Australian Theatre History. The Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory

Jesus said, along with many ancient wise ones- ‘if you bring forth what is within you it will save you and if you don’t, it will destroy you.’

Sue Ingleton


I lived in fear so much of my early life, fear of not being good enough? fear of failure? success? whichever it was I turned again and again from my heart to my head and pursued pathways that excused me from confronting the passion, the fire in my soul which was held in one word- theatre.  According to my father, being an actress was not a good idea and my mother really wanted me to have a Profession, ‘something to fall back on’ (for when your husband leaves you). Neither one saw acting as a Profession. And quite honestly in 1962 it wasn’t. In Australia there was nothing! Something deep inside whispered to me that the MTC was not Theatre, nor even was the Emerald Hill. So, leaning towards finity I became an architect. I seemed to spend most of my university days on the stage- in archi revues or in the Union Theatre where I worked with such young people as Graeme Blundell, Kerry Dwyer, Patrick McCaughey, Bruce (Bluey) Knappet, Peter Corrigan, Ian Robinson, Kiffy Rubbo, Sue Neville, Joan O Rourke, Bill Walker, David Kendall, Jack Hibberd et al.


In 1966 I was in Jack’s first play White With Wire Wheels directed by David Kendall in the Prince Phillip Theatre of the Architecture school- a fitting new theatre space for a shocking new play. It even went that three young men from my architecture faculty played the male roles. An ecstatic Patrick McCaughey wrote a theatre review for ‘The Age’ newspaper, where he was temporarily employed whilst he decided whether to commit himself to Theatre or to Art, and it was published!  Understand that this was a first- a university, amateur production reviewed like a real play!  Then, at a smoky party in a Parkville loft, a claret soaked Malcolm Robertson told me I should join the MTC, ‘you’d be a shoe-in’, he caroused. I was 21, culturally cringed and not about to waste my time with Australian theatre. I waltzed off to London to go to drama school and hopefully never return -except maybe as a member of the RSC or some other such English company whose visits were the epitome of Theatre in this godforsaken cultural desert. I failed the entrance audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama and, because of my heroic, egotistical departure and being too ashamed to show my face in Melbourne for at least a generation, I did the only thing left possible to me- I got married. Marriage meant I couldn’t justify going off to work in English Rep. My personal saboteur was having a field day. When I finally came home with my husband Graeme Brady, a fellow architect,  I was pregnant with my son, Dylan and the fire inside was all but extinguished along with my Desire, and my Passion. I had consciously relinquished the Dream of my Heart.


I returned from England in the summer of 1971 and how the gods blessed my feet, for they led me to the door of the Pram Factory, a very familiar building. 335-337 Drummond St. The place I had lived in as a student in my last two years of Architecture. Four of us girls had found the empty tower, above a panel-beaters in 1965, a windfall, plenty of rooms, high ceilings and an ancient ‘patio’ out the back which overlooked the rear of the Carlton Courthouse where one could gaze upon the male felons taking what was probably their last leak of freedom against the fence. Next door to the tower was a mysterious space, dark and packed with furniture and dust which we thought belonged to the university. A storehouse of unwanted bentwood chairs. No one wanted bentwood chairs in 1965. The tower was ours and so was the sign, ‘Paramount Prams’. It had once been a pram factory.


I can remember the smell of the theatre, for that is what it had become when I walked back in there in 1971. The smell was different to other theatres I had known. The Union Theatre always reeked of stale old paint and cold cement, the Prince Phillip Theatre was new cement dust, carpet and steel. In the Pram Factory theatre the smell was of old timber and Harris coffee mixed with the rising fumes of cars from Drummond street and the thick wafts of damaged air from the men’s toilets, - nothing could disguise the smell of male urine no matter how many cakes of Parry’s disinfectant were tossed into the urinal. On hot days and nights under the tin roof there was always a filter of dust in the nostrils reminding one that the elements will finally win. Gazing up to the roof one could almost see, hanging forever in the air like invisible, painful cobwebs, the weeping hearts of women, the veiled frustrations of men who had tried, over the years to sweep and mop the dirt out of the floor.


