Blog

3 August 2:33 pm

A Note from Karen, 3 August

In the Griffin office this week we can’t wait for you to…

…See Rice

Michele Lee’s new play Rice opened last week after a sold-out season in Brisbane. It has been fantastic to receive such great feedback from audiences throughout the previews and first week after the move from Queensland Theatre to our intimate Stables stage. It is terrific having Kristy Best back with us in such a dynamic role—the last time you would have seen Kristy here was in Gloria—and I am excited that we can introduce you to the beautiful Brisbane-based actor Hsiao-Ling Tang. Tickets are selling quickly. Book now and witness the amazing stage chemistry between these two actors.

…Experience 2018!

There is much excitement in the office this week as we sign off on the 2018 Season brochure. This is my third season launch at Griffin and once again I look forward to Lee unveiling what we have in store for you next year. It’s another season of bold Australian work that the Griffin team are eager to sink their teeth into. We’ll launch the season on Monday 28 August and I can’t wait to share this one with you.

… Meet the Diving For Pearls Company

Katherine Thomson’s beautifully rich play, Diving For Pearls, goes into rehearsal on Monday. We are thrilled to have Katherine, Darren Yap and the rest of the company on board. I loved this play when I first saw it in the ’90s and it is a story that is still sharply relevant to us today. I’m looking forward to seeing what Darren and his amazing team will do with this poignant, heartfelt work.

….Read

This fantastic review for the next work coming up as part of Griffin Independent, Merciless Gods. From this it looks like this show will be another one not be missed.

…Watch

Our Griffin Up Late Video. Who knew that so many of the Griffin staff could double as comedians? Join us for the next Griffin Up Late. If it’s as good as the others have been this year —and from the line up it sure looks that way—it will be a corker of a night! See you there.

Cheers,
Karen

Karen Rodgers 
General Manager

20 July 1:48 pm

A Note from Lee, 20 July

There is an extraordinary opportunity in Sydney right now. Tomorrow night is the first preview of Rice…and then for the next couple of weeks across the mainstages in this city you will be able to experience for yourself the writing of women across centuries. Aphra Behn at Belvoir, Caryl Churchill at STC and Michele Lee at Griffin. They have nothing in common as writers apart from their gender, so probably should not be compared at all—apart from the fact that this week on Broadway there is only one play by a female playwright running.

That play is Paula Vogel’s Indecent, produced by female producer Daryl Roth.

So very rarely will you have the chance to hear the voices of women, written by women, across the 17th, 20th and 21st centuries, and decide for yourself what remains relevant, what is slowly evolving and what if anything has changed in the way we create female characters.

Rice is our coproduction with Queensland Theatre and comes to Griffin after a sold out season in Brisbane in the Bille Brown Studio. Brisbane wrapped its huge heart around this play and I think you will too when you spend time with the wonderful characters created by Michele. This play reminds us why we must keep writing and producing new Australian plays because there is nothing like the feeling of a story written for us right now that goes straight to the heart of how we are trying to grow as a country right now.

At the opening night of Cloud Nine, Artistic Director of STC Kip Williams asserted that Caryl Churchill is the world’s greatest living playwright. Now that may be so, but coming from the little theatre on the hill dedicated to the work of Australian playwrights, I can honestly say that I wrestled with the relevance of that play to what matters in Australia at the moment. It is a great play, a British critique of colonialism that in its time was a powerful voice for change. But we must find our own voices and plays to speak back to the Empire in ways they cannot imagine, otherwise we remain as bound as we always have been. It is not enough to champion Caryl Churchill, we must search for, support and produce our Australian playwrights so that we have a voice on the world stage speaking from the Republic we can only imagine at the moment.

Love,
Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

 

14 July 11:22 am

A note from Michele Lee

In the lead-up to the Sydney premiere of her award-winning play RICE, Michele Lee shares her thoughts on writing, identity, work and growing up in 1990′s Canberra.

In June, in the balmy Brisbane winter, I watched the opening night of Rice without much expectation. I was distracted. Will, my partner, had missed the flight so he wasn’t joining me and the babysitters were in the apartment with the baby. I had only just put on lipstick and scrambled downstairs to the Billy Brown Studio. Lee Lewis was a little excited, and she bought me a wine.

