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Posts Tagged ‘katherine lyall-watson’

Motherland has finished its premiere production. It played in Brisbane at Metro Arts from 30 October to 16 November 2013.

Flyer for Motherland

Sweeping through the Russian Revolution, World War II, and Brisbane history, Motherland is an epic new work of historical fiction, informed by actual events.

Nell and Kerensky in the production of Motherland

Kerith Atkinson as Nell and Peter Cossar as Kerensky in Motherland. Photo bby Al V Caeiro.

Three women, exiled from their homelands, find their lives are woven together across continents and decades. Nell Tritton, the Brisbane wife of a deposed Russian prime minister forms a close friendship with Nina Berberova, who is exiled in Paris. The woman who would tell their story is Alyona, a Russian curator whose dreams of a new Australian paradise are crushed by bankruptcy and the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

Rebecca Riggs in Motherland

Rebecca Riggs as Alyona, with Peter Cossar as Chris.

Shortlisted for the Patrick White Playwrights’ AwardMotherland is a tapestry of friendship, displacement, home, and identity – a finely-crafted story of the casualties of love, ambition, and politics.

PLAYWRIGHT Katherine Lyall-Watson
DIRECTOR Caroline Dunphy
CAST Kerith Atkinson, Peter Cossar, Barbara Lowing, Daniel Murphy And Rebecca Riggs.
SET DESIGNER Annie Robertson
LIGHTING DESIGNER David Walters
COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGNER Dane Alexander
DRAMATURG Kathryn Kelly
PRODUCER Danielle Shankey
ASSISTANT PRODUCER Madeline Römcke

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A while ago I was contacted by Louise Egan, a woman who travelled on the Linblad Explorer when my uncle Lyall Watson was working there as expedition leader/scientist in residence. It was such a joy to hear from someone who’d met Lyall in the early 70s and remembered him so fondly.

Lyall Watson cutting loose on the dance floor

Lyall dancing with Louise on the Linblad Explorer

Louise and her sisters Marie and Joanna and their parents travelled on the Linblad Explorer in 1970 and 1973 and she said she would be happy for me to share her memories here. (Thanks to Marie for the fabulous photos.)

The following is an edited extract from Louise’s email to me:

“Back in 1970, Lyall was probably the first adult I ever called by his first name. [He] was in a notably younger age group than my parents — he could wear those “groovy”, Indian-style, embroidered shirts with open collar, beads, and yes, white bell-bottoms, and playful straw hat and look totally cool. And he could dance rock-n-roll and look right doing it — unlike my parents & their friends, who looked so awkward.

“There were a bunch of kids on the Lindblad Explorer in the summer of 1970, same for the summer of 1973 in Indonesia. The two summers kind of blur in my mind – but in both cases, we all loved Lyall. He was a fun, energetic excursion leader, always approachable, ready for any kind of conversation. His daily talks on the ship covering what we would see on the islands were interesting – on some aspect of nature or the culture we would find on an island – and never too long or over our heads. He was also the first one I’d ever known who could say he was the first “white person” ever seen by people on an island.

 Lyall Watson dancing

“I can picture him leading us around an island — the hat, loose shirt billowing in the breeze, his white pants. At one point, I asked him why he never took any pictures. I forget what he said, but his response made me realize that this man traveled for his living but the trips were also his LIFE — he seemed to take such joy and interest in doing it, it didn’t really seem like a job for him.

“Lyall was the first one to tell me about the Greenhouse Theory. We were on a cliff overlooking a beach somewhere one evening and my younger sister was with me – she remembers it too. For some reason, he started telling us about what we now call global warming. It was pretty overwhelming to hear all that but it did give me an early feel for the environmental movement that I became aware of a bit later.

“One of my favorite talks of his was when he showed us the kinds of faces monkeys made that showed different emotions: fear, anger, happiness. He made each kind of face, which of course, made everyone laugh – but his point was very well taken.

“One thing that my siblings and I loved to do in the summer of 1973, was sing songs from musicals or TV shows. One song we liked in particular was the theme song to The Patty Duke Show — we have pictures of us “cheerleading” at some native island soccer tournament and singing that song. And for the Farewell Dinner that year, I wrote a tribute to Lyall using the tune to Patty Duke and I think it spoke for everyone:

Here’s Lyall who’s lived most everywhere –

From Zanzibar to Berkeley Square;
And Lyall’s also seen the sights from faraway, exotics heights —
What a character (“charac-tair”)
But that’s Lyall, incredible Lyall, and you’ll see

One kind of funny fellow, looks like a chimpanzee!

