Theatre with a democratic twist

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Didem Caia, left, with Mono/Stereo workshop participants at Tuggeranong Arts Centre… “Every play is a political statement, it comes from the people.”

WHILE the public eye is usually on what’s happening in the bigger theatres of Canberra, one of Australia’s leading theatre makers, Didem Caia, is beavering away behind closed doors at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, but we won’t see the results for a while.

It’s all part of a project called “Mono/Stereo” which will eventually result in a play, possibly cast by public audition.

Centre CEO Rauny Worm met Caia at a “Bite the Big Apple!” arts and cultural management tour in New York and immediately snaffled her up for TAC’s community arts and cultural development initiative.

Though proudly from a working-class background, on her own admission, Caia is very well educated with a diploma in theatre arts from Victoria University, a bachelor of creative writing from RMIT (with first-class honours), a postgraduate diploma in playwriting from NIDA and a masters in dramaturgy from the Victorian College of the Arts.

She’s had plays produced through NIDA, The Griffin Theatre Company, Theatre 503 in Newtown, Melbourne’s La Mama and 45 Downstairs Theatre.

When I catch up with her, she’s been deep in weekend workshops with participants from the Tuggeranong and Woden regions, eventually settling on a core group of five to work with on a new play.

She’s used this process twice before, working through a set of writing exercises in order to gather story, voice, character, nuance and even syntax.

“Theatre is and should be the most democratic form of art, everyone should understand what’s going on,” she says.

“But I come from a working-class family where people are not used to it, so I like making work for people who might not feel comfortable in normal middle-class theatre.

“Every play is a political statement, it comes from the people, the Polis, and the best plays withstand the test of time… look at Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov; look at Shakespeare and his very rich psychological understanding.”

The Canberra project is in full swing and she’s deep in her Melbourne study turning workshop materials into script, asking herself how to find a “spine” to the stories, as well as more subterranean links.

Caia first came to Canberra in November and met seven or eight people of varied age, culture and sexuality, of whom five are now committed to the project.

What followed, she says, “has been a kind of a conversational heaven, with discussions ranging over climate change, domestic and personal wars and the inability to communicate in English”.

“The democracy of their stories really struck me and also the nuance of the vernacular,” she says.

“The group dictates what the story will be, it’s better if it comes from the grassroots level, I work very intuitively until the storyline starts to emerge.”

Conventional theatre is not her ultimate aim.

“The end is to develop the community and to build confidence in a group who might otherwise never have experienced it,” she says.


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