Live phantom caught on camera!

I RECENTLY FRONTED a music hall; an old-school, East-End-of-London line up of rollicking romance replete with all the requisite roister-doister of an era long gone.

How did this happen?

Well, truth be told I tried to get out of it. Twice. It had been fifteen years since I’d trodden the boards of any theatre and part of me wondered if I could still cut it in front of an audience. So I let it be known that the part of Eric von Schneider, master of ceremonies, was up for grabs… but no man in the Deepwater region of NSW would take on this pivotal role. It was up to me to play the lecherous ladies man!

The Deepwater Players have performed a piece of community theatre every couple of years since 1981, when much-needed funds for medical equipment could be raised in no other way. Across those decades, high-school teacher Jenny Sloman has directed the shows, and this year she handed over the reins to Richard Moon (who happens to be my husband… maybe that’s how I got the part?) to make his directorial debut.

The troupe stages its work within the Deepwater School of Arts, a late-Victorian country hall with a proscenium stage that we transformed into the Whitechapel Music Hall Theatre. Community volunteers did everything from feeding audiences to performing the show!

People flocked from across the region. Some even came from Brisbane, Sydney, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast to see us sing, dance and move our way through music, lyrics and steps from Noel Coward to Lady Gaga and Kenny Rogers!

Thanks to Max S. Harding having a camera at a central table, images were captured (please note: despite wearing an extremely convincing wig, it’s not my real hair!).

Phantom of the Music Hall was written in 1996 by Australian playwright Judith Prior and is bursting with comedy of highly questionable political incorrectness. Nevertheless, it manages to say something about diversity.

It’s the story of a misunderstood Phantom (played by Chris McIntosh) who doesn’t like pantomime but stalks the wings of the Whitechapel Theatre, spooking the cast and crew.

Ambitious new owner Mrs Worthington (Katie Newsome) is convinced that pantomime is the way to make money, and is madly pushing actors with questionable abilities – because all of them are actually the backstage crew – including stage hands Charley and Fred (Cath Wheatley and Charlie Coldham), stage manager Arthur (Denis Haselwood), and wardrobe mistress Martha (Jen Lanz) to rehearse Cinderella. Her daughter Millicent Worthington (Monica Newsome) pluckily plays the lead role despite an early encounter with the Phantom that leaves her rather dazzled.

After Queen Victoria (Helen Grant) makes an appearance at the Whitechapel Theatre, things start to come undone like Millicent’s seams. Eric Von Schneider tries one too many moves on the talent – Daphne de Lace (Catie Macansh) – who refuses to go on if the dreaded Phantom makes an appearance.

The efforts required to convince this spectre that a fairytale is in fact a melodrama create a night of hilarous Cockney-themed comedy, proving that we all see things differently, even ghosts and queens!

If you were in the crowd, thanks for coming to support our show.

Phantom of the Music Hall, May-June 2021 by Deepwater Players
Deepwater School of Arts
Director: Richard Moon
Producer: Jen Lanz
Designer: Michael Burge
Choreographer: Lindy Alt
Stage Manager: Mari Grantun
Cast: Charlie Coldham, Helen Grant, Denis Haselwood, Jen Lanz, Catie Macansh, Chris McIntosh, Katie Newsome, Monica Newsome, Cath Wheatley, Michael Burge
Chorister and Soprano: Christine Davis
Featuring: Deepwater’s Cool Choir
Lights: Peter Sloman, Rob Wheatley, Jenny Sloman
Thanks to all behind-the-scenes, front-of-house, kitchen and bar staff and the Chapel Theatre Glen Innes for the loan of costumes, props and sets

Ceramic flair in the high country

AN EXHIBITION OF new ceramic work will open at Glen Innes’ creative hub The Makers Shed in June, featuring the work of local ceramicist and potter Anita Stewart.

Stewart has regularly exhibited work at The Makers Shed since the venue opened in 2018, and is well-known to locals as part of the Glen Innes Pottery Club, situated like the Shed on Grey Street. ‘Winter Clay’ captures some exciting new directions with the ceramicist’s form and style.

