Margaret Harvey

Postcolonial Shakespearean at Work in Australia

 

Interview audio

Published on 26 September 2023.

 

Margaret Harvey, a Brown woman of Sabai Islander and English descent, sitting on the ground in front of a colorful mural.

Margaret Harvey

David McInnis, a Brown man of Malaysian and Australian descent, photographed in black and white from the chest up.

David McInnis

 

Interview transcript

Introduction

Amrita Dhar 

Hello and welcome. My name is Amrita Dhar, and I am the Director of the project Shakespeare in the “Post”Colonies which is hosting a series of interviews with postcolonial Shakespeareans from around the world.

In today’s conversation, our invited collaborator Dr David McInnis of the University of Melbourne speaks to the Australian Indigenous writer and actress Margaret Harvey.

 

Conversation

David McInnis 

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare hinted at the acting of his plays “in states unborn and accents yet unknown,” and I want to begin by acknowledging one such accent, and recognize the elders and descendants of the Wurundjeri people, who have been and continue to be the custodians of lands that were never ceded, and acknowledge the land from which I’m speaking today is the place of age- old ceremonies, celebration and renewal, and that the peoples of the Kulin Confederation have had, and continue to have, a unique role in the life of these lands.   

My name is Associate Professor David McInnis. I am a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Melbourne. I’m primarily a theatre historian working on lost plays from Shakespeare’s England, but I have a particular interest in Shakespeare in performance from a pedagogy and a teaching side of things. And I’m speaking today with my guest, Dr. Margaret Harvey, who I’ll let introduce herself.  

Margaret Harvey 

Before I do that, David, I also would like to acknowledge the people of the Kuku Yalanji Nation—and they’re the custodians of the land, the waterways, and the skies of where I’m speaking from today. It’s where I reside, up in Trinity beach in Queensland. I also acknowledge their continuing, unbroken lineage, and I pay my deepest respect to their elders past and present. As David said, my name is Margaret Harvey, I’m a storyteller working in the mediums of theatre and in film, I’m also in the midst of a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Melbourne within the Faculty of Arts. And my cultural heritage is Saibai Islander heritage in the Torres Strait. I’m also of English heritage as well.  

David McInnis 

Thank you, Margaret. So, we’re going to prioritize performance in this discussion for the simple reason that Margaret is an actor as well as a scholar, and she performed in a landmark Australian production of The Tempest, directed by Simon Phillips for the Queensland Theatre Company in 1999, and reprised for the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2001. This was an emphatically antipodean and colonial Tempest, and I think a really interesting moment in the history of Shakespeare in Australia.   

Before we get to that, though, just a quick background for non-Australians about the presence of Shakespeare in Australia. There is actually, our earliest printed document in this country—a colonial printed document is from 1796. It’s a playbill for a Jane Shore production in Sydney that has an annotation on the back, noting that a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III apparently took place on Norfolk Island in 1793. So, Shakespeare has been here since the start of the colonial enterprise in Australia, pretty much. Throughout the nineteenth century, Shakespeare was associated with the gold rush and cultural capital, and we had a number of touring actors come out from the UK and Ireland and the US. People like Gustavus Brooke, brought out here by theatrical impresarios, like George Selth Coppin, who made a fortune in the theatre then lost it promptly in the goldfield, made another fortune in theatre and so forth. In the early twentieth century, there was briefly a national touring company, the Alan Wilkie Shakespeare Company. And then we didn’t really have a strong Shakespearean presence for a long time so much as smaller companies, I suppose.

The history of Shakespeare on stage here was very much one of the British style, of received pronunciation. And it wasn’t until the 1970s, with smaller independent theatres like the Pram Factory and our version of La Mama in Melbourne, that we started hearing the Australian accent on stage in Australian theatre. In the late 1980s, we had the Bell Shakespeare Company, or the early 1990s, the Bell Shakespeare company form as a new national Shakespeare company, and that continues to this day. It very much has a focus on education and outreach. It tours nationally and brings Shakespeare to the masses and to schools specifically, as well as doing a couple of mainstage shows, which vary in terms of being the canonical blockbusters, and then occasionally something that’s more artistically experimental, I suppose. And there are a host of other smaller companies or large companies who only occasionally do Shakespeare from time to time, and I guess that’s where the QTC, the Queensland Theatre Company, and the Melbourne Theatre Company that we’re talking about today, fits in.   

