Fi Peel, Bathurst Storyteller/Producer
"As the cast drifted back out of the theatre and the stage lights went down, I stood in the empty space, amidst socially distanced statically set chairs and my eyes wandered all over the room. I was astounded at where we had all come from and the moment we were about to share with each other and the community."
When Tim asked me to become the Producer for what would become This Is My Brave Australia’s sixth show, Bathurst was still in lockdown. I will not lie, I was disappointed. I had only just arrived in my new regional home and the start of the year and had made a deliberated decision to get out into the community as much as I could. I wanted to break the cycles that had held me captive for so long, so I had found myself volunteering, joining choirs, returning to voice lessons for the first time in 20 years and even considered auditioning for local theatre productions.
As the world began to shut down and I watched people in my social media
feed become increasingly confused, angry and even fearful I reassured
myself that this was not going to be a forever thing. That we would come
out the other side. Much like living through a severe bout of depression but on a societal level. I
busied myself in other projects but admittedly spent many days in bed, reading, writing, researching
and watching way too much Netflix. In the weeks prior to lockdown, I had auditioned for a local
musical that the director was forced to hibernate two days before the first full cast read-through of
the script and the TIMBA show in Hurstville that I had put my hand up to audition for was also
I wondered whether TIMBA would consider collaborating in some kind of digital space. It was late
April and there was no sign of restrictions easing. I decided to record the audition piece that I had
intended for the TIMBA show and sent it off to Tim. I was embarrassed at the quality of both the
video and my performance but the lesson I had learned as a teenager in performance skills echoed
in the back of my mind. Bring your best and let the audience do the rest. I hit the send button on the
email and shortly thereafter found myself in a Zoom meeting with Tim. We discussed my ideas and
we both quickly realised that the concept that I had in my head was not quite right for a TIMBA
format. Tim’s next two questions though set me completely off kilter. Why not Bathurst? Will you be
my local producer?
I was completely gobsmacked as two juxtaposed thoughts smashed into my mind. The first: I am
nothing. Why me? The second ricocheted off the first: I can do this. I know I can do this. I hesitated
for just a second while I determined which thought to hold in my head and then heard myself saying
yes. I had not been in a full-scale production for 14 years. I had not been in a backstage or walk-on
support role for more than 6. I had never produced anything and my one time as an assistant
director in my college musical at ANU at 19 was anything but formative. But I knew theatre like my
own mind. So, I said yes.
Suddenly the world began to speed up. I picked up my phone and began conversations with the
Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, placing a soft hold on the venue. A relationship developed
with Bathurst Neighbourhood Centre and we soon found ourselves with a space to hold our Meet
The Producers sessions and auditions. As our cast started to come together and workshop their
audition pieces I found that I was oddly at home in the role. I settled into production mode and what
I discovered as I guided my fellow storytellers through our rehearsals, directorial mode as well. I was
building something in collaboration with Tim that was deeply meaningful not only to those in our
cast but would also resonate with so many in the room on the 20 th of October. I was living and
breathing dreams that I had long given up on, building the heart of my peer work training into the
space, drawing on editorial skills I had developed during the course of my university studies in
creative writing. A vision was developing in my head and as I constantly checked in with Tim, I began
to grow in confidence. I knew what I was doing. For the first time in my life, I knew what I was doing.
As the rehearsal phase continued, I increasingly found cast members looking to me for advice and
support. On the one hand I was humbled by their faith in me. On the other hand, I was terrified. As I
worked my way through a particularly distressing risk of homelessness cycle that had been thrust
upon me due to the rental market crisis, I was also working my way through my latest suicidal crisis. I
knew how to keep myself safe – I had learned that long ago – but my head churned as guilt sunk into my soul. I had always kept my circles so tight, knowing that if I lost the battle with this demon that I would destroy the ones I loved, but now the world was starting to open up for me in ways that I had never dreamed possible.
If I lost the battle now, the ripple effect was going to be so much larger.
Should I really be doing what I was doing? And yet I found I was dragging myself out of bed to get to
various rehearsals and meetings. I had made a commitment to people around me and for the first
time in over a decade, I was needed for more than two or three weeks at a time. I was not going to
let these people down.
As Spring began to emerge, so too did what I can now only describe as a new me. We began to pick
up more sponsors for our TIMBA production. More and more dormant skillsets began to emerge and
I noted them, thanking the universe for allowing me to surreptitiously develop them in the disjointed
way that I had through years of depression and what I had been told was dysfunction. As we stepped into the theatre for our tech run at BMEC two days prior to opening the show and I stood at the sound desk, using my operatic projection to guide the cast on the other side of the hall, I was finally at home in my own skin. As the cast drifted back out of the theatre and the stage lights went down, I stood in the empty space, amidst socially distanced statically set chairs and my eyes wandered all over the room. I was astounded at where we had all come from and the moment we were about to share with each other and the community.
A local media personality had attended our final rehearsal and had interviewed most of our cast
during that final rehearsal. As I sat with him in Machattie Park and chatted all things TIMBA he