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The Creative Process of an Australian Classic


Remaining a vital masterwork 20 years after it was penned by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, is a new adaption of The 7 Stages of Grieving. Queensland Theatre and Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe bring a wise and powerful play about the grief of Aboriginal people and the hope of reconciliation. Starring Chenoa Deemal (Rainbow’s End), it comes to Riverside in June.

Co-playwright and current Director of Sydney Festival, Wesley Enoch discusses how this play came about and the relevance to today’s audiences.

“It is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago that Deborah and I created this show. We had wanted to work together for a few years and when my grandmother died and my family went into mourning, both of us thought this was significant.

We talked about grief and grieving rituals, and I remember the day when we were in Brisbane City Council Library doing research and we came upon Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grieving. We had both been influenced by Michael Williams when we had studied at QUT and his idea of the seven phases of Indigenous history. The linking of those two thoughts started a line of inquiry that delivered the concept that Indigenous history has been a long and complicated grieving process since colonisation.

We went through a few other analytical processes where we wanted to highlight the traditional cultural practice of art form integration. Why say things in words when song or visuals could deliver a stronger impact? Dance, song, music, visuals and storytelling became one. Each scene went through a process of identifying the emotional, narrative and art form aim of the material; improvising and discussing the possibilities; writing up the outcomes and bringing that to the floor, interrogating whether another art form was better suited to the material; editing and testing. It took two years of workshopping and testing before we came up with the first version of some of the material in 1994.


We did a 30-minute version for the Shock of the New Festival at La Boite. The image on the front cover of the later published script was a publicity image we shot for that showing. The ice representing frozen tears that melted throughout the show and could not be returned to the pristine state from which they came. Time is linear and irreversible.

We worked with Dramaturg Hilary Beaton to help shape the show further and eventually premiered the full show in 1995 at the Metro Arts Theatre. We committed to making this work the best it could be and the fledgling Kooemba Jdarra dedicated funds to reinvest in the development of the next iteration and subsequent tour. I guess the rest is history.

This show has been performed, toured, studied and kept alive through reinterpretation for two decades because it speaks of universal themes. It is not autobiographical, though it borrows from Indigenous lives. It is not a traditional piece of storytelling, though it focuses on the evolution of traditional cultural practices. It is not a one woman show, it is a show about everywoman.

On this 20th Anniversary, it is worth celebrating all the collaborators who brought this show to life and to all those who have championed it across the country and the world. There have been countless productions and it is humbling to see each version take its place in the history of this show.”

Catch The 7 Stages of Grieving at Riverside Theatres June 8 – 10. More Info

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As part of our Neighbourhood series, we are excited to introduce you to companies and people who create theatre for Riverside and produce shows for our audiences.

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