I think it’s really from the late 1990s, though, that we’ve had an interesting turn to the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives in Australian Shakespeare performance. And that’s what we’d like to focus on today. So, I wonder for the benefit of the non-Australians listening, perhaps we should start with a bit of background in terms of the political climate in 1990s Australia, in the lead-up to the production of The Tempest that you were part of, Margaret, before we talk about the production itself? Would you like to fill in the audience a little bit on that?  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah—it was such a big decade, the 90s, for Indigenous issues. Beginning in 1991, we had the final Report that was submitted into Aboriginal deaths in custody. ’92, then, native title was recognized in Australian law, and that was by the Meriam people who made a claim in the Torres Strait. We had a Prime Minister that came into Parliament in 1996, who refused to apologize to the stolen generation, stating that he did not subscribe to the “Black Armband” view of history. And in 1997, we had the “Bringing Them Home” Report on the stolen generation, and that also acknowledged the stolen generation and acknowledged that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were taken away from families. So, there was a lot of issues in that decade, in the lead up to when we, uh, created this particular production of The Tempest in the late-90s and in 2001, at Melbourne Theatre Company.  

David McInnis 

Thank you, Margaret. So, yes, it was a very charged political context against which Simon Phillips had decided to run this production in Australia. The production was described by a reviewer for The Age newspaper as having “fully explored the post-colonial resonances of an antipodean Tempest, with John Stanton playing Prospero as Captain Cook.” And so this production relocated the New World of the play from the Mediterranean or potentially the Americas to the Southern hemisphere, where Australia itself became the setting. And there were a series of white actors, including John Stanton, who were trained in the British style of acting, playing the Neapolitan characters. Whilst Caliban, Ariel, and the Spirits of the isle were all Indigenous performers. And Margaret played a Torres Strait Ariel in particular, which is really fascinating. The stage itself was evocatively covered in that quintessentially Australian Red Earth. So the listeners might think about the Outback and Uluru and that sort of a context to get a sense of what this looked like. And this was juxtaposed with a really rich blue backdrop that was reminiscent of the Union Jack. So, the flag of the, of the colonizers. So maybe, Margaret, you could say a bit about how the production was pitched to you, and what you understood yourself as getting into, and, and what you thought at the time about being invited to embrace your Torres Strait identity within a Shakespeare play. 

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah—Look, at the time, I was so young and naive, I have to say, to what exactly that role would encompass. And I don’t necessarily just mean the role of Ariel, but the role of myself as an actor that is also bringing their own particular cultural heritage to the work. And I think that that’s a bigger issue and a wider issue for actors that are called upon to bring their cultural heritage to the work. So, in essence, we’re wearing two hats. I think as a really young actor in one of my first big roles on a main stage, I hadn’t actually contemplated the weight of that, and the amount of work that that would actually need in the rehearsal room and outside of the rehearsal room on the weekends. So, I think in terms of when I was when I was approached, I think I was more excited as a young actor stepping onto the main stage and being able to play with this 400-year-old-odd text, and give it context, that would make it understandable and communicable to an audience and relevant to an audience of that time.   

I think I’ve said this to you before, David, I think when we chatted last time about this, it’s certainly not something I would do today.  

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

And it’s really got to do with, that within this context where we’re still, we’re still centring the white voice within the story. Even though we set out, and I certainly did, to bring my Torres Strait Island heritage, it wasn’t as clear cut as that when we presented it to an audience. A lot of things were stripped that really kind of I think homogenized, particularly for the two actors, myself as Ariel and Glenn Shea as Caliban, homogenized our Indigineity. The spirits, of course, were played by Jagera Jarjum, a dance group from Queensland based in Brisbane. And they brought an incredible amount of protocol, ethical way of working, ancestral knowledge to the work and also to the space and how we, how we worked within the space as an ensemble, but also how we dealt with the story that in this particular context, how we dealt with the concept of the First Fleet arriving and arriving in a  country and on a land that was already inhabited by a group of people. So, I think those kinds of issues I look back at, and I’m left cringing a bit, actually. [laughs] Yeah.  

