Walking into the Bigness is the latest work by renowned playwright, singer, songwriter, poet, film maker, and much much more, Richard Frankland.

Jan Chandler recently had the pleasure of talking with Richard about this new work, and also about some of the things that motivate him.

Richard FranklandFrankland is clearly a man of many parts but when asked to describe himself he tells me that “first and foremost, I try to be a Dad. A proud Gunditjmara man he believes that empathy, not just compassion, is essential to creating a fairer and more inclusive society, and this is something that he works towards in every aspect of his life.

Frankland's personal experiences underpin all of his work. As he tells me, “I write about my perspective, my truth, and my voice … it's not about me per se, it's using me as a vehicle to open up doors to other issues”. Two of the works for which he is perhaps most widely known, grew out of his experience as a Field Officer during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. His first short film No Way To Forget was an official selection at the 1996 Cannes International Film Festival in the category of Un Certain Regard, and in 2002 he wrote and directed the award winning play Conversations with the Dead.

As he tells me when we meet at the Malthouse Theatre during a break in rehearsals for his latest work, Walking into the Bigness, he is primarily a story teller: “My life isn't better or bigger than anyone else's ... I just happen to be in the position to tell the story, and that's what I do.”

Walking into the Bigness has grown out of Frankland's friendship with Wayne Blair. Blair acted in Conversations with the Dead and Frankland was impressed with his passion for the industry. The two became friends and, little by little, Frankland began to share some of his stories with Blair. Finally Blair suggested that they put together a work that brought together a selection of stories and songs from Frankland's life. The two work shopped the piece with Belvoir but then got caught up in their individual lives. Then they had the opportunity to talk with the Malthouse who expressed interest in the project, and, as Frankland tells it, everything flowed from there.

Frankland describes the final product as “a series of stories from different aspects of my life, from filming kids in war zones, to deaths in custody, to work at the abattoirs when I was about 13 or 14“. He admits to being amazed to see how art threads itself through all these experiences.

Intrigued by the title of the work, I asked Frankland to explain its meaning. When he was about 15 he was hitch-hiking across the Nullabor with his mother and her boyfriend. He had a broken arm and an old, beat up canvas bag in which he kept all his poetry, writings and songs. Things were pretty rough and they had no food and nowhere to live. On a whim Frankland threw the contents of the bag into the desert. His mother ran to salvage his work just as a big wind came up; “she was snatching them [the papers] out of the wind … I guess [that] was walking into the bigness”.

So what can audiences expect? Death seems to have been a common thread through many of his experiences, so I was a little worried that the performance would be depressing rather than uplifting. Frankland's response, “it's always a pendulum. You have a bit of a laugh, a bit of a cry … some of it will be bitter-sweet, some of it will be just sweet, some will be tearful.”

Frankland explains that the play practices a thing called Kanang Wang or Dadarri which is deep listening. The audience can expect to be taken on a journey and given the skills of all those involved, Frankland is sure it will be a “pretty amazing” one. They will have a chance see themselves, not in a nasty way, but in a way that connects them with their own grief, happiness, wins and losses. “That's what life is about; when you get slapped down you get up and slap it back. Sometimes you have to stay on your knees and catch your breath a bit.”

Hopefully audiences will leave feeling “a warm glow about humanity, about contribution and how you can contribute to the world and a full life. And how it's all relative. You only shine because of the ability and contribution of others. And I've had that opportunity to shine”.

I had to ask 'what next' for Richard Frankland. Having said that he wasn't sure how much art he'd be doing after this, because he wants to spend time at home with the kids, he went on to tell me of several projects he's currently involved with. He is working on a feature film script of Conversations with the Dead to be directed by Rolf de Heer; they'll probably be shooting near Portland next year. In January this year his latest novella,The Naming of Yellow Hair was released, he hopes to finish another novel this year and has written most of a PhD and is about to apply to a university to complete it.

There's also the possibility of a new album of music and then there's his on-going community work through his company Kooreen Enterprises. Since 1991 the company has been offering a range of Indigenous and cross-cultural awareness lectures and workshops to community groups, business, government and educational institutions around Australia.

No wonder he has been described by others as a renaissance man and a polymath. Frankland's describes these as “big $5 words” and insists that all he really does is “just go for it".

So what is it that keeps him going? Again he emphasises the importance of empathy, “it grounds you and makes you realise that art is voice, and voice is freedom, and freedom is responsibility; and making the world a better place for my kids and for other people. If you can offer comfort and support you're better off doing that than chastising them. It's trying to see the positive in people. I don't always get it right but I have a good crack at it. And I think that's the important stuff.”

Don't miss your chance to be taken on a journey into the bigness.

Walking into the Bigness1 August to 23 August at the Malthouse Theatre

And for more information about Richard Frankland go to his website.

Image credit:–
Top right – Richard Frankland, Katina Olsen. Photo – Pia Johnson

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