Sometime in that August of ‘71 I must have dragged my husband out to see Don’s Party.   I would have been eight months pregnant. I just remember being enthralled with the freedom those actors had, the vibe they shared. I thought Wilfred Last, who played Don was the most beautiful man I’d seen in a long time but I found Evelyn Krape, who played his wife, unattractive and frightening in her crocheted poncho skirt and little glasses and raging frustration! In my sexist way I couldn’t imagine why ‘Don’ had married her. The men were hilarious, at home in both their bodies and their grog, the women seemed to struggle. It was a play of our time. I may have said hello to Graeme and Kerry, I don’t remember. The next thing was The Feet of Daniel Mannix. I sat in a sort of passageway very close to this amazing woman on an organ who pumped out the most fabulous tunes and smoked a fag whilst she did it. Lorraine Milne. I fell over and wanted to die for Bruce Spence and Max Gillies and there was curly-headed, boyish Tony Taylor singing and shuffling ‘Halleluliah, I’m a bum’!

I wanted ‘in’.


My first chance came in the heat of summer ‘72 when, with my little baby son in tow, I offered myself up to the group of women who were rehearsing Betty Can Jump. I helped to make a huge model of a Man. I was not invited to perform, I had missed the early workshops. I yearned to be part of the mystery that was unfolding in that theatre. I watched with envy the likes of Jude Kuring, Helen Garner (whom I’d known from University days), Yvonne Marini, Claire Dobbin, Evelyn Krape and Kerry Dwyer (distanced from me then and heavily pregnant with her first child, Nellie) leaping around with the fire in their eyes and their hearts and I remembered something about myself and a little breath of wind began to fan a tiny flame and suddenly there was a crack in the wall that I had built around my life and a glimmer of light magnetised my soul.


I entered the collective in The Sonia Knee and Thigh Show, doing what I found easy, what I’d trained up in. Revue. Graeme asked me in, there was no hassle- we were old mates and he knew I could cut it. I had a good time. Among other things I played Sonia McMahon, whose husband was our Prime Minister, an act I wrote myself, it was just like the old days of archi revues. I made costumes, I made sets, I cleaned and phoned and found myself feeling alive. At my first collective meeting I sat gobsmacked as I watched the parade of the heavies; Gillies, Garner, Timlin, Blundell, Hawkes, Hutchinson, etc and observed the clever manipulation of words and ideas and the politicisation of every thought that managed to escape from anyone’s unsuspecting lips. I shut up, pretty well shut up. The women sat and watched, hawk-eyed. Strong voices occasionally bursting forth from Dobbin, Dwyer, Krape and Laurie. Kuring slung invective across the room with viper-like accuracy. I was terrified of them all.  In winter the women knitted- we couldn’t bear to be wasting our time in these interminable meetings and the creation of useful goods made it somehow excusable- garments, rugs, scarves, jumpers, socks, houses. Tony Taylor joined the club and knitted hilariously. I joined the club. It was like the war. I knitted socks for my husband, I knitted clothes for my children. I knitted children. I knitted another husband.


Children were a most unwelcome presence at the Collective meetings. Kerry and I suffered greatly, perhaps me more than Kerry as she had an enviable quality of self-righteousness and self-assertion about her and she stood as co-creator of this amazing theatre group along with the father of her children, Graeme Blundell. They were in for the long haul. My husband was an outsider, an architect. I remember one awful struggle with the Collective in the early days: asking for the right to be paid some money for the work I was doing. It was questioned by the Collective that since I was married and had a husband who earned, I shouldn’t be paid. Male voices rose in opposition to giving me a wage. In the end it was the women who saved me. Outraged that I was being denied my rights to be considered as an individual, economically independent of my husband, they swung the vote and I got thirty dollars a week, half the usual wage. I was thrilled.


After The Sonia Knee and Thigh Show I was asked by Lorna Hannan to play a role in The Compulsory Century. It was the role of Miss Love, a teacher. I was desperate to keep my foot in the door. I accepted. Who am I? I kept asking Bill Hannan and Lorna would take me aside and say ‘you’re a teacher, Sue.’ But what do I know? What do I teach? These questions were aimed at the wrong people. Most of those working in the Pram had been teachers. They didn’t compute my blankness. I was desperately trying to grab for motivation and sense of character, little realising that if the play had been better written I might have found that in the text. It remains the most awful experience I’ve ever had in theatre. Confusion and despair. The basement rehearsal process had been hell, sheer hell. I had to bring my toddler, Dylan and lock him in a playpen whilst we worked. I remember him crying and crying for me to hold him, carry him whilst we were rehearsing. At least I was allowed to have him there but Bruce Spence (of whom I was a bit in awe ‘cos he’d been in a film, ‘Stork’) would come and glare at him and Dylan would cower in terror under the giant shadow of Spence bent over him like a praying mantis, huge equine teeth bared and hissing into his baby face, ‘Will you shut up!’

