University of Melbourne and Melbourne Festival presents

After Tragedy, Listening


Chaired by Paul Rae

with Genevieve Grieves, Peter Sellars, Marcia Langton & others

What comes after tragedy? What social actions and creative responses do such events demand of us? How do we live with death—and not just live, but flourish and thrive?

Taking its cue from Toni Morrison’s bold and subtle telling of the other side of the Othello story—Desdemona—this roundtable gathers a compelling line–up of artists and thinkers to debate and develop these questions.

In art, tragedy reflects an enduring, inescapable fascination with our own mortality. In the media, it tags event after event in a seemingly endless parade of wretched suffering.

Tragedy can be overwhelmingly powerful, or it can turn us into helpless onlookers.

Neither reaction is sufficient—but what comes next? Desdemona provides one response by shifting the emphasis of Othello from hubris to history and from looking to listening. A personal stake in history arises, it suggests, from the intimacies of tragic knowledge, which enter the body as stealthily as sound.

Join prominent artists, activists and academics and the renowned director of Desdemona, Peter Sellars, to examine what other strategies move us in these directions and beyond. At issue are the methods and means we can use to track tragedies across cultures and generations; how new ideas and cultural forms enable us to testify to the effects of tragedy while escaping its clutches; and what citizens can do in the present to anticipate the human and environmental tragedies of the future.


Paul Rae is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of Theatre & Human Rights (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Senior Editor of the journal Theatre Research International, and has published widely on contemporary theatre and performance. He is writing two books: Real Theatre: Essays in Experience, and Mousetraps: Adventures in Theatrical Capture.

Genevieve Lacey is a recorder virtuoso, serial collaborator and artistic director, with a significant recording catalogue and a career as an international soloist. She has created a substantial body of large-scale collaborative works and has also premiered scores of new works, written especially for her. Genevieve is inaugural Artistic Director of FutureMakers, Musica Viva’s artist development program.

Professor Marcia Langton AM is an anthropologist and geographer, and holds the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has produced a large body of knowledge in the areas of political and legal anthropology, Indigenous agreements and engagement with the minerals industry, and Indigenous culture and art.

Mary Luckhurst is Ramap Professor of Artistic Research and Practice at the University of Melbourne. She is a theatre director and scholar. Her many books include Caryl Churchill, Theatre and Ghosts, Theatre and Human Rights since 1945: Things Unspeakable, and Playing for Real: Actors on Playing Real People

Genevieve Grieves is an Indigenous educator, curator, film-maker, artist, oral historian, researcher and writer who has accumulated nearly twenty years experience in the arts and culture industries. She is Worimi—traditionally from mid north coast New South Wales but has lived and worked on Kulin Country for many years.

Peter Sellars, theatre director and Professor, World Arts and Cultures, University of California Los Angeles