The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA six-week Arts Improves Lives campaign is designed to address years of diminishing state government investment in the arts and to highlight the value of the sector and its contribution to health, education, tourism, community engagement and the economy.
This is a submission from Stuart Halusz, a Board Member of Agelink Theatre Inc.
Some years ago I was questioning my very role in society as an actor – what was the point? Why am I doing this? Surely I could be doing something better to enhance the society in which I live? I should train in the Emergency Services, become a teacher, do something useful.
Struggling to sustain a career and maintain a mortgage and my contribution to the family, I was considering pulling out and finding a more steady, better paid job. On a metro tour of DEAR HEART with Agelink Theatre, a play based on letters from a young wife to her POW husband during WWII, by a company committed to producing plays based on oral or recorded histories, we were performing at a local seniors’ day care centre. The first of two shows that day, we had finished and were in the process of bumping out to head off for the second show, when an elderly man came shuffling up to me with a determination that couldn’t be avoided.
Having just been on stage imagining myself to have Beri Beri, Malaria, malnutrition and having suffered unspeakable privations and torture as a POW of the Japanese, I was thinking myself a charlatan, a pretender in make up and torn costume somehow profiting on the dreadful experience of others. How was I to know what it was like to watch my mates be tortured to death, to be starved and beaten, to have no hope or belief in humanity…I was in a rush, despondent and in no mood to speak to anyone let alone get engaged in a conversation with a stranger that might go on for who knows how long.
Instead this brave old soul grasped my arm and said to me three words, all he could manage and all he need say, before shuffling his way off again. Three words I’ll never forget and which even today give me the drive and purpose to continue in an industry that is challenging and often brutal, he said: “I was there”.
I was there. Those three words said so much, they let me know that what I was doing was valid, that it gave his experiences a meaning beyond pure survival, that his suffering and that of the many thousands others was not in vain as we in theatre seek to learn and understand who we are and where we’ve come from. Theatre gives us the strength and conviction not to repeat the mistakes of others, it demands us to question our own morality and social conscience, and to strive towards an empathetic understanding of the people with whom we share this planet.
Three words, and a lifetime of purpose.