Australian Drama and Theatre
Early History and Development
1788 – 1850s
- European settlers brought western traditions of theatre to Australia in the 1780s
- Dominant attitudes shaped by the church (drama was innately evil)
- Early colonial drama consisted of mostly English style musical theatre, comedies and pantomimes
- Took on local themes and has been described merely as ‘disordered fun’ (humour and entertainment purposes)
1850s - 1900
- Biggest impact on Australian drama came from the gold rushes of the 1850s
- Population in Australia began to increase, overseas artists and plays started arriving in Australia to explore the possibilities of a new market
- Rapid urbanisation, immigration and multiculturalism
- People started emigrating to Australia by free will 1850s
- Melodrama became the most popular form of entertainment throughout the 19th c.
- Queen Victoria most popular time for melodrama
- Melodramas are simple in plot, shallow in character and with a predictable end.
Ibsen and ‘Realism
- The arrival of the works of Henrik Ibsen saw drastic changes in the nature if theatre in Europe, which eventually was to have repercussions in Australia
- ‘Father of Modern Theatre’
- New sense of realism to theatre, demanding that it be made relevant to people. He saw the theatre had a moral obligation to challenge the injustices apparent in his world.
- Hedda Gabler, first performed in Melbourne in 1900
- The 1890s saw a surge in Australian ‘nationalism’. Improved communication, sporting interests, the question of federation were all contributing.
- Writers Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson. Artists Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin all strove to find an authentic ‘voice’
- The struggle to develop authentic Australian drama was further challenged by the arrival of cinema, as popular culture shifted to this new and exciting form of escapism.
- By WW1 theatre was still predominately imported from England and America
- Australian playwrights were not popular
- Over the coming decades ‘amateur’ theatres provided a stage for Australian drama and was here that Australian identity was nurtured and the Australian ‘voice’ heard.
Rudd and Esson
- Steele Rudd’s – “On Our Selection”
- Louis Esson’s – “The Time Is Not Yet Ripe”
- Both produced in the 1910s and continued to take up Australian themes. Though they were essentially melodramas, they took a look at success, struggle and work in the lives of ordinary Australians.
Musical Comedy 20s
- The 1920s saw the importation of the American Musical Comedy in both film and production
- Productions were usually ‘cheap and easy’ to stage and integrated dancing and based on American ideas and themes
- Although entertaining, did little to assist the development of an authentic Australian voice.
Between the Wars
- Major contributions to Australian drama being made my women playwrights.
- Betty Rowland – “A Touch Of Silk” 1928 It probingly examined genuine issues in Australian society at the time such as immigration, drought, isolation, financial hardship, marital relationships. Concerns about life in the bush for women and to some extent challenged the myth associated with the ANZAC legend.
- The characters and story are complex, the language naturalistic
- WW2 before Australian drama began to make its mark.
- Sumner Locke-Elliot – “Rusty Bugles” 1948 the play is well structured, strongly character driven and the dialogue captures that free-flowing Australian speech.
- To some degree this was responsible for a surge in interest in Australian theatre
- The Elizabethan Theatre Trust was established in 1954 and with the assistance from the government was able to set aside funds for the development of the Arts in Australia.
- 1960s and 1970s was a period of considerable transformation and a time when Australian drama finally found its own distinct style, where strong connection between social context and ideas