Andrea James is Griffin’s brand new Associate Artist! Andrea is an accomplished playwright, director and dramaturg, and to celebrate her joining the Grif-family, we asked her five questions to get to know her a little better. Read on!
Welcome to Griffin, Andrea! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your artistic practice!
I’m a Yorta Yorta/Gunaikurnai woman. Born and bred on freshwater country, I now find myself living and working on Gadigal lands surrounded by saltwater and greenery. I’ve dedicated my artistic practice to the telling of First Nations stories on stage guided by a proud and determined ancestry. There’s something so creatively and culturally satisfying about bringing truth and cultural spirit to performance with other First Nations Artists. My training ground was with Melbourne Workers Theatre, so the making of brave new political theatre with artists from the “margins” is in my veins.
You’re a playwright as well as a director and dramaturg! How do you manage your multidisciplinary practice? What are the joys? What are the challenges?
I trained as a theatremaker at the Victorian College of the Arts and the course had a mixture of acting, directing and writing for stage with a focus on making new work that primed me for the years ahead. I think that so many of us work across disciplines now out of a means of both necessity and choice. First Nations performance can’t be put into a box, and we’re often pushing at the edges of colonial definitions of us. We’ve had to be nimble to bring eons of cultural practice and broad landscapes onto tiny stages and Australian theatre is all the better for this. Also, when I’m directing a play that I’ve written and I’m struggling with a scene up on the floor, it’s really easy to cut to the chase and say “Who wrote this shit!?” without having to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.
What has your 2020 looked like on a creative level? Were you affected by the restrictions? Did your creative endeavours shift or surprise you?
Us theatremakers are a resourceful bunch and we’re used to dealing with the unexpected with creative flair, but nothing could have prepared us for COVID. Although initially shocked and very sad, I rode the waves of postponements and cancellations with grit, humour and determination and made the most of working in isolation. I tapped away at a Melbourne Theatre Company commission set on my Grandmother’s country that literally kept me afloat; and also managed—despite all of the odds and thanks to the bravery of Griffith Regional Theatre and the fierce unwavering determination of Performing Lines—to finally premiere my play Sunshine Super Girl: The Evonne Goolagong Story as part of the Yarruwala Wiradjuri Cultural Festival in Griffith. To perform a work on country where you feel the heartbeat of the story under your feet is the ultimate. It was by far the most ambitious and creatively rewarding project I’ve ever had the privilege to creatively lead with a stellar cast and crew. AND I got to be in the midst of my two greatest loves—theatre and tennis!
What are your favourite things to make art about? What are you constantly drawn to? Have your artistic interests changed over your career?
I have huge expectations of theatre. I want to make a better Australia. I’m drawn towards stories and characters that are struggling against tides, that have to prove themselves in hostile worlds. I want audiences (Black and White) to sit in the theatre as if they’re on country. To ‘listen and be’ with their whole hearts and minds. We’ve had generations of denial in this country and whenever there is a space to re-write history, I’ll take it. It’s a tall order, and one that I may never achieve. I’m like a dog with a bone. Like that bloke who only painted with the colour blue, except my colour is Blak! It’s a lifelong creative journey.
What are you most looking forward to in undertaking your role as Griffin’s Associate Artist in 2021? We can’t wait!
I love Griffin. It’s one of the theatre spaces in Sydney where I’ve felt most welcome. It’s unpretentious and yet has high expectations of its audiences and artists. There’s something about the smallness of the upstairs performance space that concentrates energy. Like when you’re with a group of people sitting around a fire. It’s warm, it’s hopeful and it’s people-focused. Being at the coalface of new work is my passion and I’m looking forward to meeting and reacquainting myself with artists who are attracted to Griffin from all walks of life.
We’re so thrilled to welcome Andrea as Associate Artist this year. If you’re keen to check out Andrea’s work, her play Dogged, co-written with Catherine Ryan and directed by Artistic Director Declan Greene, plays at Griffin from 30 April – 5 June.