Australian Theatre History. The Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory

Yvonne Marini

I was the only person at the Pram who’d been to NIDA, but because I’d failed NIDA that was acceptable! Even though I’d hated the institution and found it boring, mundane and a place of no imagination I was devastated because it was a ‘failure’ for me. I was about 20 at the time and in a cultural vacuum, still trying to work out where I fitted in. I just didn’t know the Australian culture; being born in Greece, my Greek background made me feel vulnerable, never really able to consciously connect the two. I remember doing Jack Hibberd’s play, ‘Customs and Excise’ and when it talked about the ‘mechanic’s institute’ I had no idea what it meant. I had no vision, no connection, no association with that! I’d survived school by just going off everywhere, mainly to the movies, to fantasyland.  I’d get dressed up and buy Screen Gems and go look at movies, that was my dream world. I used to do little ‘turns’ for people- I was quite a comedian, but I never saw myself as that, I thought tragedy was where it was at- but we didn’t do much tragedy at the Pram!

 

After I failed NIDA in ‘68 I came back to Melbourne and stayed in my room, in my pyjamas, reading books and thinking, shit what am I going to do now? I really didn’t know very much about failure; I should just accept it, I thought, there’ll be lots more but I took it so personally which is my own character and my Greek background. But again, culturally I didn’t know how to move through this society.

 

Then a friend told me about la Mama and said why don’t you go down there?  So I did. I began to do the workshops and from there I became a performer in the street theatre. No one thought about the cultural difference that I brought in except for Kerry Dwyer who’d taught migrant kids at school and perhaps Bill Garner who seemed to realise I was from a different culture. I never felt really confident with the language, it took a long, long time to feel I was fluent or expressive enough.

 

At the time I never liked ‘Don’s Party’. I played Jody, the prim and proper one who let loose at the end. I guess most people would have known that this representation of Australian society was a comment but as I hadn’t experienced a society like that, it was right out of my world view, somehow I just stumbled through it.  I know I had a Greek accent and I had great difficulty doing the Australian accent. ‘Don’s Party’ wasn’t the kind of theatre I wanted to do and I nearly left the Pram after that experience. I remember having this terrible moment backstage where, on the last night I thought, ‘I’m not going on for the last scene’! I did of course but since that time I think I’ve come to understand David’s (Williamson) world and it has to be acknowledged that his writing did have a beneficial effect on raising the consciousness of society. His characters certainly didn’t appear to have another dimension but what I didn’t realise was that that was exactly what the culture was like!

 

My parents had gone through the wars and the guerrilla movement in Greece prior to World War Two and I was a part of that so I was very political. Throughout my years at the Pram I was quite independent in most ways. I didn’t get exploited by the men.  I wasn’t attached to anybody, I wasn’t married, I simply saw myself as by myself. Even before I came to the Pram Factory, I was questioning who I was, it was not something that I came to in later life. At the age of fourteen I was questioning those things. I was the one that had to change within myself. I never felt as though someone else was repressing me. I’d made a stand as a woman. I’d left home which, in my culture, was unknown at that time. You just got married- that’s how you left a Greek home, but both my sister and I were rebellious. The cultural isolation brought us together, being migrant children at school and where we lived in Maribyrnong. Once I started working at the Pram Factory I remember saying to Dad, ‘there’s no way I can get to the Pram every day from here!’ So I moved into the loft at the rear of John Timlin’s house in Rathdowne St.  I stayed there four or five years. I house-hopped after that.  I didn’t join the outside social groups. I didn’t go to pubs, I hated standing up, so I really didn’t like pubs.

 

In the beginning, with Marvellous Melbourne there were no ‘parts’. We developed the show ourselves - you brought in the idea, it got developed and researched, and you did it- there was no undercurrent, nothing was hidden. I remember researching the history of the Exhibition Buildings at the end of the 1890’s and that became the first scene of the show. Later I used to wonder how people got chosen for roles. There were certainly roles I didn’t get and a couple of times I may have felt upset about that but things were not expressed out in the open; you could be aware of arguments between people but these things were pushed into an undercurrent, which seemed to shift and change as alliances were built and disintegrated. Personally, I felt that things could be worked out if we calmed down enough!

 

I think in retrospect that Marvellous Melbourne was the best experience that I had there. It was all so new and it was about the theatre and not the personalities. When the focus was on that our enthusiasm it was brilliant.  ‘Chicago Chicago’ was the first scripted play we did and although that was interesting to do it was a big thing to mount. I arrived at the Pram just after the company completed the Perth tour so I missed that but I went on the tour to Adelaide.

 

During rehearsals for ‘Betty Can Jump’ in the Front Theatre there was definitely a feeling that the guys were threatened by the process that we were involved in. ‘Betty’ was born out of a big confrontation that had happened in the collective, about there not being enough roles for women. It happened one night whilst we were rehearsing some show. Everything came to a stop and there was this big, explosive debate about the dissatisfaction in the group. Kerry and Evelyn brought it up and the whole show came to a standstill. It was a huge issue and as a result of that the Women’s Project came into being which eventually was named ‘Betty Can Jump’.