It is a Very Important Thing to win an award. Winning the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award guarantees a production and that makes it a unique award in Australia. That means I get my first mainstage production, a world premiere.

As the lights went down, I thought “Holy shit. My play is all grown up.” I’ve been so inside of this play since I began workshopping it. It has been thoroughly dramaturgically thrashed by now. And I think it’s a stronger piece for it. But I’m so inside it, it’s going to be hard to sit back like a regular audience member and let it wash over me. Maybe it’s the wine, and the fact I haven’t really been drinking because I’m breastfeeding. But I relax, and the play — for the most part — washes over me.  Kristy and Hsiao-Ling are fantastic.

***

The Tuggeranong Valley newspaper once ran a story about how multicultural my high school was. They snapped a picture of sample students outside the staff lunchroom. There were representatives from the various nationalities that made our high school worthy of such a story. I was in the picture (for those who don’t know anything about me, I’m Asian. Specifically, Hmong. Think South East Asian golden skin and thick black hair). For some reason the number 72 pops up. 72 nationalities, if I recall.

Outside of this photo op, I didn’t hang out with the other ethnics. Not really. They were clean cut, they played soccer or volleyball. On the other hand, I had a thing for drama. At lunch and recess, I’d keep myself busy volunteering at the canteen or running (badly) the lunchtime radio. Or I’d float between different groups within the high school jungle. But I never hung out with the Asian girls. They knew it. There was an unsaid acknowledgement of my snubbing them.

***

And so some of my early plays and early prose writing deliberately avoided anything to do with race and identity. You could say that this was for the usual reason of assimilation — daughter of migrant parents wants to fit in, all her life, through school and beyond, and just maybe she’ll erase her otherness completely. I wrote a memoir a few years ago. I didn’t focus on being Asian. I wrote about being 29-going-on-30, living in Melbourne, having casual sex. Friends, readers, reviewers all wondered why I didn’t focus more on my ‘culture’. Meaning, why didn’t I focus on my family and my ancestry? Why was I being so white?

Or you could say that I am a bunch of labels. I’m Hmong, yes. But I also grew up in Canberra, in the 80s and 90s. I went to a shitty public school. I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. I am what I am.

Aren’t we beyond seeing an Asian woman and expecting that if she opens her mouth, the only thing she’ll do is tell her ‘Asian’ story?

***

Oh, it’s complicated. I see younger Asian people and think that they’re articulating it more neatly than I do. Being Asian, being Australian, being of a certain generation, of a certain point in time. It’s all about intersectionality. I actually began memoir-writing in high school, and it was about my family. But I was only 15. I had less to write about.

Mrs Swift, my teacher, was moved by a piece I wrote, something about playing in the front yard in the commission house I’d grown up in. She urged me to consider writing as an actual career. In another breath, perhaps as an awkward apology, she also explained that her teenage daughter was terribly racist. It’s complicated, the times I grew up in. Canberra in the 1990s. The waves of South East Asian immigration were evident but were now slowing. My high school was multicultural. Pauline Hansen was about to make her maiden speech. Rachelle Gray sat beside me in English and she must have been seething with her confused anger. All these immigrant children in her country, and yet she had grown to like me. She cornered me one day. “Every time I see a gook, I just want to stab them with a machete and put them back into the boat they came from. But I like you, Michele.” You can imagine, I didn’t quite know what to say. I thought we were friends.

There was a general level of aggression at my high school. Battered sports equipment, teachers fleeing the classroom in tears because of agro students, smokers on the soccer field with their obvious plumes of cigarette smoke. Macho delinquents. Pointless detention rooms — as if the students at my high school cared.

With education like this, what would I be when I grew up? I had a thing for drama, like I said. I wrote that piece about my family that Mrs Swift liked. But I didn’t know any writers, any playwrights, any artists. No, not in the Tuggeranong Valley.

