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Life Happens The adventures of Nora Dunn & Kelly Bedford, Professional Hobos. Nora writes, Kelly makes music. Together, we are on a lifelong journey to...wherever.

Lightning Ridge: The Black Queen Experience

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 9 July 2008 | Views [3567]

"Outback theatre with a twist," says the flyer for Black Queen, with a picture of an oil lamp and a woman with a mysterious look. I didn’t really anticipate that this mining town would exactly have a bustling theatre community, but there it is.

And being an actor/singer/dancer, of course my interests are piqued.

We drive along one of the five guided tours through Lightning Ridge, through old mining settlements. The white sandstone gravel roads weave in and out of this small off-grid community, and without the red car door signs leading the way, we would most certainly be lost by now.

After driving by rusted out trailers and toilets and cars and whatnot, my hopes for a genuine theatrical experience wane. I must admit there’s a sort of artistic beauty to an old car with about 12 cats milling on and around it, surrounded by flat white ground with sandstone piles everywhere. But I’m busy dashing my hopes of seeing a real show so I try not to be too taken with this unique scenery.

Pulling up to Black Queen, though, re-engages my imagination right away. The property, located on the very edge of Lightning Ridge, is charming and unique. The walls of the three cottages that make up this home are made of bottles, stones, and hand-mixed cement, and the surrounding property is filled with old signs about the Black Queen, monuments, and various little surprises for anybody looking hard enough.

We are immediately met by Gail, who is our fearless leader in this piece of outback theatre with a twist. I look over at the other four people joining us for the show, and think "Eek! Awkward. Doing a show for only six people? And I can only imagine how strange it would be if we were just two."

But as we settle into the first cottage, and the first act, I realize that she can’t fit in many more people than what we have. We are almost a full house. And I also realize that we are actually sitting in the set. This theatre does have a twist indeed.

The show is comfortable and conversational, funny and interactive. I can tell that I was not the only person apprehensive of the intimacy of the show, and we all sigh with relief when we realize our concerns are unwarranted. We have just been invited into Gail’s home, and the show is priceless.

Gail and her husband Roger have taken over the Black Queen (property and legacy) from Joan and John. Joan is the heroine in this story, a strong-willed character who beat the odds in life. She had the vision for the Black Queen and built the entire place out of bottles and hand-mixed cement, with her own hands. When the sun gets low at the end of the day, the bottles reflect light everywhere and I am immediately transported to a dream world.

Gail beautifully tells Joan’s story in the setting where it all happened, and artfully weaves in her own life story; how she came to own this eclectic property and carry on the Black Queen legacy, so far away from her original home town in Wisconsin.

In the third act, Gail finishes Joan’s story and moves into her own piece of the Black Queen legacy: an oil lamp collection that belongs in a museum.

Now I must say that I didn’t ever give oil lamps much consideration in life. Never wanted to own one, and rarely thought of their history. But after seeing and touching and smelling lamps (some of them hundreds of years old), each with a story their own, then sitting in this dark room with about a third of the dozens of oils lamps burning, I can see the appeal. It is magically mesmerizing.

The show in its entirety subtly challenges us to pursue our dreams, inspires us, and moves each of us for our own personal reasons. A part of this show speaks to everybody here, from the elderly lady who was born and raised in Lightning Ridge, to the German tourist, to the couple in their 50s on vacation, to us.

I suddenly realize that Gail has stopped talking. The show is over. But we are all so mesmerized with the lights and are digesting all the stories swimming around in our heads, that we all simply continue to sit there. Gail pulls up a chair and sits with us, reflecting on and appreciating our unique surroundings and the last few hours of immersion in them.

Gail and Roger are true characters in this real-life play; having immersed themselves in this life that came suddenly and became their nirvana. They are living examples of the modern-day frontier; leaving everything behind for a dream. Except their dream wasn’t to strike it rich mining opal; rather to strike a chord in their own lives that could touch other people in the process.

It worked, and the Black Queen legacy lives on.

Tags: ambassador van, australia, black queen, lightning ridge, outback, theatre, world nomads

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