Madge Hair: Writing on Gumbaynggirr Country for Co-Created Theatre as Decolonising Practice

This presentation analyses the challenges of cocreating musical theatre in Gumbaynggirr country.

This presentation analyses the challenges and processes of cocreating pieces of musical theatre inspired by and responding to storylines from Gumbaynggirr country, mid-north coast, New South Wales. The central question posed by the presenter’s research project interrogates how to write for musical theatre within a respectful intercultural model of co-created theatre with Gumbaynggirr People on Gumbaynggirr Country. The primary objective of the research project is to write through decolonising perspective for cocreated theatre that destabilises normative Indigenous-Settler power relationships. Destabilisation shifts the audience gaze toward a view of Country where shared history is acknowledged alongside foregrounded Indigenous knowledges and experiences. Presenting the Gumbaynggirr Creation stories on stage, with the Creation Ancestors and other historical and contemporary figures embodied by the young performers, powerfully foregrounds Gumbaynggirr cosmology as real and multi-dimensional, with The Dreaming symbolised in the sets as in a constant state of regeneration. Performances create relationship with a responsive Country.

Madge Hair is a teacher, playwright and director who works at Coffs Harbour High School, NSW. She is currently completing a PhD in Creative Industries with Queensland University of Technology. Madge’s previous research in Indigenous Theatre took her to Broome, Western Australia, and resulted in a thesis (M.A. (Hons)) titled ‘Jimmy Chi: Hybridity and Healing’. Stephen ‘Baamba’ Albert, Stephen Pigram and the late Jimmy Chi remain her friends and mentors. For the past five years Madge has worked with professional colleagues, Gumbaynggirr cultural advisers and a group of talented young performers and technicians to create Garlambirla Youth Theatre (GYT), Garlambirla (which translates as red oak or casuarina) being the Gumbaynggirr name for Coffs Harbour. GYT’s creative project is to translate the cross-cultural histories of Coffs Harbour, including Gumbaynggirr Creation Stories, into musical theatre, which is then performed for the community.

Tegan is a strong advocate for the development of Theatre and the Arts in community settings and has been involved with numerous Applied Theatre programmes throughout her professional training and experience. Tegan graduated with a Master of Arts with Distinction in Applied Theatre from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She has professional experience in Community Performance that promotes Young People’s expression and engagement through Puppetry and Theatre practices. As well as collaborating and performing with ERTH Visual & Physical Inc and Welsh theatre company PuppetSoup, she has co-directed and worked alongside Shop Front Arts Co-Op Junior Ensemble of 8-14-year old’s to create the original devised production, The Unknown. Tegan is currently working as Teaching Artist for Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘School Drama’. This is a Teachers Professional Development Program designed to improve teaching and learning by modelling the use of drama-based strategies with quality children's literature.