Later, in performance I had to suffer Spence’s farts in the dressing room whilst waiting to go on. Ghastly, putrid wafts emanating from his black academic gown and a strange, wicked smile on his face. Revenge is sweet. Why had I gone in it, this dreadful show? Because I wanted to keep working, be in a production and this is something that a lot of other people in the collective did for most of their days there.


We had a weekend conference in Healesville, a ‘where- are-we-heading?’ type of thing at some strangely archaic guesthouse, the weather was cold and dripping and we wore scarves and coats and when things got too heated up you went out and walked in the damp air and heard the call of bell birds and slid around ferny, wet bushland and riverbeds. We stayed in cabins and I had Graeme with me and Dylan in his travelling cot. I can’t remember anything much about it except the feeling of creeping inadequacy and naieve, uncommitted politicisation which plagued me all my days in the Collective. Graeme hated it, he spent most of his time looking after Dylan or drinking at the bar with Hibberd, the only man he knew in the group. It was at this conference that I first saw Lindzee Smith. The whisper was out- Lindzee was back from America. I watched from behind heads, sitting on the floor like schoolchildren, confident leaders stood with their steaming backs to bazing fires and talked at the group. I watched Lindzee, I watched Jono lapping up his presence along with many others. A guru had returned, a visionary and he smelt of New York. He had an aura of excitement, danger and secret knowledge, he had long, long black hair and a beautiful, wild face.  I remember that it wasn’t long before I heard him swearing and laughing at the whole concept of the weekend and that he had better things to do than sit around talking. He was goin’ to make theatre not talk about it!  Then he was gone.


First meetings with people who were later to become my everyday world were usually out of kilter. I remember one day walking up Lygon St. past the open door of the Albion pub. I glanced in to see Fay Mokotow talking to what looked like some dero. Dishevelled face, balding hair and missing teeth. I stepped into the fetid air of the bar and Fay pulled me down with this divine grin on her face and her great, dark cow-eyes shining and said ‘This is Bob Daly’. Hi, I said, thinking what on earth is she doing with this tramp! ‘Gidday’. His voice was soft and gentlemanly and I felt like a complete idiot which is what I was of course. Quick to judge and paying the price of my tribal laws which forbade that I mix with ill-kempt folks who spoke with Australian accents.


Shopping at Victoria Market and going round to visit Helen Garner’s house where she lived with Jill Gibb and a succession of weird, floating lives. The frisson of danger and freedom and love and action in the air. Back home to my married house in Drummond St. felt like I was crawling back into my cage. I loved my house and the keeping of it but there was such unhappiness in my heart and just down the end of the road was the Pram Factory where I gazed upon, yay, was surrounded by, every minute of the day and night the heat of bodies and the mysteries of sex and the orgasms and terrors of independence and no ties and illicit drugs which lead you inevitably to illicit love and couplings- one with the other and who was with whom – man, you never knew!


People didn’t give much away in Collective meetings. Sometimes they’d sit together and I would watch out of the corner of my eye to see what was the electric charge between who? I knew Lindzee was with Carol Porter and I remember Caz once coming into a meeting with her hair wrapped in rags whilst the henna did its work and I was thinking how beautiful she looked, how casual, how wild but she never sat next to Lindzee and when I, years later, was in a relationship with Jono, even then, I never sat next to him though I yearned to, but you just didn’t. You didn’t express or cling or display emotion. Ponch and Kelvin were a law unto themselves, they were blessed. Jack and Evelyn occasionally sat together but not often, probably because Evelyn liked best to shout her tirades of feminist abuse against his chauvinistic tendencies from across the room. It was more powerful and enhanced their delight in each other.