Where Lyall adores the nature scene, the ocean trips,

 on birds he’s keen —
And Lyall loves to rock-n-roll but not much makes him lose control –
You know what we mean;
Cuz that’s Lyall, incredible Lyall and you’ll find …
He laughs a lot and talks a lot and has to put up with a lot —
But he won’t lose his mind …

Cuz Lyall, YOU’re one of a kind!

Thank you Louise and Marie for making my day with these memories.

For those who want to sing along, here’s the Patty Duke intro song…

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After four years of researching, writing, developing, rewriting, researching again and more developments, my play about Nelle Tritton, Alexander Kerensky, Nina Berberova and Vladislav Khodasevich is getting a showing at Metro Arts. Whoo hoo!

Motherland poster

Image designed by Warrick Fraser

I’m excited and terrified at the prospect.

The showing is a rehearsed reading at Metro Arts’ Free Range and I’ve been having nightmares where it all goes horribly wrong and the audience turns on me. (Kind of like those getting up to give a talk and realising you’re naked nightmares.) In the last one, a man in a wheelchair yelled at me for giving him the worst night of his life. I woke up in a cold sweat and realised that I might just be a control freak.

You see, creating theatre is an act of trust and collaboration. As the writer I can work alone for as many years as I choose, but to get the play staged I have to trust other people with my precious baby. I have to take a step back and let them choose how to dress her, what to feed her and which school she goes to. All I can do is hope and pray that she’ll come out okay.

While I keep her in my head and on a page, she is stillborn but perfect (in my imagination at any rate). When others take her and play with her, she has the chance to live and breathe and be complex, flawed and glorious. She also has the chance to stuff up and show all the genetic flaws I gave her.

The good news is that my baby is in wonderful hands. I respect and love all the people who are taking this next step with her. Now I just have to take a deep breath and trust that I’ve given her the bones, muscle and heart she needs to grow and be everything she can be.

If you’re in Brisbane on 22 and 23 June and would like to join me to see the birth of this long gestating baby, I’d love to see you there. (You can book tickets at this link.) I’ll be the anxiously pacing parent at the back of the theatre.

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So, just because I don’t have enough on my plate already, I’ve decided to set myself a new challenge.

I want to read a play a day for a year. It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a few years and have kept putting off because of being too busy. But now I’ve decided it’s time.

I’ve set up a new blog, 365 plays, and I’m going to do a post every day with a brief overview of the play I’ve just read. I’m up to play 5 now – so only 360 more to go!

reading a play

Before you think I’ve gone crazy, there is some method to my madness. I read a quote recently from Van Badham saying that people who wanted to write plays should read them. She suggested reading a play a day. There are many days when I do just this, for uni or for pleasure. So now I’ve decided to get serious about it.

My hope is that the more I read, the better a playwright I will be. Some of the magic will be absorbed, but I will also become more discerning. I’ll learn from the dodgy lines as well as from the beautiful ones. Each new playwright I read, shows me another way of doing things. Another way of looking at the world and creating something new on stage.

I can already see the next stage for the project – reading a play a day and writing a page in the style of each play or inspired by each play to go alongside it. I’m not doing that yet. Right now I’m reading and reflecting. But maybe it will become a playwriting exercise as well.

I might not be posting here that much as this new project takes off. If you’re interested you can subscribe to the new blog and get an email each day with details of the latest play read. I could do with a cheer squad to keep me going so hope to see you over at 365 plays.

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I took a gap year after I left school and travelled overseas. When I arrived in new places and met new people, there was always that awkward moment when introductions were made. I decided to use it as an opportunity. When asked for my name, I’d ask the stranger what they thought it should be. Some people thought I was mad, but it didn’t worry me. I was drawing up a longlist of possible names for myself.

Possible names

The most frequent suggestion was Sarah. A name I could never use as it belonged to my sister. Others included Rebecca and Emily. I liked these names. They were good names, but they felt no closer to me than Lee did. No one suggested Katherine and, at that time in my life, I knew no Katherines (Kathys, Kates and Kaths, yes, but no Katherines).

I returned from overseas no closer to a new name, but adamant that I couldn’t continue being Lee. It was dusk one evening and I sat in the lounge room with my mother, confiding in her that I couldn’t stand being Lee anymore: that I wanted to change my name but had no idea what to change it to. She went through the list of names she’d had for me before I was born. Nice names, so much better than Lee, but not my name. It seemed hopeless. I could pick one of these random names and be Rebecca or Emily but would it be any different from how I was as Lee? Would I recognise my name when called if I chose one of these new ones?

“Do you remember when you were five?” Mum asked. “At the beach house after we left the farm? You told us your name wasn’t Lee anymore. You wanted us to call you Katherine.”

