Introduction to The Monthly Players and Stuff Happens by David Hare
This essay was originally published for The Monthly Players March 23, 2017.
At the 2016 Melbourne Writer’s Festival inaugural Boisbouvier Lecture, author Richard Flanagan used his public platform to artfully address Australia’s position on asylum seekers. Flanagan explored the idea of national literature by reflecting on his experience as a young Tasmanian reading Algerian-French author Albert Camus’ The Outsider. The novel allowed the fledgling writer to realize that even when reading passages depicting a foreign landscape, he could understand the people and culture in the book because of a similarity in the climates, geographies, and philosophical views back home. The Outsider, for the first time, encouraged the young Flanagan to reflect upon and actively shape his own understanding of what is categorized as ‘national literature.’
In citing recent samples of Australian writing, Flanagan read excerpts from The Guardian that depicted the daily reality of asylum seekers existing among Australian waters. These censored article passages explicitly describe the refugees’ actions – suicide attempts and self-harm, passivity to assault and their humiliations. These stories, Flanagan argued, best depict Australia today – better than that of any writer pursuing the course of national literature – by highlighting extreme examples of humans severely limited in their ability to express themselves.
In concluding Does Writing Matter, Flanagan underscored:
“In all these questions I don’t say that writing and writers are an answer or a panacea. That would be nonsense. But even when we are silenced we must continue to write. To assert freedom. To find meaning. With ink, with keyboard. With thread, with flame, with our very bodies. Because writing matters. More than ever, it matters.”
Flanagan’s conclusion that the writer, now more than ever, is vital to the lifeblood of a free society is where I see the importance of all actors and all creators. “With ink, with keyboard, … with our very bodies.” We act, we write, we paint, we create because the very act of creation is the birthing of something from inside us. Unlike the primal self-harm committed by asylum seekers, the free creator has the privilege of expressing an idea with the opportunity to be heard and influence change for the better.
Philosopher and martial arts expert Bruce Lee was one of the first who so clearly articulated what it meant to be an ‘artist of life’. I think we too, as free actors and creators, should strive for a life-long arch of self-development that can contribute to regular artistic endeavours. As we strive to influence the audiences we perform for, it is ever more pertinent that we interact with the external world and allow ourselves to be influenced – and in doing so further extend our perspectives, our stories, and our work.
To help achieve this, The Monthly Players has been born. In bringing together creative minded individuals to examine social, economic, and culturally relevant plays, The Players hope to nurture the fire burning in our minds and souls, to learn about the world around us and, in turn, influence our work and strengthen our positions as movers and shakers. Through a reading and examination of one text per month, we will meet with other actors and playwrights for a read through of a play that has been selected based on its relevance to today’s socioeconomic, cultural, and political environment as it affects the creative mind. In turn, it is hoped the texts influence not only the work you wish to create, but act as a source of inspiration to further your own understanding of the world and provide excellent source material for monologue practice, story adaptation, and the like.
As today’s current political climate screams at us through every medium, the relevance of David Hare’s Stuff Happens, first performed in 2004, endures. It is an excellent example of the timelessness of theatre – reflecting both past and present political trends. Examining the political environments of the United States and Great Britain prior to and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Stuff Happens reflects a terse, global dis-ease similar to today’s atmosphere. With an excellent monologue or two open to all genders and adult age ranges, Stuff Happens is a key example of the playwright and actor coming together to dramatize a recent factual event.
Hailed as both powerful and manipulative upon it’s receipt at the London based premiere, Stuff Happens outraged and soothed it’s audiences, prompted further discussion about the prominent political leaders of the Western world, and encouraged audiences to further consider their personal perspectives on the Iraqi invasion. That is why this play was chosen for our first monthly reading – David Hare sparked conversation, he brought fresh ideas to an existing debate, and he found both unity and division amongst his audiences.
Stuff Happens highlights the internal conflict experienced by leaders with more power to influence events than any of us are likely to ever possess. However, stepping outside of our comfort zones and into the perspective of another is what art asks us to do and David Hare skilfully coloured each of these powerful political characters as real people with thoughts and considerations. In doing so, he reminds us that they are just as human as theatre makers – and asylum seekers. Each one of us, whether martial artists, actors, refugees, or politicians are human. We create, we make decisions, and we have the ability to affect change.
The Monthly Players hopes to expand your horizons and broaden your perspective to empower you to choose the effect you want to have on the world. As artists of life we can begin our own journeys of self-discovery and reflection through the examination of national literature and plays, through foreign countries and political entities – which, in turn will allow us to better mould the impression we have of, and more importantly the one we make on, the world.
Hare, David. Stuff Happens. Faber & Faber, 2004.
Flanagan, Richard. Does Writing Matter. Melbourne Writers Festival, 2016.
Lee, Bruce. In My Own Process. Bruce Lee Foundation, n.d.
Camus, Albert. The Outsider. Penguin Books, 1969.
“The paradox of great factual work is that it restores wonder … I never knew that, I never realised that, I never felt that” is what you hear from the departing audience when their evening has been well spent. Because we think we know, but we don’t.”
- “Mere fact, mere fiction” David Hare, 2010
“I’ve never believed in objective journalism, and no one who’s a journalist in his or her right mind does, because all writing is about selecting what you want to use, and as soon as you choose what to select, you’re not being objective.”
- “Nora Ephron on Crazy Salad” Blank on Blank, 2016/Stud Terkel, 1975
“And the art of curation isn’t about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other, and what statement the context they create makes about culture and the world at large.”
- “The Art of Curation: An Interview with Maria Popova from BrainPickings” The Nebo Blog, 2010