First produced in the 1930’s, Thornton Wilder’s three-act play ‘Our Town’ has featured on Broadway, for the big screen and in sign language. Now the American classic will open to Western Australian audiences as part of this year’s Perth Festival.
The play – a 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner – tells the story of everyday people who pass you by and who you may not otherwise think about. 'Our Town's' director, Clare Watson, has cast three First Nation’s actors in the lead roles of the revival.
“They are all brilliant actors who I wanted to work with or have worked with before,” Ms Watson told NITV News.
Ms Seebens is a Bardi, Jabirr-Jabirr woman, and well-known in the entertainment industry. Her past roles include The Sapphires, Redfern Now, Black Comedy and the new ABC new drama, The Heights. She says she found out about the play last year when she was filming in Perth.
“I met Clare and we had a chat about [the play], and they asked me if I’d like to be involved and I really loved the idea of the play and I love working with people… Every other play I’ve done has been new Australian work, and thereby new Indigenous work,” she said.
Ms Sebbens said having two other First Nation’s actors in Abbie Lee Lewis and Ian Michael as part of the cast was a major drawcard for her.
“I just admire when directors don’t just cast one token black actor in a play, because I think in some way that’s psychological warfare, putting one black person in a room full of Kartiyas.
“I think it’s really important that diversity doesn’t mean one person in regards to many white people, I mean we’re diverse in relation to each other. It’s many different cultures, as there are in the play, with the casting of the community members as well,” Ms Sebbens said.
Abbie Lee Lewis said working alongside other First Nation’s actors allowed her to feel comfortable in her role.
“Most of the work that I have been doing is Shakespeare, so to be doing sort of my first kind of main stage gig and to be able to do that with First Nations people and on home ground, it's kind of really really nice,” she said.
“It has a different vibe, a different energy, a different essence. The room feels so much more safer- culturally- it’s incredible, it has a different understanding and dialogue that we’re having in the room as well.”
Ian Michael, a proud Noongar man, has been the resident artist with Black Swan Theatre and known both Ms and Ms Sebbens for almost a decade.
“Clare Watson and I have had a lot of conversations around the play. When she called me and offered me the role, and she said I’d like to make the core cast Indigenous actors, it kind of gave me goosebumps cos it’s an old American play that you’re putting three black faces in it, and it can be quiet risky,” he said.
Mr Michael said he doesn’t feel nervous about performing in front of his home crowd and added that it actually makes him feel more grounded.
“The room has been like a very safe room and I think it’s because, in a way, Clare allows us to guide ourselves through it and guide each other. It’s special and the words and the meaning are so much more deeper because of it.”
The three-act play begins with daily life, progresses to love and marriage, and then in the final act addresses death and eternity. The stage is bare, with actors miming actions without the use of props.
“This play doesn’t just show the people that live next door to you, it shows the streets that you walk in and it shows the country that we live in and I hope that people come and see that." said Mr Michael.
The remainder of the cast consists of 96 community members who won’t necessarily be quitting their day jobs in taking to the boards.
“Our excellent director has made the crazy decision to cast community members, so people who have kind of got amateur acting experience, or no acting experience, and mostly playing roles that they operate in real life,” said Ms Sebbens.
“Doctors are playing doctors. We’ve got milkmen in the play, but they’re played by UberEats and Deliveroo drivers, and kids are played by high school students and things like that. It’s a real coming together of many people from all around Perth.”