David McInnis 

Yeah, it was a really interesting moment in time, I think. There had previously been an all-Indigenous production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, in around 1998, that Noel Tovy directed for the Sydney Theatre Company. It was very much a Dreamtime Midsummer Night’s Dream, if you like, and it pointedly shied away from getting too political. It, I believe, it originally planned to have an onstage white audience of colonial settlers watching the Indigenous actors perform, and then they decided to omit that from the final production because ultimately, it was part of a festival, a Dreamtime festival, and they thought it wasn’t the right time to make things too political in that sense. So, there had been a precedent for having that kind of really explicit Indigenous Australian connection to Shakespeare, uh, but not much else, I guess. And so, in some ways, this was just a testing of the water, I suppose, and a lot of things maybe hadn’t been thought through in the way they would have been today. And there is, as you say, the white gaze approach of, of telling the story from the colonist’s lens, their eyes. It’s a bit like the male gaze and cinema, where there is a hierarchy of power, and the audience is ultimately aligned with one position when they viewed that Tempest. Despite any good intentions, I think there is certainly still a Shakespeare influence, shall we say? It is still the text by the dead white guy. And it’s still his story being told, even though it’s been complicated, somewhat.  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah, absolutely, and I think what really stands out in our particular production, when I look back and think about it and contemplate it, and, and what I actually think was probably quite obvious back then is for Indigenous audiences, is the white saviour…

David McInnis

Yeah…

Margaret Harvey

… complex, you know, and it’s this recurring narrative that still views Indigenous people as the “Other.” And for, for some, the “Other” is described as exotic or the “noble savage,” as Caliban was portrayed, and also the “dying breed.” So, there’s kind of this interrogation that I think has been ongoing for Indigenous artists in this country, as to why the dominant culture needs to define and locate itself in the foreground of stories that speak of persecution, speak of oppression and genocide in the lives of Indigenous people. So, I’m talking particularly more so in regards to Caliban and how he’s shackled, and Prospero’s treatment towards him. And when we paint this as an Aboriginal man, and as this white saviour, who was there with Ariel under his control.  Then also what he does at the end, when he lets them go. The whole white saviour complex, in terms of this reconciliatory process that hasn’t yet evolved into something bigger than what it should have evolved into after the 90s. So, in a way, it’s this dream, this pie in the sky, where audiences that are from the dominant culture can leave feeling somewhat relieved at what they just witnessed. Whereas for us as Indigenous artists leaving the theatre or carrying the weight that still exists, knowing full well that there’s so many social justice issues that have been left to the side of the road.  

But I think with that, there is something about Shakespeare that we know full well can adapt and bend and flex…

David McInnis

Yeah.

Margaret Harvey

… in the changing times and move with the different contexts that we bring to each work. I think that that’s what I find exciting about Shakespeare. And there was certainly something that was pushing perceived boundaries that the director Simon Phillips was going for. Yeah.  

David McInnis 

I think that’s really interesting. I think there’s a, a couple of levels on which that production was operating at the time. One seems to have been, I think we’d now say “old fashioned,” in the sense that it’s harking back to C. L. Barber and Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy [:A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom] decades and decades ago, where he essentially argued that comedy was this, this space for escapist fantasy that wasn’t political and didn’t affect reality of day-to-day society. And you’d go to the theatre for a couple of hours, you’d see something that was a bit different, and alternative, a reimagining of the way the world could be. But ultimately, it’s very conservative, and we’d reinstate norms as soon as we’d left the theatre. And I feel like it does do that work for the white audience, to some extent. It’s sort of a very, very gentle… We can look at these political alternatives and feel better for ourselves for a while, but the world hasn’t necessarily changed radically as a result yet.   

