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Down Under Over Here

The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back

Last year when Brooklynite and Artistic Director of the Production Company Mark Armstrong, called me and asked me if I wanted to write a short play about Australia for the first annual Australia Project: I had a flashback. Suddenly it was 1981. I saw myself sitting on my living room floor ogling the centerfold-esque layout of Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical album (yes, vinyl). When I came-to, I let out an enthusiastic “Aye mate!” and hung up on Mark. After all, it was the fantasy of all of the girls in my Dallas neighborhood to some day get to Australia hang out with Olivia, eat vegemite with Men at Work, and pet cuddly koala bears. After the initial Proustian reverie wore off, I called Mark back and said, “What’s the Australia Project?”

Now in it’s second year, the Australia Project is what Mark’s NYC based Production Company is all about. The Production Company goes boldly where many ought to go more, delving into a cultural exchange between American and Australian theater. The Australia Project specifically addresses this challenge: last year the Australia Project commissioned thirteen emerging and established American playwrights—including Stephen Belber, Betty Shamieh, Ken Urban, and Kate Moira Ryan—to write ten minute plays about Australia. This year, from September 13–30, the Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back will present new plays by a dozen of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights writing about America.

If you’re anything like me, your knowledge of the Australian theater scene is nonexistent. Hell, if you’re like me, your knowledge of Australia doesn’t go much past its appeal as a tourist destination. And it turns out that before Mark met his Australian wife, he was a lot like me. As his love for his wife blossomed, so naturally did his interest in Australia. What he found as he began traveling there with his wife was that the Australian people seemed to have a very strong connection to what was going on in America and that this connection was reflected in the plays that were presented there. And according to Mark, these Australian plays were quite good. It was a natural transition for him to chart his theater-directing career on a course that would fuse his two great loves—plays and an Australian. So, in 2004, the Production Company was born.

Now, New Yorkers can all benefit from Mark’s passions. Over three weeks in September The Australia Project II will present three different programs, each week featuring three or four plays in full productions that will give theatergoers a peek into what some Australian writers think about when they think about America.

In order to bridge some of the surface cultural differences, I’ve asked a few of the Australian playwrights to give a quick primer in Australian, so that if there are terms or phrases that I didn’t understand it wouldn’t impede my enjoyment of their plays. Here are a few gems:

Alexandra Collier, The Will of the Cockroach: “Tall Poppy Syndrome – A uniquely Aussie ability to cut people down who get too big for their boots, usually humorously (esp. used on artists who are fed on cynicism and a cruel wit to boot).”

Veronica Gleeson, All This Beautiful Life: “Possum spotter: in equal measures derogatory, funny and somewhat true, this is the name bestowed upon those with the condition known as strabismus, or ‘lazy eye’.”

Lally Katz, Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart:  “My father’s most important New Year’s Resolution was to work the term ‘Fair Dinkum?’ into his regular vocabulary- which pretty much means ‘Is that true?’”

Brendan Cowell, 967 Tuna: ‘No Drama’. A term used to express that there is nothing to worry about, insinuating that the ultimate life would be of ‘no drama’. Pronounced: no draaahhma.

Ross Mueller, Pinter’s Explanation: “Winter: a season. It is cold and rainy. Sometimes it snows in the southern regions. It happens in June, July and August. In America – the correct term for this time of year is summer. But it’s hot and sticky and you have long hours of daylight. Indeed – it is completely the opposite.”

Ben Ellis, Between Us: “History = something that other nations are supposed to have and that most Australians are determined to deny, a bit like not remembering where you left your keys and pretending you don’t have a car.”

So, now you know a little Australian. You can use it when you go to see The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back, September 13-30 at Chashama 217 on East 42nd Street. For more information, visit For tickets, visit or call 212-352-3101.


Courtney Baron

Courtney Baron is a playwright living in Park Slope.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2007

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