Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher


February 6

Outlaw or resistance hero?

Just back from scorching Perth, where i’ve been making a radio feature for the Artworks program on Radio National all about a new play called ‘Jandamarra’ that’s about to open in the Perth International Arts Festival.

It’s based on the true story of a Bunuba man from the Kimberley who was (depending on your point of view) either a murderous outlaw or an indigenous resistance hero.
The program will be broadcast at 11:05 am Sunday 10th Feb, and then repeated at 8:35 pm on the evening of Monday 11th Feb.

It’s an amazing project – written by Steve Hawke (Bob’s son) and performed in four different languages – including Bunuba. The Black Swan Theatre Company took it on, after Steve and his collaborators at Bunuba Films had been unsuccessful in getting the story up as a feature film.

It’s been directed by Tim Gutteridge (possibly the most patient man on the planet) and translations done by Patsy bedford, Mona Oscar, Selina Middleton, and the Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, June Oscar (possibly the most patient woman on the planet).

I had the privilege of sitting in on rehearsals at Black Swan for a few days. Highlights:

– watching the kids of various indigenous cast members hanging around the edges of the smallish rehearsal room, snoozing, whispering on their mobile phones, watching the action. One tiny boy picked up a big fat script and, in imitation of the cast and direction team, sat holding it in his lap with pencil poised, ready to ‘take notes’.
– watching George Brooking, a respected elder of the Bunuba clan and a singer in this production, laughing silently from the sidelines as the non-Bunuba speakers in the cast struggled valiantly to get their tongues around the language he has been speaking from birth.
– hearing occasional thumping and shrieking coming from the ceiling above where, on the second floor of Black Swan’s headquarters in Nedlands (a former Masonic Lodge), another cast was simultaneously rehearsing The Caucasian Chalk Circle. hmmm… the irony of the title only just strikes me now.
– the cast leaning into big microphones, stirring buckets of pebbles, flapping pairs of old gloves, and popping balloons, to simulate the sounds of giant snakes slithering, startled birds flying and shotguns firing. Close your eyes and you’d think you were in Windjana Gorge.

January 26

Go Sees and Don’t Bothers

I’ve been to a bunch of shows at The Arts Centre in the last week, including some Don’t Miss This Ones.

The Season at Sarsparilla is a Sydney Theatre Company import for the Melbourne Theatre Company, and it’s revelatory. I’ve always been a bit lukewarm about Patrick White’s plays; in the wrong directorial hands, they can seem awkward and self-conscious and dated. But I loved every minute of this one. The set design is ingenious – one suburban house, three families, all inhabiting it simultaneously, even though they are actually neighbours. Live cameras are placed around the house, solving the ‘problem’ of the characters’ odd, poetic monologues – they are spoken straight to camera, like the ramblings of a video blogger sent off into cyberspace.
Acting – uniformly marvellous. Direction – by Benedict Andrews – clear, strong, sympathetic, emphasising the comedy without going for cheap laughs.

Vaudeville X is part of the Full Tilt program, performed in The Black Box, and i laughed till i wept. Wickedly clever satire, from three blokes with great comic instincts. Dunno about Michael Dalley’s (writer/performer/director) politics – i suspect they’re often at odds with mine – but that’s the great thing about satire. If it’s good enough, you’ll still laugh, even if you’re being targetted. On till Saturday 2nd Feb.

Aeros was at the Hamer Hall and if you are old enough to remember 14 year old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comenica winning a gazillion gold medals at the Montreal Olympics, you’ll understand where the show has come from. Those Romanians must be good at handling pain, because this show must hurt. About 20 top-level gymnasts are choreographed into a fast-paced series of ‘dance’ routines which defy gravity. You know those dreams you have about being able to fly? Well these kids can.

Don Juan in Soho is another MTC production, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Some dubious casting and some wobbly regional British accents undermined the performances in this Patrick Marber play, and quite frankly, i’d rather go and see Mozart’s version. The original story is communicated better, and the music in Don Giovanni is sublime.

And if live theatre’s not your thing, go and see Lust:Caution, the new Ang Lee film. A work of immense psychological complexity and subtlety – deeply disturbing, beautifully acted, and the art department must have been in seventh heaven, recreating Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 1940’s.

For those of you interested in good writing – reading it or doing some yourself – check out the State Library of Victoria’s Summer Reading blogathon. A bunch of very good local writers, including Alice Pung, Cate Kennedy and Kate Holden, have been putting down some really useful and entertaining thoughts about the process of writing – how to find ideas, and how to turn them into stories that people will want to read. And there’s room for you to comment on their thoughts, and join in the conversation about the pleasures and perils of trying to write.

January 16

Sydney Festival highlights

Just back from a week in Sydney, where i caught up with several Sydney Festival events. A few highlights:

Seeing Brian Wilson perform with a Beach Boys cover band in the Domain on a drizzly but warm Saturday night. One giant, sweet singalong, bringing back memories of the first time i was introduced to the BB’s by my step-brother on a long drive to the Flinders Ranges, circa 1975. Tempting to credit Good Vibrations with inspiring my subsequent addiction to choral singing. Thinking maybe we should introduce the Beach Boys repertoire into the traditional family Xmas carol singing session. If there was a God, i reckon she’d approve.

Seeing some of Australia’s best singer-songwriters paying tribute to Kev Carmody in the Cannot Buy My Soul concert at the State Theatre – a man of righteous anger and soulful consolation, whose presence managed to dwarf all those stars, even as he sat quietly on the side of the stage in front of a mock camp-fire. Such an important story, told so graciously by so many talented and generous people.

Watching a bunch of young Scottish actors channelling a bunch of young Scottish soldiers in Black Watch, a curious theatrical production that was part opera, part ballet, part community theatre project, part history lesson. Not ground-breaking, but it has haunted me ever since, especially when i watch the evening news.

Watching indigenous actor/dancer Trevor Jamieson taking direction from a group of his ‘aunties’ as they taught the audience of Njapartji Njapartji how to sing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ in Pitjantjatjara language. A sprawling show, full of goodwill, and a virtuoso performance from Trevor J. See anything he’s in, if you can.

January 3

Melbourne University Up Close

In 2007 I hosted Melbourne University Up Close, a series of indepth interviews with Melbourne University academics, available as audio or downloadable as podcasts. Topics include medical tourism, post-natal depresison, mindful leadership, post-Soviet crime, and the geopolitics of global warming, and feature interviews with Artistic Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company Simon Phillips and internationally lauded French horn player Barry Tuckwell.

January 3

Weddings, Parties, etc.

In December 2007, I performed at the wedding of Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier in The Famous Spiegeltent.To enquire about my availability to sing at your wedding, go to the Contact section of this website.

January 2

Paul Kelly A – Z

In early December 2007 Sian performed with singer-songwriter Paul Kelly in his annual ‘A – Z’ shows at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne.