The proposal to mount Oh What a Lovely War as a testimony to the ANZAC Centenary celebrations in Ballarat was both irresistible and dangerous: irresistible due to its appropriateness, and dangerous because this is known quite clearly in history as an anti-war play. Joan Littlewood made no secret of her political position and the original production changed the face of British theatre. The emotions that surrounded this important occasion in Australian dramatic training at the Arts Academy can be seen as equally incendiary, in inter-generational gatherings fraught with honour, grief, patriotism and pride, music and silence. The project successfully engaged with history yet dwelt in the present. It changed all of the participants. As a theatre piece, it entertained and confronted its audience, and as a training project it reached excellence on all fronts, whether in the theatre, the studio or the street. What follows is a comprehensive report on all the layers of this unique artistic event, and clear evidence of an important contribution to the artists, the university and community of Ballarat.
— Kim Durban, Program Leader BA (Acting) Federation University Australia
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The Lovely War Project was lead by the Present Tense Ensemble in a partnership between Federation University and students, the City of Ballarat, Ballarat Heritage Weekend, the Ballarat RSL and other community organisations. It was designed to engage the whole community and visitors to Ballarat. This project activates a series of performance based events, focussing on ANZAC Day in April and then Heritage Weekend in May, with songs and performed images and moments from World War One era.  The activations begin within the University performing arts curriculum and are designed to reach out to the broader community and engage the students and the public together in considering the heritage and meaning of Australia’s commitment to war over the last 100 years. 

The #LovelyWar project was organised to use performance and music to make new connections and contemporary resonance in the local ANZAC Story.

The graduating acting company at the Arts Academy, Federation University, with Present Tense Artistic Directors Bryce Ives and Nate Gilkes, created a series of performances, concerts and community events around ideas of remembrance, reflection and investigation on the centenary of ANZAC. This inspiring project brought together the Federation University, the City of Ballarat, the Ballarat RSL, Sing Australia Choir, Arts Academy acting students and the broader community. 

The work aimed to connect community members with Arts Academy actors, and to encourage cross-generational collaboration and work. The students reflected on the meaning of ANZAC and what it is to remember a significant event of 100 years ago. Their work stemmed from a reimagining of Joan Littlewood’s Oh, What a Lovely War. 

Present Tense spent over 40 days investigating and creating the #LovelyWar works at the Arts Academy Federation University Australia. 

Major outcomes included: 

  • 7 public performances of Oh What a Lovely War at the Helen Macpherson Smith Theatre, with the Graduating Acting Company. 
  • A community activation, on the balcony of the George Hotel for ANZAC Day for the Gunfire Breakfast, with songs and music from the First Year Acting Company, the Graduating Acting Company, the Sing Australia Choir, the Ballarat Memorial Brass Band and Federation University Pipe Band. 
  • 3 pop-up concerts at the Art Gallery of Balllarat, for Ballarat Heritage Weekend, working with the Art Gallery of Ballarat Ladies Auxiliary, the First Year Acting Company and the Graduating Acting Company. 
  • 2 pop-up concerts at the Regional Living Expo Conference, working with Regional Arts Victoria. 
  • 1 video shoot, interviewing members of the Ballarat RSL Day Club collaborating with Wind Sky Productions and the George Hotel. 
  • Performances of songs and stories from our work on ABC Radio around Australia on the Rhianna Patrick Program, ABC Ballarat Breakfast, Power FM Breakfast and Win Television News. 
  • A community activation for Ballarat Heritage Weekend, the graduating acting company, and the first-year acting company, working with the City of Ballarat and Ballarat Heritage Weekend, retracing the steps of the original ANZAC march. 
  • A pop-up concert for the UNESCO Heritage Summit at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. 
  • Regular morning teas, open rehearsals and shared conversations with the Ballarat RSL, the Ballarat Legacy Club and Sing Australia. 
  • Shared rehearsals and investigations between the First Year Acting Company and the Graduating Acting Company, encouraging greater dialogue, collaboration and collegiality. 
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We seek to connect again with the roots of our own community to reconfirm a civil society that resists violence of any kind. To this end, this production is the centre-piece of a guerrilla theatre project that has been taking Ballarat by storm since February this year, led by Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes and supported by the Arts Academy Graduating and first year actors and the City of Ballarat. There have been radio interviews beamed across regional Australia, community sing-a-longs with the Legacy Ladies, morning teas with the RSL and street performances in the main street for the Gunfire Breakfast on ANZAC Day morning. Our students have gone on an epic creative journey in their art making, yet none of these activations have sought to glorify current wars or sentimentalise wars of the past. Rather, these meetings between the young and the old, those yet to experience war and those that have lived its reality, aim to create a society that is resilient to the temptations of war, whether old or new. Tonight our young artists meet their audience through Joan Littlewood’s Oh What A Lovely War, re-imagined by Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes. Their production while faithful to the radical spirit of its author, takes a very 21st century, post modern view of war and does so through an art-form that has always had war in its sights; the theatre.
— Dr.Angela Campbell, Federation University Australia
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Outstanding, engaging & provocative. If you’re in Ballarat it’s a must see.
— Bruce Roberts
Fine, fine work. Great student theatre! Great theatre! Wonderful reimagining of Oh! What a Lovely War! Congratulation all concerned! The power of art in action.
— Barry Kay
There’s a lot of work being made about war at the moment. Far too much of it strays dangerously into glorification – and that’s just too great a risk in these times of recklessly unsophisticated political leadership. Tonight I saw ‪#‎OhWhatALovelyWar‬ by the Graduating Actors Company at the Federation University Arts Academy. It was deeply impressive and deeply moving precisely because it offers a whole new vocabulary for contemporary connections to the absurdity of war. It was also funny, ribald, chilling, shocking and uplifting. Bryce Ives and Nate Gilkes have fostered a life-long generosity in these students – towards themselves as well as towards one another – in fact they’re all still there right now, reflecting and mopping and talking it through... I’m going to sleep well tonight.
— Esther Anatolitis

