Shari Sebbens is a Bardi, Jabirr Jabirr woman born and raised on Larrakia country in Darwin. Since graduating from NIDA in 2009, Shari has helped lead a culture shift in Australian theatre. In an industry which has long been viewed as the domain of the upper class white community Sebbens has been paving a path not only for Indigenous artists but artists from all cultures to tell their stories on stages around Sydney.
Speaking with City Hub ahead of the opening of seven methods of killing kylie jenner, which she is directing, at the Darlinghurst Theatre Sebbens said she feels theatre as a storytelling medium is at a turning point.
“It’s funny because I think for some people that [culture shift] is scary, but it shouldn’t be. The more stories we tell, the more audiences we have, and the more audiences we have the more content we have to produce. I think some people think their piece of the pie is going to get smaller but in actuality the pie is just going to get bigger.”
Plays like Hamilton, with it’s cast of predominantly people of colour, and the Sebbens upcoming show at the Darlinghurst Theatre the cultural shift is evident.
According to Sebbens the Black Lives Matter movement really helped to to ramp up the change last year, “Darlinghurst, and a lot of other theatre companies, put their money where their mouth was a year ago and now we’re seeing the fruits of that effort.”
As an Aboriginal artist Sebben’s told City Hub she has been very fortunate to “tell a lot of Aboriginal and First Nations” stories on stage in the past but now the theatre industry is expanding it’s views and reach. “Now we’re asking ‘where are the other people of colour?’ We know they live in our communities and we are employing them on stage as actors, but where are there stories?'”
At the end of April, Sebbens and the team from Green Door Theatre Company will present an Australian premiere which tells one such story at the Darlinghurst Theatre.
After searching through the last 20 years worth of two-handler plays spherically for black women Sebbens and actress Moreblessing Maturure found the perfect play in the form of seven methods of killing kylie jenner. Written by Jasmine Lee-Jones this play combines theatre with gifs, memes and emojis to explore stereotypes of Black womanhood, white capitalist exploitation, and the politics of social media activism.
“We were searching and looking at a bunch of plays when this show came across my desk when I was in my role as a Richard Wherrett Fellow at the Sydney Theatre Company,” said Sebbens. “It was the most perfect script. I couldn’t believe the timing, the tone and the piece itself. It just fell into our laps in a way.”
For Sebbens finding a show written by and for black women was something very special.
“Every year we import a lot of stories from the UK about the black experience. But I think this might be one of the first few, it’s definitely in the first five, productions which speaks to the black female experience written by a black woman for black people. It is so potent and of the absolute moment, which makes it really thrilling.”
For the actors and production team this production is also trilling. Voice coach Angela Sullen, which Sebbens said is potentially the first black woman to graduate from NIDA with a post-grad majoring in voice, is guiding actors Moreblessing Maturure and Vivienne Awosoga in this “confronting” work.
“This show is a big ask of the actors,” explained Sebbens. “It’s about going large and finding the absolute moments of truth and vulnerability within that. When you’ve got women of colour and black women together in a room where the world is very unsafe for black femmes and for female presenting performers it can be confronting and hard to lay all of those experiences aside or on the table. To then acknowledge those feelings and let them be seperate from your wok is a very big ask.”
Not only has the team done a lot of work to create and present a beautiful show they are also working hard behind the scenes to engage with the communities that this show is written for.
“Moreblessing and the team have done some excellent work with the community engagement strategy, which is about making sure that the people this play is intended for all feel welcome into the venue,” explained Sebbens. “That is something that we’re really proud of and excited about.”
Sebbens hopes that audiences who do make the effort to witness a performance of seven methods of killing kylie jenner are able to connect with it and take two very important messages way with them.
“I think for women, and black women in particular, it’s about healing. It’s about allowing yourself, in the face of everything that society throws at you, to come back to your own space to heal, be vulnerable and to take time out from the world – whether online or in real life.
“For the non-back audience it’s a real question of ‘what are you going to do after you sit through this show, have all of this information ad understand the experience of a black women more deeply than you did before? What are you going to take back into your life?’ This is not just a one-off play or night at the theatre. You will carry this with you and create some sort of impact in your immediate circles which will then ripple out into society.”
Apr 17-May 2. Darlinghurst Theatre, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst. $35-$42+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.darlinghursttheatre.com