Rachael Chisholm on burning stories, community, and our First Nations Writing Program

We spoke to emerging playwright and actor Rachael Chisholm about the last four years, the best advice she ever received, and how mentors and community help make art happen. Rachel participated in our First Nations Writing Program in 2019, and encourages other aspiring Indigenous writers to take part.

Rachael in Backstage by Story Projects, photo by Helen Orr

We need to see ourselves on stages and screens so the world knows we’re here… that what we have to say is worth being heard.

Ever since I was a little kid watching the Oscars I’ve always wanted to be a performer or a writer. 

When I was younger I only wanted to be those things so I could be rich and famous and live overseas being a movie star. As an adult I’m an actor and writer because I want to represent and tell the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples so the younger generations can feel represented and feel proud of their heritage and culture. I want to give them the courage to stand up and believe in themselves and believe that they can make a difference. 

There need to be more First Nations stories out there in the world. We need to see ourselves on stages and screens so the world knows we’re here, so we know that we’re here and what we have to say is worth being heard and seen and shared and remembered. 

The cast of Cosi, 2019

Don’t listen to the negative voice inside your head that says ‘You can’t do that’ … That voice is not worth the sacrifice of you living your fullest life. 

I did the First Nation’s Writing Program at Brown’s Mart in 2019, and I learned a lot. I was given the tools to help me give structure to the story I wanted to write and I learnt what makes a story, and a character’s journey, interesting to read or see on stage. 

It also gave me the opportunity to network with other First Nations creatives in Darwin, which was fantastic as it gave me a new group of people to bounce ideas off. And that networking has continued to grow despite the session happening several years ago! 

Having mentors and peers is so important to have as an artist because they are your support network and safety net. They push you when you need the push, they cheer you on when you feel like you’re being an imposter, and they help you work out your plot by bouncing ideas with you. I wouldn’t be an actor or a playwright if it wasn’t for people I’ve met backing me. 

And knowing that I have a great support system that consists of First Nations Elders and young people is so important to me as a playwright because it allows me to check in with my community and ask them if I am telling our stories right, that I am doing our stories justice, that I am telling them truthfully despite the hurt it may bring up. 

For people out there who are thinking of applying for the program but feel too shame and think they are not good enough, really just do it and apply, have a go. Don’t let your fear stop you from living your true self and getting those stories that you are obsessed about telling out of your head, onto a piece of paper and shown to an audience. You have a story/stories to tell? Great! Lets hear it!

First Nations Writing Program participants with mentor Fred Copperwaite

For the next couple of months I am dedicating my time to finishing the first draft of a play that I started awhile back, its been sitting on my laptop screaming at me to be told. Its about Aboriginal women and why they have lived with intergenerational violence, and how they might be able to break that cycle. Its a hard story, one that I have struggled with telling but the story hasn’t abandoned me so it wants me to tell it! And I will.

Knowing I am supported by other First Nations writers encourages me to keep writing.

Rachael in Cosi, 2019

Best advice I’ve ever been given about being an actor/writer and accepting my authentic voice is this. Don’t listen to the negative voice inside your head that says ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘Thats shame job” . That voice is not worth the sacrifice of you living your fullest life. 

Applications for our First Nations Writing program are open until August 23. Find out more HERE

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