Review: THE ONLY CONSTANT at Writers’ Week Launch, The Workshop, Adelaide Festival Centre

Review By Lisa Lanzi


Writers’ Week held during the Adelaide Festival is always a huge hit and a fabulous adventure hearing writers speaking their truth, audience members getting passionate about issues and subjects that have meaning for them and to be surrounded by books, ideas and (mostly) intelligent dialogue. It may not strictly be ‘theatre’ but it is closely aligned because without the art of the written word, there would be far fewer performative experiences to partake of. Across six days from Saturday February 29 - Thursday March 5, 117 writers, poets, journalists, historians, scientists, politicians and academics from around the world will come together for the 35th edition of Adelaide Writers' Week since its inception 60 years ago as part of the first Adelaide Festival to explore the singular truth of Being Human.


This year the Writers’ Week launch event was held in a ‘new’ venue: The Workshop, formerly The Festival Centre’s famed properties workshop and a cavernous space in the bowels of the building. It is decorated with a pseudo Jungle theme with effigies of lions, zebra, baboons and such dangling from the ceiling and presumably old stage curtaining hung on the side walls for sound damping and painted to emulate wild places. Artistic director Jo Dyer hosted the evening and three guest writers spoke on the theme of The Only Constant offering their own thoughts about change and referencing their own writing.


Twice a Booker Prize shortlisted author, Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria but currently lives in the US where he is Assistant Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He spoke of the heart of his fiction being a desire to chart the journey of each character and their psychological motility. Obioma spoke of change as a continuum, or odyssey, sometimes moving from ‘good’ to not so good or indeed a reversal of this from a negative state to a positive state, all dependent on outside forces and internal reactions. He implored us to be seekers of truth and engineers of change, or at least to be those who inspire others to change.


Sanam Maher is a journalist based in Karachi and has covered stories on Pakistan's art and culture, business, politics, religious minorities and women. A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch is her first book and has garnered world-wide success. It is a work of non-fiction and fine investigative journalism following the tragic story of Pakistan’s first social media superstar (known as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian) until her eventual murder at the hands of her brother. Maher commented that as she arrived in Australia this week, the huge outrage at the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children was foremost in news and social media, featuring an outpouring of compassion, sorrow and horror. She found herself comparing the situation to her subject’s death and the range of extreme reactions in Pakistan to Qandeel Baloch as a woman who dared to push some boundaries: “that she deserved what she got”; “what did she expect would happen”; “I’m glad she was punished”. More compassionate reactions were very much in the minority. This led Maher to ponder the changes in society through the influence of social media and that despite many negative connotations, a kind of connection is definitely available there that diverse people are able to explore; or, in the case of ‘trolls’ to exploit. But the positives re social media and online connection mean that the world is smaller and empathy can come from across the globe, for example during Australia’s recent, horrific bushfires.


Maher also spoke of change, who ‘designs’ it and why. For some, change is a personal journey of power, much like Qandeel Baloch, until stopped by violence. For others change means that they will lose something, power, money, position, so then change equals fear and fear causes violent reactions at times.


The last writer to speak was Australian Tyson Yunkaporta an academic, arts critic and researcher who belongs to the Apalech Clan in Far North Queensland. He carves traditional tools and weapons and also works as a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne. Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World is his first book. Yunkaporta addressed the crowd with whimsy and humour telling of change as fundamental to humans and the natural world. He sees natural systems as dynamic - existing in equilibrium until change causes chaos but then returning organically to that equilibrium over time. Yunkaporta referenced indigenous Australians’ attitudes to life and land as a ‘deep time focus’ whereas the rest of us tend to more shallow, immediate solutions.


What resonated with me throughout the evening was the idea of change being either a negative or a positive force, depending on how it is engineered, how it is perceived and how it affects our humanity. The results of change can be powerful but resistance to change also has a type of power. Also telling is the journey through change, the relevance of the narrative to everyone involved and the culmination of that path. A terrific kernel of truth and one that exists in the performing arts, thematically and analytically.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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