7 July, 2020
Uncle Jack Charles (writer and performer) and Rachael Maza (Director) reflect on what it was like creating this award-winning ILBIJERRI Theatre Company production, a decade after its original premiere.
Jack Charles V The Crown premiered on Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Studio stage in 2010. It then went on to tour nationally and internationally for eight years, charming a generation of theatre goers into a deeper understanding of what it means to be a survivor of the Stolen Generations.
We were thrilled to bring this much loved work back to our audiences once more as part of the digital season for Vic NAIDOC Week 2020 in July.
Photo by Bindi Cole.
Everyone loves the story of a reformed, serial pest, nuisance moving on from a past darkly into and onto the stage; from infamy to fame.
If truth be told and fully understood, the doco about my life’s struggles, Bastardy, impacted immediately upon the minds of Melbournians at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), in 2008.
Shortly thereafter, two Rachels phoned me following an edited version aired on the ABC: Rachel Perkins and Rachael Maza, both asking if I’d be inclined to do Bastardy on the stage. Of course I had to choose Rachael Maza, because it was her father, Bob Maza, bless him, who helped kick-start the modern black theatre movement in ‘71 in Melbourne and ‘72 in Sydney.
I was up to the task, and we brought along an old time friend, John Romeril to co-write the production, with Rachael hanging over us for that period of time.
Rachael had the crème de la crème of individuals such as Emily Barrie to design the set and a beaut wardrobe for me, and the delightful Danny Pettingill who designed the lighting, with a touch of brilliance, and the master craftsman of audio, Peter Worland who managed to make a sound stage. Our crew consisted of the great Gary Dryza and a stage manager (we’d had a few stage managers over the years on tour, so I won’t divulge their names, other than to say that each and everyone of them held my hand and were indeed a comfort to myself on the long tours throughout the many years. I’m eternally grateful they were on board with me).
Lastly, the cast included three band members, Nigel Maclean, our esteemed musical director, Mal Beveridge on Bass guitar, and Phil Collings on the drums as percussionist extraordinaire. These three kept watch over me and gave a measure of protection for which I was, and am still, very grateful.
This production resonated with the population at large as we traversed the art markets and festivals around the nation.
I totally believe that Victorians who’d seen Bastardy and Jack Charles V The Crown saw to it that I would be their Golden Child, their chosen one to be their 2016 Victorian Senior Australian Of The Year.
In the earlier research processes I got to discover my hidden heritage and my family connections with various tribal mobs across Victoria and NSW through Jimmy Berg’s Koorie Heritage Trust and Linkup.
I now know who I am, full stop, and where I came from, and where I belong.
I treasure the memories engaged with the ILBIJERRI Theatre mob which gave me a platform and a genuine rise to my profile in the arts industries.
- Uncle Jack Charles
Working with Uncle Jack in the development and touring of Jack Charles V The Crown for eight years (2010-2018), nationally and internationally, has been such an honour and I am so grateful to Uncle for trusting me!
Working with him has undoubtedly been a career highlight. Watching him over the eight years; his incredible generosity and graciousness with both his team and his audience; he never ceased to amaze me.
He always gave his all and more: one hundred and ten percent; the consummate professional. No matter how tired we all may have been, or when things didn’t go to plan, nothing ever fazed him. He was always patient, generous and professional.
Jack Charles V The Crown is a huge task, a massive one-hour monologue, exhausting for any actor, and yet he always made time after the show to say hello to the often numerous fans waiting in the foyer for a selfie with him - another indication of his generosity as an artist. He was and is adored the world over.
But the thing I am most proud of, and grateful for, is to have experienced, again and again over the eight years, the proof of the power of theatre to fundamentally change minds and hearts. When listening to Uncle Jack, there was no disputing the very real impacts of a very harmful and inhuman government policy to take children away from their families and put them in institutions.
As a member of the Stolen Generations, Uncle Jack charmed audiences like no-one I’ve ever seen before. Despite the gravity of his story, he invites them into his journey, through his candour, courage and humour, he allows the audience to really “get it”.
One of my favourite anecdotes was from one of the band members in-laws. She's not normally a theatregoer, but came because it was family. She also happened to be a detective. She had worked with heroin addicts for much of her career and had little empathy. After seeing the show, and understanding more deeply how some people’s life experiences could compel them to make bad choices, she said: “For the first time I understand why someone might choose to take Heroin”.
I’m very grateful to Arts Centre Melbourne for having created this opportunity for the show to get an online season, as I believe this show is as relevant as ever, and is a MUST SEE!
- Rachael Maza AM
Watch a post-show panel filmed after Jack Charles V The Crown in 2016 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Panellists Rachael Maza AM, Dr Lou Bennett AM, Rhoda Roberts AO and Edwina Lunn discuss ‘what is the future of First Nations performing arts’.