Treasured family memories

MARGIE Fischer’s solo show The Dead Ones was inspired by the experience of packing up her childhood home after her mother’s death.

The story of Fischer’s family and their memories, related through photos and the objects they owned, is told in a haunting yet entertaining show that opened at Melbourne’s Theatre Works on January 29.

Fischer grew up living with her parents and paternal grandparents, who fled Vienna in 1938 for Shanghai, escaping the Holocaust. Ten years later the family arrived in Australia, settling in the Sydney suburb of East Lindfield, where Fischer and her younger brother, Peter, were born.

Fischer’s maternal grandmother, after whom she is named, and much of her extended family perished in the concentration camps.

“My brother died when I was 23 so I knew in the end it would be me who would have to take care of everything,” explains Fischer.

“I didn’t have to sell the house immediately. I had the luxury of time.”

Fischer used this time to carefully go through the house and its contents.

“My parents weren’t hoarders; they just kept things associated with people they loved who had died,” says Fischer.

“The belongings of the people you love are imbued with them and your memories of them.” As Fischer sat in each room in the house working through her family’s possessions, she recorded her recollections.

“Everyone will have to clear out stuff when their parents or someone they love dies – it’s a universal experience,” says Fischer. “The only way I could deal with it was to write about it.”

Writing by hand, Fischer ended up with more than 60,000 words, which became The Dead Ones.

“The show is not all depressing, there’s humour in it,” Fischer says with a laugh. “Everyone will be able to relate.”

Everyday family life and objects, including the large dining table her father made for the family, feature in the show.

“We had big family meals with Austrian cake and open sandwiches on rye bread, and we’d all sit around the table and laugh,” recalls Fischer. “I told my parents I was a lesbian at that table. Many years later, around that same table, my partner and I told mum we were having a baby.

“Mum was thrilled! She was 85 and was going to be a grandmother – something she thought she never would be. But, as we were eating when we told her, my biggest fear was that mum would choke.”

Fischer, who lives in Adelaide with her partner and their daughter, chuckles at the memory.

“The show’s a good story about good stories.”

Fischer was co-founder and artistic director of Vitalstatistix Theatre Company in Adelaide for seven years until 1996. During this time she wrote and performed in many productions.

Her solo 1994 hit, The Gay Divorcee, was performed to acclaim in Adelaide, at Belvoir Street in Sydney and the Athenaeum in Melbourne. The book was published by Currency Press in 1996.

Fischer went on to co-found Feast, Adelaide’s Lesbian and Gay Cultural Festival in 1997 and was artistic director for six years.

The Dead Ones is part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.

The Dead Ones is currently at Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda until February 3. Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au.

REPORT by Alexandra Roach

PHOTO of Margie Fischer as she reflects on her childhood days in The Dead Ones.