Historical overview of theatre in australia
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Historical Overview of Theatre in Australia. The Australian Continent. modern, industrialized nation on largely unpopulated continent seven states, territories only island continent only continent to be occupied by single nation

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The australian continent
The Australian Continent

  • modern, industrialized nation on largely unpopulated continent

  • seven states, territories

  • only island continent

  • only continent to be occupied by single nation

  • population hugs seaboard; interior is mostly desert (80% of country in arid or semiarid zones)



Aboriginal australia
Aboriginal Australia

  • ancestors of the Aborigines arrived on the continent at least 65,000-70,000 years ago

  • from South Indonesia during the last ice age

  • over time, separated into distinct tribal groups with their own languages and traditions

  • subsistence husbandry


Kinship religion and the land
Kinship, Religion, and the Land

  • over this long period, tribal lands were integrated into a complex set of religious beliefs and practices that governed all aspects of Aboriginal life

  • believed that physical structure of tribal territory embodied ancient spiritual entities that preserved and protected the land and its people

  • since the land was a physical expression of spirit ancestors, and the spirits were progenitors of the Aborigines, land and people were connected in mutually dependent relationship

  • land central to sense of personal identity; myths of “Dreamtime”



European exploration
European Exploration

  • Terra Australis Incognita

  • 17C Dutch exploration: in 1642 Abel Tasman named Australia “New Holland”

  • initial reports unfavorable

  • 1770 James Cook annexed east coast territory on behalf of King George III of England, named it “New South Wales”


Convict transportation 1788 1868
Convict Transportation 1788-1868

  • 1776 Britain’s North American colonies declared independence

  • Britain could no longer send convicts to America

  • overflowing prisons

  • in the 1780s it was suggested that Britain could use New South Wales as a prison

  • transportation for seven years, 10 years, or life


The australian penal colony
The Australian Penal Colony

  • in January 1788 the first shipload of convicts arrived in Botany Bay

  • founded settlement named Sydney

  • life was very difficult for early convict settlers: soil infertile, food scarce, sickness rife

  • eventually learned how to survive; convicts who finished their “lags” became free settlers


Colonial expansion
Colonial Expansion

  • Lachlan Macquarie became Governor of the colony in 1810

  • number of free settlers increased markedly

  • exploration inland

  • development of towns, roads, public buildings

  • pastoral wealth; gold discovered in 1850s

  • convict transportation ceased in 1868


What about the aborigines
What about the Aborigines?

  • 18C approx. 600,000 - one million Aborigines

  • huge cultural gap between colonizers and colonized

  • Aborigines considered to be “rural pests”

  • opposing notions of land ownership and use: terra nullius

  • two centuries of appalling economic and cultural disadvantage


The stolen generation
The Stolen Generation

  • as a result of murder, dispossession, sickness, Aboriginal population plummeted

  • c.1900 Europeans assumed that Aborigines were dying out

  • non-full-blood children forcibly removed from families, placed in institutions to learn European values and trades

  • expected to breed with other “half-castes” or whites and ultimately eliminate the Aboriginal blood line

  • loss of identity, mistreatment


History of australian theatre convict theatre 1788 1840
History of Australian Theatre Convict Theatre 1788-1840

  • convict theatre fueled by late-Georgian craze for amateur theatricals

  • instigated by convicts

  • first play = George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, June 4 1789

  • 1796 = Sydney’s first theatre, managed by Robert Sidaway

  • convict performances sustained until c.1840


19c colonial theatre
19C Colonial Theatre

  • similar trends to other colonial settlements: melodrama, musicals, comedy, domestic drama, farces, and other “light theatre”

  • bushranger plays

  • literary-historical drama in verse, based on historical drama of the 18C (Addison, Racine), also Shakespeare; escapist


Towards an australian theatre 1900 1950
Towards an “Australian” Theatre1900-1950

  • call for “indigenous” Australian drama

  • influence of realism, and Independent Theatres overseas

  • rise of repertory groups, “authors’ theatres,” e.g. Australian Theatre Society, Adelaide Repertory Theatre

  • still characterized by amateurism, lacked widespread national support


Postcolonial influences post 1950
Postcolonial Influences Post-1950

  • 1950s = theatre subsidization

  • Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust

  • Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955) and the Australian audience

  • new era of sustained professionalism in management, production, and acting associated with the Australian play

  • out of this new creative environment = 1960s new dramatists, artists, experimenting with new forms


Aboriginal theatre 1970 2005
Aboriginal Theatre, 1970-2005

  • 1960s organized Aboriginal civil rights movement

  • 1971 Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers performed

  • 1970s-80s collective initiatives; Black Theatre Groups

  • 1989 Bran Nue Dae = turning point in Aboriginal theatre

  • 1990s social, political change

  • more creative control, intense and high-profile activity; women writers; Indigenous Theatre Groups; writing as resistance, also reconciliation


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