Depicting the Gorgon: the making of theatre about historic-political trauma

Author: Verity Laughton

Laughton, Verity, 2020 Depicting the Gorgon: the making of theatre about historic-political trauma, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This practice-led research PhD consists of an exegesis on the dramatic depiction of extreme (traumatic) historic-political events from the point of view of the craft of the playwright, and a related creative outcome, a play. In particular, it considers contemporary theatre artists’ depictions of people subject to deliberate and significant violence for political ends.

Firstly, the project looks at understandings of the traumatic, the complexities of memory, and the issues of ethics and authenticity in the use of testimony in contemporary theatre. Secondly, it considers the differing claims for “text” versus “mise en scène” in 20th and 21st century dramatic depictions of traumatic political events. Thirdly, reflecting the Polish-Australian subject matter of the play, it compares theatre made in contemporary Australia with work created in Poland post-World War II, heavily influenced as the latter was by the memory of an extreme national experience of trauma. Through interviews with Australian creative practitioners, mainly playwrights, the exegesis discusses features of Australian theatre culture that have influenced Australian work in this area. A second set of interviews with different generations of Australian-Polish Jewish and Gentile survivors of the Holocaust provides historical amplification of research conclusions as well as approved content for the play itself.

In the exegesis, several methodologies are employed: the use of iterative cyclic webs to depict the creative/analytic tensions of practice-led research; an artistic audit of the work of other practitioners; a description of the author’s poetics with regard to the creative outcome, the play; and, uniting all of the above, a case study of the project overall. The case study specifically explores writing about the long-term individual and communal impact of traumatic events in a new full-length, large-scale play, Bloodlines, a Polish Memory, based on the experiences and memories of members of the Polish diaspora who sought a new life in Australia after World War II.

Keywords: theatre, political, trauma, memory, authenticity, Poland, practice-led research, creativity

Subject: Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Emertitus Professor Jeri Kroll