28 April 2023

New play inspired by Cooma Gaol's history

| Gail Eastaway
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Emerging playwright and actor, Mark Salvestro.

Emerging playwright and actor, Mark Salvestro, is bringing his latest development to Cooma on 5 May. Photo: Sare Clarke.

Local playwright Mark Salvestro has invited his audience to a live reading of his latest work in development on Friday 5 May when he will open the rehearsal room to the community.

Mark is an emerging playwright, actor and independent theatre producer based between Canberra and Cooma.

Taking place at Monaro High School’s brand-new Performing Arts Centre, the reading of the work in progress follows a rigorous five-day creative development, which will see four professional theatre makers visit Cooma to workshop Salvestro’s new play.

The play, currently titled ‘The Queen’s City of the South’, is inspired by the history of Cooma Gaol and its use as a homosexual prison in the 1950-60s.

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The story is set in Cooma and follows Ryan, a local queer journalist, who is blindsided by the revelation of the jail’s history when city slicker novelist, Lucas, drops into town and shares his discoveries. Despite warnings from his friend (and local psychic) Maggie, Ryan continues to engage with Lucas and his research, only to discover secrets much closer to home than he expected.

Mark began working on the project 18 months ago and has since received support from Canberra Theatre Centre’s New Works program and South East Arts to collaborate with Sydney-based director and dramaturg, Nick Atkins. Joining the team for the Cooma development is Sydney actor and playwright Elias Jamieson Brown, and regional NSW theatre makers, Jack Dodds and Kate Smith.

Local theatregoers may recall Mark’s previous solo works, The Will To Be and Buried at Sea, which he performed at Cooma Little Theatre in 2017 and 2021.

Buried at Sea toured to critical acclaim, having seasons in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Cooma and Forbes in regional NSW.

His second show, The Will To Be, received equal praise for its Melbourne, Adelaide and Cooma performances, and was awarded “Best Theatre” at Adelaide Fringe 2020.

Later that year, Mark was commissioned by Midsumma Festival to create a digital one-man show titled A Covid Coming Out, which screened at ACMI in Melbourne in 2021.

Since then, he has performed in Canberra Theatre Centre’s (CTC) production of Chiaroscuro as part of its New Works program and collaborated on the development of several new works including Helen Machalias’ Barren Ground at The Street Theatre, and readings of Adam Deusien’s A Good Bloke, David Finnigan’s The Dispossessed, and David Atfield’s Clean.

However, Mark will not be taking to the stage this time round.

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“As much as I love performing, I’ve decided to hang up the acting hat for now, while I focus on the writing of the play,” Mark said.

“It’s always been a bit of a juggling act to write, produce and perform my solo works, and now with this new play being a lot more collaborative, requiring three actors, I thought it would be smart to wear just the one hat … for now!”

The Cooma creative development and community showing of The Queen’s City of the South is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.

Tickets are $10.50 and are available on Mark’s website or at the door on the evening. All proceeds will be donated to Jindy Pride, the Snowy Monaro’s LGBTQIA+ social support group, to assist with their new local youth groups, supported by Monaro Family Support Service.

‘The Queen’s City of the South’ – Development Showing

Friday 5 May, 5:30 pm

Monaro High School – Performing Arts Centre

Tickets are available on Mark Salvestro’s website.

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