Image from the Holtermann Collection, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
ABOUT DEAD HORSE GAP
Dead Horse Gap is a dark trippy Western, a bleak comedy revelling in odd characters, surreal twists and themes of greed, fire, genocide, secrets, madness and transcendence.
This new original Australian theatre work leaps off from Jim Jarmusch’s iconic 1995 noir film Dead Man. The show mixes historical and invented events to tell of the strange journey and mysterious disappearance of colonial photographer Charlie Chaste. Set around the 1850s in the fictional frontier town of Dead Horse Gap on the far south coast of NSW, where the dregs, drifters and opportunists of the British colonial system form a desperate diaspora. Hopelessly ignorant of the ancient landscapes that surround them, these runaways and fortune-seekers have no idea of the dark secret of the Dead Horse Gap Hotel. They’re about to find out.
Home-grown entirely in regional Australia over several years, toughened by Covid-interruptions and bushfires and floods, Dead Horse Gap is now ready for production.
CREATED IN REGIONAL NSW
Created for audiences everywhere, Dead Horse Gap’s creative and spiritual home is the Bega Valley on Yuin Country in the Far South Coast of NSW. Its creative development over several years took place in the region and this is where most of the creative team is based. Although still recovering from the region’s recent bushfires, COVID border closures and floods, the music-loving Bega Valley community thrives on the connection, social expression and celebration of place that art can offer its artists and audiences.
In Dec 2024, Dead Horse Gap will welcome its first audiences to a performance environment that is uniquely apt: the Cobargo Showground Pavilion. This location is the perfect place for Dead Horse Gap’s immersive storytelling experience set to Heath Cullen’s darkly evocative songs, created 15kms down the road in the town of Candelo.
After the first showings in Cobargo, it is intended that the work will travel and adapt to other places, communities and their narratives, bringing something of the Bega Valley with it.
(Note – our fictional town has no relation to Dead Horse Gap near Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains. We just liked the name. Check out the real Dead Horse Gap.) And yes, we know there’s also an ABC comedy series set in a fictional Dead Horse Gap, but we were here first (2017), so until we find another title we like better, we’re sticking with ours.)
THE STORY – PART I
We meet Charlie on the arduous five-day journey through epic landscapes from Sydney south to the town of Dead Horse Gap where his fervent travelling companion, the Reverend Willoughby Bean, is returning most reluctantly, fearing for his soul. He travels in a cart full of optimism and a miraculous new device for capturing photographic portraits.
On arrival at the Dead Horse Gap Hotel, Charlie is drawn to the enigmatic barmaid Perpetua but finds the Publican, whose commission has brought him there, unsettling. Charlie awes the locals with the wonders of his photographic art.
Preparations for a grand portrait of the townspeople begin. At the critical moment, an explosion of photographic chemicals and liquor incinerates the hotel. As Dead Horse Gap burns, the saboteur Perpetua escapes with Charlie as the Publican swears revenge.
THE STORY – PART I
The fire has escaped the town and threatens the forest. Perpetua guides the mortally wounded Charlie up the mountain, pursued by the murderous Publican. They encounter the now deranged Reverend Bean drinking from a poisoned waterhole, surrounded by his congregation of dead animals. The Reverend begs Charlie to put him out of his misery. He does.
Deep in the forest, Charlie’s sense of reality blurs with vivid visions. As his strength fades, an alternative reality emerges: Perpetua is the murdered child of a family massacred to clear the country for the Dead Horse Gap Hotel. Her grandparents appear in the forest trees, laughing in delight at Perpetua’s payback on the Publican. Perpetua and the Elders ease Charlie toward accepting his inevitable death and to see beauty in the apocalypse.
Still raging, the Publican tracks down the fugitives but, bitten by a brown snake, he dies a painful death. Perpetua and Charlie follow a stream toward the ocean. Dead Horse Gap burns.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Narrator (singer/musician/storyteller), sardonic purveyor of a cautionary tale (ageless)
Charlie Chaste, a colonial photographer and optimist (singer/ actor/musician aged 20-30)
Perpetua, a barmaid with a secret (singer/actor/musician aged 20-30)
Reverend Willoughby Bean, a priest in fear for his soul (singer/actor/musician aged 50-70)
The Publican, self-appointed mayor of Dead Horse Gap (singer/actor/musician aged 50-70)
The Dead Horse Gap Hotel Band (2-6 musicians + cast members)
Travellers and residents of Dead Horse Gap (8-12 community members, various ages)
AESTHETIC STORY – ANTIPODEAN NOIR
Dead Horse Gap’s original theatrical style revels in its unique clash of analogue-meets-digital. C19th colonial photography, magic tricks and vaudeville illusion meet live-action videography, contemporary rock and euphoric psychedelia. Moments of showbiz spectacle and apocalyptic acts of God and notes of magic realism leap out from the show’s charmingly low-tech aesthetic; local community members play Dead Horse Gap ‘residents’ alongside professional performers on a catwalk between two stages.
The poetic aesthetic of Dead Horse Gap was inspired by the Holtermann Collection of glass plate photographs (SLNSW) depicting Australian colonial life in the 1870s. Still in its infancy in C19th Australia, photography was a cultural phenomenon that changed the world with its miraculous powers: capturing the spirit, freezing time, manipulating reality. Charlie’s trade (and his secret power) is that of a travelling commercial photographer.
Holtermann’s photographs directly lead to the production’s ‘Antipodean Noir’ aesthetic: a nod to Australia’s colonial history, quirky Gothic with the exact tone of danger, squalor and hardness of the one-pub towns we evoke in our dark trippy Western. This is combined with a hand-made, ‘ransom note’ collage approach. The production design feels hand-made, edges left deliberately rough and stitched-together (but of course it’s not).
MUSIC FROM DEAD HORSE GAP
CRITICAL PATHWAY 2023-2024
Dead Horse Gap will open in the Cobargo Showground Pavilion in late 2024
Cobargo Show (late 1800s)
- NSW and Regional Arts Fund grant submissions, connecting with funding agencies, partners and potential collaborators.
Feb 2024: Community engagement – beginning
- Discussing the work’s First Nations narratives with local community
- Community chorus – design participants’ workshop program
- Socialise project with broader community: Yuin Folk Club, local arts/cultural groups, Cobargo Showground committee, BVSC, local/state/Canberra stakeholders
- Call-out: Chorus participants’ workshops (see below)
- Concept Presentation: Introduction to the world of Dead Horse Gap at the Cobargo Folk Festival in early March
- Community participation: Participants skills development workshops over four weekends.
- Proof of concept: Intensive work on all aspects of the final script, design, videography, music and production with all cast and creatives in the Cobargo Showground Pavilion
- Test installation: Scenic, costume design and videography developed to final stages, scenic materials purchased and installed for site testing.
- Dramaturgy: Production, casting, schedule and latest version of music/script detailed in preparation for proof-of-concept phase.
- Showing: June (date tbc) Community/stakeholder showing at BAP
- Documentation: For communication, marketing and archival purposes.
- Debrief gathering: All participants, stakeholders and community invitees invited to give feedback on their experience with the project. (Documentation of feedback informs Crimson Rosella methodologies and further community engagement processes.) Develop strategy for further life of the show.
- Tickets on sale: Commence marketing and audience development strategy.
November/December 2024: PREMIERE
- Rehearsals commence 11 November in Cobargo
- Technical rehearsals and previews week of 2 December
- PREMIERE and performances in Cobargo Showground Pavilion 6 – 9 December
- Debrief and documentation
- Subsequent performances TBA
PREVIOUS CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT 2017-2022
2017 Creative Development #1 Candelo/Kameruka Estate (28 Nov to 10 Dec)
CD#1 supported by Create NSW, British Council, Merrigong Theatre, South-East Arts and Crimson Rosella.
