The Regional Touring Residencies are one of the ways Critical Stages Touring is contributing to a vibrant, resilient, and exciting independent theatre sector. Supported by Create NSW, each residency matches a story in development with a regional host venues and local artists. The creative team works intensively for one week, culminating in a public showing of their work-in-progress. Each one has been selected for their ingenuity, artistic merit and exploration, and for their potential to connect with and engage regional communities. The program is an exciting new extension of Critical Stages Touring’s commitment to discover and develop outstanding independent theatrical experiences for audiences everywhere.

In March 2022, writer JoJo Zhou and director/dramaturg Bernadette Fam took up residency at the recently refurbished Twyford Hall in Merimbula.

Today, JoJo reflects on their week in town…


The creative team and our hosts in Merimbula.

When Bernadette and I did the first regional development for my new play Sunlit, it was almost exactly a year ago to the day; we went to Bathurst, NSW (on Wiradjuri Country) spent a week with some amazing young artists and old friends, and listened in wonder and fear as reports came in on the flash floods that were devastating many parts of NSW. This time, we drove down the cost, past Canberra, to Merimbula; spent a week with some amazing artists and new friends, and listened in wonder and fear as reports came in on the flash floods that were devastating many parts of NSW.

How familiar.

Merimbula, unceded land of the Djiringanj People of the Yuin Nation, is on the Sapphire Coast, six-ish hours drive from Sydney (though it took us closer to eight due to conditions). It is nestled in a valley that it shares with Merimbula lake, pushed up against the ocean, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It has oyster farms and gorgeous vistas and a wealth of talented and passionate artists at its fingertips, from Merimbula and surrounds. Not to come on too strong here, but I fell for Merimbula hard. I liked the air and the hills and the shops; the water, the people, the fish and chips. Lis, the manager of Twyford Hall where we spent most of our days, said to us that Merimbula is mostly made up of people who come down for a holiday and decide to stay. I certainly see the appeal, even though it rained most of the time we were there; that’s how nice it is.

Twyford Hall

We spent the week working with four amazing local actors, workshopping the play, building the world, dissecting the characters. Their insight and generosity was phenomenal, and their acting wasn’t too bad either (I’m downplaying here, it was really good.) We ran a focus group with a collection of women from the area, talking about the world and how it had changed, the things they want to impart to their children; and we did a workshop with three inexorable girls, now between thirteen and fifteen, who had started the School Strike for Climate movement in the Bega Valley several years earlier – when they were eleven. All of this engagement, from individuals who were always so willing to share, was inspiring; so inspiring that I wrote 24 brand new pages of script in three days (not to brag… okay, bragging a little).

These residencies are invaluable for any creative process, whether it be engaging regionally or not; but to be able to forge connections with the community that you are ultimately creating work for. To talk to people, and be questioned, and take long walks by the sea – what more could you ask for?

The team at Twyford Hall are trying to get the funds to finish building a proper theatre in town; it’s almost all the way there, and it looks so good I’m kind of envious. When it’s done, it’ll be a key stopping point for touring work heading south, and an invaluable resource for the community. I hope, one day, when the hall is built and the play is written, that Sunlit can be up on that stage.

Thank you so much to Critical Stages, Lis and the Twyford team, and all the fabulous community members who took time to speak with us. It’s hugely appreciated, and none of this could have happened without you.

JoJo Zhou
11 March 2022