First published Jan 2007

My name is Augusta Supple. Known to most as Gus. I returned from living and working in Canada as a full time theatre director and playwright: all my successes (and not-so successes) are unheard of in my native land of Oz. This column is about coming home. Returning or should I say re-starting? Reintegrating and re-inventing oneself into the Australian Arts industry after being in self-imposed exile in another country’s arts industry. I will start off writing about me… about trials tribulations and then other perspective from friends and colleagues who have returned home and have struggled to find their feet or voice in a new version of their old country.

I decided to leave Australia in 2003. An easy decision, though I choked on the mantra I had since my late teens “see Australia before you see the rest of the world.” Uni friends would disappear for a while in the wilds of South-East Asia exploring cultures and dodging exotic diseases; a good friend was off to the US sponsored by a big engineering company; other friends made their Contiki tours a part of their lifestyles and some sat around lazily numbering the countries they have been to.

Not me. I stayed in Sydney. I was working here and there in theatres and day jobs, believing the “only as good as your last show” stuff. Directing short plays, writing bits and pieces, stage-managing and set building. I was the friend that helped shows get off the ground and did whatever I could for the good of the cause: Theatre: the perpetually dying art. Immersed in independent theatre, drowning in its gaffer tape and budget limitations… aggressively passive smoking while worthy actors waited patiently for a big break (of a celebrity kind.)

I had emailed my CV and a bright enthusiastic letter of introduction to several theatre companies in Canada (a childhood dream to head to the great white north!) with an open mind and a huge amount of trust to places I wanted to see, theatres with a strong history and an innovative websites. I was trawling the internet finding all sorts of things… And then I found it! A show that I thought would broaden my horizons. A “Community Play” to be developed written and performed in, of, for and by the people of a Canadian community. An English director and English designer, a professional team and local people of all persuasions: a cast of 200… of amateur actors… yep… that sounds as far from here as I could get: count me in!

Within a few months I had my ticket, travel insurance, a free place to stay for 6 months (courtesy of the theatre company’s assistant designer) and the rumour of a job. What a job! The only Aussie on this huge, tight budgeted show. I collected curious Canadians, who flocked around me like tourists at the Big Banana, looking and listening to me, asking questions: what did I think of Canada? Where was I from? How long am I here for? and of course the usual questions about Australian weather, vegemite and kangaroos. I was the myth dispeller and the unofficial ambassador for Oz, I was just like Bindi Irwin, but without my own exercise video!

In my first 2 months in Canada, I appeared in “The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Tent Show”: 5 characters, 4 accents (which weren’t my own), 13 costume changes, 6 songs and feigning explosive diarrhea: all in 63 minutes! Not easy money. Especially considering the “afflicted by explosive diarrhea” part of my performance.

Then the show which was the reason I was there. I directed several scenes, created eight ball gowns out of different coloured plastic bags, wrote a couple of songs, edited the script, performed as a frog and was in charge of taking care of the 200 kilogram blind tourettes disorder suffering native man in the cast, who would yell and bite himself when confused by what was happening, which was often (and who could blame him?).

Within 2 months of the show finishing I had founded a lucrative youth theatre. I was also working with a group who made musical instruments for children out of recycled and found objects; co-wrote a show for a theatrical choir for children. I was fast becoming known about town as the children’s theatre expert (and on some occasions Mary Poppins) and scored a much-coveted job at a local arts centre. There were offers and jobs flooding in from a huge music festival to direct their opening and closing ceremonies, a play to direct and dramaturge for the mental health community… I was busy! Working in the arts and popular for my writing and directing (with professionals and amateurs from 5-93years old) who could ask for anything more? Then came an offer to be sponsored for the next 2 years! Decision time!

I thought seasons were somehow regulated in 3 month cycles. 12 months, 4 seasons, Right? 12 divided by 4 is three. Winter starts in December and ends in February. Right? WRONG! The Canadian winter begins in November and continues sometimes until May. When I was finally told this, I cried. Little ice cube tears chinked as they hit the pavement, (which was also covered in ice.)

Two days later it was Australia Day 2005, I was in my office with thick fluffy snow fringing the windows, encouraging me to eat and sleep more. I was occasionally pecking out a script for another show. It had been -33 degrees all week. I hadn’t been outside in days. Then, a phone call. Happy voices of my friends who were barbequing, getting sun burnt and listening to triple J’s hottest 100 bubbled over the phone as I pictured them wearing Australian flags as capes and playing lawn bowls barefoot in the sun and slowly getting drunk on Aussie beer.

Decision time. What to do? Stay in the land of eternal winter where Mr Tumnus and I can drink 8% Quebec beer and make snow angles for most of the year whilst working as a youth theatre director/playwright? Or frolic with my friends whilst getting by on bits and pieces of independent theatre shows: the life that has only existed in my memory and in the responses to curious Canadians?

In my deliberations, my best Canadian friend and designer (who had lived in several foreign countries) said, “the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave” and she suggested any more than 2 years, things start to get difficult. That deadline was fast approaching.

So I booked my ticket home to arrive in the Australian summer. That’s no coincidence. But the weather was not completely to blame. I had a new-found validation. A renewed passion for theatre and new writing. I felt ready to be re-introduced into my native land. If I could make a living in Canada… surely I can make a living in Australia? So here I am. And I’m going to share it all: my history, disappointments and failures, observations and experiences returning to Oz.