It was opening night of Stories from the 428 when James Waites pressed a signed copy of his hot-off-the-press platform paper into my hand. I had seen chapters develop over the previous 5 months- heard of the interviews as they were taking place- and watching/listening as the story was unfolding. He pressed it into my hand, like a nervous teenage boy gives a love letter to the one he loves- nonchalantly, yet with the type of urgent tenderness that says “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…” and he said, don’t read it in bits. Sit down over easter with some chocolate and read it in one go…

Since that night, there are two books that sit on my bedside table, which I have read and keep within reaching distance for comfort or inspiration or solace… both published by Currency Press- firstly, A Raffish Experiment- The Selected Writings of Rex Cramphorn Edited by Ian Maxwell. And secondly James Waites’ Whatever Happened to the STC Actors Company.
Both are amazing documents of theatre practice- one the perspective of the director (and reviewer) formulating the framework for breathtaking advancement in the creation of Australian theatre practice/ the other an elegant synthesis of the actor’s experience in one of the most public and fraught (and somewhat divisive) projects in Sydney’s theatre landscape in recent times. They are companion pieces for me- histories, cautionary tales- that show how tenuous the working relationships within theatre are. They are books filled with disappointment and dispair and daring. And perhaps more valuable to me than Peter Brook’s The Empty Space (which is highly motivational, but without the caution nor Australian context) or Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre (which is a wonderful book- but again does not have the local historical context I thirst for).

Tonight at the launch- which was at Currency House in Redfern, Katharine Brisbane made a calm and clear address to the room filled with sandwiches and friends (and friends/colleagues sandwiched)- about how the launch of this paper was delayed. Unfortunately there seemed to be a difference of opinion of the value/ weight of the word “failure” used in context of the project- which had crushed all hope of having the paper launched at the STC with the actors present. Then like dominos other venues (NIDA, Belvoir etc) also declined to have the launch in their foyers. “The Holy Twelve” and Co were not present. Nevin, not present. Perhaps the coverage in Financial Review, SMH etc had drawn attention to the “failure”…. perhaps it was as suggested by Wright tonight “it’s ok for artists to embrace “failure” but not arts management”… Arts journos past and present, academics past and present, commentators, reviewers turned up.

In true style, Waites’ paper is weighted towards actors. He unashamedly loves actors- it says so on his site-

James great loves are dogs and actors: “Both species are cute to pat, excel in performing wonderful tricks, and lick you all over for humble rewards like liver treats and pieces of cheese ” he observes.

The paper itself has taught me a great deal- about leadership- about communication – about clarity and for the first time in my theatre career, I felt compassion for and inspired by Robyn Nevin. My whole career, she has been a rumour of “hardness” of “ambition” of “ruthlessness” and of “coldness”. I ‘ve never met Nevin. Her husband I have met (who is utterly charming – especially if youa re a fan of The Sound of Music or Spiderman) but not her. I have held her aloft as a figure to be feared. Waites’ paper made me like her, her vision, I felt for her, I felt her humanity and her compassion… and it made me admire her.

The nice thing about the paper is that you can hear how much care and consideration has been taken in handling the conversations- nothing is used as amunition or as muck-raking- nothing is about finger pointing- its a re-telling of the events through the eyes of the participants- and is told with care and balance- though slightly weighed on the side of the more vulnerable (and therefore potentially volatile subjects)- the actors.

I utterly believe that Waites is the only one who could have written this paper with such tenderness and care, with such curiosity and love and with genuine heartfelt concern for all the stakeholders.

I for one, as a practitioner and commentator (of sorts) am utterly grateful I have his paper. I am lucky to call him my dear friend- and had his paper been not up to scratch I would have just hugged him, bought him some wine and told him a dirty joke. But, his paper is brilliant- it is important and essential reading to anyone who believes in risk, who believes in taking chances, who wants to learn and be inspired. And it will remain on my bedside table for quick reference for a long time to come.