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An assistant’s notes for a pandemic

(What if?)
Michele Lee
(c) 2018

This is a performance text written for Arts House’s Hypothetical: What If? one-off event.

This is a performance text for the ASSISTANT, who will run the panel discussion with a panel of real life experts (non-actors).
The ASSISTANT is young, female.

The panel are:
 Steve Cameron, Community Based Emergency Management Co-ordinator, Emergency Management Victoria
 Dr Julian Druce, Head of Virus ID Research Laboratory, Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
 Justin Dunlop, Acting Director, Emergency Management, Ambulance Victoria, and State Health Commander
 Dr Cassidy Nelson, Principal Public Health Medical Officer, Department of Health and Human Services, and
 Dr Ines Rio, Chairperson North West Melbourne Primary Health Network, GP liaison at the Royal Women’s Hospital.

The audience become involved too. There will be two USHERS to help with audience participation segments.

The audience read out the roles for: Toni Collette/Nicole Kidman/Rachel Griffiths, Eric Bana, Isla Fisher, Guy Pearce, Deb Mailman, Noni Hazelhurst, Bryan
Brown, Delta Goodrem, Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman, Joel Edgerton, Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, Geoffrey
Rush, Liam Hemsworth.

Damien Moloney will also have a brief role to play during some audience interaction. Damien is the Operations and Logistics Support Officer from Red
Cross Emergency Services.

A live panel discussion for a fake pandemic.
The panel discussion should be set up as a very casual affair, like a book talk. The panellists and the ASSISTANT are up on a raised stage.
The audience are seated in front of the stage.
Nine chairs/stools concealed on either side of the stage (18 in total). Props and extract scripts to the side too.

The evening of Thursday 30th August, 2018.

The ASSISTANT will read from notes for the performance. The notes function as the script.

Audience arrives About ten minutes before the event is set to start, the doors open. 6.50pm-
As the audience enter, the stage is lit and the house lights are on too. 7pm
The ASSISTANT is on the stage, which has a lectern on it. These notes are on the lectern.
To the side of the lectern there are the five experts seated in simple, stylish furniture. There might be a
banner behind them, pot plants to their side, and glasses and water in front of them on little coffee tables,
mics to share. It’s all feeling pretty casual. The ASSISTANT is chatting with the panel members, anything
inconsequential and un-scripted is fine.
We’ll wait for all the audience to be seated, and then the ASSISTANT goes to the lectern, probably standing
to the side because she doesn’t feel comfortable commanding it.
The house lights might dim a little, signalling that something is about to start.

1. Voice-over plays A voice-over track begins to play. The voice is male, authoritative, exaggerated but the voice also gets a little 7pm-
overwhelmed by the information they’re saying. The vibe of the voice-over is like a movie trailer for a big 7.03pm
disaster action film.

VOICE-OVER: What if here, in Melbourne, what if what if what if what if…
What if here in Melbourne, maybe in the outer West, maybe, like, where it’s semi-rural. What if here, in the
outer West of Melbourne, a bat attacks a cat who claws a pet pig who shrieks and scratches its owner and what
if what it what if a one in a zillion super virus is created?
What if this virus is highly contagious?
What if what if what if the pet pig dies? And then the owner is feeling crook too.

But, like, she’s hard-core so she goes onto work.
She hates missing work.
Her neighbour’s feeling a bit crook too. A lot crook actually.
He hates missing work.
Same with his work mates. And his work mates’ work mates. Yeah, they’re all feeling crook.
There’s a baby crying. Sick. Same as its parents and grandparents.
All over Melbourne.
An epidemic. All over people’s news feeds.
Like what if someone crook gets onto a plane?
The one-in-a-zillion virus spreads from Melbourne and into the world.
A pandemic.
Worse than Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Swine Flu.
It’s the Melbourne Flu.
What if…
What if a shitload of people are dying?
Hospitals inundated.
Doctors and nurses exposed.
Supermarkets ransacked.
City Loop in shutdown.
People panicked, like, just, like losing their shit.
The Melbourne Flu.
What if?


The voice-over stops.

2. Waiting for The ASSISTANT is waiting. 7.03pm
ASSISTANT: Hello everyone.
Thanks for coming tonight.

The ASSISTANT is waiting.

