From Austin to Oz. I'm planning to flee the country for 7 months - working for 4 and traveling for 3.
Departure = 03 Sep 2003 / Re-entry = 03 Apr 2004

Friday, October 03, 2003

Going into Shadows

Today was my first of two days of volunteering at the Brisbane Writers Festival. I function as a "Venue Technician", which means that after the panel of speakers is done with their talks, I walk around the room passing the microphone to audience members so they can ask questions to the panel. I did this for four panels. The first one discussed the Advancing Public Debate Award that was presented last night to the winners for their book of investigative journalism. David Marr and Marion Wilkinson's Dark Justice exposes how the Australian government manipulated the facts and the press to cover up its policies during the MV Tampa scandal involving Afghan "illegal migrants"/refugees/asylum seekers in 2001. Throughout the entire discussion of the book and Australia's policies, I comparing how Australia has begun to mirror the United States' policies and mindset towards attacking other countries whose leadership we feel is corrupt, yet when citizens of those countries flee to find asylum, the US suspects the refugees to be terrorists. [sarcasm]Oh, if only the Yugoslavs, Albanians, Somalis, Iraqis, and Afghans could just stay put and die while we bomb their countries![/sarcasm]

The second panel featured Witi Ihimaera (the author of the novel Whale Rider), Dorthy Porter (a prolific Australian author and poet), and Julianne Schultz (the writer-half of a brother-sister opera composing duo). All three discussed their experiences with writing opera librettos. Me, I'm not a fan of the opera, yet I truly enjoyed their insight of the entire production of an opera -- just short of a miracle, that. Half of the audience were members of the Wagner Society and became quite animated with all the operatic references that Mr. Ihimaera made during his presentation.

The third panel featured a discussion of celebrated Australian historian Henry Reynolds' book North of Capricorn, which chronicles the undocumented history of Australia north of the Tropic of Capricorn (from Broome to Townsville). The book reveals how the xenophobic "White Australia" immigration policy (in place until after WW II) affected the North of Australia and the North's strong Asian presence. Mr. Reynolds documents how the white part of Australia (in the South) had always been terrified that the yellow (Asian) and brown (Aboriginal and Melanysian) parts (in the North) would out-populate the white part and take over Australia. Once again, sounds like the US. California has already become less than 50% "white", while Texas and Florida are well on their way. What is this "whiteness", and why is it so important?

The fourth panel's five participants had heaps of laughs discussing the relatively new audio books genre. Actor William McInness, audio books editor Bernadette Neubecker, audio books producer Libby Douglas, and author Shane Maloney discussed how audio books have created new audiences of readers/listeners who may not have enough time to dedicate to reading or just love storytelling. I asked a question during this panel, wondering if the Australian storytellers (Aboriginal, Outback, immigrant communities) had been recorded, and if those recordings are available for purchase. (I was aware that my question was a bit out of the scope of the panel, since the panel deals with condensing published novels for audio recordings. Storytellers are pure oral, not a scrap of a word formally published.) The panel perked up at my request because I don't think they knew but had that "sounds like a good idea" chirp among them. Ms. Neubecker, the editor, mentioned that there are a few Aboriginal storytellers recorded, and her company is working to expand that section. I felt smart. You know, that feeling when other people in the room have "I wish I had thought of that" jotted in the corner of their eyes. Yup, that one.

After the fourth panel, the panelists, audience members, and volunteers mingled at a rooftop balcony post-panel cocktail reception. My venue manager looked at me and said something to the effect of "You've been here all day. Why not get a glass of wine?" Ah, hard work does have its payoff.

Then, I walked over to another venue to help set up tables and chairs for the "Deconstructing the Lyric" panel. The chair of the panel had this Gwen Stefani look going on, with a vest, tie, man's shirt, jeans, and Adidas shoes, topped with a mop of superbleachedblond hair and red lipstick. (Actually, her name is "Willow Willis", but I will call her "Gwillow," because I'm mean like that.) One of the panelists was a 22-year-old hip-hop DJ who mentioned that when he was younger, the only hip-hop was American. Altho he loved the music, he could not identify with being black, being from a ghetto, being shot, or being American. Since then, Australia has nutured its own hip-hop artists, to which he finds himself listening exclusively; he identifies with them. In addition, he invited the audience to a show of Brisbane rappers next Sunday night. I'm there.

With that, my shift was over and I headed home (2 blocks from the venue). As I was reflecting on the day, one special morsel kept nagging me, like when you stub your smallest toe; jump around, shake your foot, and curse for a while; the pain subsides; you forget about it; and then you stub the same toe 2 hours later, repeating the same cycle. During the second panel, Ms. Schultz was taking about her opera Going into Shadows. In an interview with the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), she describes the opera:

"The kernel of the story was a... was the terrorist incident which occurred, or something similar to it, something that occurred in the mid-1980s, where a woman got on a plane and was found to be carrying an explosive device. And she was pregnant and her lover was allegedly the person who'd placed the explosive in her carry-on bag.

And so we took that as the sort of kernel of the story and stretched it and made it up and we gave it a beginning and an end with a sort of a dramatic twist at the end. "

Inspired by events in the 80s such the Lockerbie crash, the IRA, and car bombs in London, Ms. Schultz wrote a play set in London about terrorists and terrorism in the early Nineties, the beginning of a period of peace when all the terror was over. People denounced her idea stating that the topic was still too "fresh" in the public's mind. She argued that she wanted to analyze the motives behind the terrorists' concepts of reason, extremism, justice, and fear. A nobel cause, that. She and her brother completed it in 1991, yet it took 10 years to secure a venue and funding for the project. As a collaboration between the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London and the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, it premiered in London in early 2001, then ran in Brisbane in late 2001.

Going into Shadows began its 5-night Brisbane run on 09 Sep 2001.

Thirty minutes after the curtain fell on the third night's performance, Australian televisions received their first images of airplanes slicing into the WTC Twin Towers.

The performances for the next two nights were cancelled.


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