Interview with director Felix Cross – Black Drop Effect

Billy McPherson and Googoorewon Knox in Black Drop Effect, Sydney Festival 2020. Photo by Christopher Woe.

Billy McPherson and Googoorewon Knox in Black Drop Effect, Sydney Festival 2020. Photo by Christopher Woe.

Produced by Bankstown Arts Centre, and directed by Felix Cross, Black Drop Effect is an immersive, multi-layered experience that draws audiences into the contested space of ideas and emotions inspired by the 250 years of Australia’s colonial history.

Can you tell us about Black Drop Effect and what can audiences expect?

Black Drop Effect is a powerful story; it is naturalistic and mythical, using actors, videos, music, dance and a beautiful outdoor Bankstown Arts Centre setting complete with several trains.

It is a contemporary and historical story of today, in the context of a past that stretches way back beyond this notional marker of 250 years, towards a history that can only be calculated in tens of thousands of years. And it is confronting and funny, poignant and complex, with a great cast and an inspiring creative team and it asks – offering answers to many different questions.

What were some of the challenges in developing the project?

At a certain stage in the development of the story we realised it was all about land – the relationship with it, the ownership of it, the stealing of it, and the reclaiming of it. Because of this, it seemed odd to put on the show within the artifice of an indoor theatre, so we decided show had to be performed outside, on real soil.

As well as the challenges around the subject matter, including the historical, political and cultural contexts, the practical challenges as the productions director were; putting together a talented cast of performers who can act, sing and dance; integrating video projections onto the floor and along a huge cycloramic back screen, with lighting, recorded music and soundscape; and dealing with mainline trains that run past the stage every 20 minutes.

How are you expecting audiences will respond to the Black Drop Effect?

The audiences’ responses will be influenced by the baggage they bring – as individuals – to the performances; where they sit along the Australia Day/Invasion Day spectrum; how important do they see Indigenous cultures, beliefs and systems within contemporary Australia; do they like sitting outside when watching a show?

Nevertheless, I hope they will react in the same way I did when I first read the play. I found it rich, many-layered, compassionate and funny. It doesn’t settle for easy answers and it understands that the blackness and whiteness, the rightness and wrongness of the issues, as well as any answers or future routes, are complex, contradictory and full of pot-holes.

Can you talk about navigating historically sensitive material and bringing that to a contemporary Australian audience?

The rehearsal process of any new play is really like writing it all over again. The writer has written it, now the actors – using the script as a template – break down and rebuild the play for performance.

Our acting company, which includes five Indigenous and two non-Indigenous actors, aren’t simply learning their lines and remembering where to stand on the stage, they are discovering meanings under the words and making them live. And in order to do that, they have to ask hard questions of the work and of themselves.

For example, as people they may fundamentally disagree with a character’s attitude, but they not only have to play that person but also imbue him or her with a real level of humanity, in order that all sides of the arguments, all the relationships in the play are authentic and believable. The actions and attitudes of the past – both historic and very recent – as well as those of now, are there in this play and they must all be conveyed with truth, no matter how unpalatable. Otherwise we produce propaganda rather than theatre.

Black Drop Effect
14–18 January
70 minutes – $35 + BF
Bankstown Arts Centre

Read interview with writer Nardi Simpson here.

Image: Billy McPherson and Googoorewon Knox in Black Drop Effect, Sydney Festival 2020. Photo by Christopher Woe.