ASSISTANT: We’re just waiting for Alicia, my boss.

3. She starts, The ASSISTANT decides to start the event. 7.03pm-
acknowledgment of 7.05pm
country, intro panel ASSISTANT: [From the lectern, seizing on the notes.] I should…

Our panel discussion is being held on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people and I wish to acknowledge
them as Traditional Owners. I would also like to pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the
Elders from other communities who may be here today.

The ASSISTANT is waiting.

ASSISTANT: [About the panel.] Also I’d like to acknowledge that tonight we have…
We have some amazing experts here tonight.
Throughout their careers, they’ve come in close contact with eye-opening and dramatic things that, well, are the
stuff of movies. We’re very grateful that they’re here with us, sharing their expertise.
We have Dr Julian Druce, Steve Cameron, Justin Dunlop, Dr Cassidy Nelson and Dr Ines Rio.
Julian is Head of the Virus ID Research Lab at the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. His laboratory
detects viruses affecting humans including respiratory viruses, herpes viruses, enteroviruses, flaviviruses,
alphaviruses, pox viruses and many more. His work practices span Biosafety levels 2, 3 and 4 and he operates
laboratories at all these levels.
Steve is Co-ordinator of the Community Based Emergency Management team at Emergency Management
Victoria. Steve works together with a range of communities and organisations to collaboratively develop the
community based emergency management approach, designed for people to better connect and work together
before, during and after emergencies.

Justin is Acting Director, Emergency Management, Ambulance Victoria. And he’s the State Health
Commander. He has worked with Ambulance Victoria since 1996, and received the Ambulance Service Medal
for his work in emergency management and emergency simulation.
Cassidy is Principal Public Health Medical Officer, Communicable Disease Section, Department of Health and
Human Services. Her current work focuses on managing disease outbreaks, planning for epidemic scenarios
and developing health policy for the Victorian State Government.
Ines is Chairperson North West Melbourne Primary Health Network and GP liaison at the Royal Women’s
Hospital. As well as being a specialist general practitioner, Ines has qualification and expertise in public health,
clinical governance and health care system development and reform.

[All panel] [Panel will say probably raise their hands, say hello etc.]

ASSISTANT: [Reading the notes.] And thank the panel.
[To the panel.] Thanks for being a part of this.
[Reading.] And thanks to you, the audience, for coming along. My name is Alicia Perry (no, it’s not) and
tonight with our esteemed panel we’ll step through a hypothetical pandemic that starts here in Melbourne. I
hope that tonight is informative, and we’ve got a few surprises in store for you. I know each and every one of
you is as passionate as I am about emergency preparedness.


4. Small talk The ASSISTANT wants to engage the audience. She tries some ice-breakers. 7.05pm

ASSISTANT: So… who is as passionate as Alicia about emergency preparedness?
Hands up? Steve? I bet you’re pretty into emergencies? Right? Because you’re from… Emergency
Management Victoria… Ah. Ha ha.
[Steve] [Steve can give a quick answer.]
[To the audience.] Anyone else out there geeking out? Hands up? So I bet we’re all on top of our hygiene? Bet
none of us here have had the flu this winter?
Ines? Must get pretty dicey as a GP working with all those sick people? Ha ha. Um.
[Ines] [Ines can give a quick answer.]
[To the audience.] Hands up who washes their hands, covers their mouth when they cough?
…Actually, I’m pretty crap at doing that. I had it. The flu. Actually, I gave it to Alicia, I think.
Hands up who gave their boss the flu? Justin – looking pretty guilty! Is that why you’re acting in your boss’s
job? Ha ha. Um.
[Justin] [Justin can give a quick answer.]
Anyway… not that funny, really.

She is feeling super awkward.

5.1. Story part 1 – She dives into the notes. 7.05pm-
patient zero calls 7.07pm
000 ASSISTANT: [Reading.] And then refer to page… page 3.
Just have to…
Trying to get started.

She gets out a face mask, which will be within or near the lectern.

ASSISTANT: [About the mask.] Just have to…
[Reading.] It says here on page 3…

She puts on the face mask, adjusts it.

