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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Fire’ fundraiser hopes to put Armstrong back on stage

The cast inside Courtroom Gunning: Nixon, Zsuzsi Soboslay, Craig Alexander, Chris Carroll, Caroline O’Brien. Photo: Shelly Higgs

In an off-again, on-again funding climate, you’ve got to be resourceful to survive in the arts, and Canberra region arts identity and director of Music Theatre Projects, Dianna Nixon, has resourcefulness in spades.

Flanked by a solid lineup of five local actors, Dianna will be presenting a reading of Fire, as a fundraiser for her ongoing project to see WW1 soldier, settler, farmer and playwright, Millicent Armstrong, back on our theatre industry’s radar.

Armstrong was the Gunning-region farmer who won a Croix de Guerre in World War I for her services as a nurse on the Western Front. A list of plays to her name portray life on the land, including the tragic work Drought, which was awarded the 1923 Rupert Brooke Prize and performed in London. Her play Fire was placed third in the Sydney Daily Telegraph competition. In 1937, At Dusk appeared in a collection of Australian one-act plays, and two drawing-room dramas, Thomas and Penny Dreadful, were published in a selection of her work in 1958.

The plays have been long since forgotten, but not if Music Theatre Projects has anything to do with it.

The romantic drama, Fire, written in 1923, was published in serialised form in May 1923 in The Daily Telegraph. This reading will be the first opportunity for the general public to hear the 100-year-old play, written when Armstrong lived on Clear Hills, Gurrundah. Although, they have done private readings at Gunning courthouse, where there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (including mine), and again in the Wool Shed at Clear Hills, with many of the playwright’s descendants present.

Nixon is keen to get an audience over to the recently renovated Collector Memorial Hall, and the reading is consistent with the goal of Collector resident and hall committee member, Tim Duck, who hopes to have more people visit Collector for events there. He is also one of the team who produces Canberra Comedy Festival.

Music Theatre Projects already had the hall booked for a planned tour of rural NSW with Drought and Other Plays (all by Armstrong), but no touring funding was secured, so they’ll try to mount that tour next year.

The performers will be Caroline Simone O’Brien, Zsuzsi Soboslay, Christopher Samuel Carroll, Brendan Kelly and Nixon.

“There is much work to be done, but we cannot do it without resources,” Nixon tells us.

As well as staging the reading, they’re conducting an online auction of items donated by Max Cullen and Margarita Georgiadis of the Picture House Gallery in Gunning, Canberra Theatre Centre, Goulburn Performing Arts Centre, The Street Theatre, Gundog Estate in Gundaroo, Spice Affair in Yass and Will & Russ in Gunning, to be displayed on the day of the reading.

The auction is accessible at

Fire reading and discussion, Collector Memorial Hall, July 21. Bookings here 

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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