***

My first play was workshopped by the local youth theatre company in Canberra. I think I’d been reading Absurdist plays at the time, the few available at the library (no internet back then) and I fancied a bit of breaking the fourth wall. I didn’t think my perfect play needed any more help, such was the certainty of my teenage arrogance. I didn’t participate in the workshopping and only came along at the very end to see what they’d done with it. Meanwhile, in my first year of uni studying Comms, I hung out with the student theatre crowd. We put on American plays. We had house parties. There was even a girl from America in a lead role. In fact, there were students from all around the world. And me from the valley, feeling as if the edges of my world were creeping further and further open. Eventually I broke up with my high school sweetheart, worked in the public service, fell into a post-uni malaise, missed doing theatre, felt an existential ennui. I was 22. I moved to Melbourne.

***

Oh, being a woman. Being an Asian woman. Being a female Asian Australian playwright. It’s taken me a long time to say it with confidence, with a self-assured meaning.

What do you write about? And there is still that little moment of cringe…That Mrs Swift-style awkward and unnecessary apology. I say: “I write about women. About women like me.”

And the reviewers and the readers and the audiences might tell me that I’m not doing this at all, that I could be writing a more authentic version of me.

I did write a piece about Hmong people. It was a dream play that grew into a radio play. At some point, in my later 20s, I became very interested in writing about race and identity and including it in my work. A few of my works are exactly about this. But not all of my work.

I somehow avoided student politics at uni while in Canberra. It was in Melbourne that I had a Marxist awakening. I became very interested in workers’ rights. And all those things, those things embedded from an early age — the commission house, the single income household, the shitty public school, the bogan called Rachelle who held back her machete, the tiny sphere that was my childhood — they boiled up. And a woman like me is someone obviously Asian, someone who worked from age 11, someone who spent her first Austudy payment giving her little sister her first birthday party.

Sometimes I write about women and labour. Production is creative. I’ve always felt that. I’ve always been busy, the girl serving in the canteen and running the student radio (badly).

In this capitalist (post-capitalist?) world, I’ve always been busy at work.

***

A mother now. It took me 36 years. But there is a baby boy in this house. The baby is sleeping. He’s onto his second sleep cycle. And so I write this post, trying to clear my mind of baby-ness and conjure up my writing bones. Really, the last time I did any writing was probably on Rice, for the final week of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award development. That was mid-2016. I’d begun researching Rice in late 2013, and workshopped it throughout 2015 through The Street Theatre and through Playwriting Australia, before entering into the Award. Now that I’m older, I relish workshopping.

Pre-baby, Will and I went to India. This was part of my research. I joked with people that I was going on a grant-funded junket. Will had been before to India; I’d never been. But researching and writing Rice, where one of the characters is Indian, was a very compelling reason to do a little research trip.

The obvious things about India: it was very hot and humid at that time of year. We had a steriliser pen for drinking water. Poverty is obvious. But so is wealth. Kolkata may be quiet in some neighbourhoods at 2am but other than that, like other Indian cities, there are people everywhere. And of course, the infamous head wobble that may mean yes, no or maybe.

Other things I observed: people who do construction work often wear thongs as safety footwear, as in South East Asia. Hard-working manual labourers are darker-skinned. You don’t have to walk far for street samosas and street chai. There is a ratio of about five staff to one passenger at airport security.

The other part of our short trip was spent down south in Kerala. The waves at Verkala Beach tore through the ocean and I found them frightening and refreshing in equal measure. One day I trained-it to Trivandrum to meet with a worker in an NGO advocating for rights with farmers. The other meetings I’d set up didn’t eventuate. See — this wasn’t just a sham junket. I was researching.

***

Women and work. India and China. Big economies. Rice consumption and rice production. I grew up eating rice every day. My mum had a big plastic tub, probably 200 litres big, and she filled it with short grain rice. And every day she’d go to it, scoop raw rice, and then cook it in the rice cooker. We always had rice.

Of course there is a little part of me in Rice. But for this play I wanted to play with characters that weren’t autobiographical but were still women of colour. Intersectional folk. This is the times we live in. A young woman of Indian background, in corporate Australia, with her nose pressed at the glass ceiling.

She could have gone to my high school.

And an older woman, maybe much like my mother, thrifty with her vats of rice, cleaning the shit off the toilets of corporate Australia.

 

Michele’s play RICE starts previews Friday 21 July and runs until 26 August at the SBW Stables Theatre. Book tickets. 