ASSISTANT: [Breathing heavy, into the mask, using it for sound effects.] Melbourne. 2018. Day one.
[Reading.] Read out this scenario…Be distressed caller.
“Hello, Triple Zero. My name is…I need an ambulance. I’m not feeling – “
[Reading.] Be Triple Zero operator.
“This is Triple Zero.”
“Hello? Hello?”
“Yes, it’s Triple Zero. Where are you, ma’m?”
“I – … I was just… I’m at home.”
“And what’s happened?”

“I collapsed. I couldn’t breathe. I have – my head hurts. I’m shivering. I’m cold, then hot. And I can’t… I can’t
see. My pig scratched me.”
“Pardon – what? Your pig?”
“You’re hurt, is it just you? And your pig?”
“Yes! Jazzy scratched me. She was so scared. Now she’s run off. MY POOR PIG JAZZY SCRATCHED ME

5.2. Q&A #1 – [Reading.] And then stop reading. And then ask the panel … 7.07pm-
initial calls are [To the panel.] What’s the role of – ? 7.12pm
coming to 000 [But she doesn’t like wearing the mask so she lifts it up.] Before we even know that an epidemic has started,
what’s the role of Triple Zero, of Ambulance Victoria and of Emergency Management Victoria when these
initial calls are coming through?
Justin? Steve?

[Justin and Steve] Justin and Steve to answer, speaking for about five minutes.
The ASSISTANT facilitates answers, clarifies things, etc etc. She may use these follow-up questions:
How does the operator assess urgency and risk?
How does the operator provide calm and reassurance?
How long does it take for an ambulance to arrive?
How does Emergency Management Victoria work with Triple Zero and with Ambulance Victoria?

6.1. Alicia #1 ASSISTANT: [Reading.] And thank Justin and Steve – thank you Justin and Steve. 7.12pm
[Reading.] And then put mask back on.

But she doesn’t put the mask back on.
She keeps the mask hanging around her neck, or maybe on her head like a headband.

ASSISTANT: So I’ve been working with Alicia since I graduated from VU.
Last week she sat me down. I thought I was in trouble.
She said she wanted to mentor me.
She was preparing me.
And I was like “Me? I can’t – I hate public speaking. I hate making decisions. I hate being in charge. I just like
doing research, policy, PowerPoints. I want to help you, Alicia. I don’t want to be you.”

6.2 Story part 2 – At the lectern, she continues. 7.12pm-
doctors discuss 7.14pm
patient zero ASSISTANT: Melbourne. 2018. Day one.
[Reading.] And then be a clinician. Be two clinicians.
“Dr Chung, the patient presented with heightened symptoms. Conjunctivitis, fever, rash, sore throat and cough.
She was scratched by her pet pig.”
“Is she a farmer, Dr Arneson?”

“No, Dr Chung. Lives on the outer fringes of Melbourne. Won’t be returning home tonight though. This virus
she has…Dr Chung, it’s something brand new. Highly virulent.”
“And the pig, Dr Arneson? Has the pig been quarantined?”
“The patient doesn’t know where Jazzy – “
“Jazzy, Dr Arneson?”
“The pig. Ran off into the bush, Dr Chung.”
And then…
That scared pig, running into the bush.

That makes me so sad.
“Dr Arneson? You were going to say?”
“Sorry, Dr Chung. Lost my train of thought. End of a double shift. Let’s keep the patient under observation.
[Reading.] …The question is…
… Do doctors actually address each other as ‘doctor’?
No no that’s not the question.

6.3 Q&A #2 – tests Turning to the panel. 7.14pm-
on patient zero 7.19pm
ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] What sort of tests would the hospital be doing on the patient? Ines?

[Ines] Ines to answer, speaking for about five minutes.

Follow-up questions:
What are the doctors trying to discover with the various tests?
When would they decide to keep the patient in the hospital?
Would they notify the patient’s family?
What would they be telling the patient?

7.1 Alicia #2 ASSISTANT: So a woman has been scratched by her pet pig… 7.19pm-
She’s worried sick, stuck in hospital… 7.21pm
Jazzy’s probably dead.
…And I was like, “Alicia, I don’t want to be you. I want to…”
And Alicia said: “Well, what do you want?”
And I said: “I – “
“Where do you see yourself? In five years? Ten years? Government? Private sector?”
And I said… I didn’t say anything.

