Australian playwright, filmmaker, environmentalist and academic.
Paul originally trained as a geologist in Sydney. From 1980 he worked in community development contexts, through cultural activities, research, creative writing (theatre and film) and campaigns on environmental controversies.
As a theatre writer, Paul (in collaboration with the Workers Cultural Action Committee) is the author of Aftershocks a verbatim play about the earthquake which struck Newcastle north of Sydney in 1989. This award winning play has been produced by many of Australia’s leading theatre companies, and is studied by senior high school students in Australia. Aftershocks pioneered the use of ‘verbatim’ techniques for the Australian mainstage, and Paul is co-author and editor of Verbatim: staging memory and community, a book used by schools and theatre practitioners on the Australian experience of verbatim theatre.
Paul’s theatre projects also include large-scale community works – Days of Empire and Sly Grog for Theatreworks, also Murray River Story and Two Cities for the Murray River Performing Group (now Hothouse). He is the author of several plays about scientific and technological controversies. These include his involvement in the international Landmines theatre program, working with playwrights from seven South East Asian countries; also his science play Room 207 Nikola Tesla about the inventor of alternating electrical current, and his community play Half A Life made from the verbatim testimonies of British and Australian veterans of British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga.
Paul was co-founder and a playwright for Urban Theatre Projects (previously Death Defying Theatre), one of Australia’s foremost community theatre companies; established in 1981. He also has Arts administration experience with the Australia Council for the Arts, and has held Ministerial appointments to several government committees, eg. the NSW Arts Ministry’s Theatre and Dance Committee, and the Australia Council’s Community Cultural Development Board.
In Film and Television, Paul has authored the film version of Aftershocks, as well as several television dramas and documentaries. These include Blindside Breakaway, which is Episode 3 of the acclaimed ABC series Naked: Stories of Men, and the awarded documentary Sixty Thousand Barrels concerning toxic waste and resident activism in Sydney’s Botany Bay community.
In academic circles, Paul writes papers and books about environmental issues, in particular the problems of water and wastes in industrialised society. He has recently co-authored and edited two books with Indian writers, Conservation in a Crowded World, and Landscape, Place and Culture: linkages between India and Australia. Paul initially joined UNSW in 1994 as a specialist in Environmental Studies. More recently, he was foundational Head of the School of Humanities at UNSW.
For the last twenty years Paul has been involved in community engagement projects in the context of NGO and community campaigns. Some of these have been with Australian communities, such as those affected by industrial pollution at Botany Bay. Others have been international projects, especially in India and Thailand, on waterways affected by climate change, on conservation and human settlement, on the problems of cities and rapid modernization. For two years, Paul was Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Australia.
This experience is now the groundwork for Paul’s new documentary play on cities and modernization, in collaboration with a New Delhi based theatre company. He is also Creative Producer for a multi-arts program that brings together artists and communities responding to nuclear legacies, entitled Nuclear Futures.
(stage play 1991)
Written with the Workers Cultural Action Committee.
Documentary theatre about the Newcastle Earthquake, co-authored with the Newcastle Workers Cultural Action Committee. The Newcastle earthquake has destroyed the Workers Club. Staff and friends of the Club gather to give their first hand accounts, speaking directly to us. Tales of bravery, danger, loss of life, fear, anger, surprise and humour. Stories of those not in Newcastle desperate to get home - imagining the worst. The play’s ending is about coping with life’s on-going chaos rather than trying to defeat it altogether.
2 acts (50 minutes each)
3 males (playing 16 characters)
After the earthquake Paul Brown facilitated collaborative research and was the key writer and editor for the play. Major seasons include Hunter Valley Theatre Company 1991, Belvoir Street Theatre 1993, Melbourne Theatre Company1995, plus approximately three seasons each year around Australia since 1993.
“There are three voices, speaking always in unison. First the real person, whose story is told. Second the voice that emerged in interview (determined by the relationship across the microphone), and third the voice of the actor, found through an archaeology of text and history but determined by a storyteller’s commitment to entertain. Combined, and presented as theatre, these make up what might be termed an unofficial story/truth about the earthquake. Not the crudely distilled version of TV news, not the legalese of the official Inquiry, but something more closely resembling what people near the heart of the matter might want recorded as Australian history.” Program Notes, Belvoir Theatre season of Aftershocks, 1993.
Aftershocks won the Condor Award for Best New Play, and was runner-up for the 2004 Critics Circle Award. The play has been much commented upon, since it introduced the verbatim theatre form to Australian audiences. It is included as a chapter in Veronica Kelly’s Our Australian Theatre of the 1990s, and has been the subject of several analyses of Australian Theatre. From 2010 Aftershocks has been used the NSW High School Drama curriculum for the HSC. Aftershocks is acknowledged though Paul’s inclusion in the Newcastle Writers Walk.
“A play that redefines the essence of theatre… stories about danger and fear and death and anger and courage and pettiness and stupidity. These tales are often told with a wry sense of humour that makes you laugh, or a totally unblinkered honesty that makes you cry… a landmark in Australian theatre.” Brian Hoad, The Bulletin, 3/8/93, on Aftershocks the play.
