Brown’s Mart Theatre

Darwin’s first home for theatre and live performance

Sandra Thibodeaux talks about her award winning play...

We’re in an empty besser block lounge room about the size of a small kitchen. There’s me (the only stranger) and an Indonesian family ranging from the forty-year-old patriarch, Jonah*, down to a toddler. Life has been hard. No-one’s really making cash. There’s no electricity and the water supply is the village well. Jonah’s brother and sister-in-law are long-dead. This saw him bringing up three nephews – two of whom went to sea one day and disappeared …

I came across the story of these ‘missing boys’ back when my own son was about fifteen. A chord struck. Australian authorities had jailed these under-aged boys for working on asylum seeker boats. The worst part was they hadn’t bothered to tell the boys’ family where they were. They were presumed dead.

So, here I am that day, in a besser block lounge room, and the first thing I need to do is apologise. Then I try to explain this theatre project. The air is tight; no-one knows what to say; everyone is hoping I’ll leave soon, I guess. Not knowing what to do, I take out my phone and show a photo of my own son. I describe his laziness: ‘Facebook all night and sleep all day!’ They crack up at the familiar trope, and this is where our relationship begins …

I wrote the first draft of The Age of Bones (Zaman Belulang) in about 36 hours, holed up in a tiny hotel room the size of a cupboard. Further drafts and some developments followed. A few artist exchanges between our Indonesian and Australian team members occurred. Alex Galeazzi and Iswadi Pratama were invaluable in shaping the script; Kadek Krishna Adidharma (a long-time collaborator) translated maybe four drafts. I angsted over the work and still do – in these types of projects, how are the ‘subjects’ (the imprisoned boys) benefiting? I have found some solutions, and am still looking for more …

We were shortlisted for the Griffin Award this year, and went on to win the Brown’s Mart Theatre Award (NT Literary Awards), as well. Performing Lines came on-board as a co-producer. We started getting gigs in Indonesia and around Australia. This was exciting … but frightening, as well – the finances continued to stump us with increasing costs and dwindling income streams. Brown’s Mart is our hardy presenting partner. The Mart funded our 2016 development, and will present The Age of Bones as part of their 2017 season. I’d like to thank Brown’s Mart and ArtsNT for their ongoing support. I’d also like to thank the Darwin actors who participated in last year’s Darwin Festival reading – Tom Pauling, Desak Putu Warti, Darren Edwards, Gail Evans and Kadek Hobman.

Sandra Thibodeaux

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Teater Satu cast at the April 2016 development, Lampung     





 Sandra Thibodeaux Biography: Sandra Thibodeaux is a playwright and poet. She has written over a dozen plays that have been staged as part of festivals and broadcast on Radio National. Her latest plays include The Age of Bones, The Lion Tamer and Mr Takahashi (and other falling secrets). Sandra has twice won the NT Literary Awards for her plays, and has been short-listed for both the Patrick White and Griffin playwriting awards. She has published four books of poetry, the latest of these being DIRTY H2O (Mulla Mulla Press). In 2011, Sandra was Australian Poetry’s Poet-in-Residence. Recently, she has been engaged as Lecturer in Literary Studies at Charles Darwin University.

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