We sat down with Ian Michael as he prepares to bring the award-winning production from She Said Theatre: HART on its first trip to Sydney at Casula Powerhouse. Using testimonials from the Stolen Generations, and weaving them with stories from his own family, Noongar man Ian Michael invites you to listen in on the silenced stories of his country.
You first performed this show in 2015, must feel like a lifetime ago. Have you found that the work has changed/grown as you have? What are your hopes for the work?
It really does feel like a lifetime ago, HART has been a big part of my life for the past four years.
The work definitely evolved when we were able to tour, the set changed completely and the script has been tweaked a little. Because I tell my own story, I’ve been able to change parts of what I say about myself because I don’t feel the same way about my life like I did four years ago. It’s been really cathartic and healing in a way for me to be able to be so exposing about my life on stage. I’ve also grown as a performer and I feel confident and comfortable in the work now and I’m not scared of the emotion or the content every night. I really hope the show will continue to tour the country and be accessed by more young people through their schools. I’d love to be able to take these stories internationally again and share the experiences of First Nation’s people to as many people who want to listen.
Having heard about Hart touring internationally for so long we’re so excited to see it in Sydney- what has it been like sharing this story with such a wide-reaching audience?
It’s been overwhelming. When we were making this show I thought nobody would ever buy a ticket and it’s actually been the opposite of what’s happened. Being able to share these stories and create a space for blackfullas and especially people of the Stolen Generations to heal, to laugh, to tell their story in the foyer has been beyond anything I ever imagined this show we made in a lounge room could do.
What conversations and questions do you hope this work continues to provoke with each new audience?
I hope that the show continues to help audiences gain a better understanding of the intergenerational trauma that blackfullas have been dealt because of colonisation, Stolen Generations, genocide and I hope that more people, particularly young people will be in the audience and be able to question the history of this country that we’re told to believe and the policies of governments past and present.
I’ve felt like HART has been a part of the beginning of important conversations in many communities in the country. Many places we’ve been to, have been dealing with a lot of tension and racism in their communities and the show has been able to be a space for people to start understanding what it’s like for First Nations people living in this country.
As the concept developer, co-writer and performer, how important is the makeup of the team of creatives you choose to work with to realise your work?
It’s so important. After I had come up with the concept, I thought a lot about the team I wanted to work with and the kind of rehearsal room I felt I needed when making a show with the kind of content HART is about and knew I needed people who were supportive and passionate theatre makers but who I also knew would push me as a performer. I worked with Penny and Seanna on a She Said show a few years before and knew they were open to challenging discussions, collaboration, going deep into content and also sensitive to know what the work meant to me, my family and the men in the stories. I also really enjoy the process of how Penny and Seanna work and I know how important it is to them to make work that gives a space to people who might not usually have that space.
But there have been times when people have challenged me on the choice of non-Indigenous people being involved in telling these stories, but there is not one element of the work that I haven’t felt like was a collaboration and authentically my voice and thoughts.
As storytellers from underrepresented communities, creating new work is often a constant balancing act between being in service of the community and in service of the art. How has that process been for you particularly in this work where you’re working from testimonials?
This show is for my community and the people of the Stolen Generations, as well as the children who continue to be removed.
Creating this work has always been about the telling the truth and ensuring these stories aren’t silenced any longer. As the work is verbatim, we knew we wanted the testimonials to be the focus and the stories to be told simply and truthfully.