relatively pale-skinned aboriginal actor …
The light touch Michael brings to his humour-infused performance ensures the shocking insights have a powerful impact. Rather than attack us with polemic, HART invites us to engage with “what sticks out” for each of us, individually. Then his final statement, about individuals and communities, affirms the value of our bearing witness together.
Lest we feel “the wrongs of the past” have been “righted”, a programme note is the next wake-up call. Director Penny Harpham reveals how shocked they were, during their research, to discover that “the rate of Indigenous children being taken out of their families and put ‘in care’ today is actually higher than it was decades ago … [The number] has increased by 65%, with a staggering 35% of all Australian children in care coming from Indigenous families – despite the fact that Indigenous children comprise only 4.4% of the national child population.”
When we see right now how the dynamics of populist politics are subverting the principles of democratic rights and responsibilities at home and abroad, it’s hard to have faith in a fair and just outcome. HART leaves us with that crucial question: do we put our belief in individuals or the community?
*There are many women’s testimonies here.
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Sad history laid bare
Review by Janet McAllister 05th Feb 2016
Australia’s appalling human rights record is in the limelight at the moment, thanks in part to the referring of Australia Day as “Invasion Day”, and protests about the locking up of refugees (including children) and New Zealand criminals in offshore detention centres.
Google’s Australia Day homepage “doodle” this year even recognised the trauma of the Stolen Generations – indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in foster homes or institutions.
So the time seems ripe for Hart, a one-man play which does a great job of personalising mass confusion and heartbreak … [More]
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Stories that deserve to be told and need to be heard
Review by Dione Joseph 03rd Feb 2016
In Australia it is Survival Day – also known as Invasion Day, Sorry Day and Australia Day – on 26 January, and here on the shores of Aotearoa it is Waitangi Day (6 February). Both days commemorate historic events, Australia on the day the land was invaded by those who refused to acknowledge it was already occupied; and for us here, the day the Treaty was signed at Waitangi in 1840.
In between these significant markers of history sits HART. It is a story that is perfectly timed to come to us. As Indigenous Australians and their allies called for sovereignty this year, news of the rallies swept across the media – people took to the streets in the thousands and shared their stories, their memories, their ongoing experiences of the institutionalised racism and discrimination that continues today in 2016.
Into this space come the personal testimonies of four Noongar men from Western Australia and their stories as survivors of the Stolen Generations. This was the legacy of a systematic and deliberate system of forced removal of children from their families; a series of policies that began in 1869 and continued right until the 1970s.
According to the Bringing Them Home Report, 10-33% of all Aboriginal children were removed, one in ten suffered physical and sexual abuse (not including the numbers who suffered psychological and emotional trauma) and authorities failed to protect these children. Under international law (from 1946) these policies amount to genocide but that recognition is neither visible in public discourse nor in mainstream conversations. In fact, post the seventies, while the policies slowly began to dissolve (although the residue continues today), there continues to be a widespread indifference and an invisibility in public forums that cloaks a shameful chapter in Australia’s past.
This history is important because even though our Indigenous Australians are our brothers and sisters ‘across the ditch’, there are many in New Zealand who do not know this story or how deeply it seeps into the soil of the soul. It is into this space that Ian Michael shares these testimonies. Quietly and with profound dignity, these stories are told in the words of their narrators and the result is both powerful and poignant.
It is verbatim theatre, following a history of other classics such as Jane Harrison’s Stolen and Ilbijerri and Belvoir’s production of Coranderrk. Stylistically simple, HART uses a set of projected images, voice-overs (including excerpts from Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology) a single chair and Michael as the solo performer who re-tells these stories.
The performance operates not only in the sense of simply a ‘show’ but in performing versions of oneself. Michael explains his own story is part of the quartet of testimonies and that occasionally it may seem confusing as the stories segue. It doesn’t, as we all know, inevitably matter – this is not just about the stories on stage but the healing for the community.
Watching Michael perform I slip away from my seat in the Basement’s studio and am among my friends and those I consider family in Australia; I hear the audience collectively talk-back as Michael speaks, supporting and cheering; I feel the tears slide down the cheeks of women sitting next to me, and hands that slip into mine. I remember the community as the audience are also witnesses; like the performer they too are playing an active part in the ongoing and much larger narrative of centring Indigenous voices and history.
Perhaps this touring version has been truncated, stripped back, and aims to be both educational and personal – all these are valid and necessary goals but there deserves to be more. There is latent potency in Michael’s performance, beneath the congenial narration, that promises to give far more depth but in this 60-minute show it often feels we only skim the surface of what has so much more potential.
Both Michael and co-writer Seanna van Helten have created a fluid narrative around the stories of these four men, touching and vivid – yet as a narrative there are layers left unexplored. The direction by Penny Harpham is predictable and within the intimacy of the tiny space some beautifully personal moments are achieved. However, it feels more akin to a storytelling session than a crafted work of theatre with shape and arcs that go beyond the expected structure of the confessional narrative.
Costume, light and sound design (Chloe Greaves, Shannah McDonald and Raya Slavin respectively) all work easily together; the collective curation is simple and functions well for the space and purpose. Michael Carmody’s projection works extremely well as a frame for these vignettes and Gabi Briggs’ photography are visual narratives in themselves.
HART is a powerful work and Michael is an incredibly talented performer.
If you know little about the stories of our Indigenous cousins who were survivors of the Stolen Generations then this is definitely a play that you need to see. If you do know and are familiar with this history then equally get along to tautoko a very talented performer and support Indigenous Australian theatre – because these stories deserve to be told but more importantly they need to be heard.
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More to Tell
Review by Matt Baker 03rd Feb 2016
One week after Australia Day, Auckland audiences are introduced to Ian Michael, a proud Noongar actor and recipient of the Melbourne Fringe Best Emerging Indigenous Artist award; an accolade achieved for the very show She Said Theatre has brought to Basement Theatre. It is the story of four men, each affected, by some degree or another, by legislation from the Australian Federal and State government, with support from church missions, which saw the removal of countless children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent from their families; the Stolen Generations.
This sort of colonial abuse, thinly veiled under the guise of protection, is not only a harrowing reminder, but also a lesson of vital importance to our future. These stories are charged. They are palpable. They are real. As a white New Zealander of Anglo-Saxon descent who has never suffered the forced loss of my family let alone my identity, there is no way I can truly empathise, and I would argue it arrogant of me to claim otherwise, but as a practitioner presented with an artistic piece, I can sympathise. Other audience members cried, some gave a standing ovation. So why was I so utterly bored? [More]
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