Graham Pitts is a writer, researcher and playwright, who has created scores of arts-based projects with marginalised groups from many cultures, particularly with non-English speaking background and disadvantaged communities, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Graham co-founded Sidetrack Theatre and became a professional writer, coordinator and director in 1978. Credited with writing more than 50 plays, he is best known for Emma -- Celebrazione! which was produced Australia-wide in 1991.
In 1998, Graham’s engagement with East Timorese and Chinese communities saw him co-write and co-directed the play Death and Balibo, which received critical acclaim. Since then, Graham has created six other new works with the East Timorese community, including Tour of Duty, part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2001.
Since 2001, Graham has worked with the residents of the Atherton Gardens Housing Estate in Melbourne. He is the artistic director of The Many Moons Choir comprising Chinese seniors and other tenants. Many Moons was the core group in his performance/installation works Inside Out and Outside In, the latter a hit of the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2004. Graham was the recipient of the Australia Council’s Ros Bower award in 2005.
In March 2007, Graham completed with Michael Coyne, the image-and-text project A Body of Knowledge, in collaboration with woman living with HIV/AIDS. He is presently working with The Melbourne East Timorese Activity Centre on a comedy called A Crocodile Bit My Lip and with The Many Moons Group on In Spiring Time.
COMMISSION A NEW PLAY FROM GRAHAM.
Graham Pitts has written plays seen by hundreds of thousands of Australians, including the smash hit Emma Celebrazione. He's hungry for new commissions from Amateur or professional theatre.
"Once, in Newcastle, I wrote an hour-long dramatic script about local historical events which was broadcast on local radio. Twenty five thousand people were listening, gathered on the foreshores in a huge park above the sea off Newcastle. A team of pyro-technicians meanwhile let off spectacular fires and fireworks to accompany the story," he said,
"Another show I wrote and directed was "Another Country" in the hills above Perth. The core members of the cast were amateur actors from the region and 160 others. We produced the play in an extra-ordinarily beautiful amphi-theatre which had been built up in the mountains by a Welshman. It went for five nights with an audience of over to thousand per night," he said.
"Another show I co-wrote and co-directed in 1988, was with thirty East Timorese and five Australian "Death at Balibo" which was about the killing of five Australian journalists by Indonesian soldiers during the invasion of East Timor The play ended up going on at the Darwin Theatre Company for a planned three weeks but was extended - setting a new record for attendences. It was helped when The Indonesian government canceled an official visit to Australia in response. On opening night the audience stood and gave a standing ovation --- at the end of the second scene! " he said.
But nothing can compare to the success of Emma Celebrazione, based on the story of Emma Ciccotosto, who migrates from an impoverished Italian rural village to Western Australia at the age of 13. The play opens with Emma, now older cooking for a wedding feast for her family as she regales the audience with tales of her feckless husband and venomous mother-in-law. At interval the audience tastes her delicious pasta and a Choir of Italian women assist with song and celebration. The play has sold out across the nation. Here's what the Australian said."Pitts has turned her experiences into a celebration of life, love and survival, to the accompaniment of powerful singing and the aromas of garlic and sugo....When a return season of Emma opened at Brisbane's La Boite Theatre last month, the season had sold out by 10am on the first day of the first performance"
Graham Pitts' plays sell because genuinely good yarns from local communities make good drama. His larger pieces always sell well, because they involve many sectors of the community... for example the local historical society, the local football team, or even the local Scottish bagpipe band. So instead of having the narrow circle of people who are linked to an amateur theatre, the large community involvement ensures lots of bums on seats.
Graham is also a terrific researcher, going to any length to find a good story.
"During research for my play "Wondeep" on the West Coast of Tasmania, I was taken to a small cottage to a group of about twenty people with a minimum age of eighty. It was freezing cold outside with about a metre of snow on the ground and so there were two open fireplaces blazing as well as about five electric heaters. Now lots of people over eighty are incontinent. And the room was very hot. After a while a certain aroma began to penetrate my every pore and I realised the room was misty with a quite pungent, yellowish vapor. But what could I say? Especially as these good people pressed me to stay for lunch. I don't think I will ever forget that meal," he said.
One of Graham's newest play is Rememberance Day."It is about a War World Two veteran 'Owen' who lies in a repatriation hospital, musing aloud about whether he's dead and whether the male nurse who keeps pestering him is a figment of his imagination.The old soldier merges in and out of the realities of his memories of fighting the Japanese in East Timor during World War2 and recent return looking for the East Timorese man who fought by his side. The nurse becomes a series of characters in the old man's memory. The play is very funny, moving and, above all, a tribute to the men of the Australian Independent Companies," he said.
The soldiers Graham pays tribute to were remarkable, a few hundred Australians fought a guerilla war against twelve thousand Japanese for a year. They kept Japanese resources tied up, avoiding a calamatous defeat for Australia in PNG and Kokoda. These soldiers have remained staunch supporters of the East Timorese resistence movement.
"One of the interesting results of the research for the play was that in July I went to Indonesia and on my way to East Timor contracted dengue fever, a disease which killed many of the W.W.2 soldiers. I turned about and made it back home to hospital. I still get relapses," said Pitts.
Less dangerous assignments are also welcome.