She was an actress with a tragic tale that has been lost over the decades, but a small group in Canberra is bringing Camelia back to life by writing an original musical to bring her back to the stage.
History is no longer confined to the pages of dusty textbooks and high school halls but is instead taking the stage in diverse and engaging performances. From Hamilton to Six, the rise of modern storytelling and revitalisation of the past is bringing the people of yesteryear to life.
Canberra is no exception to this movement with a small but dedicated team working to bring the life of Camelia, a young actress from Egypt with a tragic history, back into the public eye in their production
Camelia’s creator, Ian Batterham is no stranger to the world of cultural heritage, starting his career at the National Archives of Australia and now settling into his version of retirement, teaching at the University of Canberra and for the past ten years, he has been working towards bringing the story of Camelia to the stage.
“I’m an Egyptophile and I’ve been to Egypt a few times in my life, and I got interested in modern Egyptian history after being in the country and one of the things I got very interested in was the era of King Farouk who was the last king of Egypt. But there was this little sidebar in one of the books I read, about this actress who had an affair with him, and she was really quite the character and for some reason, this little light switch went on and I thought this could be an interesting story,” Ian explains.
“It’s hard to sort of really put your finger on what flicks the switch but there was just something about her I found really interesting and the more I read about her it was like opening a gift. The more and more I found out about her story it just kept on getting better.”
It certainly takes a dedicated team to create a musical from scratch and Ian has certainly found that in Dianna Nixon, Managing Director of Music Theatre Projects.
“I’m really passionate about the poor representation of female artists through history and of course there has been a lot of work done over the last decade or so, in a whole lot of areas to establish links and retell stories,” Dianna explains.
So, who is this woman that has inspired ten years of hard work and many more years of planning to come?
A young Egyptian movie star, Camelia lived a short but action-packed life in Cairo and Alexandria in the 1940s and 50s. She made movies, had an affair with King Farouk, had a child, and died in a highly suspicious aeroplane crash in the desert in her early twenties.
“Camelia’s story just seemed like a bit of a no-brainer for a musical because her world is movies, nightclubs, cabarets and film soundtracks. All different kinds of music from the period and the different cultures that she mixed in. So, it just seemed like a no-brainer to create it as a musical,” explains Dianna.
COVID has played its pesky part in delaying and interrupting fundraisers being held to help create and then pay the artists needed to hit the stage but the team are currently in the midst of trying to raise $70,000 to achieve their dreams.
“I love music, I love musicals and I love the stage. I thought this was a story that would work really well and was worth telling and she was worth resurrecting. My dream is to see it on stage and we’re all working hard to get that to happen,” Ian explains.
Camelia is not just about bringing the story of a young girl back to life but is also about bringing more representation to the stage.
“We need to see more representation on the stage. The last census has shown us that Australia has an incredibly rich multicultural population and that a lot of different people that make up what it is to be an Australian and this show could be a really great reflection of that,” Diana explains.
With swirling myths, gossip and mystery surrounding Camelia it is shaping up to be a musical not to be missed and if you want to help in the creation of a new masterpiece you can donate and learn more here.
Feature image via Camelia Facebook.