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Australia The Dead Letter Club bringing Brisbane's convict history to life

16:26  14 september  2018
16:26  14 september  2018 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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A group of strangers walk into a Brisbane museum and spend the next few hours writing anonymous, fictional letters to each other.

Writing letters to strangers is part of the Dead Letter Club strategy to develop creativity and communication in a social setting.© Supplied Writing letters to strangers is part of the Dead Letter Club strategy to develop creativity and communication in a social setting.

It sounds like the premise for a theatre play, but is actually a social and creative initiative brought to Brisbane for the first time.

Described as a mash-up of pen-pals, mystery parlour games and creative writing, Dead Letter Club is the brainchild of Melbourne creative Melanie Knight, and has become an international phenomenon.

Strangers arriving at a Dead Letter Club evening sit down at a table and, through “loose parameters” and plenty of optional writing prompts, write fictional letters to another participant.

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That participant responds, creating an entire fictional, ad hoc correspondence over the evening.

The twist, Ms Knight said, was that throughout the evening all the writers were kept anonymous.

“They create an identity and they start writing and that letter gets delivered to someone else in the room,” Ms Knight said.

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“They take on the persona of the addressee, and I’ve set up this secret delivery system where I know who to get the letter back to, without revealing who it is.

“Through the course of the evening they’ve been creating these little pieces of fiction, but it’s through the medium of letter-writing and they don’t know who in the room they’re writing to.”

The Dead Letter Club is the brainchild of Melbourne creative Melanie Knight.© Supplied The Dead Letter Club is the brainchild of Melbourne creative Melanie Knight.

At the end of the night, she invites the participants to wander around and chat amongst themselves, but there is no requirement to reveal their letter-writing identity.

Almost all participants don't want to reveal themselves as the author behind a letter, she said, preferring to leave the evening with "this little piece of magic".

“It turns out 90 per cent of the time people actually choose not to find out and just walk out giggling and wondering ‘I wonder who it was I was talking to?’," Ms Knight said.

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“The other 10 per cent that do meet are just blown away and they have these real-life chats about the process of writing and how much they loved that sentence or that paragraph.”

The idea for Dead Letter Club took several years to develop as Ms Knight sought to apply her own experiences in running creative drawing classes for adults, encouraging connection and creativity in a social setting.

Capitalising on the mystery and old-fashioned draw of reading and writing letters, she spent a year co-opting her friends in the back rooms of Melbourne pubs to iron out the kinks in the concept.

“There’s a whole lot of buzzwords about mindfulness and all of that kind of stuff and I just wonder, though, what happens if we’re not connecting with each other?” Ms Knight said.

“It’s a really lovely way to connect to yourself and to each others through creativity, and that can be really daunting for grown-ups, because we just eliminate that part of ourselves.”

The club now runs monthly with plenty of regulars and new visitors attending each Melbourne session, and has chapters across the country and even in Canada.

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On Friday, the concept was brought to Brisbane for the first time in partnership with the Museum of Brisbane and its Life in Irons exhibition, which details the early years of white settlement in Moreton Bay.

Many participants chose not to reveal their identity as a letter's author.© Supplied Many participants chose not to reveal their identity as a letter's author.

In Brisbane, each participant assumes a nom-de-plume from the historical figures featured in the Life in Irons exhibition, bringing a historical link to the evening.

“The Brisbane one will be really interesting, I’ve been reading these wonderful stories from the Moreton Bay archives, these 200-year-old documents and diaries and journals that they keep,” Ms Knight said.

“They’re just extraordinary, the history was really tough, really brutal, really confronting.

“It’s just wonderful to have the opportunity to see these journals on what life was like.

“I’m curious to see what will come out. It will potentially be a little bit darker but it’s really something to be given the chance to have people come and contemplate the exhibition in such an interesting, interactive way.”

Ms Knight said with permission she keeps all of the letters and hopes to create an exhibition or book with the “amazing” narratives developed.

Anyone interested in starting a Brisbane chapter of Dead Letter Club can contact Ms Knight.

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