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Production questions bushfire outcomes

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HotHouse Theatre in Wodonga has debuted their most exciting touring production to-date — a scorching new play called Unprecedented — serving as an urgent alarm for the bushfire season to come.

This world premiere production opened at HotHouse Theatre earlier this month and is now set to tour to five fire-affected areas – Corryong, Bright, Wagga Wagga, Gosford, and the Blue Mountains in the following weeks.

Developed by the acclaimed playwright Campion Decent, Unprecedented delves into the events of the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires that swept through the nation during 2019-20 – right on the cusp of the pandemic.

Decent’s anger at the inaction surrounding climate change became the spine of Unprecedented, providing a poignant contrast to the narratives conveyed by the media.

Though the devastating Black Summer fire season is now three years behind us, the play that has emerged is not simply that of a historical record; it is very much an urgent examination of our position now.

At the helm of this groundbreaking theatrical endeavour is Karla Conway, an award-winning director, dramaturg, and theatre-maker, currently serving as the Artistic Director and CEO of HotHouse Theatre.

Drawing upon her expertise, Karla believes that as theatre-makers, it is their responsibility to encourage dialogue through art and challenge the nation with one profound question – ‘Are we okay with this?’

“We never had the opportunity to process it properly and recover or use the learnings to be more prepared for the next round of fires,” Karla said.

In preparation for touring the production, HotHouse Theatre undertook extensive pre-engagement efforts in every affected community, focusing on each location’s recovery journey to ensure utmost sensitivity in their play’s portrayal, and providing clear communication of the play’s intent to the community.

The play is meticulously researched, drawing its text verbatim from the royal commission and senate enquiry submissions and reports, coronial inquests, media reports and peer-reviewed science – reflecting on the lasting impact of the fires, the choking smoke that engulfed the country, the communities left to fend for themselves, the heroism amidst tragedy and the pivotal unpacking of the buzz word describing the event, asking, was it, in fact, unprecedented?

Karla said that “The word ‘unprecedented’ became the buzzword of the Black Summer fires.

“It’s a scapegoat word which suggests no one could have conceived this could happen or that we could have been prepared for it but we had ample reports and recommendations dating back to 1939, yet we find ourselves grappling with this catastrophe. How did we arrive at this point?”

The play sets out to challenge this idea and along the way takes audiences on a fascinating and entertaining journey through Australia’s relationship to the fire, the environment and the changing climate. It also confronts the political stagnancy that hampers adequate responses to the climate crisis.

“Our job as a company is firstly, to entertain our audiences,” Karla said.

“From gameshow to vaudeville, verbatim to bouffon, our six incredible actors take on 70 characters to carve a path through the story, helping audiences navigate through this important information that at times feels overwhelming.

“We bring every theatrical trick in the book to shift the audience from a place of knowing to feeling and in doing so, hopefully we inspire them to take action.”

Unprecedented challenges the audience to consider whether the status quo is sufficient or if we must demand more. It calls for a critical reassessment of our values and how we perceive climate change as a nation.

This powerful and timely production will be presented in Corryong on Wednesday 6th September at 7:30pm at the Corryong Memorial Hall. Book tickets at https://hothousetheatre.com.au/unprecedented/ or call 02 6021 7433.

The play is suitable for ages 15 and above. It contains strong language, descriptions and references to bushfire and its impacts.

Corryong Courier 24 August 2023

This article appeared in the Corryong Courier, 24 August 2023.

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