Marion Potts - 2010 Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture Merlyn Theatre, The Cub Malthouse, 26 September 2010
1- REX I want to begin by respectfully acknowledging the Boonwurrung people as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I also acknowledge the other tribes of the Kulin nation and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present. I’d like to thank the Rex Cramphorn committee for this honour. At what has turned out to be such a critical juncture for theatre in Australia, with leadership changes to 4 or 5 major companies, it felt timely to contemplate what that might mean… The following wanders through some possibilities, but also aspires to take stock and look squarely at where I believe we are as a theatre culture. “Professional stock-taking” was an expression that Rex coined – it seemed fitting to appropriate it here. A disconcerting revival of the 1980’s is happening at the moment. I feel like I’m being surrounded by my university days in a series of unsolicited flashbacks - dragged back to the future: 21 year olds are listening to music that I was when I was 21.There are leggings and spotty stockings that I used to own, bangles clanging around and boys with sharp haircuts…Except there was one big, defining difference - a cloud hovering that kept casting a shadow right across our dance-floor…It kept pushing its way into our thoughts, kept us vigilant and careful. It was AIDS. One of my abiding memories of the 80’s is driving along in a taxi with Rex past Taylor Square and hearing him say: “they’re dancing on people’s graves”. Rex was the first AIDS victim I was acquainted with –the first of many experiences of robbed talent and goodness that we all had to live through. He was also the first real, living artist that as a young 21 year old I could claim to know, let alone observe, document, assist. If you were lucky enough to be around Sydney Uni at this time and you were doing a course through a language department, you would have to end up in the realm of semiotics at some point, and that - in an idiosyncratic way- brought you right into the study of theatre. In my case it suddenly meant that I could apply what I was doing in SUDS [Sydney University Drama Society] with a number of really sustainable, nourishing premises. The idea of doing a thesis, then getting a scholarship to do another was really for me, just a way of supporting myself through a series of observing gigs – a way to watch professional directors at work. I’m probably the last of this new generation of Artistic Directors to have known Rex. I can’t really say I knew him well –isn’t it the thing as a twenty-something-year old white middle-class student to take your good fortune for granted? But I certainly knew the environment well…And there is no doubt that Rex’s great supporters, people like Gay McAuley, Kim Spinks, Derek Nicholson, Tim Fitzpatrick, my own peers Ian Maxwell, Chris Mead, Laura Ginters – other visiting directors like Lindy Davies…they made it a place that allowed me to think in my own quiet way. If anything, that time at the Theatre Studies Unit taught me to identify and to value those essential features of theatre: the incredible communicative power of three-dimensional space, the live experience and communion between artists and audience, the use of metaphor and the non- literal, the fact that a packing crate can be a car, that an actor can play a dog…Those basic things that belong to theatre and to no other medium. For me personally, Rex’s contribution had to do with process - in particular it was about “otherness” or alterity: questioning what we do in relation to a vast set of
Marion Potts discusses her artistic vision.