Are Australian plays, art and film different? Do we have a unique cultural life? Or, has our cultural life been Netflixed into one homogeneous bubble? That’s a question any country could ask. Are the Canadians, South Africans and Scots all watching Netflix, too? Probably. And why not? What better time for us to be one big world. The more we all appreciate the same films and books the more likely we are to become one world family.
Netflix is not homogenising us. The world is simply becoming one and Netflix is a product of that process. And, in turn, Netflix advances that oneness by giving us programs from around the world. In Australia, Netflix provides films in 26 languages. Netflix makes us internationally knowledgeable.
That is, until we start to crave something specifically about ourselves. Perhaps once we’re saturated with the great-oneness-world, something makes us want to re-orient back to our own local lives.
We want to see our city in a film. “Look, John! They are chasing the robber over the Harbour Bridge!” We want our local area to be worthy of great stories.
Scholars James Frazer and Jane Harrison in Themis say that early rituals were enacted to ensure social well-being. Wearing a deer skin and dancing around the fire is very local and was good for the ancient us because it helped explain and control our environment. Local is good for wellness.
Aristotle laid down the basic three theatre ‘unities’ of time-locality-action as crucial for audience engagement.
Commedia dell’arte troupes knew exactly what the medieval villagers wanted to see… something local they could identify with and laugh at.
Over the past two years, Australia’s Nielsen Book Scan has seen nearly a 30% jump in Australian authors featured in the top 25 fiction titles. Australians love local authors such as Liane Moriarty, Matthew Reilly, Jane Harper, Markus Zusak and Johnathan Thurston because they tell us about us. Liane Moriarty novels are usually set in suburbia with families’ everyday concerns of child minding, soccer and romance.
It’s a magical huge cultural hit when an Australian play is crafted to tell a universal story that people everywhere relate to.
A brilliant play could be set in an Australian suburb or the outback and be so universal that people in a village in England and in a Los Angeles residential tower relate to it. Here are just some of the Australian playwrights who have had productions outside of Australia of plays set in Australia:
Joanna Murray-Smith, Daniel Keene, Tom Wright, Raimondo Cortese, Finegan Kruckemeyer, Hannie Rayson and Kate Mulvany. One of Kate’s plays, The Seed, set in Australia and Ireland, is a compelling, tightly-woven and thrilling exploration of a very real family and the repercussions of war. Her play has been produced in Poland where it no doubt resonated with a country in the crossroads of the European military powers for centuries.
Being an immigrant country, many of our stories resonate elsewhere because the characters are from elsewhere. Our Nobel Prize winner Patrick White’s novel Voss chronicles a German visionary’s doomed expedition to cross the continent.
Australian television serials are wildly popular outside Australia. People can’t seem to get enough of the romanticised version of us. These are some of our very “Aussie” yet universally appealing shows: Top of the Lake sold into 225 territories, McLeod’s Daughters (182 territories), The Slap (over 180 territories), Miss Fisher’s Murders (172 territories), Rake (over 165 territories), Wentworth (140 territories), The Code (140 territories) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries (132 territories)
According to research by Screen Australia, McLeod’s Daughters has fans in some very far flung places including the Faroe Islands, the Shetlands and even Lapland. The show is also incredibly popular in Germany and The Netherlands.
It seems the world can’t get enough of Australian culture, and Australia can’t get enough of the world culture. Australians, Americans, Europeans and others all see world culture via the multitude of Netflix offerings and that is a good thing. It is also a good thing that excellent local plays and films bring us back to ourselves and remind us of our own identities.
Carol is a Sydney playwright, producer and artist. She has had four full-length plays and 14 short plays produced (Sydney, Malaysia, India). Her published plays are at australianplays.org. Her artwork is found at Paintings by Carol Dance