Nearly two years to the day after its first reading at The Street, Canberra Indigenous writer and actor Dylan Van Den Berg’s award winning work Milk will premiere next month.
Having first had the idea for Milk roughly five years ago, Van Den Berg said the work is at a point where he’s ready, but admittedly “excited and terrified”, to share it with the world.
“Covid in some ways, for this work in particular, was a blessing,” he said. “It’s given me more time to let it grow, to really consider what I want to say with it.”
Inspired by Van Den Berg’s personal family history but also Tasmanian Aboriginal history more broadly, Milk’s creative development has been a journey of self-discovery for the writer too.
“It’s been quite a journey to have to come to terms with a lot of things,” he said.
“One of the big questions of the play is around how do you go through a personal process of reconciliation when you’re descendent from an incredible line of resilient Aboriginal peoples but also from the colonisers … Both of those stories exist within you.
“Unpacking that over the last two years and really embedding that into the play as a central question is probably the biggest change that has happened.”
Spanning two centuries, Milk tracks the conversation between three Aboriginal ancestors coming together on a metaphysical Flinders Island off the coast of Tasmania on the verge of life-changing moments.
Joining Van Den Berg on stage will be Mandandanjii and Darambal woman, Roxanne McDonald, and Murriwarri and Yuggerah woman Katie Beckett.
Van Den Berg said building the work around an imagined intergenerational conversation has allowed him to intertwine and tell multiple stories.
“They’re separate stories but they’re also one story,” he said, “It’s really allowed me to explore some of those generational perspectives on identity.”
In the development of the story, Van Den Berg consulted historical documents and family stories and has worked with Aunty Gaye Doolan as a cultural advisor to the play’s development and appropriateness.
“It allows me to look at different perspectives, it also allows me to give voices to different characters, to people who weren’t afforded that in history.
“It was very freeing to try to give them a voice based on what I’ve learned from my family through oral history.”
Prior to the play’s premiere, the script for Milk was awarded the prestigious Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting.
Van Den Berg said the $30,000 cash prize linked to the award will give him time and space to work on his next project.
“I’ve never won anything like that before, it’s pretty amazing … I don’t have any shelves, so I need to think about that,” he smiled.
Milk will be performed at The Street, City West, 4-6 and 9-12 June; thestreet.org.au
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