6 July 2:34 pm

A Note from Lee, 6 July

Enchantment. That’s what great talent offers us. That is what is in the Stables this week as one of the world’s great talents Robyn Archer performs at Griffin. With Dr Michael Morley on piano and George Butrumlis on piano accordion the space is filled with magic. I am so sorry that more people will not have the chance to spend a night in the Stables with Robyn as she takes us on a journey through the French, German and American songbooks. Fiercely intelligent, deeply moving and unashamedly Australian in her worldview, she may not be offering the typical new play you would expect to see on our stage, but Robyn Archer is a great Australian story and so the Stables is her natural home. And that voice. That’s what enchantment sounds like.
 
More Stables magic — last Thursday night Michele Lee’s Rice opened in Brisbane at Queensland Theatre, Suzie Miller’s Sunset Strip was on the Stables stage as part of Griffin Independent, The Witches was playing in Ararat in Victoria and the extraordinary Paul Capsis was performing Angela’s Kitchen (from 2010!!!) in Malta!!! Go Griffin! Go Australian plays! Go Australian talent! Go sun-shiny Sydney blue-sky day! Go all you wonderful people who contributed to our 2017 End of Financial Year Campaign — we hope you can see all your support spreading out through our artists around the country and the world!
 
Thank you to everyone who plays a part in making all this possible. Are we doing too much? Possibly. Are we going to stop? No! Not as long as you keep coming to see the work.
 
Love,
Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

22 June 1:24 pm

A Note from Lee, 22 June

It’s the end of the financial year. Please donate to Griffin. Help us make new Australian plays. Help us find new classics that speak to us now, in our own voice, about things that matter to us all deeply.
 
There, I’ve said it. It’s really hard to ask you for more money. You all support us so much, and we pride ourselves in being a really lean company that puts most of our money into artists. We are small but we do huge things. We pride ourselves on continuing to punch above our weight. But all that fight means it’s hard to admit how vulnerable we are financially. Donations make a huge difference at Griffin. A small amount is significant to us and a large amount is significant to the history of Australian playwriting.
 
There is an independent show on at Griffin at the moment called Sunset Strip written by Suzie Miller. It could have been in our Main Season but with the Brandis cuts, we were only able to produce four plays not five. Fortunately for Suzie, the team have been willing to produce it independently so she can see the work onstage speaking to an audience. These artists are doing it because of the power of Suzie’s writing and because they believe in the work. Please help us to ensure that plays like this don’t slip through the cracks. Please help us to ensure we support more playwrights, more actors, more directors, designers and stage managers.
 
Because Australian voices matter. Australian plays matter to you — you tell me that in your letters, your emails and our foyer conversations. The plays matter to the whole country. And I believe they matter to the whole world. There are plays being written in Australia right now that will offer a uniquely Australian perspective on the chaos of our current world. There is a great play about the medication of children that we urgently need to see; there is a heartbreaking work about the housing crisis; there is an extraordinary work about Australian soldiers fighting in overseas conflicts that has the potential to really question our narratives around the armed forces. There are many more. None of them will change the world unless we get them on to the stage. Help us do that.

8 June 1:10 pm

ATYP @ Griffin

Griffin Theatre Company will open its Stable doors to Australia’s national youth theatre company Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) to be the host venue for ATYP’s 2018 performance season in Sydney.

Both Griffin and ATYP share a commitment to nurturing new Australian work and introducing new voices and performers to the stage, making this partnership an exciting opportunity for both companies to work together and see how the other develops, produces and presents work. It will also be a unique opportunity for the audiences to experience the work of both theatres in the one venue.

The residency has come about due to the rejuvenation of the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct commencing late 2017, which will see ATYP gain a new state-of-the-art venue on Pier 2/3 in 2019. However, while renovations take place, ATYP must close its current theatre at the end of the year.

Griffin Theatre Company is committed to creating an avenue for the work of this dynamic youth company to continue uninterrupted and is delighted to announce this eight-week residency at the SBW Stables theatre across 2018 ensuring ATYP can produce its Sydney performance season.

ATYP exists to connect young people with the professional theatre industry. For Griffin’s Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, “the young artists of today will be the national storytellers of tomorrow.” She adds “this new collaboration ensures that we continue to nurture the next generation of Australian voices while providing these artists with the opportunity to present work in a professional environment.”