Directors Notes - Bryce Ives & Nathan Gilkes

We’re not on any specific mission.
We’re not attempting to rewrite history.
We’re not here to debunk mythology, or to be jingoistic, or to tell you what you want to hear, or to educate you on our perspective. 

Instead, tonight, we present our shared investigation, as the Centenary of Australia’s involvement in the First World War dominates our national discourse. 

We ask: what is war, and what does it do to the human animal?

Through our investigation, we wonder what we are capable off, remembering that our ensemble is roughly the same age as those women and men from Ballarat a century ago who signed up for King and Country. 

We ask deep and personal questions of politics, of memory, conflict, of the scars that still exist today. Some of tonight may be poignant, other bits will be hard. We make no apologies for that. There is no one answer. War must be the most complicated and complex topic one can investigate. 

We nod in appreciation, not towards governments that often make unfair and harsh policy, but instead to the women and men who today are still fighting in conflicts around the world. 

We remember the victims, those that are documented and still make our nightly news bulletins, and equally those that we ignore or forget. 

We wonder why so many women and men, Australian soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, are committing suicide. Over 250 since those two conflicts begin.

We feel disgusted that in Ballarat we have veterans who are homeless. With so much money spent this year commemorating ANZAC Day, it's vulgar to think men and women who served live in poverty.

We wonder what would we do if we had served in Vietnam, or PNG, or in France or Gallipoli. 

We feel honoured that so many members of the Ballarat community have been willing to sit with us in this investigation. To talk, to share stories, to inform our workTo reveal pain and love, loss and fear.  We particularly acknowledge the Ballarat RSL and the Ballarat Legacy Club. organisations that continue to do so much good work, often under recognised and under-celebrated. We acknowledge Sing Australia, the City of Ballarat and many others who have gone out of their way to help us. 

We acknowledge our elders, the senior members of the Ballarat community who have offered us wisdom and advice. We especially acknowledge our Indigenous brothers and sisters, who were almost written out of the history of Gallipoli, yet they were there. 
We acknowledge Joan Littlewood, one of the greatest theatre makers of all time. A woman who literally shook the foundations of everything around her. We take inspiration from her to be bold, be inquisitive and to remain committed to training.

We thank the Arts Academy for opening its doors and letting us share this conversation through so many means: in concerts, on the street, in art galleries, in conventions, in one-on-one conversations, in morning teas, in social media.  Federation University has had no agenda and asked for no control. We particularly acknowledge two brave and remarkable artists: Kim Durban and Angela Campbell, who remain fierce in their commitment to excellence in training.

Finally, we acknowledge the graduating acting company, who have grown through this process. They are willing to open their eyes, sit in empathy and ask the unanswerable question: why? 

Personally we dedicate this to our grandparents.  Blue-collar workers, who signed up and fought. During this investigation our thoughts have turned to them. 

Nathan Gilkes & Bryce Ives, May 2015