The name was an electric shock running through me. I started leaping around the lounge room, literally jumping with joy. I’ve never felt such certainty and rightness about anything else as I felt at that moment about being Katherine.

I changed my first name by deed poll soon after. I kept my last name: even if it was a whim of my grandfather’s, it was my connection with my past, my family and my roots. It seemed an important part of my identity and I held on to it.

Finding my name was a homecoming for me.  I realise this will sound strange to many people. I can’t explain why I had such an aversion to the name I was given or why I knew from such a young age that it wasn’t my real name.

It makes me wonder whether Lyall felt the same way about being Malcolm.

Patterns or coincidence

My grandfather Doug changed his name. He had three sons, the eldest of whom (Lyall) changed his name. The other two sons each had three daughters, the eldest on both sides changed their names.

I wonder if there’s a genetic link and whether my children will one day change their names too.  Or if, perhaps, coming from a family where names were changed, gave us the freedom to consider alternatives for ourselves. Maybe there are thousands of people walking around with names they can’t bear, names they hardly recognize but that they feel obliged to keep…

I struggled when it came to naming my own children, wanting to find the perfect names for them. I could have obsessed endlessly, instead I found the names that seemed the best fit for the new humans in my arms and recognised that they might choose to discard them later. Perhaps the perfect name comes from the inside and can’t be imposed from the outside…

PS: In a repeat of history, when she was about five my daughter told me she wanted to change her name. The new name she picked? Yugioh. I’m pretty sure it won’t stick, but she seems set on naming any future child Lee!

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My family has a history of playing loose with identity. Names are things that can be picked up, added to, shortened or changed as required.

I didn’t know this when I was little. All that I knew was that I hated my name. My parents called me Lee. No middle name. No softening ‘ah’ at the end of the name. For the Zulu workers on the farm, my name was almost impossible. One-syllable words weren’t part of their language. So my beloved nanny and everyone else called me Lee-lor. But Lee-lor was just as bad as Lee in my ears, maybe even worse. I shuddered every time anyone said my name.

Katherine as a child

Lee-lor

 

I was about six when I first met my uncle Lyall and discovered that someone in the family had changed their name. We were at Hwange National Park (then called Wankie game reserve) in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) – how fitting that all the places I mention have also changed their names. It was a family reunion and Lyall was there with his beautiful blonde girlfriend, Annie Wilson. I saw how Lyall’s lips tightened when his brothers called him Mo (their pet name for him, abbreviated from his first name Malcolm). Annie called him Lyall and I realised there was a new and old version of the man. The old, familial ties were with Malcolm. The new, chosen relationships were with Lyall. As I grew older, I resolved to call him Lyall. It was what he preferred and it gave me a chance to be part of his new life and not someone he had to tolerate because of blood relations.

We left South Africa when I was ten and moved to England. When my parents enrolled me in my new school they put my name down on the forms as Lee Watson, dropping the hyphenated surname that was on my passport. Mum and Dad said it would be easier at school: that I wouldn’t have to constantly spell my name.

My father also called himself Watson at this time. When I asked about it, he said that Lyall-Watson was an affectation of his father’s. That it wasn’t our proper name. Apparently my grandfather was christened Douglas Lyall Watson but he changed his name, hyphenating his middle name with his surname because Watsons were too common. (I still haven’t resolved the shame I felt on hearing this.)

All through my schooling then, in England and Australia, I was Lee Watson. The hated first name and a last name that differed from the one on my passport and birth certificate. I was an awkward and dreamy child and having a name that seemed to bear no relation to me made life even more difficult. One of the most notable problems it caused was that I didn’t respond when people called me. They could shout my name until they turned blue and I wouldn’t turn around. I’d be aware that someone was calling someone else and would sometimes wonder at the urgency of the call but never related it to me. So I was accused of being stuck up and snobby.

Most people’s ears prick up when they hear their name. This never happened to me when I was Lee. The name floated past, meaning nothing, having no relationship with me.

It got worse as I got older. Reaching a pinnacle when my first boyfriend whispered my name and I froze. I thought he was talking about another girl, that he’d been caught out saying the wrong name at the worst possible moment. I started to cry and he asked me what was wrong.

“You called me Lee!”

“But that’s your name.”

I was 18 and adrift. I knew who I was inside, but I didn’t know what my name was. All that I knew was that it wasn’t Lee.

To be continued…

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When I was in my late twenties, I discovered that I had a disorder. My sister diagnosed me in the living room and it was both a shock and a relief to have it named.

Sarah is an occupational therapist, specialising in working with children. I forget how it came up, but I started reminding her about a game we’d played once in a hay barn and, as I described the incident, she made her diagnosis.

