Ch01.Blog26 We are family

Ch01.Blog26 We are family

by Erica Chestnut

I have recently returned from Brisbane, where I was co-ordinating a workshop for Robert Marchand; an intense 5 days of Character-based Improvisation. A filmmaker and director for over 25 years, with credits such as Fields of Fire, Come in Spinner, The Potato Factory, All Saints and 2015’s The Lost Tools of Henry Hoke, Robert is Australia’s foremost expert on Character-based Improvisation (developed through close work with the UK’s award-winning director Mike Leigh) second only to Mike Leigh himself.

Interestingly, many of Leigh’s films look at the concept of family (particularly Secrets & Lies which I’ve just re-watched) and the seemingly ‘ordinary’ but deeply interesting/lovely/hurtful stories that play out in them.

Family – it’s such a deeply rooted concept, innately built into us since the moment we are born. Of course, no family is perfect, everyone is weird and nothing is rarely as it may seem. Thinking about this topic, it occurred to me that for performing arts professionals, we often experience a deeply connected sense of family beyond our own blood through our work.  I certainly know the above is true for me.

How often have you referred to your fellow cast and crew as ‘family’? And how often has the bond been present relatively quickly?

It seems to the outsider such a foreign concept that, for an intense period of time, the world in which an artist creates – be it a play, film or TV series – is surrounded by a sense of family. It will quite often include a ‘faux family’ – the cast members who are indeed playing your ‘real family’. Our work provides us the unique opportunity to bond with others and make that bond appear believable to its audience.


I am a firm believer in the notion that “Truth happens to the actor and believability happens to the audience.” Working on screen or stage – be it a short or long run, for a condensed period of time, these people all become family.

And then, quite strangely, the job is done and the ‘family’ disbands. You may see one another afterwards, but often not. Post-show blues. A sense of grief and loss at no longer being a part of this world and supported by those people. Everything is literally over.

Back to my week in Brisbane, where I was reminded of how quickly connections can be created and we can learn to rely on each other. Given the nature of Robert’s work, the groups he works with become quickly bonded. And then, in 5 short days, it is all done.

At the end of the workshop, Robert shared with me the story of his time on The Potato Factory miniseries. After the series was wound up, and the production completed, Robert walked alone on the purpose-built, enormous outdoor set that was made to replicate an entire town. He quietly took it all in – the journey, the progress, the work, and now – how it was all over and his sense of sadness at the loss of his ‘family’ now it was done. The set couldn’t be sold on, and it was literally being destroyed the next day.

And we go through this sometimes, countless times a year.  Back in January I was involved in a delightfully hilarious show for Midsumma at La Mama, Untitled, or The Seat of Narcissa. For an intense 6 weeks, we were in each others pockets, and then literally as soon as the show was finished, 2 of our cast went back home interstate, and we have yet to all see each other since – and that was 4 months or so ago.  They recently performed the show again – but alas, I was in Brisbane, and I felt like my family were having a party without me.  And they felt the absence of one of their own not being there.

What an extraordinary and deeply moving profession to be a part of.   I find that I tend to keep in touch one way or another with most people.  I’m a gemini, it’s part of who I am!  This tends to help the feelings of loss when we all say goodbye at the end.

No doubt every creative feels an element of loss when the project they have poured their heart into and been so committed to is over.  Their sense of family becomes shaken and pulled a part a little.  Somehow we need to find a way to put the feelings to rest and move on to the next exciting project.

I’d love to hear the ways in which you handle the end of a project and saying goodbye to your ‘family’.

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