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The power of great art to create a genuinely inclusive cultural landscape

Oct 18, 2019

The arts have a particularly powerful role to play at this moment in time: in generating empathy that can bridge social divisions, and in creating a future where diversity is celebrated. 

Counting and Cracking, an ambitious co-production by Belvoir and Co‑Curious, embodies this power. A large-scale theatrical work telling a Sri Lankan-Australian story written by S. Shakthidharan and directed by Eamon Flack, Counting and Cracking has connected communities and continents and made a profound contribution to our unfolding national story.

Sixteen actors play four generations of a family, from Colombo to Pendle Hill, in a story about Australia as a land of refuge, about Sri Lanka’s efforts to remain united, and about reconciliation within families, across countries, across generations.

Australian and international artists collaborated to bring this beautiful, moving and epic work to life with authenticity. At times the actors slip into Tamil or Sinhalese language with English translations seamlessly woven into the shifting world created by the ensemble.

Counting and Cracking expresses stories, narratives and characters that reflect the complexity of contemporary Australian experience and identity. The work speaks to an exciting new audience and the power of genuine community engagement – it has had a deep and profound impact on the local Sri Lankan community who saw for the first time their families’ stories and histories placed where they belong, as part of Australia’s story.

“Theatre that has the power to change lives.” HiFi Way

Counting and Cracking sold out its world premiere season at the 2019 Sydney Festival followed by standing ovations at Adelaide Festival – it was the hot ticket show of 2019. It won seven Helpmann Awards including best new Australian production.

Ten years in the making, Counting and Cracking was initially supported through an individual young artist grant to S. Shakthidharan from the Australia Council’s then Theatre Board in 2008. The Theatre Board supported it again through CuriousWorks. Through this and a Carriageworks Associate Artist position, S. Shakthidharan was able to write and develop the play. Multi-year support to CuriousWorks through the Council’s former Key Producers – Community Partnerships program was critical to enabling the long development timeline necessary for the work. S. Shakthidharan launched Co-Curious in 2018 as sister company to CuriousWorks.

Counting and Cracking’s success is testament to the significant collaboration between Co-Curious, an innovative small to medium arts organisation and Belvoir, a Major Performing Arts (MPA) company, and the complementary expertise each brought to the project. Its presentation was made possible by significant private investment.

Counting and Cracking provides evidence of what is required to undertake genuine cross-cultural collaboration and create a successful mainstage work: time, sustained investment, belief, community engagement and support.

“An urgent work of high importance.” The AU Review

Everyone is talking about ‘diversity’ – this is a work and a process, not without its challenges, but which speaks to the potential of a genuinely inclusive cultural landscape.

IMAGE CREDIT: Belvoir St Theatre, Counting and Cracking. Credit: Brett Boardman

“If we want to be an Australia that asks people to limit themselves to fit in then we diminish our collective imagination; if we want to be an Australia that asks us to expand and present our full selves, we can help fulfil the potential of what this country can be, and I hope Counting and Cracking is the beginning of that.” S. Shakthidharan

Counting and Cracking was co‑commissioned by the Major Festivals Initiative (MFI), Sydney Festival and Adelaide Festival and was supported through an Australia Council MPA Collaborative Arts Projects grant. Belvoir is supported through the Major Performing Arts (MPA) Framework.


Learn more about Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey.