Rodney Croome’s 1988 gay rights arrest turned into play marking 30th anniversary of the event
The Campaign will open 30 years to the day after the Salamanca arrests. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
Rodney Croome never imagined he’d end up in a prison cell.
“They took us to Liverpool Street Police Station,” he said.
“I’d never been arrested, never thought I’d be arrested. The intent was to make you sit in a police cell in silence and doubt what you do … and it worked for me.”
The year was 1988.
Mr Croome, then 24, and more than 100 other gay rights campaigners were arrested at Hobart’s Salamanca Market for defying a ban on a stall featuring petitions to decriminalise homosexual activity.
He described it as a bizarre and frightening experience.
“I was a shy, middle-class history student from a dairy farm,” he said.
Mr Croome’s account of the events of 1988 along with several others have now been turned into a play to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the arrests.
Performing in front of people the play is based on will be special, says director Matt Scholten. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
The Campaign by the Tasmanian Theatre Company and Blue Cow Theatre chronicles the struggle for gay law reform in Tasmania, with the arrests galvanising the campaign to change state legislation.
Queensland-based director Matt Scholten came up with the idea on a visit to Hobart.
“I went to Salamanca Markets as a tourist and I saw the public artwork called the Yellow Line, which really inspired me,” he said.
Mr Scholten then approached playwright Campion Decent, who interviewed dozens of people involved from gay rights campaigners to politicians and journalists.
The script is verbatim, every word taken from interviews, parliamentary Hansard or media reporting.
Opening night 30 years to the day since arrest
Opening night at the Peacock Theatre in Salamanca will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the arrests, which occurred on October 22, 1988.
Scholten said the opening would be incredibly special.
“To perform this to the people who are actually in the play, so the characters that are on stage are going to be in many cases in the audience watching the show … that’s a really special thing, it’s kind of unique,” he said.
The play has five actors but all play a number of characters.
Well-known Tasmanian actor Robert Jarman, who was also arrested in 1988, plays himself.
“I play about 11 people, one of whom is me, which is quite difficult because I’ve realised it’s all based on interviews with people who are actually involved,” he said.
“They’ve [the interviews] been transcribed and we’re using the exact words that those people said, and in my case my interview was quite rambling.”
Jarman said rehearsing the play had stirred up the past.
“Every now and then I find it difficult because it brings back memories, but [also] lots of good memories of wonderful people,” he said.
All the key artists involved in the play are members of the LGBTIQ community.
Actor Ben Winkle said it was an honour and privilege to play Mr Croome, who became the face of the fight for gay rights for decades.
“To be giving something back to the LGBTIQ community in Hobart but also to Hobart historically to acknowledge this, is really important for me,” he said.
A celebration of how much things have changed
The performance is expected to be a celebration of how far Tasmania has come over the past 30 years.
In 1997, Tasmania became the last state to decriminalise homosexuality.
Actor Ben Winkle (L) says it’s an honour to play Rodney Croome (R). (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
Mr Croome said the play was a great way to reflect on what those arrests meant and to ponder what it means to be gay and Tasmanian now.
“To bring our history to life is just a wonderful thing to see,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s a little odd to see ourselves up on the stage, but also it’s a great thing that this part of LGBTI history and Tasmanian history is being presented.”
Jarman said he hoped to reconnect and celebrate with people he had not seen for many years
“I think it’ll be a sense of wonder and astonishment at what has been achieved,” he said.
The plays runs from October 22nd to November 3rd.