10 November 2022

New director and lead actor headline Griffith play illuminating 'fake news' era

| Oliver Jacques
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Three theatre members outside chapel

James Walsh, Oumi Karenga-Hewitt and Michael Lee rehearse at the Piccolo Family Farm. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A first-time director and first-time actor headline the 2022 Griffith Regional Association of the Performing Arts (GRAPA) major summer production, which had its first showing at the Piccolo Family Farm on Thursday 10 November and continues until Saturday 19 November.

The community theatre group have put together their interpretation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic The Crucible, a play well known to anyone who attended a public school in NSW.

Solicitor James Walsh makes his directorial debut and Michael Lee, the artist formerly known as Super Library Mike, is acting for the first time, in the lead role of John Proctor. GRAPA stalwart Oumi Karenga-Hewitt is the producer and plays the part of Reverend Hale, while David Baxter plays Reverend Parris and Bonnie Owen does production and lighting design.

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The play is about a community torn apart by rumour and paranoia about witchcraft in the 1760s. Director James Walsh says it has plenty of relevance to today’s era of ‘fake news’ and social media shaming.

“The play premiered in 1953, at the time of mass hysteria about communism … in terms of relevance to now, we still don’t know what private conversation politicians are having behind closed doors … but then they come out and say something and we have to take that on face value, but that may not be the truth. The thing we are trying to examine is how are people’s relationship with the truth affected by their self-interest.”

Mr Walsh, who has been on stage for GRAPA many times in the past, is enjoying his new role.

“I’m been involved in a number of shows on stage, but this is my first time as director. It’s been a learning curve. I have more respect for all the hard work directors put in, as an actor you’re often like, ‘Why are they doing that?’ and then when you’re on the other side of the stage, you can see that’s why they’re doing this. I’ve been supported by some fantastically capable people in the production team; we’ve got a great combination of very experienced GRAPA members and a whole group of new people who have got involved for the first time … a lot of support has come from Oumi, and Katherine Innes, who is playing Elizabeth Procter.”

Mr Lee, who recently did the illustrations for children’s book author Julia Hopp, said he became the show’s lead almost by accident.

“One of my colleagues around the lunch workroom table mentioned they were looking for cast members and I intimated a very vague interest. Before you know it I was roped in and stuck in front of the crowd. It’s been an exciting whirlwind … this is my first acting anything. It’s been a large shock to the system and I’m scrambling to keep up with the more seasoned cast, but it’s been a pleasure to watch them work and I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from them.”

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Both Mr Lee and Mr Walsh are very impressed by the choice of venue, which GRAPA veteran Bonnie Owen, who now works at the Piccolo Family Farm, was able to secure.

“When James said he wanted to do The Crucible, I went, ‘I’ve got the perfect venue for you’ – if you could build a set for The Crucible, this would be it. Here at the farm we are really enthusiastic about supporting local community art ventures and things like that.”

farm building - set of play

The cast say the Piccolo Family Farm is the perfect venue. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Ms Karenga-Hewitt invited the general public to get involved with her group.

“GRAPA has been going for about 20 years, it’s a volunteer-run organisation and we do a major production every year … we would love more people to get involved, especially backstage – if you’re interested in the arts, we’d love to hear from you.”

GRAPA’s The Crucible is showing at The Piccolo Family Farm, 1814 Mallinson Rd, Lake Wyangan from 6:30 pm on Thursday 10 November, then Friday 11 November, Saturday 12 November, Thursday 17 November and Saturday 19 November. Tickets are available on the GRAPA website.

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