Look, I mean…Would any of you want someone like me in charge? Hands up?

Ines, I mean, do you ever start your day and go “Jesus Christ. I could be in charge of someone’s life today.”
[Ines] [Ines to give a quick answer.]

And Cassidy, do you ever… freak out? Like, you’re sending an email, you look at your email signature and you
go “Oh my God. I’m one of eight Public Health Doctors. For all of Victoria.”

[Cassidy] [Cassidy to give a quick answer.]
Also, Ines…

Do doctors actually address each other as ‘doctor’?
[Ines] [Ines to give a quick answer.]

ASSISTANT can ad lib something in response – “Good, glad we got that sorted.” Or something like that.

7.2 Audience Then she’s recalibrating, back to her notes. 7.21pm-
members onto the She reads. Then she’s grimacing. 7.25pm
stage #1
ASSISTANT: Oh God. Wait-wait-wait.
Actually. Sorry. I’m so sorry.
Hands up…
Just that it says here…
[Reading.] Audience members to raise their hands.
Select two appropriate audience members to assist with the exercise.
You. You. Sorry. Sorry.
Ask audience members for consent: You are going to come on stage. Is that ok? You will be asked to read
something aloud into the mics. Is that ok? There may be a few swear words. Is that ok? You will be asked to
wear a headband. Is that ok? You may be asked questions and asked for your personal opinion but you are not
in any way expected to provide coherent or witty answers. Is that ok?

Once you have received consent, bring audience members out of their seats.
Assure audience members that they are going to do a good job.
[To the audience members.] You guys are going to be great.
[To the panel.] Any tips?

[All panel] The panel can answer with quick words of encouragement to the audience members.
[Meanwhile, throughout all this, people may have raised their hands. The ASSISTANT will have pointed to
two people [these will be our plants], and then the USHERS will get one person each and have them stand to
the side. USHERS set up chairs and mics.]

7.3 Story part 3 – The ASSISTANT continues as the above is happening/finishing up. 7.25pm-
nurse talks to a 7.28pm
feverish patient ASSISTANT: Alright. It’s Melbourne. 2018. Day Two.
zero [Reading.] And then direct appropriate audience members to –

[To the two people on stage.] Sorry but it says here –
And then direct appropriate audience members to take on characters in scripted dialogue.
I think, we can, well, have some fun with this –
Look, why don’t you be, say, a famous actor, Rachel Griffiths or Toni Collette or Nicole Kidman, playing the
distressed caller, who’s now a hospital patient.
You can be Eric Bana playing the nurse.
[Reading.] And ask Rachel/Toni/Nicole and Eric Bana to stand in front of the mics.

Speak clearly and loudly into mics.

[USHERS will be giving the audience members their choice of headband and their folder, which has an
extract of the script that they will have to read out. Audience members positioned in front of the mics.]

RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: Hello? Hello? Am I dreaming? Am I still in hospital? Doctor Chung?
ERIC BANA: Sorry love, I’m your nurse, not the doctor.
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: A nurse. God, oh God. Oh God, I’m still in hospital then, aren’t I?
ERIC BANA: It’s only been a night though. But you’re still too unwell to leave –
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: Nurse, why are you crying?
ERIC BANA: Just knackered is all. We’re pulling long shifts here.
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: Nurse, in my dream, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were back together. They had… they had
adopted another child. All those kids. Maddox. Pax. Shiloh. Zahara. The twins. What are their names?
ERIC BANA: Not sure, to be honest.
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: Nurse, are you able to hold my –
ERIC BANA: Oh pet, I can’t do that, I’m so sorry, I can’t hold your hand.
ASSISTANT: [Reading.] And then cry. And then sob. And then end of conversation.

[Audience members finish. USHERS get them to sit down on their seat, still to the side of the audience.]