Margaret Harvey 

Hm— 

David McInnis 

But at the same time, as you say, Margaret, there is this capacity for Shakespeare to be reimagined and to be useful in shifting the conversation. I think the challenge is that many people leap to Shakespeare’s defense and claim him as being very progressive and advanced. And I’m not sure that’s as true as the fact that he’s just complicated. I mean, The Taming of the Shrew, for example, is not a progressively feminist play…

Margaret Harvey

Mm.

David McInnis

… but you can make it into something that explores those difficult questions. And as you say, when you take an easy allegory, maybe a too-easy allegory of Australia becomes the island and the Indigenous actors become the Indigenous characters in the play, suddenly, you’re forced with the recognition that it’s really awful seeing Glenn Shea as an Indigenous man, as Caliban, and the way he’s treated by the other characters. There’s nothing progressive about it. It’s actually, potentially bordering on humiliating or reinforcing negative stereotypes and affirming that, that white savior complex, as you say. It’s a very fine line to walk.   

I think for me, one of the interesting things about this production specifically— Because I mentioned the Dreamtime Dream that preceded it… Since then, we’ve had a wonderful adaptation of King Lear by an all-Indigenous cast called The Shadow King. And we’ve had a translation of Macbeth into the Noongar language from Western Australia, called Hecate. But this production, I think, is probably the only one that really stages that interaction between the Indigenous and the white settlers. And I wanted to ask you a bit more about how that worked out behind the scenes in terms of the rehearsal process. Because it wasn’t that these people were just playing characters of different colours in a fictional world on the stage. These were people with lived experiences, with performance styles that differed, with different cultures, different languages, even. And they all had to come together in this vision for a performance of The Tempest. How did rehearsals go down? How was the director and the creatives in terms of the brief, and how open are they to new ideas, and to managing such diversity amongst the cast, I suppose?  

Margaret Harvey  

There was tension in the space. And it really came from a place of non-Indigenous artists understanding that when we come with a cultural heritage, we don’t just turn up to a role and, and paint it with an emotional arc and a mental connection. We are actually bringing a whole heritage with us. And there’s a way of working. There’s a way of how we communicate and how we connect and, and how we work within a space that needs to be understood. And I think that, particularly again, this is where the dance group and Aunty Cheryl, really brought an incredible amount of protocols and demanded respect of those protocols from everybody in the space. That at times did cause tension. You weren’t expected to just come into the space as an actor. You were expected to come in and listen, and deeply listen to what the Indigenous artists were bringing to the space and what they were asked to do. So, I think that in terms of a way of working, for people who weren’t used to that, it did cause friction at times. And really, that’s not for us to carry when we enter that space. We’re not asking anything more of people but to listen, that’s all that Aunty Cheryl really was asking.   

And in terms of what the context of the story was, she was invited by Simon Phillips to be able to have a say about what that connection between the settler and the Indigenous person, what that connection was, and how that journey arc was created, um, and where it ended up by the time we finished the work at an hour, 45 minutes, I think it was cut back to. So, it was really important for her that her group of dancers—which were mainly her kids, within that dance troupe, they were all related—that they weren’t just there as an exotic flourish. They weren’t just there on show. That there was something about them that deeply connected them to the pain of seeing Ariel bound up in this corset, which was also a metaphor for being bound up and, and, um, by Prospero, being a slave under Prospero. And seeing Caliban and what that meant to them as spirits on their island. And their strength to be cautious and wary about these new visitors to the land. And how they were protective of the land and the environment whenever they entered the performance space.   

That also, was also, about how they were when we weren’t rehearsing. Outside of the rehearsals, in the morning tea breaks, afternoon tea breaks, lunch breaks, how a morning began for them, you know, and how that it was important for them that an acknowledgement of country and a welcome to country when we were in Brisbane and an acknowledgement of country in Melbourne, and to have an elder come in. So, all of this kind of way of working was new ground for a lot of the artists in the room. And I think that, in, in terms of what we were trying to create, um, from myself and from Glenn and also from Jagera Jarjum, we knew that we didn’t want a homogenized Indigeneity that was being shown on the stage.  

David McInnis 

Hm. 