In 1979 Nation Review gave a rave review for Steven Sewell’s Traitors, my last show. Cathy Peake called me a young Jane Fonda. I was so proud. I also knew that at last I’d become a good actor. I remember at the end of the show on opening night we were in the front office/ dressing room. We were on a high. The audience were screaming for us, Nano Nagle, who’d co-directed and who had given me such strength was flushed and ecstatic. Stephen Sewell was probably numb. Mark Minchinton in his debut, and who had been superb to work with, was shyly leaning on a table. Bill Garner and Wilfred were calmly taking the accolades. Jude McHenry grinning from ear to ear. Jan Cornall flinging her long hair about... and Jono rushed in through the old metal encased door and swept me up in his big bear arms and gave me this almighty hug of brotherly, comradely love. My heart leapt for I would always hold him somewhere in the centre of it but the other part of me was embarrassed- again for my political naivety. He was hugging me for the revolution and I was hugging him for love and art. I admit now that I finally understood Traitors after seeing Melanie Beddie’s brilliant production in 2004 at la Mama.


But before Traitors there was Stasis.


The Hills Family Show had been a triumph. A group developed, joyful, self-devised, almost self-directed performance. I do recollect that Bill Hannan had the difficult task of controlling ten of the largest egos in the collective. Eleven if we include Romeril, twelve if we include Jack both of whom were roped in for some writing. Bill’s quiet, phlegmatic manner seemed to do the trick, even though I personally felt his direction lacked purpose as we produced what I think was the greatest piece of populist theatre that ever came out of the Pram. It went on to do three seasons, I opted out of the last one as I had been drawn into the magic, the mystery, the terror of shape-shifting theatre. During the first season of the Hills Robert Meldrum and a few others in the Collective had taken up the offer from the MTC to join in some voice workshops which were being given by a visiting American teacher, Rowena Balos. She was teaching the Kristen Linklater method. Robert was transformed by this work and I can remember him saying to me during the season of the Hills. ‘there is another way to do what you’re doing’. I remember being a bit miffed because I thought I was quite brilliant and everything I did worked and quite frankly, why change what’s perfect? When I think of myself then its like seeing a petulant child who will not be told that the way to open the gate is to lift up the hook not just keep pushing it.


Before the end of the Hills Robert offered to pass on all he was learning. I remember our first session. In the Tilley’s space down in Faraday St. around the corner from the Pram. There was Robert, Roz de Winter, myself, Yvonne Marini, Susie Potter and Kerry Dwyer. Very quickly Kerry realised this was not what she wanted to do but the other four of us settled into workshops with Robert teaching us all he was learning. Thus began the work of Stasis. We went to a programming committee and said we wanted to work in this special way together and we promised them we would create a show, for the Back Theatre, from whatever we came up with. Somehow our nefarious project was accepted and we went onto salary for it. I was being paid to learn a lifelong gift. What my voice was, what my body was, how to connect it all to my breath which of course was my Spirit although at the time that was not a word that was known to me.

Under the extraordinary vision of Roz we started to look at our dreams. That’s all we had and then I found the poetry of Sylvia Plath, her voice came like a sword into me and opened me up to my own pain. Her poems, our dreams and the breath was the work of Stasis and we opened outrageously in the Back Theatre. We put on display our Work Process. Nothing like this had been done before. We were quite mad and the Collective accepted that we were and basically that was that. The audience were small and drawn in by their own subtle needs. It was a success, a small success. We couldn’t get enough, we were at the tip of the iceberg. We just wanted to go on. Yvonne had sat outside Stasis and directed. She moved on. Susie moved on and then there were three. Robert and I did the Victorian Country tour of the Hills but in our minds was revolution. The energy shift was so great for me that it propelled me, on that tour, into the arms of illicit love, with fellow actor Hawkes. I surrendered to a huge sexual energy that tore apart my marriage and threw me out onto the sea of Possibility. I was staring in the face of Freedom although at the time it didn’t feel like it. The Pattern was shattered and things would never be the same again. My work, my body, my breath, all new. I now know that I was rescued- by my body, by Spirit.


