Gordon Murray writes… I am a theatre director and a drama lecturer at the University of Winchester. Over the last few years using some funding from the University, I’ve been interviewing descendants and talking to them about their memories of their fathers and their own experiences as a descendant.
With some of the material I’d collected, I made (with their permission) some audio portraits. These audio portraits are a strange hybrid mixing documentary with fiction, testimony with poetry, and fantasy with reality.
It’s been a fascinating experience for me and I’d like to thank all of the people who helped by offering time, hospitality and encouragement. I’m sorry that not all of the interviews made it into the audio pieces but there was limited money and limited resources.
As an academic, along with doing these projects one is expected to reflect on them and write about them. I’ve recently finished a paper called, Where Do You Put The Bomb? which is my reflection on why I chose this form and what I learned from making the pieces. I’d like to share some of those reflections here.
Nuclear exposure brings with it real, imagined and potential change. Mutations, metamorphoses and translocations are the parlance of the effects of exposure. Often the changes and the causes of them only become apparent later with time and distance. This phenomenon is also true of the creative process. I began by trying to make theatre and ended up with a form that wasn’t quite theatre. I thought we would tell stories about people being but ended up with portraits of people becoming.
If you expose the creative process to radiation what can you expect to produce but a mutated hybrid of forms?
I had started with the intention of making a piece of verbatim theatre (actors on stage repeating the words that descendants had said during interviews). I had been involved in a project like this with veterans from Maralinga some years ago and produced a play called Half a Life. Now we wanted to find a different form that might be capable of reaching wider audiences but remain true to the original notion of using personal testimony of descendants to advance awareness of the cause of the nuclear community. In this case the awareness of the damage that the nuclear tests still inflict on the test veterans and their descendants.
Stories or portraits?
As a theatre maker, the instinct is always to find stories, and stories are always about things changing. But what if the change is imperceptible? Some of the descendants I spoke to inhabit a vague and somewhat intangible relationship with their own bodies, a feeling that some unspecific chromosomal aberration has created health problems that endure. For most, the science that may shine a light on the reality of this chromosomal transformation is not accessible and so the feeling that ‘things just aren’t quite right’ becomes an embodied state of being.
They embody what the anthropologist Joseph Masco has described as the “nuclear uncanny”. For a theatre maker it is difficult to build stories around changes which are imperceptible.
The final form
I decided then to create a series of short audio pieces, each concentrating on individual descendants that investigated and described the way that the bomb blasts that their fathers had experienced had been subsumed and embodied in their own lives. Each piece would use recorded interviews with fictionalised moments; and all the narratives would be tied together with a rhythmic narrative poem. These pieces could stand alone as audio portraits to be listened to through broadcast, or through being located on suitable websites, or they could tour with exhibitions, and they could be emailed backwards and forwards amongst interested listeners.
The pieces will be part of the NCCF’s virtual museum accessed at memorial sites. They are also featured as part of an exhibition 10 Minutes to Midnight which has toured Australia and will be reprised in Sydney in August. You can listen to them through the links below. Do feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think.
FALLOUT, Portraits of descendants
To the background of her father’s funeral mass, Shelly Grigg talks about her Fallout group as a Franciscan Friar considers the meaning of change.
As a radiation biologist discusses chromosomal aberration, Steve Clifford recounts his childhood experiences as his father prepares for the bomb blast.
A theatre critic guides us to a stage where the spotlight shines on Sharon Harris, on the next stage her father stands beneath the nuclear lights, and on the third, we are half we through a Samuel Beckett play.
You can listen to them all in the Gordon Murray Collection of the Nuclear Community Virtual Museum.
We also have an article on the new exhibits at the virtual museum
Gordon Murray –The University of Winchester