Location: Kameruka Estate (6kms from Candelo) in the Bega Valley
Focus: Developing original narrative, music and scenes for PART 1
- Co-creators Lindy Hume, Leland Kean and Heath Cullen
- Videographer Mic Gruchy
- Producer/tech support Andrew Gray (South-East Arts)
- Performers Chelsy Atkins, Lindsay Vickery, William Zappa, Patrick Dickson
- Musicians Matt Nightingale and Heath Cullen
- Yuin advisor Graham Moore
- Project mentor Mike Shepherd*, Artistic Director of Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre
*Participation in CD#1 of Mike Shepherd was supported by the British Council
Progress during this period:
- Researching First Nation colonial narratives in the region with community.
- Establish ‘Antipodean Noir’ design aesthetic.
- Videography experiments with Holtermann photographs.
- Characters, backstories and scenes.
- Part 1 work-in-progress showing at Kameruka Hall attended by 70 locals and guests.
2018 Creative Development #2, Tanja (Sept 3-9)
CD#2 Supported by Create NSW, Merrigong Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre, South-East Arts and Crimson Rosella.
Location: Private studio, Tanja, South Coast NSW
Focus: Design, production.
Progress during this period:
- Integrate local video material filmed by Mic Gruchy after the 2018 Tathra fires.
- Develop storytelling environment in community halls.
- ‘Antipodean Noir’ aesthetic developed in experiments with colonial photography, magic tricks, vaudeville illusion, live-action videography and magic realism.
- DRAFT storyboard
2020/21/22: Creative Development
Creative Development supported by Create NSW, Merrigong Theatre, South-East Arts, Crimson Rosella, Ten Days on the Island.
COVID-abandoned plans for an April 2020 week-long workshop in Candelo became a year of zoom sessions with creative team isolated in Tasmania, Wollongong and Bega.
Focus: PART 2 and First Nations narratives developed by Kirli Saunders from site visits to Yuin family members in the Bega Valley (Kirli’s travel supported by South-East Arts).
Progress during this period:
- Revised production plans: streamline cast numbers, expand community participation
- Part 2 script, based on Kirli Saunders’ research in Bega Valley
- New music developed for beginning and end of show
- Dramaturgical audit of entire work in readiness for pre-production
- Full design and storyboard completed
DEAD HORSE GAP TEAM
Rachel designs nationally and internationally with Australia’s leading arts companies and her body of work has been recognised through numerous industry nominations and awards over more than three decades. Her awards include ten Green Room Awards for...
Dead Horse Gap Co-creator, composer/music director/performer (Narrator) Heath Cullen is a singer, songwriter, performer, record producer and independent recording artist, from the rural village of Candelo, New South Wales. Over the past 10 years he has forged an...
Videographer A pioneer of video design for theatre, Mic works across disciplines, designing award-winning theatre, opera and dance for major companies and festivals around Australia, London’s West End and in Europe and Asia. Mic was awarded an Australia Council...
Designer Katja Handt is a set and costume designer/ maker and artist based in the Illawarra NSW who has worked for 20 years in events, exhibition design, film, performing and visual arts. She has worked as a theatre designer with companies such as Belvoir, Tamarama...
Tracy Mann is an Australian screen and stage actress. After appearing in a number of television series, she won an Australian Film Institute award in 1980 for her movie Hard Knocks. Tracy has also won awards in her home country for her work in the mini-series Sword of...
Leland Kean is the Chair of Crimson Rosella's Board of Directors and the Artistic Development Manager for Merrigong Theatre Company. He has over twenty years professional experience as a Director, Producer, Designer, Dramaturg, Curator and Arts Manager. Prior to...
Dr Lindy Hume AM is known for progressive creative leadership of Australian arts organisations and multi-arts festivals in major cities (Perth Festival, Sydney Festival) and regional Australia (Ten Days on the Island and Four Winds). Hume’s thoughtfully curated and...
Andrew has decades of experience in the creative and cultural industries, including as the Executive Director for South East Arts, one of the 15 regional arts development organisations in NSW. He has worked in education and public programs for institutions such as the...
Kirli Saunders OAM is a proud Gunai Woman and award-winning multidisciplinary artist and an experienced advocate for the environment and equality, Kirli was the NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year (2020). In 2022, she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her...