Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Sisters doing it for themselves

25 January 2021

Perth has a new independent First Nations theatre company. Named Kalyakoorl Collective, this all-female team is making its debut at Fringe World 2021 with FIRE, a new work by young emerging playwright and actor Ebony McGuire.

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Ebony McGuire graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2013 and has been working as an actor since then, performing with companies such as Black Swan State Theatre Company, Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and Ilbijerri Theatre Company. She is one of the founding members of Kalyakoorl Collective, alongside Nadia Martich and Madeleine Young.

Their debut play is McGuire’s FIRE, which follows the journey of two sisters learning to reconnect as adults, after having been estranged as young girls.

Seesaw: Welcome to the Fringe Sessions, Ebony. You’ve worked regularly as an actor since graduating. What motivated you to start writing?
Ebony McGuire:
I have always written, you know, the usual stuff, like journaling and little poems, even jotting down hilarious conversations between family members. But only in the last three years did I actually start writing them into scripts. Recently a friend and I wrote a short film called Wirun and seeing our vision and words come to life on screen was magical. After that, I didn’t want to stop.

S: Tell us about FIRE, the work you are presenting at Fringe World.
FIRE is the story of two sisters who part ways as teenagers after experiencing a tragic loss and finally come back together after heartbreak. We see the two weave a new relationship with one another, a relationship that is not without its arguments or the crackling volatility that comes with sisterhood, but one that only time and maturity can heal.

S: What inspired you to make FIRE?
I wrote a poem a year ago, because I needed grounding. I needed something to bring me back down to earth. And of course, my sisters do exactly that for me. I have three sisters, two who are eight and ten years older than me and one who is two years younger. Watching my older sisters grow up together, seeing the ebbs and flows of their relationship, as well as navigating the relationship I have with my younger sister, has definitely inspired a lot of my writing, particularly with FIRE.

S: What makes FIRE different to all the other works on offer at Fringe World?
FIRE explores the changing dynamics of sisterhood through a unique cultural lens. It gives the audience an opportunity to see a First Nations story in a relatable and familiar context.

S: No interview is complete without reflecting on 2020. How has living through a global pandemic shaped or changed the type of work you make?
Ah, 2020. I spent the beginnings of the pandemic in Perth. When everything started going into lockdown and borders started closing I jumped on a plane to Queensland so I could spend lockdown with my family.

It was almost four months with most of my siblings and my mum and looking back now, I am glad that I made that choice. During my time with them, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests started up in America following George Floyd’s death, a name everyone will always remember. Those protests sparked a continuing conversation here in Australia about deaths in custody. It also sparked a lot of conversations within my family. I come from a mixed-race family, so opinions on anything race related are often quite varied. Family is a good place to practice difficult conversations but being one of the younger siblings out of five, my voice is often not heard.

BLM protests were online, on the news, everywhere, exactly where they needed to be for people to listen. Meanwhile I was nestled away in a house on the Sunshine Coast surrounded by family. How lucky. Safe and healthy. It was difficult watching all the pain, seeing the rising number of deaths caused by Covid 19. It really put things into perspective for me and gave me a lot of time to think about how I want my voice to be heard. Being an actor, voicing someone else’s perspective is what I do, but when it comes to voicing my own, I’m not so well versed. Living through this pandemic has definitely influenced the stories I want to tell. The relationships that are closest, the nuances of those relationships when put in a confined space for prolonged periods of time, are definitely worth exploring. Delving into the words that are always left unsaid really excites me.

S: What has been your pandemic silver lining?
I have been quite fortunate this year, I’ve managed to not only be employed as an actor but also grow as an artist and emerging writer. The silver lining of 2020 was definitely meeting and working with Nadia Martich (my co-performer) and Maddie Young (our producer), and forming Kalyakoorl Collective.

S: How do you think the pandemic will impact the arts long-term?
This pandemic has given artists a stasis to not only create but also rest. I think out of this rest, artists from all different mediums are going to blossom. A friend of mine who is also a writer, when she can’t seem to make anything out of her words, she stores them away and calls them “compost”. I think that the arts scene is composting and eventually, with time, we will have some gorgeous new stories that have evolved from the compost of 2020.

FIRE plays Girls School at Fringe World 2021, 30 January – 14 February.

The three members of Kalyakoorl Collective, Ebony McGuire, Madeleine Young and Nadia Martich. Photo: Tasha Faye

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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