'Queensland has been the scene of some remarkable, even notorious political events over the past twenty-five years or more. In that time a number of exciting theatre artists and companies have developed their philosophies and methodologies in this charged environment.
Challenging the Centre represents the first attempt to capture some of these significant artistic endeavours which have occurred over the period 1974 to 1994. This book focuses on three key political and community theatre companies and places their works in a national and international context.
The Popular Theatre Troupe had its origins in the early 1970s and was associated with a style of theatre which took political and social issues beyond the confines of traditional theatre spaces to industrial worksites, schools and to regional communities throughout Australia in a concerted attempt to offer an alternative analysis of the times.
Order By Numbers existed briefly but burned brightly with passion and indignation. Their history captured the anger and frustration of life under a repressive political regime.
Street Arts Community Theatre Company's work spans the 1980s and into the nineties and represents a radically different approach to the role of a socially relevant theatre company. Street Arts pursued a broader developmental approach to theatre in a community context and has made a significant contribution to community cultural development in Australia'
Source: Challenging the Centre (back cover)
Order By Numbers was a collective of theatre workers that put on three shows during 1985 and 1986. Teatro Unidad y Liberacion was a bilingual Spanish/English performance group active in 1987. Both groups had a number of members in common, and both were also 'administered under an incorporated body called The New Actors Company.
Hugh Watson and Penny Glass provide insight into all three companies. The chapter also includes excerpts from a 1994 account of Order By Numbers and The New Actors Company written by Kerry O'Rourke.
Hugh Watson provides insight into the nature of writing for community theatre.
'The White man's Mission was a musical entertainment using the metaphor of rousing revivalist meeting to present episodes in the history of Australia and the South Pacific. Racism, slavery and exploitation were examined in a bitterly humorous documentary about the fate of Aborigines after the arrival of the white man on the continent, and the fate of the 50,00 descendants of the South Sea Islanders still living in Australia today' (Errol O'Neill. Challenging the Centre, p.63).
Researched, written, designed and directed by Richard Fotheringham, Fallout and Follow Me is a 25 minute show focusing on the debate around uranium and domestic nuclear energy. One of the key targets is the involvement of large corporations such as Westinghouse and General Electric in trying to popularise domestic nuclear power stations in the USA and elsewhere, regardless of the dangers.
The production used a World War One recruiting rally as its metaphor, and utilised songs from that era.
'A 55 minute show about the history and present threat of nuclear war and the evils of militarism. Set in the metaphor of an insane asylum, the actors played a series of terrifying characters which arose out of their "MADness"...The military-industrial complex was analysed and, towards the end of the show, all pretence at satire was quite purposely dropped for a dramatic monologue based on extracts from Wilfred Burchett's post-Hiroshima journalism and from the book on Hiroshima by J. Hersey.'
Source: Errol O'Neill, 'A Chronology of the Popular Theatre Troupe : 1974-1983,' p.81.