Fraser Corfield, ATYP’s Artistic Director has enormous respect for Griffin Theatre Company and looks forward to the residency. “Griffin is Australia’s home of new playwriting. It’s a company and space that specialises in nurturing new ideas and the artists that generate them. ATYP is very excited to be able to connect our young artists with this inspiring company as we transition to our new home. It is the most natural partnership and meeting of minds.”

ATYP @ GRIFFIN comprises eight weeks across 2018: three weeks in January and February; three weeks in May; and two weeks in October. This residency will replace Griffin’s Independent season in 2018. The Company will, however, continue to provide opportunities and access for artists through its Main Season, Special Events, commissions and several new artist initiatives to be announced in late 2017.

Tickets to ATYP performances at Griffin will go on sale when Griffin launches its full 2018 season on 28 August 2017.

Griffin acknowledges the generosity of the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation in allowing it the use of the SBW Stables Theatre rent free, less outgoings, since 1986.

Griffin Theatre Company and ATYP are assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; and the NSW Government through Create NSW.

Download the Media Release here

 

11:52 am

A Note from Lee, 8 June

Partnerships and possibilities. That’s where my brain is this week.
 
- I am watching a great partnership develop in the rehearsal room between Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang as we work on Michele Lee’s play Rice under the Queensland Theatre roof. When you only have two actors on stage, their creative relationship is incredibly important for the health of the play. Cross your fingers…things are going really well so far!
 
- Griffin and ATYP will be under the same SBW Stables roof next year! ATYP theatre at Wharf 4 is shutdown for construction next year so the ATYP young artists will have a performance home with us.
 
- The winner of the 2017 Griffin Award was announced to a full house of new-play lovers on Sunday afternoon. It is the 20th year of the award. And it is the most important event in our year. It is the way we find the best new plays in the country. The award is supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. BUT do you believe we do not have a major sponsor for the award? I am looking for a person or a company to name the award. Friends, I need your help. Think. Who would be a great sponsor for the Griffin Award? Who would like to see their name, their family name or their company name on this prestigious prize? We need $20,000 a year to secure the future of the award. That will mean the winning playwright will receive a prize of $15,000. That’s the help we need to keep encouraging playwrights to send us their best new plays. Every person who reads to the end of my newsletters is a partner in the enterprise of making new Australian plays. So, partners — think of the possibilities, and help me find a sponsor. In all your spare time! If you are interested in knowing more or have some ideas give us a call at the Griffin office — we would love to talk to you.
 
I look forward to seeing you in the foyer soon.

Love,
Lee

Artistic Director
Lee Lewis

1 June 10:57 am

A Note from Suzie Miller

As Sunset Strip rehearsals continue, playwright Suzie Miller discusses the play’s themes, her motivations in writing it and the thrill of watching it take shape under Anthony Skuse’s direction.

I lost a beloved aunt from breast cancer when I was 10 years old. It was not spoken about much, a tragedy that my father’s family suffered terribly over but somehow it wasn’t talked about. It frightened me, all the silence around it. Since that time I have lived with so many of my loved ones being touched by breast cancer — friends, family, colleagues, extended family, school mates, uni and law buddies, parents of my children’s friends and more. I have sat in chemo rooms and by hospital beds, had some life-changing conversations, tears and bizarrely enough some incredible laughs. I wanted to write a play that somehow reflected that living and dealing with cancer is all about us and that we just take it on board, fight the awfulness of the process, and embrace the human insights that it brings. It is predominantly a disease that touches women, but so too does it touch all those who love those women, and of course like most things in life, we don’t have a manual for how to deal with it.

I especially wanted to write a play that had two strong women characters up front and centre; they are the main story of this play. I make no apologies for the very female nature of the storytelling — how women talk, relate and move through life. Indeed I fully embrace and celebrate it. Historically playwrights do not put women as the main protagonists in their work, often without realising it. Research has shown that if you do, it is harder to have the play programmed, the gatekeepers are often men who do not relate as well to the women characters, and so these particularly female experiences do not grace the stages. There is a unique humour about women together, the way we laugh and love and get angry all at the same time. But the male characters in this play are also fundamental to the telling of the story. Everyone in Sunset Strip is confronting their fears. 

