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Coast theatre duo finds nothing yields dramatic riches

Nothing To Be Done opens Sept. 23
A.Richard Austin and Micheal Oswald (credit Michael Gurney)
Actors Micheal Oswald and Richard Austin rehearse for their upcoming production of Nothing To Be Done.

An upcoming performance by two Sunshine Coast actors will blend classic theatrical works that debate the purpose of life in turbulent times, while demonstrating that creativity thrives on challenges.

Nothing To Be Done is the brainchild of Sunshine Coast performers Richard Austin and Micheal Oswald, who in 2020 staged a single outdoor performance of the play in Dougall Park during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The success of an experimental collaboration earlier that year — an online rendition of John Lazarus’s play Babel Rap — spurred the collaborators to sample existential works by two other playwrights: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (written by Tom Stoppard) and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. 

The result is a “theatrical collage,” according to Austin, who penned linking scenes in which characters discuss the original texts and relate directly to the audience. Comic references to onlookers also occur occasionally throughout excerpts from the three plays (“I feel like a spectator — an appalling business,” laments Rosencrantz).

Nothing To Be Done, which is directed by Anthony Paré, will open on Sept. 23 for three performances at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse. The production is an extension of regular collaboration between the two actors in a real-life setting.

Austin is a part-time support worker for Oswald, who lives with autism.

“I did acting in high school in Thunder Bay,” said Oswald in an interview with Coast Reporter. “But it was really hard for me because they didn’t understand how to help someone with a disability learn how to act. But then with a fresh set of circumstances, I’ve learned to become —”

“— a bloody ham!” interrupted Austin, grinning. “I just love the Heritage Playhouse and I wanted [Micheal] to have the experience of doing the play more than once, and at that theatre as well. And to work inside, where people can really hear.”

The original Dougall Park production was co-directed by Troy Dennett. As Dennett faced health challenges this year, Paré moved into the driver’s seat to bring Nothing To Be Done to the stage.

The plot, which flits between tongue-in-cheek erudition and bawdy jocularity, presents a philosophical puzzle: how to live when burdened by problems beyond understanding? As two workers raise the Tower of Babel, they wonder at divine machinations above their heads. A couple of Prince Hamlet’s school chums joke darkly about their own fates while politics churn offstage. Parallels to mind-boggling events of COVID-19 abound.

“I am interested in the notion of characters being able to slip between levels of reality,” said Austin, “and what interactions with the resulting ‘what if’ might reflect back to an audience about their own lives, thoughts and stories. My characters slip into a sort of no-man’s land  when they have no one to write words for them — a bit like we actors, really.”

Oswald also finds satisfaction in redefining an audience’s expectations of the actors themselves. “What I want is for people to say that people with disabilities can be more than just a comedian,” he said. He credits his autism for a lifelong facility with memorizing lines and other details. “Basically, I want to show that a person can have talent and do a lot more with their life than some might expect.”

Nothing To Be Done will run for three performances at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse on September 23, 24 and 25. Tickets are available for purchase online by browsing to