Gael Anderson, an original member of Amamus Theatre Group, passes. Three out of seven. I hadn’t seen Gael for years, but with a theatre group, the sense of mutuality remains, born from a group of young people creating together, learning about themselves and their society, moving beyond their determinations.
I remember Gael for one particular moment. We’d just finished filming what was affectionately known as the maddies film, a two part drama for television about a woman who had a psychotic breakdown, is institutionalised but then recovers. It was both intense subject matter and a difficult technical task, setting up a mental hospital in a school and employing a large cast with a crew of five people. I was exhausted when we came together to begin rehearsals for our first ‘poor theatre’ piece. The instruction was simple: go behind the mask. There were a few hesitant attempts then Gael improvised this spine tingling scene with an astonished Sam Neill as her protagonist. In one sweep she moved our work into the new space and the tiredness vanished.
Which, as society becomes more and more instrumental with its systems, brings me to the whole notion of subjectivity. The philosopher Fredric Jameson writes of the factory system invading storytelling to create the mass produced novel and the production line of character, plot and emotion, the moving belt on which a literary commodity is made. The story teller sits in the midst of his listeners. In contrast, the published novel goes every which way, the writer knowing nothing of his serial reader, the reader knowing little of the creator. The market forms the relationship. To try and compensate, the novelist created the subjective point of view, the internal monologue characteristic of modernism. But that in turn has lost its potency as people are increasingly ‘produced’, often to a high standard. Athletes are coached in an instrumental fashion to the nth degree. They train to carefully worked out schedules and patterns. Their fitness and skill levels are often fantastic. They have rituals of motivation worked out by psychologists. The performances are captured on television and we cheer them on. For writers there are endless courses, classes, ‘how to’ manuals, mentors and competitions.
But it is a mask, which perhaps explains the escalating level of mental illness experienced by those who fall off the production line, who refuse to be Taylorised, to fit the patterns of instrumentality, those who go behind the mask and feel for the rest of society.
So Gael, I remember your grasping of fate, like giving birth, there in the scout hall in the Botanical Gardens above the harbour one winter evening in 1973.