Sparks is QPAC and Playlab Theatre’s development program that supports First Nations writers taking their first steps into playwriting. Kamilaroi woman Emily Wells was part of the inaugural intake in 2019, and further developed her script through Playlab Theatre’s Alpha Processing program in 2020-21, before Playlab Theatre produced it at Metro Arts in March 2022.
The season was a raft of firsts, including for director Aunty Roxanne McDonald, who after being an actor for more than 30 years, made her directorial debut with Face to Face.
“I first heard about Emily’s play at Clancestry when she had a reading there in 2019. I was approached by [co-director] Nadine McDonald-Dowd and Playlab last year, and they talked to me about wanting to up-skill more First Nations artists and posed the question to me about directing Emily Wells’ play.”
Face to Face follows two women, Leila and her niece Maddie. Maddie turns up at her Aunty’s door step late one night; the two haven’t seen each other for quite some time and over the course of the evening family loyalty, trust, community is laid bare.
Lorinda Merrypor and Hannah Belanszky in Face to Face. Photo by Justine Walpole, supplied by Playlab Theatre.
Wells hopes the play will help us move closer to recognising and respecting all First Nations women, no matter how they choose to play the cards they have been dealt.
“While this is not my life on stage, this play captures precious parts of me - my family, funny memories with my Aunties, serious discussions with peers and people I work with, dumb jokes and ‘d&m’s’ with friends. Having my Mum, Aunties and Aunty Colleen Wall on board as Cultural Dramaturgs meant I could reflect their experiences as Indigenous women as well.”
The characters in the two-hander embody the frustration that many First Nations People feel to be put in a box.
“Leila is hungry for change, the big symbolic initiatives that bring us all together with mob at the forefront, and she’s demanding it every day from within the white walls of her Government job. Maddie, on the other hand, is young, fiery and ready to burn down anything that doesn’t serve our people, including anything to do with so-called ‘reconciliation’,” Wells says.
“Leila and Maddie both have to overcome the expectation that as Indigenous people, we have to fit into one identity, have the same opinion or lived experience, or find a one size fits all approach to the future. An expectation placed on us every day by non-Indigenous people, people in power, and by ourselves.”
For the premiere season, Hannah Belanszky plays Leila and Lorinda Merrypor is Maddie.
Of her role, Merrypor says: “I have always wanted to originate a role in a show; that’s always been something on my list, so that in itself is very exciting. But getting to work with incredible First Nations women like Emily, Aunty Roxy and Nadine has just made his process so special, as well as getting to tell a story that I can relate to in the sense of what is going on in the world these days and that I’ve grown up in.”
Hannah Belanszky in Face to Face. Photo by Justine Walpole, supplied by Playlab Theatre.
Belanszky was also a participant in the Sparks program alongside Wells.
“I was there when she first told the room her idea and I’ve always kind of been on the periphery of this work in a way. It’s really important to me to treat the work with respect and do it justice; I know as a playwright just how tender this process really is and also how vulnerable you can feel to be putting your work out there.”
Wells hopes Face to Face opens the audience’s eyes to the ongoing fight for First Nations People.
“I hope audiences see the pressure placed on us by mob, white Australia and ourselves, and feel the added levels of exhaustion from not being able to turn this responsibility off. I hope this play shows the impact of chasing or being forced to achieve absolute consensus, and encourages all of us to fight against that expectation, rather than each other.”
“Face to Face is a powerful and nuanced look at the current place of First Nations People in our world today. ★★★★ ” Broadway World
We pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors of this land, their spirits and their legacy. The foundations laid by these ancestors – our First Nations Peoples – gives strength, inspiration and courage to current and future generations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, towards creating a better Queensland.