By Audrey Gibbs
Thespians are already busy at work in the Tennessee Williams Center for the fall play: Our Country’s Good, opening October 10-13. It takes place in the 1780s, when the British began exporting their convicts to Australia. The American Revolution has begun and England can no longer send the prisoners to America anymore, so they turned to the isolated island of Australia, inhabited by only Aboriginal Australians at the time.
The plot of the play centers around the officers and the convicts that arrived in this land and have to begin their lives there. The play focuses on a prison officer who decides to put on a play with the convicts in it, most of whom are illiterate. The impact of this play on the new society formed in Australia is extremely powerful, making waves in the lives of the convicts and prison guards.
When asked why he decided to put on this particular play, Associate Professor of Theatre and Director of Our Country’s Good, Jim Crawford answered: “I’ve had my eye on this play for several years. But I was on sabbatical last semester and I got to go to Australia for the first time. I thought: ‘Ooh! This is the year for Our Country’s Good because I can actually do research over there.’ In Sydney I went to some of the historical sights and filled myself up with Australian history.”
Crawford’s experiences in Australia not only informed him of the history of this place, but also gave him some insight into the world of Aboriginal artwork, which will greatly influence the set of the show. He also commented that being in Sydney informed him that the topics covered in the show are still prevalent today in Australian culture.
Crawford stated,“I just got to soak it up. Sydney, as a city, is loaded with history and stories about this time because it’s when white people arrived. It is well remembered and argued over, just like the Civil War is in this country. You feel its presence.”
Crawford’s personal connection to this culture and his experience with individuals in Australia will greatly shape this work of art, making it truly in touch with the story it is telling.
The play had a great turn out at auditions, and the cast began rehearsing recently with great enthusiasm. The play features Miranda Nelson (C’22) as Mary Brenham and Nick Govindon (C’21) as Ralph Clark. One of the daunting aspects of the play the many talented actors will take on is that there are no American characters in this play. The actors will be sporting all kinds of accents, from Cockney to Scottish to Irish.
Crawford explained that the dialect work will be intense, and that the actors will be spending much of the first weeks of rehearsal learning and perfecting these accents, as well as understanding the history behind the play.
When asked about what is at the heart of the play, Crawford replied: “It’s one of those plays that always feels relevant. The way we view criminals. The way we view immigrants. The way we view outsiders. And the way some people want to take away their humanity– it’s a very strong theme in this play. I think that’s something we can all stand to wrestle with right now.”
There is no doubt that this piece of theatre will be compelling and applicable to the current state of our country. Our Country’s Good will perform at the Tennessee Williams Center the weekend before fall break, October 10-13.