Death Defying Theatre’s “Coal Town” Project

Paul Brown

Contributed by Paul Brown, who was Writer/ Researcher for the project.

Coal Town is a ninety minute play for outdoor presentation, which concerns life and politics in a remote coal mining community. The show was devised and first performed in Collinsville, a small coal town in North QLD, in mid 1985.

The project was undertaken by a team of performers, writer, composer, designer, facilitator and administrator from Death Defying Theatre, who lived for six weeks in Collinsville. Death Defying. Theatre is a street theatre and community theatre company based in Sydney and touring Australia wide.

Funding came from the Australia Council’s Art in Working Life programme, which aims to foster working class cultural traditions. The project was hosted by the Miners Federation of Australia, particularly the Collinsville branch which provided support (both financial and in kind) for the project.

Collinsville is a town of 4,000 people where workers’ struggle, which dates back to 1920, has been relatively successful. Issues such as World Peace, the plight of’ black South African miners and the sensible. Management of new technology are high on the union and community agendas. While these issues form the basis of the play, it is the history of Collinsville and other coal towns which gives colour and an annecdotal feel to the performance.

Detailed research mostly in the form of interviews with mineworkers and their families, was a vital part of the project, and relied on close working relationships involving the union, the theatre company and the people of Collinsville. . The first performance of Coal Town took place in Collinsville on 10th August, before an audience of 500 people who gathered on the football field in. the afternoon with rugs, folding chairs and eskies. Audience reaction, feedback in interviews after the show and press reviews all indicate that the show was enormously successful.

The strongly favourable reactions to this and other Art in Working Life projects suggest that such projects have been successful in revitalising working class stories and other cultural forms which have largely been suppressed in Australia due to conservative control of most media and entertainment.

Performances of Coal Town have now been given in several NSW and.QLD coal towns, and the show will continue to tour in coming months. A documentary film of the project is now in post-production, and should be available for distribution in early 1986.

For further details about this project, contact Death Defying Theatre (P.O. Box 357. Edgecliff, NSW 2027;. ph: 02 332.2871) or Deborah Mills, Project Officer Australia Council (168 Walker Street, North Sydney, NSW 2060; ph: 02 923 3333).