Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

The Culture of Place: Making Australian Theatre

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

The Culture of Place: Making Australian Theatre

Article excerpt

The 2005 Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Parade Theatre, NIDA, 7 November 2005. Aubrey Mellor OAM, Director of NIDA, introduced the lecture; an extract of his introduction is followed by the full text of Lyndon Terracini's address.

For those who don't know, the Rex Cramphorn Memorial lecture is held every year, either in Melbourne or in Sydney. So for us here in Sydney it is every second year and it takes place at the Playbox Malthouse in Melbourne and when in Sydney it has, until recently, been held at Belvoir. We are proud to be hosting such a lecture here at NIDA. Of course, Rex was a very important part of NIDA, not only as a graduate and one of our finest directors, but also because of the work that he did for the Jane Street seasons. I think that, no doubt, he was way ahead of his time when you look at things like Ten Thousand Miles Away where we sat in the room and watched people run around the space for virtually ninety minutes while they did [the] text running. And now, of course, we would be sending that to international festivals. At the time it was considered a very interesting thing: a very interesting Rex thing. But what he was doing with that group of people that became The Performance Syndicate - a lot of the cast of the original Hair - a lot of the cast were doing improvisational work with Rex and with Jim Sharman here at NIDA, working with the students.

Rex took them on later and developed them in a way that I think hasn't really been done since. We've had ensembles since but we haven't really had people dedicated to performance in that particular way - and led, or rather not led, by Rex. As you know, he had a very particular method; or you may not know. His method really was that anybody in the room - and I've taken this absolutely on board - anybody in the room should be part of that company and so stage management assistants and observers were all asked to comment and feel part of the special thing that is happening in the rehearsal room. It grew out of a lot of interest in Grotowski - and indeed Grotowski visited here and did see some of Rex's work. And the respect for the performance space was something very special to Rex as well. And we cleaned; cleaning the rehearsal room was also one of Grotowski's things. We knew every inch of that space, and that was something we of course did when we created the Stables Theatre. Rex did some interesting work up there for early Nimrod and some very special things too. We look back and see him as a performer in works such as the The Legend of King O'Malley - he was there acting in that particular work - and of course he has actually led us into many of Shakespeare's works.

I saw the Bell Shakespeare Measure for Measure recently and was reminded [of] how obsessed or interested, fascinated - a better word - Rex was with that particular play which he directed three times. Remarkably, the third one, which was a really amazing production, the third Measure for Measure, got savaged in Sydney by a major Herald critic at the time, who had stepped into it and had never seen any of Rex's work before. He said 1So this is the great Rex Cramphorn. Well, I'm here to tell you it is not very good'. Well, I'm here to tell him ... and I did really. It would be like stepping into the last works of Fellini and not understanding where he is coming from. And that really annoys me about Australia, that there isn't any understanding of the artistic journey of the individual. ... Rex led us to believe that each of us could actually have an artistic journey that was really well and truly worthwhile. And the integrity of the performance itself, and the way he actually drew on the East, the way he drew upon the Polish influences, of course, the way he drew upon Sartre, the way he drew upon a number of forces, quite fascinated me. Speaking as a director, what he actually did with actors in the rehearsal room: magic. Rex's opening nights were usually not very good but the last nights of the productions were spectacular. …

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