SUE INGLETON on healing, shamanism, and theatre

KAKISENI: Sue, can you tell us a little about your life and work?

SUE: My life and my work have been intertwined. I live my life and repeat it in my work. I work though my life and it becomes my art and my art heals my life. Am I the ouroborus or just a circle?

Theatre is my main love. I became an architect at university and my sense of design and spatial vision has been a wonderful foundation for a theatrical, creative life.

Working in Australia’s first experimental “Australian” theatre group – the Australian Performing Group – in the 1970’s in Melbourne led to TV, film, etc, but the most important time for my own journey to truth was when I entered the world of standup comedy. Being among the first women to tackle it (1975), saying at last what I wanted to say. It was my greatest training ground and still gives me the greatest pleasure – and pain. Then suddenly I was offered a short teaching job at the Victorian college of arts drama. We teach best what we need to know. I’m a great teacher because I know I’ll never really learn everything I want to know.

One is always on one’s path. I realised this finally as I got old enough and began to look back at events in my life and see them for what they were; what the ‘mistakes’ were; the ‘missed opportunities’; the jobs I didn’t get; the awful times I had when I felt I had strayed off course. Oh no! – I’ve always been on course! It’s just that the Navigator sits up there with a completely different view of my needs. The timing is always perfect! It’s a great relief to know this!

KAKISENI: I believe it was your task to turn Deborah Michael inside out, so she could make public her private self. Did you sometimes feel more like a therapist than a director?

SUE: Deborah has been writing this play since 1997. All of it through the method I have taught her. All of it under my guidance. In the end I was faced with a pile of pages of seemingly disconnected pieces of memory, dreams, creative raves, personal raves, memories of events that I had been present at, childhood dreams and fears, etc, etc. I had to take this writing and find the story inside it. The character who carries the story now is “Barbara.” She is not Deborah but she comes from her heart and mind. Deb’s writing is pure and from the source. My   editing and dramaturgy come from the same place. Through meditation and channelling I have done my work alongside her. Some of the play is actually verbatim work of deep healing transformational work that I have done with her. Yes, she is dealing with the issues in the play. They are universal. They come up for many people – especially those of us who carry the legacy of alcoholism in the family.

KAKISENI: You seem to have returned to the roots of all the arts, shamanism. How and when did the turning point occur (when you found yourself walking the shaman’s path)? Has it radically transformed your work as a writer/actor/director – or were you aware of the shamanic aspects of your work from the outset?

SUE: I became conscious of the shaman’s path about 14 years ago. It’s very site specific in terms of my work. A one-woman show I had written and was about to rehearse and perform and… I was struck down, my back collapsed and I couldn’t walk… unbearable pain. Bedridden, I rehearsed with my director and collaborator, Kerry Dwyer. Kerry and I were on a double path of spirituality at this time. Both of us learning about chakras and ritual. I was living in the rainforest and ritualling to the phases of the moon since about 1982. All that stuff. But in 1989 a miracle happened to me through the help of a psychic healer. It will all be in my forthcoming book! But I began to consciously walk the path of the healer and the shaman at this time. Many, many things and teachers have come to me in the course of these last 13 years, and now I am very comfortable with the knowledge that I, too, am a teacher on the path and a healer, yet always a student.

From the mid-70s I was working in a unique cell group (within the Australian Performing Group) and, although there was no language for what we did, I know now that we had discovered the deep process of shapeshifting through breath and body work linked to text. Now I have deepened and extended this work through directing and teaching, encompassing chakras, energies, and spirit and holistic approaches to performance and writing.

KAKISENI: How would you describe your belief system?

SUE: My belief system? I believe in saying the truth. Ah yes, truth with love, truth through the heart. I don’t always manage to do this, of course! I believe that inside every human being there is a shining light. I believe the dark energies are here to help us move to the light. I believe the earth will ultimately survive – after all, she is female. I believe in the planetary changes that are happening now – how they are the quickening of the energies that will move us towards balance and partnership. We are in the death throes of the patriarchy and it’s like looking at a wounded beast thrashing itself about, struggling for the last gasp of life. It strikes wildly, hitting all in its way. It will self-destruct and its downfall will come from its own gods – money and greed. Ho ho. I believe in my children.

KAKISENI: Why would anyone want to watch Woman on the Couch? Would you say it’s pure entertainment? Catharsis? Would you call it an autobiographical tragicomedy? Do you suppose someone who just arrived in KL from Kuala Besut in Terengganu, for instance, might enjoy or even understand the performance?

SUE: WOTC is so fast and wonderful, you will laugh and then, mid-guffaw, this woman, Barbara, will turn her back on you and walk into a wall of grief. It’s an extraordinary piece of theatre. Its like has not been seen here before. It’s a play for women to take their men to, so that those men will understand them better, love them more, and be in awe of them.

Malaysia dreams itself through the play, the seductive gamelan runs like a river beneath her feet.

Sue Ingleton adapted Deborah Michael’s Woman on the Couch for the stage and directs its World premiere on Thursday, February 21, 2002, at The Actors Studio Box


First Published: 19.02.2002 on Kakiseni

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