After its premiere at Adelaide’s Space Theatre, Flinders Drama Centre alumnus Caleb Lewis’ newest play “Cathedral” is set to tour regional South Australia, including a special performance at Flinders’ Matthew Flinders Theatre on May 26.
Named after the largest cave on South Australia’s Limestone Coast and based on his own childhood experiences, the play dives into the concepts of loss, family, grief, death, love and hope. Caleb tells us, “This is a great opportunity to come back home to the city that I love and to get to develop a play that speaks to Adelaide audiences about local issues and local concerns. It’s very much a South Australian piece and it’s been a real pleasure to work on something that personal.
“My dad was a firefighter. He worked in oil in the Middle East. So he’s never really understood what playwriting is. I think he’s probably the proudest of me he’s ever been at the moment because of Cathedral, which touches on that world and explores it.”
Returning to the Drama Centre
Commissioned by the State Theatre Company of South Australia as part of the 2022 Education Show, Cathedral will be used as part of the curriculum in high schools across South Australia and will also feature in Flinders lectures.
Made possible through the partnership with State Theatre Company, Flinders’ Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) students will be writing a review of the production as part of their assessment. Guest lectures by Drama alumni Caleb, speaking to the themes and creative process behind the play, will allow students to deepen their understanding of the text.
Now working with 4th year Drama Centre students, Caleb is excited to be passing on his knowledge at the institution that taught him many years ago. “Flinders fundamentally prepared me for my career. I didn’t do drama in high school so I came into university with no understanding of it. I saw a production of Moby Dick at the State Theatre Company when I was in year 12. I was gobsmacked that you could conjure an entire ocean, a ship and a giant white whale on stage with just a few actors and products, but with the power of their imagination and storytelling, you could convey a whole audience there. That’s really where that interest began.”
How the Drama Centre shaped Caleb’s career choice
“First of all, I did a drama workshop with Malcolm Fox and learnt so much from him. He’s a great teacher. Then I came to the Drama Centre and got a full-year masterclass in performance and how it all works. I got to make mistakes and fail and fail again. That helped me slowly figure out what I wanted to do and how to best do it. There’s no way I’d be a playwright now if it hadn’t been for the training at Flinders.”
“I’ve always loved stories, literature and storytelling, and grew up reading things like fairy tales and Greek myths but I used to hate writing dialogue. It was the one thing that I hated. I couldn’t quite figure out how to get people to talk and make them sound natural. I started at Flinders because I thought that I wanted to be an actor. I think the actor is the visual face of the industry. Even when we go to see a movie, it’s the actor’s face that’s usually on the poster.
“For a lot of people who are interested in entertainment, performance or storytelling, acting is the touchstone, the way in. Then you start to figure out that there are other opportunities within that form, that might better suit you or that you are more interested in. I quite quickly realised that what I loved most about acting was the storytelling aspect. Once I realised that, I started to wonder, why am I telling all these other people’s stories? Why don’t I start to tell my own?”
“I wrote my very first play for Murray Bramwell at Flinders – it was the very first thing I ever wrote. Then I did the playwriting course years ago with Verity Laughton, a wonderful Australian playwright. She saw something in that very rough, very early play that I had written and recognised there was potential. She recommended that I participate in the Australian National Playwrights Conference. That’s what got me started. Then I met all of these professionals that did this for a living and I told myself, you can do this. There are people that are making a healthy living and getting to create the work they love. If I hadn’t had those moments, I wouldn’t be here.”
Caleb’s advice to succeed in the creative industry
“The industry is changing rapidly and radically and to thrive in it, you need to be flexible and nimble, and you need to extend yourself and your craft beyond one skill. I trained as an actor at Flinders at the Drama Centre, then I moved into stand-up comedy and then into playwriting. Now I’m doing a PhD on the intersection of theatre and game design. As long as you continue to push the boundaries and explore the periphery of the form, you can continue to find work or generate work of your own. If you are reticent and sit back on what is rather than what might be – that potentially is a pass to failure.
“The arts can be hard but if the passion and the conviction are there, then you will find work, you will create work, you will make it happen. I have a very strange analogy, I think of it like a watering hole: when the watering hole is full, and there’s enough water and food for everyone we all do well, but when the drought starts coming in, it’s the animals that are flexible and adaptable, and can do other things like borrow or forage that will survive. Flinders is creating those types of theatre-makers and actors – that’s what you want, more than one skillset!”
Don’t miss Cathedral at Matthew Flinders Theatre. Buy your tickets here.