Women’s History Month: Robin Laurie

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Robin Laurie first got involved in protesting against the Vietnam War in London, where she had joined a theatre group who used street theatre in those protests. Back in Melbourne she joined La Mama and the Pram Factory, which also used street theatre. In this excerpt she discusses the purpose of theatre in demonstrations.

Robin Laurie interview


Alex: So being involved in the moratorium is that – I’m really interested to know whether, you know, the street theatre and the tableaux and so on, were you specifically invited along to demonstrations? Or was it that you would have been going to the demonstrations and that that – those performances – are what you wanted to contribute?

Robin: Both things happened. We would just go along, and we went, and that’s what we did, you know, because that was our, that’s what we could contribute. It’s always good on a demonstration to have some sort of focus. Something, you know, that’s not just people walking along; it’s like the banners, the things that people had written in the climate strike, it’s always great to read them, you know, and the jokes and the witty things people say and things like that. So we knew that there were other ways to communicate rather than just sort of speeches and flyers and things like that. And we were interested in what they were. But then we did start to get invitations to do something. And sometimes it felt a bit like, you know, we were the – we weren’t the serious part of things. We thought we were just as important and just as, you know, interesting and useful as anything else. But there were some people who were very – yeah, just had different ideas about how to connect with people, communicate – that sometimes we would be specifically invited in to do a five minute piece or something like that. So it’s like, now when there’s a demo, sometimes some – a singer might get up or a band might be asked to perform. So it was like that.

Alex: I was just going to say, I think – you talked about you know, being useful. Clearly some people did think you were, if we were together you’d see my scare quotes – just entertainment. What do you think, or what were you adding, aside from the quote unquote, just entertainment aspect?

Robin: I think things operate at many different levels. I think words are one. But sometimes you can – there’s something else going on, as well as the words, and you respond, you can see that or hear that, and you respond in a different way. And you might not have – you might not put all that together at the time. But I think sometimes images stay in your head, or stay in your heart or body or wherever that – an image resides. Sometimes an image can affect you in a way that – and it’s different for different people, and it depends if you can find a really powerful image of some kind – but I think they can; and it’s like music and dance and circus – I was a part of circus after that – there’s a physical interaction between people at – a kineasthetic response. And even though you might be on a stage and in front of a big crowd of people, something still happens that’s different to watching a film. And it happens because all your senses are involved, I think. And so it’s not just an intellectual response. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. I think words are really powerful. There are, you know, people who are great orators and poets, and – wish more of our politicians said that capacity – they can be really inspirational. But I guess I always thought too, it’s necessary to find courage. You know, because I think the system we live in is – because it’s based around commodities and things – it’s a system that breeds despair. Because you think, Oh, if only I own this, everything will be right. And you own it and it’s not, you know – perfect example now with the virus. So you need – you need something that can give you courage to contemplate and confront things that are quite difficult in life I think. Life can be quite hard, in many ways. It’s not all rosy and you can’t always do everything you want and live your dream. So I think – I think those things that operate at that sort of level can touch something deeper inside, maybe – or  that’s the hope. Doesn’t happen that often. But it can, it can happen. 

If you know a Melbourne woman who was involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!

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