As The Bleeding Tree company enter their third week of rehearsals, Affiliate Director Adam Deusien explores how we respond and publicly talk about domestic violence and violence against women.
Our rehearsal room for The Bleeding Tree faces west, pretty much over Central Station. Everyday from my spot on the side of the space that faces out the windows, I watch dusk sink in over the afternoon. Being so close to Central means there’s a lot more horizon visible than you might get elsewhere in the CBD, so the burnt orange of the sun setting behind the just visible Blue Mountains reminds me of the end of the day in Bathurst, where I live and work, lecturing in Theatre/Media at Charles Sturt University. It might also be all the conversations about life outside the cities, where this play is set, that come up in the room, but it’s a nice reminder that the country really isn’t that far away.
It’s at this time of the day that the conversations about the work begin to sink as if behind dark mountains too. The burden of the story that director Lee Lewis and cast are carrying begins to weigh on them: they’re exploring a pretty dark landscape of violence, isolation, revenge and accountability, and there are long silences as they cut a path through this difficult terrain. The actors, Paula Arundell, Shari Sebbens and Airlie Dodds are already navigating this text with such deft intelligence, humanity and humour, even just in these first readings, it’s hard not to be affected by the text.
They all walk this landscape gladly and boldly however. The Bleeding Tree is such an important contribution to a national conversation that is only just now starting to open more widely. Meaningful public discussions about domestic violence, violence against women, violence in regional/rural/remote Australia seem so problematic that we as a society can’t even agree on an authentic language to interrogate these events. I’m reminded of how this conversation escalated after the murder/suicide in Lockhart (near Wagga Wagga in NSW), committed by Geoff Hunt on his family in September last year. He went from being reported as a criminal to ‘..the most gentle and considerate bloke…’ to victim of circumstance in the media all inside a week, resulting in heated public debate about how we describe these crimes and the people who commit them, as demonstrated by Stella Young in this article last year. We struggle as a culture to find the language to discuss these events and as a result we seem to only oscillate between silence or hysteria: We are unable to articulate and face these horrors, or we shout wildly with pointed fingers.
This play though, gives us no choice but to hear it all, as it slams down in front of us just one possible version of this sadly familiar story. Even in this early stage of excavating the text, I find myself confronted by all the things I know that are kept silent, reflecting on the things that I have struggled to find the language for: instead of trudging through the discomfort of unfamiliar terrain, we take the easy path. Most of us are guilty of this, not necessarily in the same terms as in this play, but as a society, in being complicit in our silence. In not naming in concrete terms what we see in front of us something that we know is not right. The burden that the women carry in this play is not just theirs, but it is also the guilt that wider society carries through our continued collective silence.
Despite this though, the rehearsal room is not a dire, dark space at all! The bright, sunny Surry Hills room is littered with anecdotes of life in the country, from those of us in the room who remember the glorious CWA (Country Women’s Association) ladies, the immense beauty of the Australian landscape outside of the cities or the wonderfully strange vernacular of country Australia. There are fresh flowers in the room, someone has usually baked for us all the night before and colourful pictures of fields, flowers and frocks are collaged across the walls from designer Renée Mulder.
It’s a warm, welcoming world, a place to return when leaping deep in the rough spaces of this play. There’s much work ahead of everyone, as the task of translating these two weeks of intense rehearsal room discussions into something for an audience to sink their teeth into will not be simple. Nor should it be though, as these big questions about isolation and violence need diligence and careful rigour to approach. As the company works its way through marrying the exquisite language of Angus Cerini’s play with the language of these concrete tragedies, something as beautiful as the sun setting over the Blue Mountains, which squeezes its way into our little rehearsal room each day, will undoubtedly arrive.
Affiliate Director, The Bleeding Tree