7.4 Q&A #3 – more ASSISTANT: [Reading.] And re-engage panel of experts. 7.28pm-
people sick, starting [To the panel.] So it’s only day two. But this patient is sick. And probably dying. And she’s been isolated. 7.35pm
a vaccine And maybe by day five or six, there are more and more people coming in with this mysterious flu.
Once a pattern is emerging, what’s the hospital doing in response? Ines, what would be happening at the Royal
Julian, when might the Virus ID Laboratory become involved? When does a vaccine start getting made?

[Ines and Julian] Ines and Julian to answer, speaking for about seven minutes. Ines first, and then Julian.
Follow-up questions:
What sort of patient profile is being developed?
When do hospitals start to reach out to other hospitals, to see if there are patients being admitted elsewhere?
When and how do hospitals work with GPs?
What safety protocols are put in place for nurses and doctors?
What information does a laboratory need when this pattern is emerging?
What are the first things the laboratory is doing?
**Julian can mention that vaccines take three months to make, six months to roll out beyond frontline
health workers.

7.5 Audience At her lectern, she’s musing. 7.35pm-
members onto the 7.38pm
stage #2 ASSISTANT: …ARGH. It’s bugging me.
What are the names of those BLOODY Jolie-Pitt twins?

Hands up hands up…
Hands up who knows?
This is the kind of trivia that will keep us sane when an epidemic hits.
You. You. You. You. You. You. You. Actually, I think you should join us.

[People may raise their hands, they may not. It doesn’t matter. She will pick the next seven people.
Once she’s picked them, USHERS will get them and go through the consent process with them. Audience
members asked to stand to the side for now.]

8. Contagion [ASSISTANT is ad-libbing while the above is happening. Anything about Brad Pitt and Angelina is fine – 7.38pm-
So who thinks Brad will get back with Jen? But if he gets with Meryl Streep they could be Beryl or B- 7.42pm
Streep. Emma Stone, they can be Bremma or Em-Rad. Scarlett Johansson maybe they could be Bra-Jo? Or
Brad-lett? Should Angelina run the UN? Should Angelina run for President?]

ASSISTANT: Has anyone seen Contagion? Yes? No?

[ASSISTANT can do more ad-libbing here, chat with the panel about Contagion. Who was Steven’s
favourite character? Does Ines like watching medical shows? Does Justin think there should be a movie
about ambos? Does Julian think the Loreal Institute would actually have as white a lab as in the ads? Does
Cassidy long for a public service movie where bureaucrats muscle up?
All the while the USHERS set up all chairs on their respective sides, and get the seven audience members to
now sit down for the time being. USHERS hand out headbands and scripts now too: Isla Fisher, Guy

Pearce and Rose Byrne on one side of the room. And actors who haven’t yet made it to Hollywood on the
other side of the room: Deb Mailman, Noni Hazelhurst, Bryan Brown and Delta Goodrem.]

ASSISTANT: It’s that Hollywood movie. It’s about pandemics.
I just watched it on Netflix the other day. But I saw it at Hoyts when it came out. I basically didn’t care what
the plot was. I just… I really liked Matt Damon at the time. I know, it’s bad, but I was just a kid.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Matt Damon’s wife. She dies really early on.
She playing the role of a normal person, a mum, a wife. And then she dies.
She’s patient zero. She was on a working trip in Hong Kong and she ate funky bat-infected pork and she
brought back this new super virus to America. Gwyneth Paltrow destroys America.
In this scenario, in Alicia’s scenario, with this killer Melbourne Flu, if it were a movie, someone like Nicole
Kidman or Rachel Griffiths or Toni Collette would play our patient zero, right?
[USHER to get Rachel/Toni/Nicole ready.]
Rachel/Toni/Nicole would say:
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: Nurse, in my dream, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were back together.
[USHER to get Rachel/Toni/Nicole to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: But… the real Toni/Nicole/Rachel would know Brad Pitt and Angelina.

We’d all be sitting here, right, watching the Hollywood version of this story and we’d be thinking about how
weird it is that there’s a famous person playing a normal person talking about famous people.
I hate it when famous people get killed off suddenly in movies.

Like even though the movie is just a movie, if famous people get killed off at the very start, it’s like, like when
Hitchcock made Psycho, the big movie star is just disposable, so we’re not safe.
Am I right? Because they break some sort of contract with us, right? Because we have these sort of contracts
with people we haven’t met. We have these sort of contacts with each other.
[To the panel, to the new people on stage.] What do you think?

