Fortunate Life goes live

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Scenes from the stage performance of A Fortunate Life.
Camera IconScenes from the stage performance of A Fortunate Life. Credit: Ali Welburn

The renowned autobiography that propelled late Wickepin farmer Albert Facey to nationwide celebrity has been transformed into a live play for performance at cinemas in Albany, Busselton, Geraldton and Midland.

A Fortunate Life is the humbling autobiography of a knockabout lad, who was born in Victoria but spent a lot of his life in Wickepin.

The tale chronicles Mr Facey’s early life in WA, his experiences as a private during the Gallipoli campaign of World War I and his return to civilian life after the war.

Under the pen name of A.B. Facey, Mr Facey published A Fortunate Life in 1981 — nine months before he died.

During the initial days of its publication, the bushman, sportsman, railway ganger, World War I soldier and a 20th century family man became a nationwide celebrity.

Since its publication, more than 800,000 copies of the book have been sold, with the tale lauded for its demonstration of resilience, fortitude and love.

Behind the scenes of the stage performance of A Fortunate Life.
Camera IconBehind the scenes of the stage performance of A Fortunate Life. Credit: Ali Welburn

Now, the book has been adapted for a live theatre performance in cinemas by Perth-based Theatre 180 board member Jenny Davis and director Stuart Halusz.

The pair has created a 100-minute live performance for cinemas at Albany, Midland, Busselton and Geraldton.

In a unique style, three actors will play various characters in front of a giant cinema screen set with various backdrops.

Footage captured by Albany’s Green Man Media will show significant landscape scenes for the cinema screens behind the actors.

Director Halusz, who wrote the script with Davis, said the cast of three actors would perform in front of the cinema screen.

A Fortunate Life director and actor Stuart Halusz.
Camera IconA Fortunate Life director and actor Stuart Halusz. Credit: Ali Welburn

“I had long wanted to turn this story into theatre, because, like for so many, I read the book as a child and it stayed with me,” he said.

“We wanted to explore the character traits that made Bert (Albert Facey) an exceptional person ... the traits of hope, fortitude and courage.

“All of the elements of character that forced him to survive the hardships and suffering his life was peppered with.”

Creating the production has involved a lot of input from Facey’s family, the Wickepin community and the local Shire.

As one of Facey’s 26 living grandchildren, Christine Starling has been helping the producers perfect their representation of her grandfather’s life.

Albert Facey homestead in Wickepin.
Camera IconAlbert Facey homestead in Wickepin. Credit: WA News

After growing up in Merredin, she and her late husband lived in Bullsbrook before retiring to Perth.

She was 34 when her grandfather died.

Mrs Starling and a dozen other family members attended a workshop with those behind the production earlier this year, and have been providing various pieces of memorabilia.

“I was blown away with what they were doing, and have been so impressed with the talent,” she said.

“What Stuart wanted to do was to use Albert’s story to promote resilience in today’s world, and also show Grandad’s affinity with the bush, so with nature.

“I thought that was an incredible way to show in today’s world, that they can have resilience and enjoy nature.

“It is keeping Grandad’s story alive, but it is also promoting the same attributes he had to today’s society, that everyone can find that resilience and affinity with nature.”

Albert Facey signs a copy of his book A Fortunate Life in 1981 for his great-grandson Leslie Harling.
Camera IconAlbert Facey signs a copy of his book A Fortunate Life in 1981 for his great-grandson Leslie Harling. Credit: Tony Ashby

The performance’s genesis lay in a creative development grant from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

Later, the group was approached by an angel investor — Orana Cinemas owner Ron Siemiginowski — who wanted to bring live performance into cinemas.

This landmark theatrical tour is breaking new ground for Mr Siemiginowski, who together with long-time collaborators Adrian and Josephine of Albany-based audiovisual storytellers Green Man Media, has established a new platform for live exhibition — CinemaStage.

Behind the scenes of the stage performance of A Fortunate Life.
Camera IconBehind the scenes of the stage performance of A Fortunate Life. Credit: Ali Welburn

In what Halusz has described as a “beautiful moment of collaborating”, the group “came up with the idea of translating this story and presenting it in cinemas”.

“We will use live performance in the cinema, to give the audience the best of both worlds,” Halusz said.

“This has not been done anywhere, it is entirely new ... we are exploring a new medium.”

Shire of Wickepin community engagement officer Diana Blacklock said the Shire was hopeful the show would tour locally, after the initial circuit. While the book is ordered chronologically, the play will “turn it on its head”.

“A Fortunate Life embraces themes that are intrinsic to our history and culture as modern Australians — resilience, fortitude, hope and integrity, bringing the beloved bushland to the big screen and placing humanity centre-stage,” Halusz said.

“This is a unique opportunity to become immersed in modern history and experience the combined impact of live theatre and cinema.”

In 1986, A Fortunate Life mini-series screened on Channel 9, featuring many well-known Australian actors after being filmed at locations across WA — including Kalgoorlie, Bunbury, Mullewa, and Coolgardie.

Theatre 180 evolved from Agelink Theatre, a 25-year success story.

A Fortunate Life will show at Midland between February 20-29 and March 3-4, Albany from March 6-11, Busselton from March 13-18, and Geraldton from March 20-23.

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