Margaret Harvey 

And that was also another difficult juggling I think, for Simon, who creatively was looking to execute something quite big. We were in a large theatre, both at Queensland Theatre Company and in Melbourne Theatre Company. And so, specification for us as Indigenous artists is really important. And I would say this for myself, there’s two Indigenous peoples of this country, there’s many First Nations that sit within the “Aboriginal,” you know, the term “Aboriginal,” and then there’s many First Nations that sit within the Torres Strait nations. So, being able to bring something of us, of our own particular bloodline, was something important for us. But I, it was something that was tried and then edited before we even got to the point of sharing with an audience. And in that kind of regard that is, for an Indigenous artist, and, it’s deeply hurtful and quite painful, when you know that creatively something wins out over something culturally. And my way of working is always that, culturally, that will always win and be above. I will always take that above something creatively.  

 

Production still from the Melbourne Theatre Company's 2001 production of The Tempest, featuring Margaret Harvey as Ariel.

Production still from Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2001 The Tempest showing Margaret Harvey as Ariel and John Stanton as Prospero; photograph courtesy of Jeff Busby

 

David McInnis 

Hm. 

Margaret Harvey 

And that’s the difference when you’re working with a non-Indigenous director and non-Indigenous people that are in those key creative roles. So yeah, it was quite difficult at times to negotiate and navigate our own blood in that space. And so by the time we opened, I kind of, apart from the costume, which was reflective of my clan, the Cassowary clan—so there was feathers that were, were part of this skirt, and with the corset on the above thing—it was really the only connection to my blood. The rest really was this homogenized Indegeneity. So yeah, those kind of very difficult issues to navigate. Yeah.  

 

Production still from the Melbourne Theatre Company's 2001 production of The Tempest, featuring Margaret Harvey as Ariel.

Production still from Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2001 The Tempest showing Margaret Harvey as Ariel and John Stanton as Prospero; photograph courtesy of Jeff Busby

 

David McInnis  

It’s slightly ironic, isn’t it, that there is this potential, and I think probably a genuine ambition or intention to do something that’s more progressive and radical, and yet it seems to be the case that in the context of a commercial mainstage production, we end up falling back on to very Edward Saidian Orientalist constructions of the “Other” that homogenizes and has a relational rather than absolute identity and doesn’t celebrate difference so much as try to comprehend the Self through projecting onto the “Other” and there’s a lot of that seems to come out. And it’s a chicken or egg situation with The Tempest. Is it a proto-post-colonial text because it produces these paradigms and it sort of straightjackets us into only being able to work in this way? Even though the postcolonial scholars want to see it as something that’s going to be radical and empowering and making new conversation, maybe it ultimately can’t do some of those things, because structurally, it does reproduce those powers of hierarchy, right? It does reproduce that system of oppression. And you might choose to perform it in a way that attempts not to glorify that, but those dynamics are still inherent and need to be negotiated.   

I’m sorry to hear so much of that got lost along the way, so much of your own contributions or cultural contributions ended up being lost along the way. As a non-Indigenous person—I’m half Malaysian, half-Australian, for those who I haven’t met—and, and an audience member rather than an actor, I have to say I hadn’t appreciated at the time that I saw this production just how significant Jagera Jarjum’s contribution and Aunty Cheryl’s contribution was in terms of really shepherding everyone through this production. It’s hard to overstate how fortunate everyone was to have had them there, and thinking about the protocols they brought and the rigour at a point when maybe that could have been really sorely missed [laughs] had they not been there. It’s really refreshing to think about.   

