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yellamundie means storyteller

frederick copperwaite: yellamundie playwriting festival director

Frederick Copperwaite is a Bunuba man from the south west Kimberley, WA. He is a founding member and Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts. Directing credits include Lessons in Flight, Gathering Ground 2008 & 2010 and The Cake Man play-reading. Moogahlin Performing Arts was formed in 2007 by Aboriginal performing artists and community workers in honour of the late Kevin Smith and in memory of the founding members of the Black Theatre.

YELLAMUNDIE, THE NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PLAYWRITING FESTIVAL, IS LONG OVERDUE. THE FIRST NATIONAL BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS’ CONFERENCE WAS HELD AT THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY IN CANBERRA IN JANUARY 1987, THE SECOND AT MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, NORTH RYDE, IN JANUARY 1989, AND THE THIRD WAS HELD AS PART OF THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL IN 2000.

It has been over 20 years since the last Indigenous Playwrights’ Conference occurred in Sydney and since then there have been significant developments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre across Australia.

As well as the emergence over recent decades of companies such as Yirra Yaakin, Ilbijerri, Kooemba Jdarra and Moogahlin there has been an explosion of new actors, directors and writers telling stories in a variety of different and exciting forms and styles. Audiences, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have responded enthusiastically to these powerful stories.

Yellamundie—a Dharug word, from the north west region of Sydney, meaning storyteller—will be produced and presented by Moogahlin, the Redfern-based Aboriginal performing arts company, at Carriageworks as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival.

The idea for a new national playwriting conference or festival came out of the first National Indigenous Theatre Forum, held on Yidindji Gimuy Walubara Country in Cairns, Queensland in August 2010. The forum identified a need for a meeting place where new work could be developed and presented within a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre community context:

“The Cairns Consensus recognises that Indigenous theatre is integral to our cultural identity and plays an important role to the broader artistic vibrancy of Australia…the forum agrees to progress a national approach to the development of the Indigenous theatre sector…the Cairns Consensus builds on the legacy of our storytellers, practitioners and Elders, past and present, and views this forum as a platform to secure the future of National Indigenous Theatre.”

Yellamundie is important because it provides the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre community with a national reference point to gauge the ongoing development of the sector. It will allow us to discover and nurture new playwrights, support established playwrights, help writers to develop their profile within the industry and build long and sustained careers. The festival is a way to advocate on behalf of writers, not just within the Indigenous theatre community but by encouraging mainstream companies and producers to engage more with new and challenging material.

It’s also a way to survey how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwrights are currently writing in Australia, what they are writing about, who they are writing for, and what issues or ideas appear regularly in the work despite or because of geographical and cultural distance or closeness.

When applications for the festival closed in August, Moogahlin was delighted to have received 16 plays from both the city and the bush. From these, six plays have been selected and the playwrights will be invited to Sydney to have their scripts workshopped: Cuz, Billy Mcpherson (NSW); The Lighthouse, Sermsah Bin Saad (WA); Dust, Suzanne (Jub) Clerk (WA); Weight, Jada Alberts (NSW); Crowbones and Carnivores, David Milroy (WA); and First Contact, Jane Harrison (VIC).

Three directors will work on two plays each, while there will be two dramaturgs who will work on three plays each. We are planning for a company of 10 actors of mixed ages and gender depending on the scripts and their casting requirements. All theatre artists working on the festival will be from the Moogahlin Performing Arts membership and will be paid for their contribution.

The first week will be closed to the public and will be spent in rehearsal/workshop with the writer working with the director, dramaturg and actors developing the script. The second week will consist of public readings of the plays presented to an audience of industry professionals, community and the public. Theatre companies, directors, producers and any potential supporters will be encouraged to attend. The natural outcome of the festival would be that one or any number of these plays would be picked for further creative development, or at best, production.

Even though Yellamundie is the first national writers’ event for many years it is hoped that it will become a regular part of the national Indigenous theatre calendar. As it grows in scale and importance so too will the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre in Australia.


Moogahlin Performing Arts: Yellamundie, National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival, Carriageworks, Redfern, Sydney, Jan 28-Feb 9, 2013; supported by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council, Playwriting Australia, Performing Lines, Carriageworks and the Sydney Festival.

Frederick Copperwaite is a Bunuba man from the south west Kimberley, WA. He is a founding member and Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts. Directing credits include Lessons in Flight, Gathering Ground 2008 & 2010 and The Cake Man play-reading. Moogahlin Performing Arts was formed in 2007 by Aboriginal performing artists and community workers in honour of the late Kevin Smith and in memory of the founding members of the Black Theatre.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 20

© Frederick Copperwaite; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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