Driven by a ‘warrior spirit’ craving freedom of expression, Devi Telfer has reimagined her intimate theatre work about an Aboriginal woman’s search for her Song for a new season at Tandanya.
‘It’s just me raw, telling my story’
Each audience member is asked to bring a small stone to Song Revisited during its Adelaide Fringe season at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute.
The stones are used as a storytelling device, helping to create place, mood, time and space in a “journey of identity” that touches on childhood, growing up, disconnection, belonging and hope.
Described as having “deep autobiographical undertones”, the story was written and is performed by Devi Telfer, a Kaurna-Narungga performance maker whose career has spanned music, theatre, dance and film, and who is passionate about creating work that speaks about the First Nations Australian experience.
Here, Devi tells CityMag about the evolution of Songs Revisited, and offers insight into her sources of creative inspiration.
Songs Revisited is at Tandanya from 4-7 March as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Tickets here.
Describe your Adelaide Fringe show in 10 words or less.
Story-telling theatre about an Aboriginal woman’s search for her Song.
What is the story – or stories – you share through Song Revisited?
It’s a story about the journey of Song, an Aboriginal woman from the South-East of South Australia, her struggle to overcome the effects of generational trauma, and breaking away from the expectations and traditions of family to find her own path in life.
You’ve said it’s inspired partly by the social and political issues you experienced growing up in the 1970s – can you elaborate on this?
I grew up in Adelaide in the 1970s amidst the highly charged political Land Rights movement era. My grandmother and other family members were heavily involved in the community to champion that fight. It’s still relevant today, some 40-50 years later, as we’re still fighting for our sovereignty to be recognised.
Tell us about the evolution of the work, which was originally presented as SONG, the story of a girl and a bird and teapot.
The idea of performing my own show was first seeded in 2003 on a trip to London, where I co-presented at the LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) program. I then saw an amazing one-woman show in Adelaide by Torres Strait Island arts identity Diat Alferink, called Wakaid Girl, Lyndhurst Kid.
By divine guidance, I crossed paths with director Sue Rider many years later in Brisbane and approached her about telling my story. We started the development of Song in 2010, it premiered at the Brisbane Powerhouse in 2015 and then went onto a season in 2016 at the Spirit Festival in Adelaide. It was a much bigger stage production with a musician, lighting design and stage set, and included songs and dancing.
Song Revisited is no longer that show. All of the whizz-bang elements are gone. It’s now just me raw, telling my story, much more intimate and personal.
The show combines performance with workshop elements such as sharing and discovery – what do these involve?
We tried to develop the show with more audience interaction, so we’ve handed some of the storytelling over to them and invited more people to be involved on stage. Stones are also used as a storytelling device which invites people to discover a First Nations perspective with a more personal connection.
Where do you find the greatest inspiration for your creativity and arts practice?
As a young girl watching the Solid Gold dancers on television, I always had a desire to be performing and I developed my addiction to the performing arts quite early in life. I’ve always said if I can’t create or be inspired by creativity, I would die a sad and miserable death. So, a 9-5 office job would definitely be out of the question.
I think it’s the warrior spirit in me that craves freedom of expression. I’ve always liked the feeling of the wind through my hair and the sense of freedom it gave me in that moment.
I am mostly inspired by that spark that lights you up inside when you are moved by something, be that a stage performance, a sunset or a koala in the wild visiting the tree in my front yard. It’s when a feeling meets an idea and it motivates you to build it and show it to other people. Then the magic of synchronicity takes place, along with a lot of hard work and commitment to give birth to your creation.