I was going to ask you, too, Margaret, about their role in the masque, because the dancing featured most prominently in the production at the point in Act IV where Prospero conjures this celebratory masque or entertainment as a blessing on the imminent marriage between his daughter Miranda, and the Prince of Naples, soon to be king, Ferdinand. And that’s a really difficult part in The Tempest, and it’s something that every production has to handle differently if they choose to include it at all. Sometimes they just cut it because they think it doesn’t make enough sense to a modern audience. But this was the moment when the dancers, Jagera Jarjum, reimagine the masque as a very highly charged fire-making ceremony. Did you happen to remember much about that process and how they arrived at that decision, or whether they felt that at least at that moment there was some sense of cultural authenticity allowed to shine through in the production, given how much seems to have been suppressed or, or didn’t quite make it to the final cut?  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah, I don’t I don’t recall so much that particular scene with the masque. What I do recall is how important the fire was… 

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

… for Aunty Cheryl, for Jagera Jarjum and that technically making a fire work every single performance… It’s not the only time I’ve had to perform with fire. [laughs]  

David McInnis 

[laughs] 

Margaret Harvey 

It’s never, ever gone right every single night. And so, for her it was really important that you can’t have a half working fire.  

David McInnis 

[laughs] 

Margaret Harvey 

I don’t even recall if it was technically, or if we ended up having a real makeshift small fire, or whether we had it contained within the technical elements. But it was really important to them that it work and if it didn’t, that it needs to be scrapped.  

David McInnis 

Hm. 

Margaret Harvey 

And fire is a big thing for, for Aboriginal nation groups, and also Torres Strait Island nation groups. So, to have this within the stage, and as you mentioned at the beginning, the whole stage was, was supposedly meant to look like the earth of Australia, that the fire would be part of this, and represents strength and represents power, and also represents a continuing line. It makes complete sense that, it, it was a must to have this, if we were going to have the fire, that it had to be working on a level that didn’t take away and didn’t detract and didn’t weaken the spirits, and didn’t weaken the Indigenous, the Caliban and the Ariel in the space.

David McInnis 

That’s really wonderful to hear, and that concept of the risks entailed by having a real fire on stage in the sense of, what if it doesn’t light properly, and it’s a half-have fire, given how much is vested in it, is so interesting, as being symptomatic of a broader interplay between cultures on stage, too, I think. Because that moment, I recall, was quite extended. I mean, you’re literally playing with fire. You can’t script that tightly. You can’t say, “Well, run for this many minutes,” and be very precise. Whereas I think Sue Tweg was one of the earliest scholars who had written about this production, and she’d noted how the white actors who’d been trained in this mimetic tradition of “playing Shakespeare,” the John Barton kind of thing, had been working for really text-anchored, meaningful illusion and, and in rehearsal blocking, had to walk to this spot night after night and deliver the lines word-perfectly… Whereas that was at odds with the sense of presence and immediacy and ceremony and authenticity of self that’s brought by the dancers who were much more interested in, in being there in the moment rather than just repeating what happened yesterday to a strict timeframe. Which, so, that clashing, maybe clashing is not, maybe that’s too rough a word… But that interaction between two distinct expectations of what performance is was fascinating to watch from an audience perspective, I think. That, for me, was where the real value was, that there was this kind of process more than product.   

I know what you said before, that you wouldn’t do this again now, and I see why. But I also don’t see this as being like an endpoint in Indigenous productions of Shakespeare in this country so much as a very early part of that process where things were almost being worked out in front of the audience on stage. [laughs] It’s really interesting from that point of view, I found.  

Margaret Harvey 

And look, we’ve come a long way since 2001. And in some ways we haven’t, let’s be honest.  

David McInnis 

Yeah. 

Margaret Harvey 

What I think that next step is about is, is making sure that those key creative roles have been filled with Indigenous people if we’re telling stories that have Indigenous resonance and content in them, or played by people of colour, depending on what the context is. Diverse groups that are in those key creative roles, depending on what the story is we’re choosing to tell, what angle we’re taking on a particular text.  

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

And I think the important thing about that is with what lens… 

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

… what lens are we viewing the work through? Like I was saying before, this is why I think Shakespeare still stands the test of time, even for people of diverse backgrounds, is that it can bend and flex. And the way that we read a piece of work is not the same that, that a white director, Australian director would get off the page.

David McInnis 

Mm.

Margaret Harvey 

And I think it’s important to start looking and seeing those kinds of voices and stories coming to life through a Shakespearean work. And to do that we need all that deep kind of structural change that’s not just within the creative space, or creating in the rehearsal room, but also within the administration. Also with how we bring audiences in. And how we’re introducing Shakespeare to young people. I, I think that’s kind of where we’re tasked with trying to work towards, if you will. Yeah.  