On the edges of the Pram floated another great spirit who had also done the Rowena Balos work. Jenny Kemp. Jenny got pulled in on the tidal wave of energy that now broke over us all. We wanted to do Ibsen. Classic text. The bones of the actor. We chose Peer Gynt. We chose only the first half. We called it The Young Peer Gynt.  To help pay for that we created The Sylvia Plath Show which we toured to schools and other venues. Here we began the first work on gender- swapping, all of us sharing the words of Sylvia. At this time I learnt a huge lesson from Roz. We were rehearsing in the little College Hall in Gatehouse St. Parkville and Roz kept getting phone calls from a certain television executive. This executive, by the name of Hector Crawford, even went so far as to send her a huge bunch of flowers that arrived one day at the hall in the middle of our rehearsal. Robert and I were finally confided in. She was being wooed for the role of the mother in a new television series. But she didn’t want it. We just couldn’t believe it. You mean you’re not doing it because of us!?  ‘Yes, and because of this work. This work is much more important’. Robert and I looked at each other in dismay knowing that neither of us would have a second’s hesitation to chuck this in for a bit part in anything! The producer found another actress to play the mother and the series went to air later that year. It was called The Sullivans.


Stasis found another space away from the structure of the Pram, away from the slap-hazard, lacksadasical attitudes, the long coffee breaks, the long lunch hours. We wanted a cell to work in, we were monastic, we yearned for discipline. We created in a church, what better place! St Marks Hall in Fitzroy was given to us by our benefactor, Brother Michael. It had two large, very empty wooden-floored halls, perfect. High brick walls, couldn’t see out, no distractions. We entered the work. I had two children and had just separated from my husband. In later years I was happy to receive understanding and apologies for the lack of support I did receive from the others who were all, at that time unencumbered. We were meant to live it, eat it, sleep it. I had two separate lives and it nearly killed me. In fact I did die there, the old self just shrivelled up and peeled away. I shed many skins. Jenny came into the Ibsen a little later, as an outside eye and we also lured Jonathon Hardy in one day who gave us a kendo workshop. Neil Giles offered his services as a drummer and lighting operator but the cell work was ours and we guarded it like the precious thing that it was. One day I saw a semi-trailer with large wooden cable reels on it and I thought wow, what a great prop they would make. We got them. They became the only props. Some years later Peter Hall arrived with his RSC and his famous ‘Dream’ using cable reels and how the people ooohed and aaahed. We had three as I recall. I was so agile, like a monkey, nothing was too dangerous! I used to leap upon them and, dancing on them, roll them round the space, fling myself under them. We learnt text in a new way. We developed a visualising technique for language and text. We were finally beginning to understand how to use this divine instrument, the body. We got into each other’s skins. We went away together. We wept together.  Slept together. Became lovers at various times, even did drugs together, well, the gentle weed by the campfire. Once, madly, Robert and I ate some mogodons that he’d found in his father’s home and, zeroed out, we both went to a programming meeting. I can’t remember anything but I believed we both spoke really clearly and well and fast. Not so. They said we were like 45rpm records played at 33rpm.


Peer Gynt was amazing. If there’s anyone out there who saw it you are among the  privileged few. We pulled the weirdest, disparate crowd. Sometimes only ten or twelve, sometimes full. The seats were strung down the long sides of the rectangle so the audience looked across the space at each other. I went to the Women’s Hospital and begged old sheets. I hung them on the walls, draped them from the roof. Stained, birthing, death-bed sheets! Giles made himself a tower and stayed up there. I apologise now to you, Neil for our arrogance and protectionist attitudes. I wonder sometimes why you just didn’t walk out in your loneliness! We borrowed one set of blacks from the Pram. I remember standing behind those black curtains on the opening night, the three musketeers we called ourselves, and Roz raised her wiry arm to the roof and whispered madly, ‘To the Death!’ ‘To the death!’ we cried.


We were right to be warriors. We had taken the play and divided it between us, gender aside. If you were Peer you wore a brown waistcoat. If you were Aase, his mother, a shawl. Each character had one item of costume. Nothing else. We travelled deep into our own psyches, as Ibsen had done and we found the core of the person and they came crashing through us. We learnt it all. Our ‘feeding’ process of lines made it inevitable that you learnt all the words. We drew straws on the opening night. Which parts you play through the night. I remember being dismayed as I had drawn Aase and Roz was Peer in  a scene when he carries Aase, his mother across the river. How could she do this? I was twice her size. ‘I can do it’, she said with her Cheshire cat grin. And she did of course. It was funny, clever, bitter, sad and heartbreaking. There is no record of it but some black and white photos done by the constant John Gollings.