(stage play 2006)
Documentary theatre made with the Maralinga Research Group
Based on testimonies of Australia’s nuclear veterans, a collaboration with the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association and British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, Performances at Leeds UK, Central Coast and Sydney.
It’s the late 1950s, and the place is Maralinga. The young men – 22,000 Britishers and 8,000 Australians – are stationed in the South Australian Desert. For most it’s a spree, at least an adventure. But 50 years later the incomplete experiments of the British scientists continue to play out in the changed lives and ill health of the men and their ‘genetically modified’ offspring.
Using oral history, community development and theatre production, Half a Life is part of a larger program of arts activities titled ‘Nuclear Futures’, and is the subject of a recent international analysis of political and community theatre in five countries (See Bill Cleveland’s 2008 book ‘Art and Upheaval’. The 2006 production of ‘Half a Life’ was runner up in the Australian Writers Guild Annual Awards, for Community Theatre.
2 acts (50 minutes each)
cast of 8 playing multiple roles
(stage play 1991)
With Robin Laurie (Director) and people of Auburn;
A play about Arab Australians and the Gulf War, set in Sydney’s western suburbs, for Death Defying Theatre, Sydney. This is the play that marked the re-location of Urban Theatre Projects (formerly Death Defying Theatre) to the western suburbs of Sydney. Paul Brown was co-founder of UTP, now recognised as Sydney’s most prominent and innovative community theatre company. Kahkwa Hakawati was made with Sydney’s Arab Australian community through a collaboration involving residents, journalists, academics and theatre workers. Paul worked on the script with local writers. The play was positively reviewed in both Arabic and English speaking press. It became a springboard for substantial government support for UTP, and for now more than two decades of the company’s community theatre work in western Sydney.
90 minute play
cast of 8-25 performers
(river performance 1988)
With the community of Albury-Wodonga; for the Murray River Performing Group (now Hothouse Theatre), Albury.
Subtitled ‘an epic love affair between woman, man, and the environment’, the play tells the story of a new settler on the Murray who, with her husband a homecoming WWII soldier, tries to establish a modest farm in the era of rapid engineering development along the river. They become embroiled in the contest between two modernising forces - the engineers/irrigators wanting to dam, weir and drain the river to within an inch of its life, and the tourism developers whose dream is a series of permanent picturesque lakes. As damage to the ecology intensifies, in particular as wetland salinity takes hold, all these human uses of the river prove unsustainable.
In the year of Australia’s Bicentennial, Paul Brown led the writing of a large scale community play performed in, on and over the Murray River at Mungabareena Reserve. The performance, which featured a cast of sixty and up to two hundred other people involved behind the scenes, grappled with the threats to river ecosystems, in the guise of a love story.
3 Acts (approx 3.5hrs)
Core cast of four and up to 100 other performers
Outdoor event style staging requires substantial equipment
(stage play 2004)
Stage Performance and Installation of electrical experiments. Producer Thor Blomfield; seasons at Newtown Theatre and Canberra Theatre, X-Ray Theatre, Sydney. We enter the space via a maze where artefacts of Tesla’s life are exhibited. We find ourselves in complete darkness, until Tesla’s laboratory is revealed – a place for magic, film, scientific experimentation, and demonstration of the forces of nature binding Tesla to his friends and lovers. Performed inside a Faraday cage, featuring verbatim dialogue and other documentary theatre, with a Tesla coil in operation.
“A meditation on Tesla’s ideas and a reminder that the technology we all take for granted has a complex, contested and fascinating history… what beautiful, riveting and terrifying magic Tesla’s technology makes.” Stephen Dunne Sydney Morning Herald 22/8/03, on Room 207 Nikola Tesla.
2 hour promenade performance
cast of four or more playing multiple roles
multi media and technical advisors essential
Paul Brown’s other plays from 1980-1991 include:
The Fears (stage play 1991): with residents of Killara House Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre: a play on drugs, language and putting out fires, Murray River Performing Group, Albury.
Two Cities (stage play 1990): with people of Albury-Wodonga (1990): a musical play for performance at Albury’s Memorial Bowl, about the politics of decentralisation, the Albury Wodonga Growth Centre, and competitive games, Murray River Performing Group, Albury.
Coal Town (a play for performance on mining town football fields 1985): with people of Collinsville: a comic trilogy with music, concerning new technology and social and political struggle in coal mining communities in Queensland. Death Defying Theatre and the Miner’s Federation of Australia Collinsville Branch.
Days of Empire and Sly Grog (stage play 1985): with citizens of Camberwell: a musical comedy celebrating and commenting on the history of the Camberwell Municipality, Theatre Works.
Off Beat Investigations (radio plays 1985): 21 two minute episodes of a detective musical comedy, ABC Educational Radio.
Riff Raffle (street play 1984): with Death Defying Theatre; a comedy about gambling culture in Australia, Death Defying Theatre.
Living Newspaper (street play 1983): with Death Defying Theatre; new technology and freedom of the press, Death Defying Theatre.
Discipline and Punish (stage play 1983): with Death Defying Theatre; experimental theatre concerning the technologies of punishment and imprisonment, based on Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.
Dr Floyd’s Fly by Night Medicine Show (street play 1982): with Death Defying Theatre; a comic critique of health care in Australia.