David McInnis 

And I mean you’re right. I think we could do much better than we have been doing. And progress has maybe not been as rapid or as comprehensive as is desirable.  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah. 

David McInnis 

But at least with Kylie Bracknell’s translation of Macbeth entirely into Noongar with no surtitles, no sense that this is being performed for the white audience, but rather a sense of “This is our language and our land and you’re welcome to watch, but you will be the outsider for this production, just as we’ve been outsiders to this white Shakespeare tradition in this country that was originally ours anyway” is a really interesting step. As is—I haven’t seen it—but the trilingual production of Othello that’s recently happened close to where you’re currently stationed Margaret…

Margaret Harvey

Yeah.

David McInnis

… which is much more authentically utilizing diverse perspectives…

Margaret Harvey

Yes.

David McInnis

… whereas I fear in this production of The Tempest, Indigenous actors were made to perform in certain ways that maybe didn’t quite ring true, shall we say? I think one particularly problematic dynamic that was in that production was, we haven’t talked about Prospero yet, but Prospero was John Stanton as a Captain Cook figure.

Margaret Harvey

Mm.

David McInnis

And he made a choice to behave as a very brutish Prospero, who was quite aggressive and physically domineering. And my understanding, from… Angela Campbell interviewed many of the cast, and, and she says that it was absolutely necessary for Stanton as a mainstream white actor speaking Shakespeare’s lines to control the stage. But this doesn’t really gel with Indigenous response, but that’s not how they’re going to receive him, and not how they’re not going to respond well to that, but their characters are sort of forced to respond well. It brings in too a really uncomfortable tension that we saw on stage, I think, too, right?  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah, absolutely, offstage and on stage, in terms of even ways of working, different ways of working. I think that one of the biggest things that Aunty Cheryl brought into the room was, “We work in a different way.”  

David McInnis 

Yeah. 

Margaret Harvey 

And when I say we, I mean, her and her group of dancers. “We work in a different way and we ask that you open your minds to that.” I think that that really did create tensions within the, the rehearsal space. But that also then reflected on the stage and within the work that we were doing. Uncomfortable at times. Yeah, just within the roles that we were playing. And I was so young and naive to understanding how to navigate the role of cultural advisor at times. Because basically that’s what we’re asked to do. When we step into these roles and are asked to bring our cultural heritage with us, we’re asked to swap hats from being a cultural advisor to being an actor constantly. And that’s actually a big, massive task for us. And even though we had Aunty Cheryl there, Aunty Cheryl’s not Torres Strait, nor would Aunty Cheryl state that she would speak on behalf of Torres Strait Island elders. She’s also not of Glenn Shea’s First Nations group. So, she would not even speak on behalf of what he was bringing to the work. So, all of that just adds to lots of things being unspoken and unsaid when you just do not have the time.  

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

The time is already filled with learning how to speak these words before you even add the context of the story to it and layer it. So, yeah… Really different ways of working that did make it difficult and challenging to navigate at times.  

David McInnis 

It’d become a very teachable moment, in some ways, too, I think. And that’s what brought you and me together in the first place, is the fact that I do teach this production as part of my course on “Shakespeare in Performance” at the university. For a lot of the reasons that we’ve outlined today, and you’ve been consistent, Margaret, in talking about the benefits or the virtues of Shakespeare still. Despite some of these limitations or negative experiences, you can see why there are reasons to persist with performing Shakespeare to use it productively and constructively and positively, I suppose. I was gonna say a little bit about the teaching of Shakespeare in this country as well, alongside the performance. And I think the performance is key because it is collaborative.  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah. 

David McInnis 

It’s collaborative, not just between the various creatives involved, and, and some of those tensions you’ve been helpfully outlining just now, were inherently negative. But there were also some productive tensions there that spark new ways of thinking about the play and its dynamics, I think… 

Margaret Harvey 

Yes. 

