Dogs on tour: wrapping up Highway of Lost Hearts

Mary Anne Butler performing in Highway of Lost Hearts

Mary-Anne Butler, playwright and actor, reflects on the final leg of Highway of Lost Hearts, which is coming to an end after 14,789 kilometres and 37 shows across 28 venues. 

Several days driving took us from Maroochydore to Rockhampton, then to Mackay for a show at the Mackay Entertainment Centre. And what a show it was! Mackay came out in force with their Friday night open-ness – laughing and crying the whole way through. Nicky, the very smart publicity woman had discovered that Mackay had a dog walkers club – replete with around 500 members – so she targeted them, and the dog jokes and references got huge laughs on this particular night. Additionally, a drama teacher had brought her group of kids the 90 minute drive down from Hopevale, and they hung around for some time afterwards asking questions and commenting on the work. It was truly lovely.

…from there to Townsville for a rest day. Next morning I joined Aimee and her bro and sister in law for a trip to the aquarium and across to Magnetic Island via ferry, where Brad joined us for a swim in the ocean. Dinner at the local pub consisted of fresh seafood, then it was time to catch the last ferry back to the mainland and crawl into bed. After a spa, of course. Tough life on this road.

On our way out of Townsville the next day we drove up Castle Hill for a spectacular view of North Queensland’s mountains and ocean, then off to Cairns for our last two shows. This tour has gone SO quickly. Twelve weeks seem like four. As we drive past cane fields and lush sub tropical vegetation, I think of when we left on July 8th, driving dry red dirt-lined roads towards Katherine. The landscape has changed so much along the way; and we have as well, I’m sure.

Cairns weather has that tropical pull of warm wet air and it felt like we were back in Darwin, in a hotel overlooking the flat ocean. The accom was once again superb – a three bedroom suite with massive balcony and lounge, a spa bath for those with the inclination and time, and a gorgeous kitchen fitted out with every kind of appliance known to human kind.

This time in Cairns is a bit of a return for me. I trained as an actor from 1987-1989, performed in a long-running theatre in education program for five years during the mid to late nineties and then walked away from acting, turning to playwriting as a less stressful career. Then in 2004 I got offered a role I couldn’t refuse with Knock-em-Down theatre and Just Us Theatre Ensemble; treading the boards again for the first time in years with a show that premiered at COCA theatre in Cairns. Now 10 years later I’m back at the COCA theatre, and the first night sees some of the old mates I made back in 2004: Sarah Flenley, Susan Prince, Suellen Maunder and Sue Hayes turned out in force with their friends to see the show – delivering a standing ovation which was gorgeous. The next day I got to catch up with some of them for coffees and lunch, which was equally lovely.

…and then our last show on the 17th Sept – also marking the 50th show for Highway of Lost Hearts, counting the 2012 and 2013 seasons. This last show was really pretty special in terms of the audience being very moved – and consolidated a few questions for me about why I write, and about how audiences have related to this particular work.

…but that’s another story…

And then it’s over. Three months of touring, 14,789 kilometres, 37 shows across 28 venues. Just the bump-out and three tired souls head for our final hotel home to consume a glass of celebratory champagne before a night out on the tiles to celebrate with a couple of games of pool and a late night wander along The Esplanade.

We delivered Aimee to catch a plane back to Darwin that evening while Brad and I navigate the Barkly Highway back home; where the ‘real world’ apparently awaits. Whatever THAT is!

Eternal thanks to all those involved in the touring of this work: Artback NT: Arts Development and Touring – and all who sail within her – for belief in this work and commitment to getting the tour up, Angela O’Donnell for particularly dedicated support of me as an emerging producer, Playing Australia for touring funding, all the venues which booked us along the way, and every single audience member who attended, Brown’s Mart Theatre for remount support, director Lee Lewis whose vision sustained the piece through all those shows, Kris Bird’s extraordinarily transportable and bump-in-and-out able set ensign, Panos Couros’ evocative and moving sound design, Sean Pardy’s rich and dynamic lighting states, Aimee Gray’s professional, thorough organisational skills and terrific road trip personality, Damien Pree’s eternal ‘can do’ optimism and engaging tales of life, the universe and all good things within, Brad Fawcett’s keen sense of humour and vast technical know-how, Jess Ong and Robyn McLean’s visual talents for making all these blogs look so pretty, Faye McAleenan for making sure everyone always got paid on time, Kelly from Stage and Screen for booking such fabulous accommodation and you – the reader – for following these blogs!

…it’s been a blast…

XX Mary Anne