We’ve all heard mystical tales based on Aboriginal folklore and the good folks at Brown Cab Productions have brought such a story to the stage for the Melbourne Festival. Their latest production My Lovers’ Bones tells the tale of an Aboriginal man being chased through one of Melbourne’s many laneways by an evil force he doesn’t understand. I spoke to the play’s director Margaret Harvey about what My Lovers’ Bones means to her and what theatre fans can expect from this play.
How did you get involved with My Lovers’ Bones? It would’ve been a very exciting opportunity for you.
My Lovers’ Bones was conceived back in 2008. My brother and producer John Harvey had met with Aboriginal writer Cameron Costello to discuss a short film project. Cameron is a Qaundamooka man from Stradbroke Island in Queensland and had written a poem called “The Bunyip of Bummiera”. It’s a dark, haunting poem in the vain of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. We collaborated to adapt the poem into a short film and along this journey I thought, ‘This would be great to adapt into a live performance piece as well’. We adapted the poem into a short film called The Hunter, which Cameron wrote the screenplay for, I directed and my brother John produced.
But at the same time I had this desire to create this theatre work based on the poem. We were really fortunate to get some development money from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board to do some development workshops back in 2013 and presented a work-in-progress showing at the Wominjeka Indigenous Arts Festival at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.
We were also really fortunate in that our Production Designer Alison Ross and Indigenous Composer and Sound Designer for the short film Anna Liebzeit who worked with us on the film are also collaborating with us on the theatre piece. In fact, we all come from a theatre background and so working in the medium of film was a new experience for all us. The film premiered in Victoria at the Melbourne International Film Festival and did the film circuit in Australia and overseas.
We’ve kept this collaboration of artists as a basis for developing the live performance work of My Lovers’ Bones and extended on the idea of the live performance to incorporate aspects of the film. And we’ve also brought into the mix of course Lighting Design from Lisa Mibus and Choreography from Kirk Page and Alexandra Harrison. And I love this collaboration and they way it’s kept the story and piece evolving.
How would you describe My Lovers’ Bones in your own words? What do you feel it is about?
My Lovers’ Bones is a visceral piece of theatre. It speaks and affects you at different levels from your mental, emotional and spiritual. My Lovers’ Bones is a love story of love lost, of memory lost, and a man’s journey to recollect a dark past. But to tell this story in a way that isn’t necessarily a linear story, and not wanting to spoon feed the audience, but wanting the audience to come with us on this journey is a really challenging thing for me as a director. My approach to My Lovers’ Bones has been to at times not care about the end result and focus on a creative process, a creative dialogue that would embrace the various spiritual and naturalistic realms of the story. And I think that’s what we’ve done as a collaboration in devising the piece. And Kirk Page is such an incredible performer in his own right with a strong background in dance, movement and circus – oh and he sings too!
My Lovers’ Bones is inspired by a poem. Was it difficult to adapt a poem into a full length play?
It’s not so much that we’ve adapted the poem of Cameron Costello’s “The Bunyip of Bummiera” to a full length play – more that My Lovers’ Bones is inspired by the poem. And yes – it’s been a difficult process to create a piece inspired from the poem. Originally it was more of an adaptation, and it was very difficult to realise this theatrically. And I think there were aspects of the story from the poem that we explored in the short film, and I wanted to explore other aspects in the theatre piece.
Do you feel the play will resonate with non-Indigenous people as well as Indigenous people?
Absolutely, I feel the poem will resonate with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences. I think what we’ve done with My Lovers’ Bones has really gone back to the function of story telling in all societies both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. That is, stories are there to teach us things, to guide us through this world. To remember that we are not separate to the land that we walk and the realms of spirituality which we coexist with. I think what My Lovers’ Bones is doing through is reminding us of this connection – and that as humans we do not exist separately from these worlds and that our actions do have consequences.
I think My Lovers’ Bones is a really timely piece as Australia goes through a resource boom and development boom. And we as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people need to be aware of our co-existence with the land and the spirits of this land.
How does it feel that My Lovers’ Bones is a part of the Melbourne Festival? It would give both the play and Brown Cab Productions great exposure.
It’s such an honour for us to be presenting My Lovers’ Bones as part of the Melbourne Festival! It’s great exposure for us too as independent Indigenous theatre makers. I really look forward to this time of the year with the Melbourne Festival. To me, the festival is a gathering of incredible artists and story-tellers from all over the world who look for bold ways of story telling.
This is the creative space that my brother John and I play in at Brown Cab Productions. We want to work with artists who embrace risk to explore new ways, to push and adapt the form of theatre in telling Indigenous stories through live performance. It’s really important for us to as Indigenous story tellers to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in key positions of the process such as writer, director, producer – to bring this unique voice to our stages. It’s this voice that often so heavily informs the process of making and telling when it comes to Indigenous theatre.
To be presenting My Lovers’ Bones at the Footscray Community Arts Centre is a huge honour for us as well. They’ve believed in the work from the start and Brown Cab Productions. They’ve been a huge supporter of ours and we’re actually a company-in-residence with FCAC. We also live in the west and love the vibrant arts community in the west, so that’s a pretty special thing for us.
What are your plans for My Lovers’ Bones once the Melbourne Festival is over?
We’d love to keep presenting My Lovers’ Bones and growing the work. It’s actually a two hander with live composition, but our beautiful and wonderfully talented composer and musician Anna Liebzeit has just had a new bubba – so she’s not able to do this season. She’ll come back into the show as part of our next season. We’re planning to find the right presenting and touring partners for the work and keep growing and presenting My Lovers’ Bones.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Tuesday 14 October 2014