[Panel, audience The panel and any of the new people can give a quick answer.

9.1 Story part 4 – And she readies herself to resume, back to her notes. 7.42pm-
virus is identified 7.43pm
and named, state- ASSISTANT: And re-cap.
wide emergency [USHERS to get Rachel/Toni/Nicole and Eric ready.]
So a woman played by Rachel/Toni/Nicole has been scratched by her pet pig.
RACHEL/TONI/NICOLE: I couldn’t breathe. I have – my head hurts. I’m shivering.
ASSISTANT: She’s really sick. The doctors don’t know what the virus is.
Hospital staff, like Eric Bana, aren’t getting to close to her.
ERIC BANA: Oh pet, I can’t do that, I’m so sorry, I can’t hold your hand.
[USHERS to get Rachel/Toni/Nicole and Eric to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: And extrapolate.
Her neighbours are sick, her colleagues are sick.
Multiply this.

Maybe within two weeks, by day 14, hospital admissions all over Melbourne are up by 200%.
Ines is flat off her feet. Justin’s paramedics are working round the clock.
The test results from patient zero and a bunch of others have come back.
And conclude.
Influenza A. H22N9.
It’s a new virus.
What if…
What would we call it? The Gwyneth Flu… The Rachel/Toni/Nicole Flu?
Jazzy Pet Pig Flu?
Melbourne Flu.
Julian’s lab is working on a vaccine.
This is an official emergency, right?

The ASSISTANT realises she’s not addressing the panel.
She might pause a little, awkwardly position her body – who should she be facing. Panel, audience, panel.

9.2 Q&A #4 – ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] Is this an emergency? What’s happening beyond the ambos, hospital and the labs? 7.43pm-
outbreak, govt Cassidy? What would you be doing as a Public Health Doctor? What’s the role of the Deputy Chief Health 7.48pm
response Officer and the Chief Health Officer? Steve, what would Emergency Management Victoria be doing?

[Cassidy, Steve] Cassidy and Steve answer questions for about five minutes.
Follow-up questions:

How is the Victorian government working with hospitals, labs, GPs? What other key sectors or service
providers is government working with right now? And what are these sectors/organisations doing?
Are quarantines being imposed? Travel bans? How do these work?
What sort of communications is the government starting to put out to the general public?

10.1 Story part 5 – ASSISTANT: So a woman played by Nicole/Toni/Rachel has been scratched by her pet pig. 7.48pm-
Melb Flu is [USHER to get Rachel/Nicole/Toni ready.] 7.50pm
ASSISTANT: She’s dead now. But she infected others. And they infected others and so on and so on.
[USHER to get Isla and Guy ready.]
But the doctors played by the very redheaded Isla Fisher and the very angular-jawed Guy Pearce were onto it:
ISLA FISHER: Dr Arneson? You were going to say?
GUY PEARCE: Sorry, Dr Chung. I lost my train of thought. End of a double shift. Let’s keep the patient under
[USHER to get Rachel/Nicole/Toni, Isla and Guy to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: The doctors have taken swabs and test from Rachel/Toni/Nicole and others.
They’ve passed it onto a lab.
Cut to a stark, white lab.
[Julian] Because as Julian said a vaccine takes… [Looking at Julian. Julian to give the answer again.]
It takes at least three months for the first batch, and six months for a vaccine roll-out. But it’s coming, right?

Cassidy and Steve have pressed ‘Go’ on rolling out the government’s epidemic response.
Melbourne. 2018. Day 21.
[USHER to get Noni, Deb, Bryan and Delta ready.]
Fast cut to the gritty streets of Richmond. A struggling shop, with a tough-as-nails post-post-post Play School
Noni Hazelhurst playing a small business owner:
NONI HAZELHURST: I don’t give a shit if you’re broke, mate. You can’t come in for your shift today.
ASSISTANT: Day 22. Zoom in on the CBD, on Docklands, a city tower, various apartments, with a frazzled Deborah
Mailman playing an Indian international student, believe or not, her two kids screaming in the background:
DEB MAILMAN: Dad, I know you’re in New Delhi. But the kids are so sick. I’m so sick too. Help.
ASSISTANT: Day 23. Panorama of businesses, maybe up and down Brunswick Street or Acland Street. Bryan Brown
doing an Aussie version of Gordon Ramsay with his dirty chef’s apron on:
BRYAN BROWN: What? No bloody customers this week. And now the delivery guy can’t get in?
ASSISTANT: Day 24. Scan across a medley of computer screens. Chatter on Reddit. Delta Goodrem in a make-or-
break serious role where she’s shaved off her golden locks and is wearing no make-up:
DELTA GOODREM: Shit’s getting real, people. Just been to Emergency. Full as. Staff looked hectic.
[USHER to get Noni, Deb, Bryan and Delta to sit down.]