Sunset Strip is also about family and how we are all so imperfect yet strangely imperfect in our own vulnerable and unique ways. I wanted to write a play that works on all stages — both large and small — and that spoke to all of us living our busy lives. That the play in its premier season is on at Griffin, so intimate, so real, so filled with hope for the future of Australian theatre, felt fitting and in keeping with the themes.

Anthony Skuse and I forged a creative relationship when Griffin partnered us up for my play Caress/Ache in 2015. He is a gentleman of sincere proportions, a delight to work with; I have been privy to this man’s wisdom, humour, fierce intelligence, theatrical talents and commitment to the work. Emma Jackson has played in many of my early works, including my first foray to the Sydney Opera House and a show we took to Edinburgh. She remains something of a muse for me and again she nails it. The other actors I am working with for the first time. Georgina Symes carries a humanity in her work that layers her character with so much that is real; Simon Lyndon takes his character of Teddy and lights up the stage; and Lex Marinos, well just having him in the room is enough, but his clarity and protection of his own character, a frail father losing his grip on reality, takes centre stage when we least expect it. I have watched as the actors have embodied these characters in a manner that has just blown my mind. They have found vulnerabilities, love, anger, faults, strengths, crazy humour and ultimately hope.

Human beings are remarkable at finding hope in the hardest and most unlikely places. Strangely it is this mixture of hope and horror that drew me to the world of this play. Because in being lost, ill, getting old, having cancer, melting down or screwing up — we are at our most human, and sometimes that’s the place where the best laughs are. 

Sunset Strip is on at the Stables from 14 June – 1 July

Get tickets

26 May 12:41 pm

Q & A with Jennifer Wong

Comedian Jennifer Wong is taking part in GRIFFIN SCRATCH – an adventurous experiment wherein we take 6 writers, comedy brains and theatre makers and lock them away together to write for a week, brewing up ideas that will be presented by a team of actors this Sunday at 5pm to a curious crowd (there’s still tickets, get them here.)

We let Jen out of the writer’s room – briefly – for some fresh air and to answer a quick Q&A. 

My autobiography would be called…

“I’m As Surprised As You Are That I Wrote This (My Autobiography)”

My advice for young and emerging Australian writers?

Find your own way. Mistakes are good. Take notes. 

The first thing I ever wrote was…

A story about how a fourth-grade teacher at our school (who’d had a small part in Strictly Ballroom in real life) was actually Elvis Presley. 

You can see me in…

How to English Harder at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24 June at 8:15pm, in Sydney after 11 sold-out shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

 

Jennifer Wong is a comedian from Sydney. With her love of language and wordplay, she’s written for Good News Week, presented Bookish on ABC iview, and performed at comedy and arts festivals in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Edinburgh. Off the comedy stage, she’s appeared in the second series of Plonk, and was a writer/performer in the sold-out The Serpent’s Table at Sydney Festival (a Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Griffin Theatre co-production). Jennifer is a regular guest on ABC Sydney’s Thank God It’s Friday, and her latest show How to English Harder is on at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24th June. 

25 May 5:22 pm

On tour with: Christian from Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’

It feels like only yesterday we were learning the ways of The Witches back in Sydney, and yet, we are already as well seasoned as a delicious Green Pea Soup… 

Our journey began in Townsville, Queensland. We were met with ominous clouds and something wicked loomed in the air…The witches sensed our presence…but we were not deterred. My companion, Sam and I moved swiftly into the Riverway Arts Centre and, through rain and wind, we successfully warned the people, and saved the children from a monstrous fate. 

The next day, the cursed weather had lifted (our warnings clearly heard) and our trek down to Gladstone was clear. There, eager faces awaited us. The little boys and girls shrieked and laughed as we shared our story of courage, curses and mice and once again, all were saved. 

It seems our work is being thoroughly enjoyed. The people are wondrous, the applause is electric and I’m sure we will have more great success as our journey continues south. Next stop, Caloundra…

Love ,
Christian 

Christian Charisiou, Actor, Roald Dahl’s The Witches (2017 Regional Tour)

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