Thursday, 26 July 2018

That Daring Dramaturgy: Joanne Hartstone @ Edfringe 2018

Assembly George Square – Studio Two

11.45am – 2nd - 27th August

Commemorating 100 years since (some) British Women were granted the vote, That Daring Australian Girl tells the remarkable true story of Muriel Matters; the South Australian-born actress and agitator who travelled to the UK in 1905 to pursue a career on the stage, and became one of the leading figures of the Suffragette movement. 

Muriel was the first woman to “speak” in the House of Commons by chaining herself to the grille of the Women’s Gallery, was imprisoned in Holloway Gaol, attracted global attention for her Hot Air Ballooning stunt and became the “Foremost Woman Orator in Britain”.
“The spirit of the suffragist can not be crushed by sending them to prison, because then they are made martyrs, and it is the blood of martyrs that makes a movement flourish and grow.” – Muriel Matters, 1908.

how would you define the political content of your work?

That Daring Australian Girl
is the true story of Muriel Matters - a South Australian actress and elocutionist who traveled to London in 1905 and became one of the leading figures of the UK’s Suffragette Movement. Muriel’s activism work - particularly in the fight for universal suffrage - was inherently political. Muriel was only one of thousands of women who fought for the vote in the UK. 

However, her work as a journalist, a lecturer and an educator has meant that her words and her beliefs have lived on long after her time. Muriel was the world’s first aerial protester, the first female voice in Parliament, the first woman to challenge for the electoral seat of Hastings, and she lived through two World Wars and two feminist revolutions. Muriel was also a pacifist who considered non-violent protest to be the best way to influence and innovate.

Mary Lee - the leader of the South Australian suffrage movement - described politics as "The art of educing from existing conditions the greatest amount of liberty, security, happiness, prosperity, and advancement, moral, social, and intellectual, of the community as a whole.” This definition is how Muriel saw her role in agitating for the vote.

Muriel’s legacy is that of a social reformist, a woman who believed that change was not only possible, but vital. Although the specific politics of ‘That Daring Australian Girl’ are over 100 years old, the relevance of her fight for social reform is still important in highlighting inequality in institutional gender-based power structures.

I attended a function this week at the Houses of Parliament for the Muriel Matters Society - London Chapter. Whilst going through security, I was reminded that padlocks are not allowed to be brought into the building. This stems from Muriel chaining herself to the Grille in the Women’s Viewing Gallery in protest. The repercussions of her actions are still felt in our modern day society.

are there ways in which your work can engage the audience beyond the immediate emotional rush of the content, and move forward towards further action?
I hope That Daring Australian Girl will motivate audiences to re-engage with their communities and to champion equality for all. Muriel’s story is more relevant than ever, and I hope that audiences will be intrigued to learn more about the women who - over 100 years ago - fought to revolutionise a patriarchal society. Similarly, I hope audiences are inspired by the actions and achievements of one woman, and that they too feel that their singular voice has the power to effect change.

how far do the material conditions of the Fringe impact on the process by which you make theatre for it?
That Daring Australian Girl was made in Adelaide, for the Adelaide Fringe, with an award of free venue rental from Holden Street Theatres. This helped reduce the overall financial risk of the production and allowed my creative team freedoms that might otherwise be constricted by budget concerns. However, the award was given on the basis of my previous show - The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign - and the content of my new play was unknown by the venue.

During the creation process, my team (Director Nicholas Collett and Production Designer Tom Kitney) and I were not concerned with commercialism. We focused on doing justice to Muriel’s life work and made a show that was inherently theatrical in style and historically accurate and sensitive. Audiences were interested in seeing Muriel’s story brought to life, and were intrigued by the century-old political turmoil.

In order to bring That Daring Australian Girl to the Edinburgh Fringe, we received support (financial, logistical and strategic) from Arts South Australia’s ‘Made In Adelaide’ scheme. It is their remit to support South Australian artists and promote Australian stories internationally. The retelling of an Adelaide actresses journey to the UK to promote equality through spoken word by an Adelaide actress travelling to the UK to promote equality through spoken word is an important project for SA tourism and culture.

As Muriel was, I am, #madeinadelaide

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