David McInnis 

… that the students have particularly found useful to help them understand the play better. And understand not just Shakespeare in terms of his work, but in terms of why it is we still live with Shakespeare, that we still have this legacy around us in 2022, in Australia, right?  

Margaret Harvey 

Yeah. 

David McInnis 

In a country that he had no idea even existed [laughs] on the other side of the world. We don’t have really a push in Australia for the decolonizing of the curriculum in a way that we’ve seen so prominently in parts of the UK and parts of the US. I think we’re more along the line to diversifying the curriculum here, and sort of ensuring there is greater inclusivity rather than sort of actively dismantling the canon, which I think fits alongside some of the things you’ve been saying about what can be retained from Shakespeare usefully. Do you have a sense of, of the better ways we may go about teaching Shakespeare, or the things you’d like to see done more of, or things that make your toes curl, that you would never want to see again? [laughs] 

Margaret Harvey 

Well, I just think, the thing about Shakespeare and why it’s still in the Western canon, here in Australia. It’s that it’s constantly asking to be regenerated, to be interpreted, to be made relevant to the times that we’re living in. I think that’s important for people that are introduced to Shakespeare to know and to understand. And that part of that is acknowledging and validating the multiplicity of lives and lived experiences, the culture and the knowledge of Indigenous people, people of color, the LGBTQ, all of those groups of people that have been oppressed and have been on the outside of those big classics that we have stuck in our Western canon. I think that through the lens of all those people will we get really rich understandings of what we can do with Shakespeare and how it can be interpreted and communicated to an audience. So, I think that’s the important thing for me, in terms of what I see. And that it’s one of many ways of telling a story, Shakespeare. That it’s not the only thing that needs to be on our main stages. And there’s many other works and many other stories that also fit within Australia’s canon of, of mainstage theatre. I think that when we approach it like that, and when I talk about it with young people that are learning about it, for me, it’s really about that they must know that Shakespeare is asking to be regenerated… 

David McInnis 

Mm. 

Margaret Harvey 

… to be viewed through their lens and see what they get from it. And really, that’s for people of all age groups, people who have lived experiences of life, that I think, to see it through their lens that we don’t often get to witness, that’s where I find Shakespeare really exciting.  

David McInnis 

And there is that magnificent potential to reimagine and to make Shakespeare ours, which I think is so important there. And I sort of feel duty-bound in some ways in the sense that… As I said earlier, we’ve known about Shakespeare in Australia since around 1793 or so, which is about the peak of Bardolatry. It’s the time in Shakespeare’s posthumous reputation when he was being deified almost.  

Margaret Harvey 

Mm. 

David McInnis 

The “singularity of Shakespeare,” as Gary Taylor calls it. It’s “Shakespeare as national poet,” as Michael Dobson calls it. And so that’s the Shakespeare we’ve always known here. We’ve never had a Shakespeare reception in this country that maps onto his earlier reputation of just being a playwright who worked for cash.  

Margaret Harvey 

Mm. 

David McInnis 

It’s all been deified, and there’s a lot to negotiate with there, to dismantle there to make it our own, and it’s important not to step away from that. I think there is this wonderful opportunity for students to see themselves in Shakespeare and to bring their own knowledge and identity and perspective to Shakespeare and use it as a sounding board, or using it as just a common vehicle for exploring ideas and language, rather than feeling they have to just worship Shakespeare. That’s my single wish, is that students stop worshipping Shakespeare and respectfully engage and use it. Again, talking about the process rather than product, I think. Shakespeare can be enabling in that sense.  

Margaret Harvey  

Absolutely.  

David McInnis 

[laughs]  

Margaret Harvey  

Yeah, I agree, David.  

David McInnis 

Thank you so much for speaking today, Margaret. It’s been really wonderful having this conversation and thank you everyone for listening.

Margaret Harvey 

Absolutely. Thanks, David. I loved it.  

 

Conclusion

Amrita Dhar 

If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to this podcast, spread the word, and leave a review. Do take a look also at our project website at shakespearepostcolonies.osu.edu for materials supplementing this conversation and for further project details. Thank you for listening, and until next time, for the Shakespeare in the “Post”Colonies Project, I am Amrita Dhar.