Catherine McClements still remembers the days of schooling where physical abuse was part of the norm to manage a classroom.
The Water Rats and Wentworth star shared her experiences as she prepares to get on stage for Chalkface, a theatre production that looks at the issues facing the Australian education system in a way that is shockingly relevant and hysterically funny.
"I went to school a long time ago, in a very poor, Catholic school, there were 40 kids in each class - it's a miracle I can read," Catherine said.
"Those teachers were amazing, the way they kept us all sitting down. But I do remember a nun chasing a boy down a corridor with a cricket bat, with us cheering him along."
Chalkface's storyline takes place over the course of a school year and is set entirely within the staffroom of a fictional Australian public school.
Catherine will play the role of Pat Novitsky, a brilliant but bitter and the longest-serving teacher at her school, who thinks newcomer Anna's Masters of Neuroplasticity and new-age thinking has nothing on her 35 years of experience. Anna thinks Pat is stuck in the past. When the principal assigns school terror Hurricane Little to Anna's class, the two teachers come head-to-head in a brutal smackdown of old versus new guard, exposing everyone's darkest secrets.
Catherine said of the character: "Pat Novitsky has been teaching for over 20 years at the same primary school. She's a little bit jaded, but she's trying her best. She's an idealist, who's slowly been broken by the system."
To play the role, Catherine drew inspiration from her children's teachers, and her 'distant memory' of her fourth grade teacher.
As the story is a clash between generations, The Senior asked Catherine what she has learned over her time in her career with negotiating with people who were 'old school' and 'new school'.
"I've always taken up the position that I've got a lot to learn from everyone - from the older, from the younger, my own age. The younger people in the cast have promised that I'll be in a TikTok before the end of the season, and I'm really looking forward to it," she said.
Chalkface is a co-production from State Theatre Company South Australia and Sydney Theatre Company and is directed by Jess Arthur.
Jess said Chalkface is a tribute to one of our noblest and underappreciated professions.
"This is a play about school and teaching, and everyone has either been to school or had some sort of inspirational figure in their life - whether that be a teacher or a role model. With this play, you can't help but reflect on the teachers that shaped you, or interesting experiences you shared with classmates," she said.
"I also think it's very relevant coming out of lockdown because, having now been through the experience of homeschooling, collectively people are appreciating just how essential teachers and education are. I think it's very easy for us to become complacent with that, but Chalkface is almost like a love letter to teachers and the people that shape us."
Angela Betzien is the playwright.
"I hope Chalkface will be a fun, raucous and thought-provoking experience in the theatre after two very bleak pandemic years," she said.
"We are all part of a school community in some way, whether past or present. I hope audiences will be able to recognise their own communities in this play."
Chalkface starts in Adelaide, before moving to Sydney, Parramatta and Canberra.
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