Cheona Deemal's Seven Stages Of Grieving

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Chenoa Deemal Chenoa Deemal © Aaron Tait

A play highlighting the hardships and indecencies undergone by Australian's indigenous seems like a hard enough job to tackle on its own.

To attempt this as a one-woman show almost seems too big a task. But the show must go on, and Chenoa Deemal seems like the person to make sure it does.

Remaining a vital masterwork 20 years after it was penned by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, 'The 7 Stages Of Grieving' goes through chapters of Aboriginal history addressing the problems our nation's first people encountered prior to European arrival. The play discusses what is preventing the unity of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and what can be done to fix the problem.

A member in the cast for the acclaimed 'Mother Courage', a story set in post-apocalyptic Australia dealing with subject matter of family, greed and survival, Deemal is no stranger to the themes touched upon in this politically relevant and touching story.

What attracted you to 'The 7 Stages...' production initially?
As an actor, a role like this doesn't come your way very often and I felt very honoured to be asked by Jason (Klarwein) the Director to be in this production. The attraction for me was that this play has become an Australian classic and I get to perform and tell stories that resonate so much with me and who I am as an Aboriginal woman.

The history of the production is now two decades old; were you familiar with the play prior to taking on the one-woman role?
Yes, I saw a kind of news story on it on ABC when I was a teenager. They showed one of the scenes and it struck such an emotional chord with me, it showed me how powerful an actor can be and I was a fan of Deborah Mailman ever since.

How much time have you dedicated pre-production to learning the different roles?
The thing I focused on most (before rehearsals started) is getting the lines down, as there are quite a few to memorise!! The next step will be finding voices for all the little characters within the stories.

Has there been a difficult character? On the flip; do you enjoy one role more than the others?
The play is basically one character that tells the stories of many different ways of dealing with death and grieving. Though, there is a lot of potential to bring out the characters and voices of the people this character talks about during the show, which I'll be working on with the director.

The work of Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman; bringing their play to life… how much satisfaction will that bring you?
As a graduate of the BFA in acting at QUT last year, this opportunity feels like the role of a lifetime. In fact, I reckon it is. The satisfaction I have is that Wesley and Jason have entrusted me with this role for the 20th anniversary of this play and I'm very grateful and humbled to be part of it.

Working with the Grin & Tonic troupe; how has that relationship unfolded?
Jason saw my work in 'Mother Courage' for QTC and approached me about taking on this role. He and Kellie have been great to work with as their excitement about the show is putting me at ease and making the work environment a fun and enjoyable one!

The play had a myriad of emotions… how daunting is it to let yourself go and embrace a rainbow of feelings each night?
I'm very nervous about the depths of emotions that this play gets to, but I've had good training at QUT on how to access those emotions easily and effectively. So I'm confident that I'm capable enough to get there.

While penned two decades ago with the ongoing history of reconciliation, but with the fact racism still exists, how does a play like 'The 7 Stages...' connect with the community?
I feel 'The 7 Stages...' will connect on a very human level. We've all experienced loss to different degrees and I think this play will help to bring people together.

What do you hope the audience takes home after watching your performance?
My greatest hope is that the audience will take home a more empathetic view not only of Indigenous issues, but also of those of any nationality that have grieved or are grieving.

'The 7 Stages Of Grieving' plays as part of Queensland Theatre Company's 'DIVA: Sensational Woman Centre Stage' at the Billie Brown Studio, 17-31 March.


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