Director Rosie Dennis on staging Urban Theatre Project’s latest work in a Blacktown carpark

Artistic Director of Urban Theatre Projects, Rosie Dennis, is no stranger to delving into the heart of a community for her theatrical inspiration. In the company’s latest work, Home Country staged for the Sydney Festival, Dennis takes audiences on a journey (both figuratively and literally) through a multi-storey carpark in Blacktown. We were naturally intrigued…

First, I really want to talk about the venue – a carpark in Blacktown. How did you come up with the location for this piece?

From the inception of this work, I had this idea of having part of this work on a rooftop. I knew we were going to be in Blacktown, and I wanted the audience at some point to be able to look east, and look west, and think: ‘This is our city; this is where we are,’ and to feel connected with all parts of the city.

No walls were obviously key, and being able to see the sunset – to have that straight connection with the sky. But I also wanted to be able to see the city lights and out to the Blue Mountains.

When we started talking to Blacktown Arts and Blacktown City Council about doing the work, and they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a whole carpark!’

This piece explores the meaning of home. What does ‘home’ mean to you?

It’s funny, because I grew up in far north New South Wales, and when I go back there, which I do fairly regularly, I say ‘I’m going home’, even though I haven’t lived there for 20 plus years. The things that I did on the beach up there as a kid, you go back and you really feel a sense of a claim to that place. And I challenge myself with that thought, because we don’t own any of this land that we’re on, but there is still a connection. I have a place up there, next to my Mum and Dad’s house. At some point I’ll go back up there, to live next door to where I grew up. I think we all have these strong connections with those places and the memories that are there.

In Home Country, there are three different writers giving their perspective on home. How do you weave three points of view into a cohesive piece?

Right from the beginning, back in May 2015, when the writers had just come on board, we would go out to dinner together, because I thought it was important that we all get to know each other. So we’d have these free-ranging conversations over dinner.

Then we had a period of intensive writing sessions and brainstorming sessions together, talking about the concept of home, what it meant to each of them, what their ideas were. So right from the very beginning, there’s been a real sharing of ideas and they’ve all been present at the genesis of each other’s works.

There are strong connections between each of the works. There’s a strong matriarchal theme running through the works, for example. But they’re each very individual. That was the thing we were looking for in commissioning these writers – we wanted three very distinct voices and three different works that come together to give a deeper and more complex picture for people to take away and think about.

Australia’s so culturally diverse. We’re just looking at it from three perspectives, but there are hundreds of thousands of different ways to look at our country, our home. But hopefully, within each work, there’s a universality in which we can see ourselves.

Thinking about multiculturism, in the past 12 months, there have been some signs that the global sentiment is changing and people are becoming fearful of the ‘other’, retreating back to the safety of their own culture. Is Australia moving away from the multicultural community we’ve been building up for so many years?

I do think that’s happening and I think it’s a real shame. I think about social media quite a bit, and how it has changed our news into opinion. When you pick up the newspaper today, or you go online, you’re reading people’s opinions, not the ‘news’. That shift, and the 24-hour news, that 24-hour ‘opinion cycle’ has done more harm than good for reminding us about our otherness, rather than our sameness.

I don’t know what that looks like for our future. Our politicians and our leaders are afraid to be brave and stand up for what they think. They’re afraid because the voice of the people is so much stronger now. Look at our last Federal election, look at America, look at the UK. Globally things are changing, and we’re becoming more afraid of each other.

What would you like audiences to take out of their experience at Home Country?

I’m feeling really optimistic today because I’ve come out of rehearsal listening to a song the writers have just written together which will close out the show. It takes us back to the beginning of the piece. When the audience first comes to Home Country they walk into the building through the smoke set by an Aboriginal elder. It sets the scene that we’ve come together for a cleanse and a uniting, and that’s where it ends, with that reminder to unite.

I think it’s going to get everyone up on their feet, clapping and dancing. It starts with the sound of a didge, then the percussion kicks in and then you’ve got these words, reminding us that we’re all here together and we call this home. That’s what I want audiences to take with them. Yes, identity and culture and where we live are complex and complicated, of course they are, and as individuals, we are complex and complicated. But within that complexity and complication, there is actually lots of sameness. Don’t be afraid to connect and to ask why.

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Home Country, directed by Rosie Dennis for Urban Theatre Projects, is running from 11-22 January as part of the Sydney Festival. For tickets, go here.