From Ibsen we wanted to do Shakespeare. Antony and Cleopatra. Such a play! Such a woman! This time Jenny was to be in it. The four of us would act. We were determined. We sought and found a musician. Poor Eric Engelbogen. If you thought Giles had a hard time you should have seen what we did to Eric. It was just that we couldn’t open the circle to anyone. We knew he should be included more but in the end he sat with his array of instruments filling gaps trying to get into spaces that were quickly overtaken by us! We rehearsed at St Marks but we performed in the Back Theatre. The Back Theatre seemed to wash over us with its black walls and concrete energy, it was a bad choice. We were going further than we’d gone before and in order to get the money for this production we organised, as we had done in ‘76 when we’d devised the Sylvia Plath Show to help pay for Peer Gynt, to do a Shakespeare workshop tour to schools.  This was my first taste of teaching I suppose and I loved it. We took those kids shamanically into the bodies of animals and soldiers and eventually of Antony the Warrior. It was wonderful, quite wonderful. Again I’d love to meet someone who received that from us. What would they remember?


This time we had picked the bones of the piece and the necessary flesh. We reduced the war and political battles to the background and pulled the love story to the fore. Alongside the torrential outpourings of the lovers was the shadow of the young Octavius Caesar. His menace filled the play and Antony’s terror of losing himself, becoming weak, aging became a focal energy. Again we had learnt the whole script. There were four ‘roles’. There were four colours alongside the four combinations of characters through the play. In each scene you played someone different, different combinations of each scene were determined by colour, sometimes there’d only be Antony and Cleo sometimes four soldiers etc. Octavia was a dummy, poor dear. By the time we finished our season we were simply putting the colours into a hat and drawing our ‘role’ for the night. Dangerous. Brilliant. I doubt I will ever work like that again.


How can you absorb so many gifts in such a short time?


Our energy was like a starburst. It burnt through me and I was reborn. In the space of a few fast years I’d found my voice, discovered feminism, severed my marriage and become a truth seeker practising my art in poor theatre. It was poor theatre. I loved it. I loved the way we did everything, took responsibility for everything, props, costumes, posters- sticking up posters round Carlton became a nightmare! It became illegal to stick them up, shop keepers were outraged and sick of it. The only place that didn’t mind was Tamani’s (now Tiamo’s) because, lets face it, it was the posters that were holding the building up. There was no Brunswick St. or Smith St. These two thoroughfares were dirty, dusty pub-oriented, tailor shop, fish shop, betting shop, Greek emporium, cake and hamburger venues. Sometimes an APG Poster would creep across the river to Chapel St. or South Yarra and Prahran. Carlton, Fitzroy, the edges of Collingwood, a bit of Brunswick that was our ghetto, these were our people.


So many crazy nights, The Earth Air Fire Water Show! The night before we opened the actors jacked up. There was Wilfred, me, Evelyn and Lindzee. A crazy revue written by Romeril and directed by Max who had to leave halfway through rehearsals to make a film- The Cars that Ate Paris- (I remember thinking I could forgive him because he was going to Paris). Romeril took over. It was chaos. Soosie Adshead designed a set that became a nightmare. Not her fault. The show didn’t need a set. I’ll never lose the memory of Evelyn inside a huge radio prop that she had to walk in and carry on and off. She couldn’t even lift it. She’s tiny and strong enough but this thing was like a tomb. Our frustration built and built until the night before we were to open we jacked up. I remember Lindzee going off. ‘These fucking props are shit man! this whole thing is shit!’ I was terrified. This was ‘73, pre-stasis, pre- Me.  At 2 am in the morning there we all were, pulling down the set and rebuilding it ( me double dealing with thoughts of husband and children demanding explanations of Absence) We relit the show the next day and we opened that night. We threw out everything irrelevant and we made an extraordinary piece of theatre. One night, well into the season, Lindzee was acting most peculiar. In the middle of a scene, a most bizarre scene where we were all eating bodies, Lindzee flipped out and stood up, his eyes whirling like those cartoon kaleidescopic circles and said ‘This has to stop! We can’t go on doing this!’ (eating bodies, I guess)  He stumbled offstage and Evelyn and I looked at each other in horror. Wilfred however, calmly got up, perhaps relieved- he always hated performing- and said to the small audience (Back Theatre) ‘I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen but that’s the end of the show!’ I was so furious! You don’t do that in theatre! We stumbled ungraciously off the scaffold  into the pit of a changing room. Lindzee it seemed had taken acid that afternoon and he and James Shuv’us had gone to the visit the abattoirs in Footscray. Seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose. I was instantly outnumbered back there and could not find a moment to vent my righteous disgust at the un-professionalism that had just been displayed. Kristen Williamson appeared at the door. She and David had just come back from England. They’d been in the audience. She was ecstatic. ‘My god!’ she said, ‘that was just incredible. I haven’t seen anything like that since the Rocky Horror Show’. We didn’t know what she was talking about. None of us had ever heard of the Rocky Horror Show.


