Plenary 1 – Serpent and Water Stories: An International First Peoples Cultural Arts Exchange


Lily Shearer, Dr Liza-Mare Syron, Penny Couchie and Meg Paulin

Serpent and Water Stories: An International First Peoples Cultural Arts Exchange

Themes: Rituals of hospitality and accommodation’ Meetings – formats and procedures, Conversations – listening, speaking and turn-taking, Performing negotiation, seeking reconciliation, and Critical communitas – arts of assembling.

This Plenary is an open discussion on the transcultural processes and practices involved in creating a performance installation based on First Nation women’s serpent and water stories. The panel will be led by collaborating artists Lily Shearer and Dr Liza-Mare Syron (Moogahlin Performing Arts, Sydney, Australia) with First Nations artists Meg Paulin and Penny Couchie (Anmitaagzi, Nipissing First Nations, Ontario, Turtle Island – Canada). 

The Plenary will outline the background to this collaboration and include women’s stories about water from the Ngemba/Murrawarri (Barwon/Culgoa Rivers NSW Australia), Biripi of the two Rivers (Manning and Hastings Rivers NSW Australia), and Anishinaabe (Lake Nipissing, Turtle Island). The discussion will also include a conversation on facilitating and activating safe and open inter-tribal dialogue and artistic exchange employing First Nations and First Peoples of Australia cultural protocols for engaging with artists through a workshop process of land based activities, and creating a public impact performance installation for presentation through models of story weaving with communities. 

The Artists

Lily Shearer (Moogahlin)

 Lily is a proud citizen of the Murrawarri Republic (north-west NSW/south-east QLD) and Ngemba Nation, with over 30 years’ experience in First Peoples  Cultural Arts & Community Development, Arts Management and in Theatre and Performance making. Lily is a Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts based at Carriageworks in Redfern NSW.  A 2016 Ross Bower Australia Council Award recipient and 2019 Create NSW Arts Fellow, Shearer has been instrumental in the development of and creative support for First Peoples cultural arts and community development for over thirty five years. At Moogahlin Lily has worked as the producer on the Baiame’s Ngunnhu Festival, Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival and The Weekend by Henrieta Baird. Co-Director/Curator of Fire Bucket, and Manuwi Jam Ya Murong (Footprints in the Sand) for the Blacktown Native Institute. Lily has also worked as a creative on Broken Glass, a site-based work presented at St Bartholomew’s Church & Cemetery that examines NSW women’s mourning practices.

Dr Liza-Mare Syron (Moogahlin)

Liza-Mare’s family is Biripi (Mid North Coast of NSW). She is a theatre maker and an award winning academic. Liza-Mare is the Co-Founder and a former Co-Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts. For Moogahlin Liza-Mare has produced many works including Koori Gras with Sydney Mardi Gras, The Visitors for Sydney Festival, and as a creative collaborator on Manuwi Jam Ya Murong (Footprints in the Sand) for the Blacktown Native Institute, and on Broken Glass, a site-based work presented at St Bartholomew’s Church & Cemetery that examines NSW women’s mourning practices. Liza-Mare has also directed The Weekend by Henrietta Baird for Sydney Festival, The Fox and The Freedom Fighters by Rhonda Dixon-Grosvenor and Nadeena Dixon for Performance Space, and Rainbows End by Jane Harrison for Darlinghurst Theatre. Liza-Mare was a workshop director for the Yellamundie Festival 2015-2017. Liza-Mare often lectures at NIDA and has worked as a dramaturge on NIDA student productions. She is widely published in the area of First Peoples cultural arts practice and has received the following Australasian Theatre and Performance Studies association awards, the 2005 Phillip Parsons Prize for Performance as Research, the 2010 Marlis Thiersch Prize for research excellence in an English-language article, and a 2015 Rob Jordon award citation for a book chapter.

Penny Couchie (Aanmitaagzi)

Penny is a dancer, actor, teacher, choreographer and community arts practitioner of Ojibway and Mohawk ancestry from Nipissing First Nation, Ontario. She holds an Honors BA in Aboriginal Studies and Drama from the University of Toronto and is a graduate of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Penny has performed as a dancer and theatre artist in principal roles both nationally and internationally. Her most recent choreography includes a workshop production of her newest work, When Will You Rage? performed at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation in Toronto, Manaabekwe, a co-choreography with Christine Friday O’Leary developed with Aanmitaagzi and youth from Temagami First Nation performed for the Temagami Gathering in Bear Island, Ontario, the Centre For Indigenous Theatre’s 2010, 2011 student showcase, Outta the Woods and Red Romance, directed by Muriel Miguel, performed at Factory Theatre, Toronto Ontario and A Bridge of One Hair for Jumblies Theatre performed at the Harbourfront Centre. She has guest taught at universities and colleges throughout Canada and the US. Penny is a founding member and Co-Artistic Director of Anmitaagzi, and co-owner of Big Medicine Studio.

Megan Lozicki Paulin

Megan Lozicki Paulin is a multi-disciplinary installation and performance artist. She was born and raised in North Bay, Ontario, and is from Mi’kmaq and Polish descent. She incorporates elements of visual art, archival materials, scientific research, sound, and projection while experimenting with site-specific art and community-based performance art. Megan is a core ensemble member for the company Aanmitaagzi Story Makers, has apprenticed under Master Tsimshian Carver Victor Reece and Sharon Jinkerson-Brass’ Big Sky Storytelling Society, and has been mentored for the past five years by choreographer Penny Couchie and multi-artist/actor Sid Bobb. Megan studied Fine Arts and Indigenous Studies both formally and non-formally and has enjoyed travelling and working with Indigenous youth. She is currently completing her Master’s of Environmental Studies at Nipissing University focusing on themes surrounding harvesting, art making, and storytelling techniques and their impacts on cultural identity, continuity and resurgence; resource protection and monitoring; and the transmission of traditional knowledge.