Missing persons question takes to the stage

Insightful research by Dr Julie Clark provided a large slice of inspiration for a powerful new play on missing persons.

Now the Griffith University School of Human Services and Social Work lecturer is hoping the play can be brought to a Brisbane stage.

Public appearances by Kate and Gerry McCann — the parents of missing child Madeline McCann — have highlighted the desperate plight of relatives left behind when a family member goes missing.

It is a subject that rarely achieves such far-reaching mainstream coverage, a situation that Griffith University lecturer Julie Clark aims to redress.

Dr Clark, who has written extensively on the subject, is hopeful that a wider Queensland audience will get the chance to get into the heads of the people left behind through a powerful piece of theatre, based partly on her research.

Writer/director David Williams saw far-reaching dramatic possibilities when he discovered Dr Clark’s research on missing people, and weaved it into the script of The Disappearances Project, a powerful play he co-created with Yana Taylor.

The Version I.0 team researched the subject extensively before they sought additional material from Julie Clark, a lecturer at the School of Human Services and Social Work lecturer at Logan.

The skilfully crafted result was The Disappearances Project, produced by Sydney ensemble group Version 1.0 as part of Performance Space’s Uneasy Future season earlier this month.

The play, performed at CarriageWorks theatre, earned favourable reviews as it trawled the minds of distraught relatives searching for missing brothers, sisters, mums, dads, sons and daughters.

Missing people, loss and grief are key areas of research for Dr Clark whose paper considered the effects on those left behind when a family member, in particular a sibling, goes missing.

“It’s wonderful for a subject like this, which is not generally talked about, to get such exposure to a wider audience,” Dr Clark, who travelled to Sydney for a sneak preview, said.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with the siblings of missing adults, Dr Clark has researched siblings’ experiences including emotional reactions to their loss, and the characteristics of speculation, secondary grieving and not knowing.

“The aim of my study was to give voice to siblings of long-term missing people as their voices are largely absent.”

She is now hopeful that the previously unheard voices will be heard on a Queensland stage later this year, with the strong desire for the production to play in Brisbane.

“It was a fantastic production, particularly the intensity of the performances and the visual effects. The way the notion of ‘mind traffic’ was represented was clever.

“The actors really brought this to life, especially when they began to talk over each other and created a strong sense of urgent, competing thoughts.

“The visual effects conveyed the isolation of the experience and the constancy of searching.

“I recognised a lot of my work in the play. The participants’ words were used verbatim while other concepts had a sequenced development through the production.

“It would be wonderful if it were staged in Brisbane.”

In her thesis Dr Clark suggested that going missing is both a policing issue and a social issue that requires more focused attention.

“Having the issues represented so strongly in a theatre production is a novel and powerful way to get some of that attention.”