There are so many stories and there was so much pain, there was so much self-doubt and there was so much joy and pride. I was living my life, truly living and breathing, everything coming together weaving me a cloak of many colours.  After my divorce I did things that both enhanced and disintegrated me. I had brief liasions with many of the men in the Collective and had explored myself in other women a little too. I loved and lost and loved again and explored sexuality both with love and without it. Free love was a cross to bear. There’s always a price to pay for free love. I don’t think women are that good at it. I fell in love with Lindzee. No, I’d fallen in love with Lindzee when I first saw him, in Healesville  (-with a shock I’ve just realised what that name is saying-Heal/sville, like when I realised that the bike I always rode was calling a Healing!). Our relationship was driven by the Night and my life with my children, as a single parent, was driven by the Day. Where was I? Dancing round the edges of the heroin culture- not buying, just looking- but you do buy when you love someone who is hooked. You buy into the dark side and the exhaustion and the fake power trips; you watch them do it. You pay. Today, as then, he is a soul mate and still, for me, a genius of theatrical vision. A man who still doesn’t understand why, after all that his body has been through, why he is still here.


Eventually, at the Pram I found the threads came together when I connected with Rick Ludbrook, a musician from the Mic Conway Band, Captain Matchbox which had joined forces with Soapbox Circus and went on to become Circus Oz. I was searching for a relationship. I had two children and I wanted another. With Rick I eventually had Roxane, my second daughter.  The coming together of Rick and I also signalled my separating out from the Pram. It was ‘79 and I’d done two things that seemed to test all my training and my yearning for expansion after Stasis. The first was Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire,- where I worked with the wonderful Ursula Harrison, (we were later to come together, long after the demise of the Pram, at Le Joke - we’d just had our babies- for The Blood and Milk Show) and the last production was Sewell’s Traitors.  With these two productions I felt I had graduated- with honours. I was made an actor at the Pram Factory.


My life since then has been a whirlwind of journeying that belongs in another book. My life since then has been huge and wonderful and I look back upon those years in Carlton  as one looks back to youth.  When you’re in the middle of your youth you are oblivious to it. When you hold something in your hand you have it, it’s there, taken for granted. We were making history they say. Is this how history is made? Just by living it?


I bless those who made it all happen. Some of them are in these essays and some of them have drifted far enough away as not to need to record anything. Some of them have gone into the West across the great water. There are also those special ones who aren’t here and they are the people who came to our theatre. Our audiences. How bold and patient you all were! How rude and smelly some of you were! How real you were. How do you remember that thrill of anticipation as you either trudged up the interminable flight of concrete stairs?; or with your heels getting scuffed on the bluestone cobbles you got thrust into the tiny front door off Drummond St., because the staging was turned around and the usual doorway was actually part of the set?; those of you who stumbled along the slippery planks to the Back Theatre and found your way up the ill-lit staircase to the dungeon that was to offer you- what?; those of you who came to Rock’n Roll and emotive Nightshift work in the Panel Beaters? What faith you all had in us, what trust! What courage to pay the $3.00 rising to about $12.00 by the time we ended!


But you know you were part of history-making now. Remember it, for it was unique. It is a time that will not come again.



Sue Ingleton, now Suzanne, still lives for theatre. She writes, directs and performs, she teaches and practices new theatre forms through shamanic process, she is a standup comedian of withering rapacity and a facilitator of women’s innerworld initiation and creative writing practices. She is a civil celebrant and marries and buries people with her unique passion. She is a pranic shamanic healer and speaker of theatre and healing.

 She has three glorious children who used to torment the collective meetings but are now on everyone’s party list and have become true and wonderful adults. And as the great wheel turns there is now her beloved grandchild.

This website was developed by Suzanne Ingleton and with the support of 
The Myer Foundation

Website designed by