Anita Stewart, Glen Innes-based ceramicist.

“Discovering clay for me was like a fish taking to water,” Stewart said. 

“I studied Fine Arts in Western Australia for three years. Like many artists, I had been practicing before I actually decided to do formal training. 

“At Fremantle Tech I did units in painting design and drawing, then in 1995 I travelled to the New England region and discovered the wonderful ceramics courses run by Max Powell at the Glen Innes TAFE.”

Stewart’s newest work features an array of fresh forms – evocative black tiles, ceramic ‘breasts’, and stylised platters – in addition to some classic styles she’s already well-known for, such as her vibrant citrus squeezers.

“The inspiration to create a new body of work usually comes when working on new forms at the wheel,” she said.

“For instance, the last federal election inspired my ‘message in a bottle’ series. Using the surface of the pot as a canvas I add multiple layers to create an image that speaks. The New England Landscape has also given me great inspiration for my work.”

According to Stewart, the Glen Innes Pottery Club was established about 30 years ago and has remained a vibrant part of the community. 

“Lots of well-known potters have been a part of the club,” she said. 

Winner of multiple awards for her ceramics, Stewart laughs when asked to define what it takes to be a practicing artist, adding that “stamina, determination and absolute passion” are essentials for anyone wanting to make a long-term career of creativity; although she believes people should never be shy of signing up for a workshop and having a go.

“It’s really nice teaching people how to work with clay because it’s a very tactile medium and they usually seem really pleased when they’ve created a functional and colourful work of art,” she said. 

“The wheel can be a bit more of a challenge, but they are overjoyed when they manage to throw a pot on it.”

Winter Clay opens at The Makers Shed, 123 Grey Street Glen Innes at 2pm on Saturday June 19 and runs until August 28.

Tank Water in the Pipeline

IT FEELS LIKE a lifetime ago that I embarked on my dream to write a novel and have it published. In fact it is… in 1988 I received the first of many rejections over three decades, for a Young Adult novel I wrote when I was 15.

If anyone had told me I would wait thirty-three years to see my first novel in print, I would probably have taken myself off to acquire a trade with a better strike rate for success.

But I never came close to giving up. Was it grit, ego, refusal to accept that my storytelling might be unworthy, or a combination? I’m not sure, but I will undoubtedly write about it one day because that’s how I am hard-wired.

Here is the announcement about my coming-of-age thriller set in rural Australia – Tank Water – from Books + Publishing, March 26 2021…  

MidnightSun acquires Burge debut novel

MidnightSun Publishing has acquired debut novel Tank Water by Michael Burge, a story of homophobic hate crimes and the dangers of growing up feeling different in rural Australia.

Burge met MidnightSun publisher Anna Solding at a pitch session hosted by New England Writers Centre in 2018.

‘From the first time I met Michael, when he pitched his manuscript to me in Armidale, I’ve known that Tank Water is an important Australian novel,’ said Solding, adding that ‘it delves into themes that don’t often appear in our national literature’.

‘Through the taut and haunting narrative spanning two decades, Michael articulates what it can be like to grow up gay in the country and how prejudice and hate crimes are an extension of people’s fear of difference. We are so honoured and proud to be publishing this book.’

Born in the NSW New England region, Burge returned to live there in 2017. He said Tank Water has a fictional rural setting and is not based on any one case.

‘In the country, there are many stories about gay hatred leading to extremes of violence, and fiction is a way to start the difficult but necessary process of telling them at a relatively safe distance. I’m so excited and grateful that Anna acquired this tale about how three generations of a country family deal with toxic masculinity and must dig very deep. Taking a risk on such edgy subject matter is a testament to MidnightSun’s vision.’

Burge is a former Fairfax journalist and is currently the director of the High Country Writers Festival, which takes place in the rural region of Glen Innes in northern NSW each October. He self-published his nonfiction debut Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love in 2015.

Tank Water will be published by MidnightSun in October 2021.

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