Title: Speaking English as your first language – The plus’s and minus’s for an Australian Dramatist
Speaker: Mr. David Williamson
Time: 15:00-16:30, 2 June 2018,
Venue: Conference Room 111, School of English and International Studies, BFSU
Growing up with English as a mother tongue is a mixed blessing. In this talk I will discuss what this has meant for me as an Australian dramatist.
Drama is perhaps the art form that is most strongly rooted in its own culture. In the way the language is spoken – it’s idioms and vernacular. Because Australian English is a distinct branch of English this means that often words have a different meaning and the metaphors, which express so much meaning in drama are different and unique to Australia and not fully understood elsewhere. This in turn means that while my work is instantly understood and has instant resonance to my Australian audiences, it’s not necessarily accessible in the same way to a different nation of English speakers.
This is in contrast to the solid understanding we have of American and English culture, as we see heaps of their drama but they see little of ours.
As well as idiom and metaphoric content our national attitudes, manners, and customs differ from those of say America and England. This, together with the fact that the nature of the Australian cultural landscape is little known to the larger English speaking cultures, has meant that my plays have sometimes caused disquiet and even shock when performed abroad, for reasons I will outline.
More pleasing however is that discerning critics have recognized that under the surface differences the same human nature we all share is clearly in evidence. Our emotions may be expressed differently but our emotional needs are much the same in all cultures. Drama can show us the peculiarities and obsessions of a particular culture but also, thankfully the universality of the human experience.
My prime aim has been to depict my own culture to my own audiences. In this sense I’ve always regarded myself as a storyteller to my tribe, but overseas productions have been fascinating and insightful in ways I’ll explore in this talk.
David Williamson is widely recognised as Australia’s most successful playwright and over the last forty five years his plays have been performed throughout Australia and produced in Britain, United States, Canada and many European and Asian countries. His playTravelling Northhad a successful production in Vietnam andThe Clubran for a lengthy season in Beijing, where its depiction of back room committee politicking obviously struck a chord with the Chinese.
A number of his stage works have been adapted for the screen, includingThe Removalists, Don’s Party, The Club. Travelling North. Emerald City, Sanctuary andBrilliant Lies,and six of them have been made into quality Telemovies in Poland.
David Williamson has won the Australian Film Institute film script award five times, forPetersen(1974),Don’s Party(1976),Gallipoli(1981)Travelling North( 1987) andBalibo(2009) and has won twelve Australian Writers’ Guild AWGIE Awards. He also wrote the screenplay forPharlap(1981) ,The Year of Living Dangerously,(1983) receiving a nomination for best screenplay from the Writer’s Guild of America. He wrote the screenplay for Showtime’sOn the Beachwhich won the Australian AFI award for best miniseries and was nominated for the Golden Globe awards in the U.S. He also wrote the screenplay for the HBO miniseriesA Dangerous Life,about the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines which made the critics top ten list of the year in both New York and Los Angeles.
Altogether he has written twelve screenplays and five miniseries, includingThe Four Minute Milefor the BBC andThe Last Bastionabout General McArthur’s arrival in Australia in WW 11, which was sold all over the world.
In 1983 he became an Officer of the Order of Australia. (A.O)
He has been awarded four honorary doctorates from the Universities of Sydney, Monash, Swinburne and Brisbane.
In 1997 the National Trust named him one of our National Living Treasures.
In 2005 he was awarded the J.C. Williamson lifetime achievement award at the Annual Helpmann awards, and became inducted as a National Living Treasure.
In 2011 he was given the lifetime achievement award by the Sydney Critics Circle.
In 2015 he was awarded the N.S.W Premier’s Literary Awards special achievement award.
He lives on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with his writer wife, Kristin Williamson.