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What to SEE: A Fortunate Life regional tour

21 February 2023

Bringing together the thrill of live theatre and the scale of cinema, THEATRE 180’s innovative adaptation of A Fortunate Life is heading back to where Albert Facey’s story all began and beyond in a tour that takes in a huge swathe of WA.

THEATRE 180 has developed an out-of-the-box method of storytelling. They call it CinemaStage.

Created by THEATRE 180’s Art Director Stuart Halusz and Executive Director Rebecca Davis, CinemaStage sees live actors perform in front of a massive multi-media backdrop, projected on a cinema screen.

The company debuted CinemaStage in 2020, with an adaptation of a West Australian classic, Albert Facey’s much-loved autobiography A Fortunate Life (read Seesaw Mag’s review here). The show premiered at Ace Cinemas and has since toured through the Perth metropolitan and regional WA.

Facey’s tale is well-suited to THEATRE 180; since its formation, this company has been dedicated to collecting, preserving, and performing West Australian stories.

In March and April audiences in the Wheatbelt, Mid West, Goldfields-Esperance and South West regions, and Perth, will have the opportunity to catch THEATRE 180’s vivid interpretation of Facey’s famous words.

Ahead of the tour, Seesaw’s Rachel Denham-White was eager to chat to Stuart Halusz to find out more.

Rachel Denham-White: Stuart, when did you first read A Fortunate Life? Which aspects of the story spoke to you? 

Stuart Halusz: I remember reading it as a teenager and was struck, like most people, by Bert Facey’s tenacity and the resilience of a life lived through hardships, and yet lived with hope and love. I am still struck by his humility and the simplicity of storytelling, simple yet so compelling.

‘I was struck by Bert Facey’s tenacity’. Pictured: Michael Abercromby, Rebecca Davis and Benj D’Addario in ‘A Fortunate Life’. Photo: Stewart Thorpe.

RDW: Performing within a cinema, in front of a continuous projection, must be a meticulous task. What inspired CinemaStage to do this? How long did it take to bring the project together?

SH: It is indeed! We are ostensibly creating a one hour and 45 minute film and timing a live performance to it. We are also editing the film to suit the live action; it all happens concurrently.

There weren’t many venue options for the production I had originally envisaged – a six hour epic, Festival-style theatre piece with two intervals and a dinner break! But our Executive Director (and actor in A Fortunate Life) Rebecca Davis had the idea for CinemaStage while talking to the theatre owner Ron Sziemiginowski. Ron wanted to activate his chain of regional cinemas and bring more variety to his audiences, so he became our financial backer. After that, it all happened very quickly! I fleshed out the script with my co-writer Jenny Davis and within a couple of months we were in the rehearsal room.

We had a standard five-week rehearsal period, then we were in front of audiences. The cast worked very quickly to sync with the screen, as we rehearsed with it as early as we could, although the filmed content was constantly evolving.

For 30 years THEATRE 180 has been doing ‘suitcase theatre’, where a small cast takes on a number of roles. Pictured: Michael Abercromby, Rebecca Davis and Benj D’Addario in ‘A Fortunate Life’. Photo: Stewart Thorpe.

RDW: In your production of A Fortunate Life, you have just three actors playing over 80 roles. What was the thinking behind such a small cast to tell such a lengthy story?

SH: For 30 years THEATRE 180 has been doing a lot of “suitcase theatre”, where a small cast takes on a number of roles. There might be a change of a hat or scarf and a shift in vocal and physical presence; we are very adept at working on a piece which demands multiple character work.

In A Fortunate Life, costume changes are effected on stage in full view and often even mid-sentence, as an actor shifts from narration or storytelling to dialogue, and this engages the audience’s imagination in a very active way.

RDW: You’ve combined archival newsreels, nature footage, photographs and even some animation into the CinemaStage backdrop. Could you tell us more about this unique blend of aesthetics? 

