With its worldwide debut as part of Brisbane Festival, Ali McGregor shares her process behind creating The Call and why Australian art is rivalling it’s international counterparts.
Can you give us an overview of the story behind The Call?
The Call was adapted from a featured story on The Moth, a storytelling radio program that encourages everyday people to share 10-minute interludes in their life. This story came from a woman named Auburn Sheaffer who gave an account of one of the lowest points in her life.
She was alone at home with her baby, in the throws of a drug withdrawal and waiting on her husband to return with whatever substance he could secure, fully aware that on his return he wouldn’t be sharing his spoils.
In her darkest hour, she turns over a piece of paper with a faded phone number written on it. The number was given to her by her now-estranged mother, who said to call the line if she was ever in need.
What follows is an incredible account of self-reflection and the power of human kindness that needs to be heard to be believed.
What was the process in bringing The Call to life?
When I first listened to Auburn’s story on The Moth, I was immediately inspired and thought it would make an incredible opera. I got in touch with Auburn directly and floated the idea by her. After receiving her blessing, I took the concept to Kate Miller-Heidke who I thought would not only be interested in the concept, but able to transition the piece from story to song. Along the process I was introduced to Connor D’Netto, who I had admired for some time but was thrilled to work with on the composition of this piece. With the support of Patrick Nolan and the team at Opera Queensland, we were able to create an all-new work that Brisbane Festival audiences will be the first to experience.
Why did this story resonate with you?
I thought the story was beautiful in the way it depicted the vulnerability of Auburn during this turning point in her life. In many ways I related to Auburn’s upbringing and her reflections on the injustices of the world. I also found myself rebelling against the privilege I experienced growing up and was only a few bad choices away from being in Auburn’s shoes.
How is this opera different from what audiences normally expect to see on stage?
We’ve decided to stage the production as Auburn would have experienced retelling her story on The Moth. The performance will break the 4th wall and speak to the audience directly. When I first started FLUXUS, my goal was to create stories that speak to us, and I think that sense of relatability is something that isn’t often seen on opera stages.
Who do you imagine being the target audience for this work?
I think this piece sits comfortably between contemporary and avant-garde work and the classical sensibility of opera. It is something that can be enjoyed by opera lovers and those new to the art form, not only because of the beautiful music, but because of the life affirming themes in this story.
How has the experience with this amazing creative team been?
It really has been a dream. Working with such amazing artists as Kate and Connor has certainly brought this initial concept to life.
Kate was on board with the idea from the word go and worked closely with Kier Nuttall to create a libretto that has hardly changed since its inception.
Connor has been able to bring a fantastic sense of texture to the orchestration for the piece and it’s been wonderful to work with such a talented young artist.
Patrick Nolan and I have had a long-standing creative relationship and I always relish the chance to work together on state. He has always been able to push me to a place where I’ve been able to grow as a performer.
With her incredible work on The Picture of Dorian Gray earlier this year, having Marg Horwell and her phenomenal talents on board is such a privilege. I love her designs and think they will absolutely elevate the performances on stage.
What does being part of Brisbane Festival mean for a more experimental work like this?
This piece would not have been made without the support of Brisbane Festival and Opera Queensland.
I really admire Louise Bezzina and her work in championing Australian stories, particularly those of women. While international acts are fantastic to have as part of a festival setting, Australian art is riveling that of US and UK stages and audiences are spoilt for choice when it comes to this year’s program.
I hope all Queenslander’s looking to attend the festival embrace something new and are inspired by the voices of local artists.
The Call is presented by Opera Queensland and Brisbane Festival in association with FLUXUS.
Concept ALI MCGREGOR based on an original story told by Auburn Sheaffer
Composer CONNOR D’NETTO
Libretto KATE MILLER-HEIDKE & KEIR NUTTALL
Cast ALI MCGREGOR