Charles Sturt University
Indigenous cultural load and community expectations in the rehearsal room: social and cultural capital for culturally safe First Nations theatre making
Scholarly literature exploring First Nations theatre making and experiences of First Nations performance artists in Australia has identified many challenges: limited programming of Indigenous theatre on main stages, establishing Indigenous control of stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience, pathways for emerging Indigenous theatre artists, definitions of what constitutes Australian Indigenous theatre and issues of cultural safety and cultural load around stories being told. This paper is part of a larger study exploring the problem of the non-Aboriginal theatre maker wanting to contribute to decolonisation of Australian performance storytelling across our stages. Twelve key theatre artists and arts bureaucrats engaged in making or supporting First Nations theatre have conversed with the non-Aboriginal researcher. This presentation focuses on issues of cultural load and cultural safety raised in these conversations; it discusses Bourdieu’s concepts of social and cultural capital and applies them to the knowledges attached to the load many First Nations artists’ carry in the rehearsal room: that is, to the bearing of cultural load and community responsibilities attached to being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander theatre artist in Australia. Increasingly this knowledge includes ability to build ways to establish cultural safety in the rehearsal room and elsewhere around sensitive stories of Australian First Nations history and in collaborative work with non-Aboriginal people. This paper presentation demonstrates that these cultural loads and responsibilities – often framed as a deficit for First Nations people – and the cultural capability to address them are key social and cultural capital in the Bourdieau-ian sense. The application of these cultural knowledges throughout making and performance is a key element constituting the work as “Indigenous theatre”. When Indigenous theatre is thus made under First Nations artists’ control and through processes which respond to cultural load in culturally safe ways, then living, significant First Nations culture in its most profound sense is being made and maintained.
Kay Nankervis is a non-Aboriginal creative practitioner and academic of english, cornish and german descent. She is a playwright and actor and lecturers in theatre, performance and scriptwriting at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. NSW. Kay is in the final stages of PhD research into the problem of the non-Aboriginal playwright for decolonising Australian performance storytelling and stages. Kay has published journal articles and presented at conferences on theatre-making, playwriting, critical whiteness, representations of First Nations Australians and on communication pedagogy (including issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education).