Where the Heart Is
MARGI BROWN-ASH puts out the welcome mat and a cup of tea for ZENOBIA FROST. Find out more about HOME, part of La Boite’s Indie season.
ZENOBIA FROST: How did the idea for Home arise?
MARGI BROWN-ASH: The original idea for Home emerged when my third child was studying Arabic in Palestine. She wrote SMSs and emails about happenings in Palestine that were not necessarily portrayed in the media. These were stories of people losing their homes or being unable to visit relatives who lived close by, but could not be reached because of the huge wall that intersects the West Bank from Israel. When I received these stories sitting in my house in Brisbane, I was made acutely aware of what “home” meant for me, and what it can mean for others. My husband Bill is a huge supporter of the arts and he suggested that we travel to Palestine and see for ourselves, which we did.
ZF: What did you learn from travelling with the show all over the world — Israel, Mexico, the USA?
MBA:The most important thing we learned was that it was a universal theme, and that everyone related to it. As my personal stories unfolded throughout the rehearsed reading, people were transported to their own stories of loneliness and loss — as well as to stories of joy, family and connection. One day in Mexico City, I worked with a group of women experiencing domestic violence. The next day I worked with a room full of professional health workers, and the show was as relevant, personal and touching — regardless of the demographic.
ZF: The show is something of a family affair, with your son Travis providing an original score and spoken word. How was a sense of family-community important to you in creating Home?
MBA: Community has been hugely important, and last year we grew the nest 4change ensemble: a group of trained therapists who were, at the same time, interested in theatre. Under the creative eye of Bev Jensen, the nest ensemble’s visual artist, we created outdoor performance spaces in the garden at my home in Pullenvale, where we have access to several acres of land and an old tennis court that we call “The Play Pen”. This environment is an ideal one for helping people unpack their stories of Home and we’ve held quite a few creative workshops there. We are offering a subsidised nest 4change workshop on Sunday 22nd July at La Boite, for the wider community. The workshop will focus on storytelling and unpacking and re-dreaming our own stories of Home.
ZF: Tell us more about the nest ensemble.
MBA: The director Leah Mercer and I created the nest ensemble in 2004 when we were working on our first production The Knowing of Mary Poppins. Since then we have slowly built up original theatre pieces — one of them Eve, which was part of Metro Independents last month, and now Home, which is about to open at La Boite. Our company spans four decades: our youngest member is 20 and our oldest is 60. We are both regional (Bev Jensen lives on KarraGarra Island in Redland Bay and Gabby Castle is about to live part-time in Gladstone) and national (Travis Ash lives in Sydney and Leah in Perth). This makes for a rich exchange and we are constantly questioning our choices to make sure that what we do has wide appeal, both for urban and regional areas and for a multitude of ages.
ZF: In what ways does Home embrace the mode of storytelling?
MBA:Home is storytelling, pure and simple. At La Boite’s Indie Forum #1 this week, David Berthold talked about the recent resurgence of storytelling. It is so accessible because it appeals to a basic human need to tell stories. In Home we embody stories that unite and challenge. The form is elegant, simple and very accessible. We provide opportunities for the audience to be involved during, before and after the show, as well as workshops. The central idea of the piece is that it should awaken the stories of the audience.
ZF: Where’s “home” for you these days?
MBA: As I say in the play, home is here, in Brisbane “the place we love to hate and hate to leave.” I am in love with Brisbane, though I didn’t always think like that. I was originally from Sydney, so to move north was a big decision. We were to stay two years, and we’re still here 23 years later. Our four children have all grown up here, and are now either down south or overseas. I thought I would leave when my kids did, but I love the community here — such a strong independent theatre community that also works consistently with the established companies. And Bill and I love living here, just outside of Brisbane in a rambling old house with our two black Labradors.
ZF: Do you feel Brisbane has more opportunities for theatre-makers these days?
The opportunities are vast now, with many independent theatre programs under the umbrella of Brisbane’s more established companies: La Boite, Queensland Theatre Company, PlayLab, Judith Wright, Brisbane Powerhouse and Metro Arts (Metro Arts sponsored a creative development of HOME last year as part of their FreeRange program before La Boite chose it for their independent season this year). And this week I have been given a wonderful opportunity with PlayLab as part of their LabRats program — to write a new performance piece with the working title The Man who Dreams A Train. I will be able to journey with PlayLab over the next few months culminating in a work-in-progress showing in November.
HOME runs at La Boite from Jul 18–28. Ph: 3007 8600 / www.laboite.com.au