SH: Bert and Evelyn Facey’s story ranges from 1894 through to the 1980s, bridging almost an entire century. We found archival photographs and newsreels were absolutely essential in bringing the historical elements to life. Newsreels charting important events or significant moments provide context, as do the evocative landscapes through which Bert travelled over his lifetime. They help to guide the audience through time and place and immerse them in the lives of our forebears.

RDW: A Fortunate Life is one of the most beloved autobiographies on the Australian syllabus. What elements of the show do you think will appeal to a younger crowd? 

SH: With over 100 performances under our belt we can safely say that this production has wide appeal, from about 8 to 98. It’s not the sort of play where you settle in for long scenes and conversations, it’s immersive, fun and entertaining.

‘We found archival photographs and newsreels were absolutely essential in bringing the historical elements to life.’ Pictured: Michael Abercromby, Rebecca Davis and Benj D’Addario. Photo: Stewart Thorpe

RDW: This show has been performed in cinemas since 2020. Are there any ways the production has evolved over these years?

SH: Every show grows and develops over time, and we worked very closely with the Facey family at every stage of the development. We were delighted when Christine Harling, Bert and Evelyn’s granddaughter, found the telegram informing Bert and Evelyn of their son Barney’s death in WWII. This was already a poignant and moving moment in the show, and now made even more special by the inclusion of the genuine telegram.

RDW: This your second regional tour – what are some of your favourite memories from the first?

SH: Hard to pick, as we love everywhere we go! Performing at Wickepin, where Bert and Evelyn raised their family, was definitely a highlight. Most of the town came out to the show for a special sold-out performance.

The themed dinner at Boddington was fantastic, where they kitted out the Town Hall in a pioneer theme, replete with bush hats, old farming equipment, a shearing display and gum leaf sprays on the tables.

Actors perform in front of a massive multi-media backdrop. Pictured: Michael Abercromby, Rebecca Davis and Benj D’Addario. Photo: Stewart Thorpe.

RDW: Do you have any plans for future productions? What other great Australian stories are you excited to tell using CinemaStage? 

SH: Our second CinemaStage production is SYDNEY II: Lost and Found, which tells the story of the sinking of HMAS SYDNEY II in November 1941 and discovery of the wrecks 67 years later. This show has already had seasons in Perth and regional WA, and is about to go on a second tour, funded by DLGSC’s Playing WA initiative.

Our third, THE LIGHTHOUSE GIRL SAGA (based on Dianne Wolfer’s hugely successful “Light” series of books) will open in Albany, 23-24 February, before touring to Busselton, 1-5 March, and a season in Perth later this year.

There are so many fantastic Western Australian stories to tell and we are tossing around many ideas for future shows. This genre is well suited to epic, wide-reaching and sweeping stories that are bound to provide a theatrical and cinematic feast for our audiences.

A Fortunate Life is touring to

York Town Hall: 10 March
Mukinbudin Memorial Hall: 12 March
Mount Magnet: 15 March (contact Shire of Mt Magnet for more info)
Port Denison: 17 March
Jurien Bay Sport and Recreation Centre: 19 March
Bruce Rock Rec Centre: 26 March
Varley: 28 March
Darkan: 30 March (contact Shire of West Arthur for more info)
Boyup Brook Town Hall: 2 April
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre: 5 April
Nannup Recreation Centre: 14 April
Esperance Civic Centre: 19 April
Goldfields Arts Centre: 22 April
Beverley Station Arts: 29 April
Perth: Windsor Cinemas 6-7 and 12-14 May

Find out more about THEATRE 180 here

Pictured top: Still from ‘A Fortunate Life’ featuring actors Michael Abercromby and Rebecca Davis. Photo: Stewart Thorpe.

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Author —
Rachel Denham-White

Rachel Denham-White is an emerging writer living in Boorloo/Perth. She has just completed her Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Literature and is constantly fascinated by the Gothic, the surrealist, and horror in all its forms. Her favourite playground object is the basket swing, but despite a childhood's worth of attempts, she's yet to achieved a full 360° revolution.

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