Debbie Kruger
August 3-9, 2003


Why Lindy Davies lives in the moment — without needing to act


Lindy Davies exudes a wide-eyed wonderment, an impression of constant delight and a willingness to be surprised. It’s about living in the moment, a principle on which her life and work are based. She is serious about her work but never takes herself too seriously.

The press blurb for As You Like It, which she directs for the Bell Shakespeare Company at the Victorian Arts Centre Playhouse (from August 12; bookings, tel: 1300 136 166), refers to her as a “Melbourne icon” and she takes a moment to consider. “Maybe they’re talking in terms of the theatrical context, the fact was that I was with the original group that began Australian work. And that’s probably an icon because it means you’re old enough to be one.”

Davies’ eminence in this our cultural history is indisputable. With fellow actors Graeme Blundell, Max Gillies and Bruce Spence, and playwrights Jack Hibberd, John Romeril and David Williamson, Davies was a founding member of the La Mama Company
in Carlton which evolved into the Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory, pivotal in the renaissance of Australian theatre in the 1970s. And after acting and directing in plays and films around the country (she won an AFI Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1986 for Malcolm) she moved to London, working in the UK and Europe with great masters such as Peter Brook.

Then Davies came home. “I heard that there was a possibility that the Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama was going to close down. I just didn’t think that that was a good thing. My mother had just died and I thought I’d come back for a while to be with family. That was in 1995. I was going to be here for three years but I stayed. I love Melbourne; I love its European quality.”

As Head of Drama at the VCA, Davies’ impact has been enormous. The current furore over staff cuts is only the thin edge of the wedge. “Everything’s affected us terribly,” she says. “That is one of the reasons I’m still there. Around the time I was going to leave the Howard budget cuts came in and it meant that the school was going to close, because you can’t survive a 25 per cent federal budget cut. I came up with an idea for making money by running a night school. Now I’m generating nearly half of our income to keep the place open.

“The federal government has given up on education. It’s a grim situation where a government’s putting all this money into combat when the future of the country lies in the education of the young. And the arts of the country lies in the hearts of the young, and if you’re not putting any money into it…” Her voice trails off. It’s been 35 years since she was drawn into theatre as a means to express anger at the Vietnam War, and in some ways nothing has changed. “Isn’t that funny,” she muses aloud. “I’m an old hippy.”

While politics and war create a fire in Davies’ belly, there is an even deeper impetus at work behind her renowned acting technique. It’s all about transformation. Interpretation comes from the individual actor’s perspective in each moment. But most important is the healing that her actors and audiences experience.

“When you go to a David Williamson play the laughter that happens for an audience is profoundly healing because there’s some sort of recognition. If we go away from comedy of manners, which David’s work is, into something like Shakespeare’s As You Like It, there’s a spiritual aspect that operates where if I can get those actors working in a particular state or a particular way of being, it actually changes the state of the audience. And it’s a wonderful thing...

“It’s hard being human,” she says with a wry laugh. “I actually think life’s difficult. And theatre makes it easier because it gives people the chance to experience the fact that they aren’t alone. There’s been this extraordinary phenomenon that’s happened through the happiness myth, where people have a perpetual sense of having failed because they’re not matching up to the rhetoric of all of the copywriters in the advertising industry. And theatre shows people that it is possible to survive loss and failure. Does that mean you do plays about loss and failure? Yes you do. But you also do plays like As You Like It, which show how through changing the way of looking at something you gain some perspective that makes life more manageable.”

Among her proponents is Cate Blanchett, whose direction by Davies in the 1992 NIDA graduation production of Sophocles’ Electra provided a template from which Blachett approaches all her acting work to this day.

Davies doubts she will act again herself, unless she finds a like-minded director who provides the framework. Her hectic schedule of teaching, directing plays and consulting to film and television productions doesn't leave many moments to herself. “After this play I’m going to find balance in my life. Which may even give me a life!”

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