The curtains open to a crowded scene in a bar.
The men are bearded. The women wear bright lipstick. Dresses are vintage, flowing, bright. Jeans are tight and rolled once or twice.
Many faces are familiar from … oh, what was that one called? You know? With the … oh, I’ll remember.
Conversation buzzes, kisses are exchanged, the banter is jovial, supportive.
The mood is united, energised.
Something great has just happened.
That Something Great was Kate Mulvany’s Philip Parsons Lecture last night at The Belvoir Theatre as part of The Sydney Writer’s Festival.
“A Lecture” does not do justice to the brilliance, the emotive magnificence, the story-telling divineness, the grand-but-pared-back hour which unfolded.
I went in to the Theatre with high hopes and was moved to tears, to laughter, to applause and standing ovation. I came out and my hands were trembling; I was so blown away by hearing one of my heroes speak.
I can’t tell you what Kate said because it was an hour dense with brilliance – so I implore you to head to The Belvoir’s website and read the transcript of the speech.
What I can tell you is another story about Kate Mulvany.
About how she became a hero to me.
It’s a story which starts almost 18 months ago and which I started writing shortly after, but which I didn’t quite know how to weave. Until last night. But first the story …
JACK stands before the SUN. The SUN looms tall and majestic above him. JACK can hardly look at the SUN’s face as he glows so radiantly.
JACK: I did it!
SUN: Well? Why have you come here?
JACK: Oh, Majestic Mr Sun. It’s so lovely to finally meet you. My name is Jack Hare and I have – my goodness, you’re big – I have travelled through earth, air, fire and water to face you. Well, not face you, so to speak, because … Well …
SUN: I’m ugly.
JACK: No! No, you’re not ugly!
SUN: Then why are you squinting at me?
JACK: Why, because you’re radiant sir. You’re absolutely glowing and my eyes aren’t equipped to take in the spectacle. You’re certainly not ugly, sir.
SUN: Really? I always thought I was.
– Masquerade by Kate Mulvany, based on the book by Kit Williams
I don’t really like theatre – plays … I find actors tend to talk in really loud, overly masculinely-deep voices with a funny kind of English accent thrown in there too. This observation has been formed across many productions, companies and continents, and is not a ridiculous generalisation.
So it was unexpected to find me at a play as part of the Festival of Sydney in January 2015. More unexpected still to find Simon there – he makes me look like a theatre-lover in comparison to his disdain for the stage. And to find us both enthralled by what we saw.
I think the best way to tell this story is to share with you the letter I sent to Kate Mulvany – the Playwright responsible for the play we saw that night:
16 January 2015
Amazing, amazing, amazing! My husband and I just spent a precious child-free night at the Sydney Opera House and it was …
Well, the stars aligned – my Mum gave me the article from the SMH to read shortly after Christmas and I said “yes Mum” and popped it into next year’s diary … where I found it on Sunday as I waited for a retreat to start (seriously, kid-free time is a rare commodity!) and was so so very moved by your story and Kit’s story and the poetic, wonderful weaving of the two that I went online instantly to book tickets for me and my theatre-hating husband.
The stars further aligned: I got tickets, had money on the credit card to pay for them and could find a babysitter.
Only – with two minutes until the curtain rose (or rather, the Moon rose), my husband pointed out that the tickets were for tomorrow night .
And yet the stars continued to align: there were seats, we got them and then … the Show.
And that brings us back to … amazing, amazing, amazing!
The story, your weaving, the characters, the music, the humour, the sadness … it was inspiring, it drew the audience closer together – we clapped, we cried – as the final lights came on, the lady next to me checked me for streaky mascara! It was uplifting, it started conversations and thoughts.
My theatre-hating husband loved it – he joined in my elated chatter and reflection as we left the Opera House on a buzzingly hot January night.
And I gave thanks for the stars aligning a thousand times over to bring me here tonight – a step and a support as I travel a long and winding journey to achieving my first publication – a children’s book called “Magnificant Me”.
And I wanted you to know that tonight you made hundreds laugh and cry and come together – because as a writer I can think of no greater achievement or accolade – surely that is an amulet in itself.
With enormous gratitude and blessings,
So, I hand wrote this letter because I HEART hand written letters, and I sent it off to Kate, and I thought that is where the story would end.
But then … one day I flicked on to FB and a new message alert popped up.
And it was from her. Kate Mulvany!!
Clare! How totally totally totally weird! I just sat down to send you a message and you popped up! I received your beautiful letter a few days ago, and I can’t tell you how much I needed it right at that moment – right in the middle of a shitty week. It made my heart swell and I have to say I even cried a little. I’m so thrilled Masquerade resonated with you. It truly means the world to hear that, and that your ‘theatre-hating hubby’ loved it too! Phew! I can’t wait to hear more about your own adventures as a writer – please share! Good luck with it all. Sending all my best wishes. And thank you, again, infinitely for taking the time to write. Your letter now sits on a shelf of Masquerade memorabilia, next to a small hare and a big silver heart given to me by the Black Sea Gentlemen! XXX
Cue hands trembling – Kate Mulvany seems to have that affect on me!
To think that my letter made a difference and made it on to the Playwright’s shelf of memorabilia … hands trembling, heart fluttering stuff.
And since then? We have exchanged a few messages, Kate has always been interested and encouraging of everything I am doing; generous beyond belief.
And then last night as part of her Lecture-so-much-more-than-a-Lecture, she mentioned in passing that established Actors and Writers and Directors had a part to play in supporting those entering the arena, those getting started. And I wanted to stand up and shout, “She actually does that! She is That Person to me!”.
But it was a Lecture so I kept my composure.
Instead, at the end of the evening, as we were down having a drink, Kate walked past and I tried to catch her eye to say hi, but it didn’t happen and I thought that I was being a little silly to think I could talk to her on a night like this.
A dozen people wait around the bar, chatting and trying to catch the barman’s eye.
The Star of the Show carries a bunch of flowers almost as big as she.
She is greeted and congratulated by everyone she passes.
She takes time to stop, to kiss, to chat to everyone.
As she turns to walk, the over-sized flowers bop a woman in the back. Apologies are exchanged.
The woman asks if she can buy her a drink.
The Star graciously declines.
The woman takes a chance, takes a deep breath and whispers in The Star’s ear: You need to meet my daughter-in-law, Clare Foale.
The Star’s eyes light up with recognition of the name as Clare Foale rushes forward, stumbling over her boots and words.
Clare: Kate, hi. I’m Clare Foale. My hands are shaking – that was so so so wonderful. I loved it.
Kate: Clare! It’s so wonderful to meet you.
They hug. Yep, hug!
K: How are you? How is your writing going?
C: Oh my! My writing? It’s going brilliantly – I’m still blogging and hoping to do more. I’ve just started a group for Mums to get together and talk about the grittiness of life.
K: How brilliant! What’s it called? How many Mums do you have?
C: The Zim Zum Motherhood … there are 10 of us so far.
K: Zim Zum?! That’s amazing!
C: Uhhhh – suddenly star struck by the enormity of the moment, words elude her. Uhhhh. It is so wonderful to meet you – I will leave you to your night. Thank you for everything.
K: Keep me posted. Bye!
C: Uhhh, ok, of course I will!
I think it went something like that. We may have also spoken about Quantum Physics, the Lecture or the (brilliant) colour of her lipstick. Or we may not have. Seriously it was such a rush that I can’t actually remember much of it.
Just that it was an amazingly affirming, energising, joyful moment. Kate seems to have that affect on all she touches.
Truly hand trembling stuff.