 

‘Betty Can Jump’ was a wonderful experience. It was so totally different to everything we had done.  I remember working very hard there and I thought Kerry was very wonderful. She directed the project, which was all women; it was the beginning of going inward first to produce that material. It was a therapeutic act. We did a lot of soul searching and were engaged in high consciousness-raising. My own process during BCJ was very important for me. I don’t know how other people were affected by the show but I think it made a big change in Helen Garner’s life.

 

The people that I remember so well; Wilfred Last was so good looking, (to his detriment probably) in ‘Mary Shelley and the Monsters’ as Lord Byron he looked like Mick Jagger. He went thru a great period. People had difficulties with him turning up. Wilfred was amazing, he came in and just did it. He had real ability and could be quite focussed and yet he was quite humble. I don’t think he ever saw himself as a Romeo.

 

I remember Lindy Davies. I loved her humour and she loved people! She loved everyone, she was such an earth mother figure. She had more laugh lines at the age of 23 than anyone and she was such a good actor. Fay Mokotow and Laurel Frank had a similarity, both were very quiet, very centred and focussed - they seemed to hold a detached or rather impartial opinion of things without being swayed. Peter Cummins was brilliant. I saw ‘Stretch’ a number of times. He was so good in everything that he did but he didn’t quite fit into the Collective. I think we carry our own baggage and you have to remember that we were quite young.

 

 In ‘75 I decided I’d not do anymore theatre for a while. I needed a break so I went into the administration for a while. Then in ‘76 I came back for the last show that I did at the Pram. It was a  6-7 week tour of  Romeril’s ‘Mrs Thally F’. It was pretty gruelling. We’d set up the stage, then perform, then we’d travel all the next day, then there was press and radio and set up, perform and sleep. Suzy Potter did the mother. I had played the mother when Kerry had played Mrs Thally in the first production. I hadn’t had a chance to do a pretty straight kind of role. By that time I really loved the process that happened in rehearsals, really that was the core of theatre for me- to be focussed for an hour on one character and to develop the character. I had a performance method in me, it was not conscious. I never had to work things out and I hardly rehearsed, it was a really spontaneous thing that would take over, so much so that I could lose myself in it.

 

I remember a some point going to a Grotowski workshop and suddenly realising there was a world that it was possible to contact through theatre and after that revelation I just couldn’t do the Pram Factory Style stuff any more. It was not deep enough, it didn’t reach deep enough inside and also it couldn’t compare with what I’d started contacting within myself, my spiritual self. Stanislavsky was on about psychology, Brecht went into the intellectual but Grotowski was into the intuitive. I never read anything about theatre but when I read ‘Towards a Poor Theatre’ (Grotowski) I knew that that was the kind of theatre that I wanted to do, it was theatre I could relate to.

 

In human development that is the way we’ve evolved. First our feeling body, then our intellect and now we give credibility to our intuition, to the intuitive, which is the faculty of the soul. I wanted a vision, a view that would so inspire people that it would break through the blockages, that’s what I wanted at the Pram. I joined the Divine Light along with Vic Marsh and most people thought we were probably a bit nuts. No one touched their inner selves at the Pram Factory, it was very intellectual. When I came back from the Grotowski workshop, which was way ‘out there’, I did a workshop at the Pram and I remember a girl breaking down in tears.  I knew something had happened for her but really none of us knew how to deal with that.

 

At the time of the birth of ‘Stasis’ I was unhappy and depressed and hypoglycaemic. I could hardly walk to the theatre some days. I think Stasis was trying to get in there but it wasn’t the right thing for me. First of all we were doing visualisations with colours and energy and we were doing meditations. I remember reading something about Egyptian times about how they used to be initiated and some of the rites that they did were what we were doing at that time in Stasis.  In Stasis I preferred to take a back seat, I was the outside eye. I wasn’t interested in performing in it.  I’d come to a crossroad in my life and I had to make some sort of new decisions to do with theatre and the spiritual path that I’d embarked on and I couldn’t seem to integrate them both.

 

Now we can talk about spirituality. But back then people thought I was joining a cult, but my experiences with my meditation at that time were quite extraordinary. I was having cosmic experiences that I couldn’t share with anyone. You can’t speak about these things to people who can’t understand that there is this other dimension in us. There wasn’t a name for it.  Most people thought I’d sold out and run away from life.

 

The time at the Pram was more of an intellectual revolution. Vietnam was real but it was more a case of reading about it rather than doing it. We knew on many subtle levels that people had to change inside and even though I didn’t know what our words were really saying I could see that they did raise the consciousness, they stirred people, created change. Theatre has got to be more than just politics. ‘Let’s do something really beautiful, really stunning!’ I would cry but we weren’t into that. People thought I was just idealistic and I was, but you need to be a practical idealist. Interaction at the Pram was a broad brushstroke.

 

I don’t go to too much theatre now. Even with the supposedly new stuff, its like nothing’s been really new since the Pram...

 

biography

Yvonne Marini died in Melbourne in October 2001, she had been ill for some time....

 

 




This website was developed by Suzanne Ingleton and with the support of 
The Myer Foundation

Website designed by webhouse.com.au