The event that I remembered took place on the De Jongs’ farm in South Africa. I was there with Sarah and my cousins Katya, Ann and Lisa. We were playing a game that involved climbing the bales of hay until we were near the tin roof, finding hiding places between the scratchy bales and imagining terrifying enemies looking for us: men with huge bulls’ balls. (It sounds like an incongruous image for a young children’s game but we were on a farm and the oversized genitalia on the bulls had been eye opening to say the least.)

I was the oldest of the cousins and was about eight. We climbed on our imaginary horses, each given an original name like ‘Midnight’ or ‘Wild Fire’, and cantered our way down the bales, evading our hunters. Well, the others cantered and trotted and leapt gracefully from bale to bale, while I brought up the rear, stumbling, tripping and taking a terribly long time to make the descent.

Each little girl leapt to the ground and turned to wait for me. I finally made it to that last bale and then stood frozen. I couldn’t work out how to get down.

“Come on!” the girls screamed. “They’ll get you! They’re right behind you!”

I needed longer. I needed to work out how to step down from the bale of hay. But my cousins were calling and the scary men with great hanging balls were just behind me so I told myself I could do it and jumped. Only I didn’t jump. My feet didn’t leave the bale. Instead I fell forwards like a felled tree and landed face first on the concrete floor.

The girls couldn’t understand what had happened. Why didn’t I just step off the bale? Why had I taken this face dive instead? Because I was the oldest they assumed I had done it deliberately, that it was part of the game. But it was simply that I’d tried to move too quickly.

Planning movement

As a child, it was impossible for me to do anything physical without first thinking it through. I had to know that I would bend my knees, put my hands down to the bale, shift my weight and step off with my right foot. Once I had worked it all out, I then had to deliberately send the message to each limb. Without that process in place, my body didn’t know what to do and I would fall, without even the self-preserving instinct to put my hands down first.

Katherine at three

Three years old: knock-kneed and half-shoed!

Growing up, I assumed everyone had to go through this painful process and that I was just slower and worse at it than others. I knew I was clumsy and awkward, that I was uncoordinated and couldn’t catch a ball, but those seemed like character flaws that went with my tendency to daydream and live in my own world. In my twenties Sarah told me there was a name for this and that it was a disorder. Gross motor planning disorder, in fact. Or dyspraxia.

My OT sister is most impressed at the way I’ve coped with my disorder without any support or diagnosis. I put it down to persistence and stubbornness. Attributes that I have by the wheel barrowful. I didn’t learn how to walk down stairs until I was six. But that didn’t stop me. I’d sit down on my bottom and bump down a step at a time and only stand up and walk again once I was on flat ground. I did this in public places and at school because it was the only way I could manage the stepping down process.

High jump and escalators

High jump at high school was a nightmare. The teacher thought I was stubborn and disobedient but it was impossible for me to leap into the air. I’d go to the end of the queue of girls in navy undies and blue T-shirts, with my stomach twisted and my heart racing. She’d shout at me to hurry and to jump when it came to my turn and I’d run up to the bar, pause, and then run straight through it. Falling onto the mat in a tangle of legs and arms. I could as easily have jumped over that bar as flown into outer space. So she’d lower the bar and demand I do it again – with the same shameful result. And again, and again. The whole class stood around, laughing and whispering about the girl who couldn’t make it over a bar even when it was knee high. My cheeks grew redder and redder and I was acutely aware of my wobbly thighs as I ran again and stopped short, just like every other time. My brain urged my legs to jump but I just couldn’t do it – I didn’t know how to activate the right muscles or what to tell them to do.

As I write this other memories come flooding back: like arriving in London when I was ten and encountering my first set of escalators. Mum, Dad and my little sister all stepped on and turned back to me: frozen at the top. A moving staircase – this was a whole new level of pain. Dad had to run back up the escalator but he couldn’t get me to step on. It was physically impossible for me. They thought I was frightened and tried to reassure me but it wasn’t just fear. It was doing something enormously difficult at the best of times and having to time it because the stair I was stepping onto was moving away from me. There was just no way I could take that step. In the end, Dad picked me up and put me on the escalator. For the next few months I’d cry every time we got on the Underground and I knew there was an escalator coming. We learnt to find the lifts.

It’s not a hopeless story. I did learn to use escalators and I now can hop on and off almost as effortlessly as other people. It just takes me a long time to work out how to do physical things. I have to take baby steps and repeat them over and over and over again before they eventually become habitual.

Help

Apparently crawling as a baby is a really good way to wire your brain so that you don’t have these problems. (I never crawled.) So, if you have a baby, give your little one lots of tummy time and persist with them until they get the hang of crawling. And if your child seems to have real problems with coordination, take them to see an occupational therapist. There is help available!

Find out more about dyspraxia.

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