One Of Many. Peter Maple talks to Suz Mawer – TALKING ARTS

Written by many, performed by many, bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company’s The Laden Table is soon to be served up (politically) hot and fresh, March 10 at the Kings Cross Theatre. On offer on this divisive menu, well-seasoned for debate, will be full-bodied ingredients the likes of: family, religion, ritual, generations, secrets, and lies… Out of the eclectic line-up on display for the Laden feast, to feed our own appetites, we’ve picked on and picked out Suz Mawer to chat with us about her artistic role/s:

You describe yourself as an actor, writer, director – how long have you worked in the performing arts?
Part of surviving in this industry is the ability to have a diverse range of skills.

I’ve been working as a professional arts worker for over 20 years…!

Do you think the industry has changed much over the course of that time?
Absolutely.  We are smack bang in the middle of a societal shift right now with much conversation about diversity being had, not just in the arts sector, but in the corporate world, in Australia and globally.  It’s an exciting time to be engaged in arts practise.

Would you call working in the performing arts a passion?
Yes. It’s undoubtedly a passion. But for me, it’s more than that. It’s a calling, a compulsion, an addiction.  It’s like breathing!

Are you just as passionate now as when you first started? Or more? Or less?
It feels like I’m more passionate about it now, but I know that’s just because I’m living in this moment.  The 17-year-old Suz would argue that she’s more passionate… The Suz you’re talking to today is a little more considered with how she spends that energy and passion…

Middle-age caught up with me…!

If there was something you could specifically change about the industry, what might it be?
A living wage! And a greater societal respect for the value that the arts contribute to everyday life!

So many of us work 2, 3, 4 jobs to cover the passion of working in the arts sector.  It’s important work I believe. We are shifting, challenging, changing culture.  We are providing laughter in times of great stress; enlightenment in times of confusion.

You’ve got your actor’s hat on for The Laden Table. Out of your many – is that the hat which fits most comfortable for you?
It is acting which dragged me into a life in the arts sector. But I’ve got to say that they all sit well on my odd shaped head!  Each arts role satisfies my heart, mind, and soul in different ways. 

What drew you as a performer to this particular project?
So many reasons!

Suzanne Millar for one. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a director as culturally sensitive as she is. I jokingly have described her as a freight train – and I mean it in the best possible way.  Her pace is relentless!  And the bAKEHOUSE crew do such incredible and important work – it’s a freight train I’m always happy to jump in the way of!

Secondly – the script and the concept. We need stories like these.  It’s awesome to be involved in a story as complex, challenging, political, romantic, and funny, and familiar as this.  We all know these people so well, but we rarely get see them on stage.

This play is a modern Australian classic. I truly see it that way.

This play – The Laden Table –  is described as being written and directed by a collective of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women. Do you think there is strength in having multiple voices and perspectives in telling the one story, or weaknesses?
I think there are more strengths than weaknesses in this approach.  We fight it out –  strive for the truth of the story. That commonality puts us in a place of collaboration that transcends religion or gender.  When we are challenged, we grow. All of us.

Is the development of new, home-grown work important to you?
Hell yeah!  Most of the work I’ve been engaged in for the last 20-ish years has been home-grown and new.  There is so much content out there at the moment on so many platforms, that it’s easy for the Australian voice to get muted. We have to resist that.  Australian stories are important – and let me be clear, by Australian I don’t mean just ‘white’.

That’s exactly why I use the term ‘home-grown’. There is a perception out there sometimes that that is what ‘Australian stories’ means to people – ‘white’. That is certainly not the case, and not what I mean when I use the term ‘Australian’…

I’d like to see the unconscious bias of ‘Australian’ being ‘white’ become extinct in my lifetime.

I do think that the notion of what is an ‘Australian’ story is being challenged.

You are just one of many in this diverse ensemble gathered. Tell me more:
Yes, I am just one of many in this truly diverse cast of experienced and truly talented actors. It is such a fine ensemble to be working with. I feel so privileged. You can pick any one of ‘em out as an example to highlight and celebrate strong, home-grown talent!

Come along to see this amazing group, and you’re really gonna get some bang for your buck. 

What’s been your all-time favourite performing arts moment? As an audience member, or performer.
That’s a really difficult one! There have been so many…!

I adore Deborah Mailman. Seeing her in King Lear in the ‘90s was a definite highlight.

What’s your all-time performing arts goal/role/desire?
I’ve always wanted to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar


What’s next for you?
Funnily enough, another bAKEHOUSE production – Jatinga!

[Excerpt from the bAKEHOUSE website, JATINGA is: “Theatre to provoke social change. In 2014, bAKEHOUSE Artistic Director Suzanne Millar headed to Mumbai to link up with Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC). This award-winning NGO works with the daughters of sex-workers in Kamithipura – Mumbai’s notorious red light district – to provide them with an education and pathways out of the cycle of inter-generational prostitution. This work is an experiment in the power of theatre to transform lives.”]

Finally – should my kids go into the performing arts industry…?!
Another “hell yes!”, from me.

Sincerely; it is important work. And I have a feeling that the world needs the arts right now more than it has in a long time.

Peter Maple – Theatre Now and Talking Arts
Original publish date, March 7, 2017.