Life of "Mr Eternity" Arthur Stace to be adapted into a play

Mr Eternity is an almost mythological creature in the history of Sydney – the man who chalked the word ‘Eternity’ on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne over 500,000 times. His markings made it all the way to the Harbour Bridge at the turn of the millennium, ‘Eternity’ written in giant lights for the whole world to see.

Now, his life story is set to be developed into a play.

Clock and Spiel Productions, a theatre company, announced this week that they have secured permission to adapt and develop Mr Eternity – The Story of Arthur Stace for the stage.

“We’re always looking for works that might challenge our worldview,” said Yannick Lawry, actor, producer and founder of Clock and Spiel.

“We believe that theatre is one of the last forums where culture and controversy can be reflected and presented in a way which encourages people to reassess their position rather than react.” – Yannick Lawry

Lawry and his co-founder Hailey McQueen (who is also an actor and scriptwriter) told Eternity in 2018 that they wanted to use theatre to “explore unpopular notions of objective morality, truth, certainty, goodness and humanity’s need for a saviour.”

“There’s little doubt that we live in a post-Christian society where it’s become unfashionable, even offensive, to voice an absolute belief in the truth, but we feel like theatre is a realm that’s still available to talk about these things in an open and honest way, to ask important questions, eternal questions,” said McQueen.

Lawry adds: “We believe that theatre is one of the last forums where culture and controversy can be reflected and presented in a way which encourages people to reassess their position rather than react.”

After a highly successful first production, when the pair adapted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, which saw 42 performances across Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide in 2015-16, Clock and Spiel has gone on to produce plays including Wit (Margaret Edson), Metamorphosis and Freud’s Last Session (Mark St Germain).

Searching for their next project, Lawry says the pair had read a lot of plays and still weren’t sure which direction to head.

“I think the thing that stuck out to me the most about Arthur Stace was the impact one simple, repeated action can have.”

“I was sitting in church. I probably should have been listening to the sermon, but I was on my phone scrolling through and saw that a new book had been published about Arthur Stace – the Eternity man. And I remember thinking, ‘Mr Eternity, maybe we should look at doing a play from this.’

“I messaged Hailey straight away (again, still during the sermon!) and she said, you’ll never believe it but yesterday somebody put that book into my hands and said, ‘You guys should look at creating a play out of this.'”

And that was that. Clock and Spiel have now received permission from Roy Williams and Elizabeth Meyers, the authors of Mr Eternity to adapt the play, and have commissioned award-winning playwright Donna Abela to work on the project.

Like so many of their peers in the Arts, Covid-19 has thrown Clock and Spiels plans into disarray. Its 2020 season was cancelled, though Lawry says the theatres have rebooked their shows for 2021.

“Look, Arthur Stace was born in the late 1800s. He lived through a lot. He was no stranger to a pandemic – he saw the Spanish Flu. He saw economic depression. In a way, Covid has made the project more relevant,” says Lawry.

“In 2020 we have significant environmental and medical concerns, we’re seeing a sharpening of opinion in terms of whether we ought to share our wealth with others or pull up the shutters and fend for ourselves. The political and economical systems of our times which seemed so righteous and robust are showing cracks both in their integrity and function; and there’s no shortage of narratives around what should or might come next. What gives us permanence and security in a fragmented world?” the duo wrote on the Clock and Spiel website.

Those questions were similarly poignant in 1932, when Arthur Stace heard the preaching of evangelist John G. Ridley, and was inspired:

“Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?” Ridley preached. Stace was inspired, and his next steps were to begin to write ‘eternity’ on the pavement outside.

The next step for the Mr Eternity play is a creative development stage – a three-day process that brings together actors, musicians, the playwright and the book’s authors to build the foundation of the show. Clock and Spiel is currently fundraising for this stage of the play’s development.

The company hopes to show the play at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst, the building that was previously the Burton Street Tabernacle where Arthur Stace heard Ridley speak.

“I think the thing that stuck out to me the most about Arthur Stace was the impact one simple, repeated action can have,” says Lawry.

Stace has chalked his way into the hearts of Lawry and McQueen. Perhaps the Clock and Spiel production will help to pass on the impact of Mr Eternity’s single-worded mission to the next generation.

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