You hear a good story. It fires you up thinking about how that story would look on a stage. The story is coming from someone who has a very different culture to your own. Stop, stop, traffic light. Before you walk away saying (low key sanctimoniously) ‘this is not my story to tell, I have no business here’, I want to consider if there might be a collaborative opportunity.

Ok, sure, I’ve been outspoken here before about leaving the stories of under-represented cultures alone. I stand by this. One or two celebrated Australian playwrights I could name have embarked on telling stories belonging entirely to under-represented cultures and have credited the original cultural story-teller with a mere consultant role. I can call bullshit on that caper. Consulting is not an appropriate accreditation in this instance.

A couple of years ago I was approached by Aboriginal Australian legend, David Hudson, who had received an Arts Queensland First Nations Commission to develop a script about his own life story. David is my age and his life so far has been a major adventure—inspirational, astonishing and incredibly moving—from the bush campfires of his homelands on Ewamin Country way outback to the stage light of some of the world’s most celebrated concert halls and stadiums. The show he wanted to write was From Campfire to Stage Light. He came to me after a few months of thinking about this commission and said, please help me write this. David is many things; a yarner, a musician, an actor, a dancer, visual artist, a cultural pioneer, an educator and in his own words, a global messenger for his people. But he is not a playwright. He needed someone with experience to help him put all the words in all the right order.

Listen, David and I were born in the same year. But 1962 for me, a white girl born into a working class rural family looked vastly different to the 1962 that David lived as an Aboriginal Australian boy in working class rural family. His perspectives and experiences are not my own. But over 25+ hours of discussion with him and his partner Cindy about the major events of his life over 2 months gave me enough to write a first draft. He had absolute write of reply once he had that draft in front of him. The hard work came during the first and second creative developments we undertook to make sure his voice, his truth, his heart shone through in the script. It was tricky. The resulting script was a triumph— a sell out premier season, a remount just about to go into rehearsal, a 3 week tour of 11 major Queensland theatres, a hard copy publication and —yes my God, the play is on the Queenland High School curriculum list.

Could David have achieved this level of success with the play had he chosen to write the work himself?
I gotta say no. David would agree.

From the get go, I was very keen to make sure this is how the credits for this play looked: From Campfire to Stage Light by David Bindi Hudson with Kathryn Ash and Cindy Hudson. David did not write it but it is his oral history. Cindy and he get the majority share of royalties. I’m happy with that.

I’ve done other intercultural playwriting projects; Woven (for a large group of Polynesian, Melanesian and Australian First Nations choir) and the unbelievably popular La Bella Figura (with two Second Generation Italian Australians) and the massive Beginnings (for the Commonwealth Games)

One element is common to these projects (apart from the playwriting being intercultural); the playwrights I’ve collaborated with were all emerging or novices who approached me for assistance. Their desire to write the story now, in its urgency, was part of their decision making process but the other factor was their understanding that they did not have enough experience to write it by themselves. My task was to listen, interpret and be aware that I would need to adjust the writing when I got it wrong. And of course, the accreditation was important— their name as playwright with my name either of equal or lesser emphasis.

But I now want to think about whether this pattern of working can be refined. What makes it fair, what makes it ethical, how does it work for everyone involved. I’m about to embark on a new whopping big project concerning this very subject. Wish me luck.

Image: David Bindi Hudson, From Campfire to Stage Light.
Photography and image creation: Mick Fuhrimann
Image Copyright: JUTE Theatre Company

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