Barbara and the Camp Dogs at Belvoir
Before embarking on a national tour, 2017’s smash hit returns to Belvoir for a special encore season, fresh after a nomination for the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting as part of the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
Part road story, part family drama, part political cry from the heart, Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a deeply personal play and high-octane rock gig all in one, featuring the powerhouse duo of Ursula Yovich and Elaine Crombie, and a very tight band keeping the night alive.
Rosie spoke to actor Elaine Crombie about why this work has come back to Belvoir, and why everyone should be seeing this show. Read the full interview below:
Barbara and the Camp Dogs returns to Sydney by popular demand after being a huge hit in Belvoir’s 2017 program, hitting the Malthouse Theatre in 2019 and recently being nominated for the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting. Why do you think this story has resonated with so many audience members, and for those who haven’t seen the show, what can they expect?
Speaking as a strong, staunch Blak woman and mother, this story resonates on so many levels, sisters, family, loss, love. Ursula has poured her heart out and along with Alana Valentine they'vecrafted a tale that speaks to Australian history from a Blak perspective and a family perspective and how the system is set up and levelled against us and it shows how hard we have to hustle in life. It talks about the music industry and how it’s treated singers, musos, blak artists, blak female artists. It tells the story of chasing your dreams and the sacrifices we have to make - like living away from family, travelling back home for family, our obligations of love.
If you haven’t seen it, I don’t know what to tell you to expect because I’m in it and I live it. If you want to see true life and love on stage, COME ALONG!!!!!!
This production features live music throughout, using rock, punk, folk and more to bring this sticky pub to life. How do you think live music elevates this work and how does your storytelling change by adding songs on top of dialogue?
Music is something that ignites different parts of the brain and different emotions. Marrying music to powerful words and statements, throughout this piece, make you cheer harder, cry quicker and love sooner. The music is the back bone of this piece. Ursula, Troy and myself are the back bone of this piece. We are all equal. There is no one without the other. The other equal in this piece is SILENCE.
Barbara and the Camp Dogs shines a light on the intergenerational distress caused by the invasion and violence of White Australians and how these actions have trickled down to impact First Nations Australians even in 2019. Why is it imperative to be having these conversations in now, and what role does this show play in opening a dialogue about this trauma?
We must always have these conversations and we must never forget. It would be neglectful of us if we didn't. We have to have these conversations and put them in this form of theatrical expression and flood the audience with students, students and more students. We need young minds to see this play and ask questions and query their teachers, parents, pastors, bus drivers, friends, cousins. We need them to not be afraid when asking questions and wanting to know more.
Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a polite education. Set in a wonderful theatre space audience can experience emotions and be moved and feel angered and helpless and then what?! I say it’s polite and others would disagree. It’s polite because during the course of the journey of Barbara and Rene, we crack open - kids getting taken away, blak female artists being scrutinised, blak people being displaced and the knock on effects of that. Intergenerational trauma and we talk straight to your heart about it in this play. We punch you in the chest and then we sing and break your heart even more then you’re given some laughs to patch it up.
It’s always imperative also, to never forget, YOU’RE ON STOLEN LAND, while we tell these stories.
Processing grief and trauma in theatre, while cathartic, can be an incredibly draining experience for a performer. Do you have ways to distance yourself from the story while performing or do you begin the healing process after each performance? What do you do as self-care after an emotionally exhausting performance?
The first season of Barbara was so special and electrifying and it was definitely a cathartic experience. Coming back to it this time around it’s become more of a job, I know where to place things and what to access and where the tone has to be set. I’ve done this job for 20 years. Assuming characters, giving voice to those who couldn’t give voice anymore, telling stories that needed to be told. I do it well and I love it and when the story of Rene becomes too much I’ll let you know. Right now, her voice is being heard and that’s what’s most important.
As for Elaine, for me, sleep is precious to me and experiencing sunsets and remembering those who’ve passed. Whilst I’m in this show now I’m in deep grief and all my other grief comes up along with it so doing the show of a night time is a welcome distraction.
I can’t wait to have a lovely pho or laksa with dear friends whilst I’m here in Sydney and do some more writing of some of my own work.
Unapologetic and unfiltered, Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a show that has a lot to say. As an artist, what do you hope to achieve with this work, and what do you hope audiences walk away with?
I hope that as many people can come and see the show. As an artist I’m always wanting to perfect a line, a delivery, a song, so it’s always evolving for me.
As for the audiences, I can’t hold your hand once I’ve told you this story. Take it in your heart and do with it what you will.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Corrugation Road - I was 15/16 and I thought it just looked like so much fun, all these blackfullas, singing, laughing, telling stories. I remember thinking “Wow!!!! I want to be a part of that!!!"
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Home to Port Pirie to pick up my sons, and we’ll heading to New Zealand and New York then upon return we pick up my Mum and Nan and the 5 of us set of on discovering more of our beautiful country.
Dream show/role to perform?
Rene has been pretty amazing!
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Social work. Painting. Role model. Giving other people hope and inspiration. Singing. Studying. Writing.
What’s next for you after this show?
Hopefully I get the audition that I did last week, FINGERS CROSSED!!!!! and then beyond that I’m looking forward to life with my Mum, Nan, my beloved sons and my family back in Port Pirie, South Australia, and also focussing energy on my role as First Nations First Peoples Organiser at the Media Entertainment Artist Alliance. Darkening pathways throughout our industry is always exciting, empowering work.
Barbara and the Camp Dogs is currently showing at Belvoir St Theatre until April 28 2019. You can get your tickets here.