A new theatrical production in Williamstown, Australia, showcases mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases with a heavy dose of black humor. The director, Donna Jackson, created the production Dust to help people to look at asbestos-related diseases in a new light. She got the inspiration for the project while directing another play, We Built This City, about skyscraper workers. When talking to those workers, she learned about the dangers of asbestos they faced, and that asbestos-related diseases were a result of the Australian dream of building one’s own home. The products used in home building for the first three-fourths of the 20th century were laced with deadly asbestos fibers, resulting in lung diseases and cancers decades later. For the Dust project, she consulted with 40 people who suffer from being exposed to asbestos.
During her research she heard many poignant tales, but also some full of humor. “The story of the show is one of resilience,” Jackson said. “Even though they are sick people, they have got out of bed, got dressed and gone and lobbied politicians.” The show has two main components: a sideshow and a musical portion. The first half is a sideshow, which will allow for audience interaction by having playgoers wander throughout the theater to hear vignettes told at a number of separate stations. Miss Mary Microknight was an animated spokeswoman for asbestos-filtered cigarettes. The bikini-clad character will come to life and provide a burlesque nature of comedy during the first half of the show. The second half of the show will be a musical portion with a 70-piece choir and music written by former Hunters and Collectors front man Mark Seymour. The premiere of Dust opened at the Williamstown Town Hall on November 28, 2008, with additional shows the succeeding two nights.