10.2 Audience ASSISTANT: Now the question is… 7.50pm-
members onto stage The question is… 7.53pm

[Reading.] An epidemic is defined as a sudden increase in the incidence of a disease, affecting a large number
of people, over a large geographic area. Seasonal flu outbreaks - which move quickly and leap borders, are
caused by viruses that have already circulated through the population. That is what was happening in Hong
Kong earlier in 2018, and happened in Australia in 2017. A pandemic is an epidemic on a global scale.
The question is…
[To the panel.] What were you guys doing last year when the flu hit?

[All panel] Panel to give quick responses.

ASSISTANT: [To the audience.] Who remembers the flu outbreak last year? Hands up? Hands up if you were sick?
Hands up if you sort of knew about it? Hands up if you didn’t know but now you’re looking around and you
think you should have known?
Who knows how many people died last year?
Who knows how many people died in Melbourne during the Spanish Flu of 1918-19?
You. You. You. You. You. You. Join us.

The ASSISTANT facilitates this with the audience, she can ad-lib here. It doesn’t matter if people answer
correctly, close enough is good enough. We need six people. As soon as the ASSISTANT picks people,
USHERS involved again. Getting audience members up and to the side, standing for now. On one side of
the room, headbands and scripts for Mel Gibson, Joel Edgerton and Cate Blanchett. Other side of the room
headbands and scripts for Naomi Watts and Hugh Jackman.


10.3 Story part 6 – ASSISTANT: About 3500 Victorians died in The Spanish Flu. 7.53pm-
Melb Flu goes 745 people died here last year. Mostly people aged 65 years and older. 7.56pm
international And now here we are, 2018. The Melbourne Flu.
A woman has been scratched by her pet pig. She’s dead.
Infection rate is about 10%.
About 1.2% of those infected will die.
Death toll in Victoria is 2000 and rising. It’s going to hit 5400.
Cassidy and Steve pressed ‘Go’.
But… but… the machine that is Melbourne is getting nervous.
We all know someone or know someone who knows someone who’s dead or dying.
There are maybe only two or three degrees of separation.
We’re talking about it, at work, if we’re still going to work. We’re talking about it at home.
Online too. And people overseas start talking too.
Quarantines and travel bans are ramping up.
But patient zero infected someone who then infected someone else who infected someone else who got onto a
And everyone else on that plane was scared because that infected person was the pilot.
[USHER to get Mel ready.]
And the infected pilot, played by a fat Mel Gibson, kept coughing and saying bizarre things over the speaker:
MEL GIBSON: Passengers, I had a dream. I was holidaying somewhere beautiful, by myself. And passengers! Arnold
Schwarzenegger was there! In my dream! Passengers, Arnie was looking so old. I told him Terminator 3: Rise

of the machines was so bad. Why? Why, Arnie, did you have to make that movie? And then I looked at myself,
passengers, and I saw I was just as old and just as alone.
[USHER to get Mel to sit down.]
[USHER to get Hugh ready.]
ASSISTANT: And a passenger played by Hugh Jackman, in a micro cameo role, is going:
[USHER to get Hugh to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: The whole trip to Bangkok.
The plane lands though. The pilot dies a few days later.
The Melbourne Flu is headed into Asia, America, England.
It’s killed 2000, 3000, 5000 people here in Melbourne. We all know someone who’s dead, right?
GPs are getting slammed, people are missing work.
Fewer tram drivers. Fewer train drivers. They’re striking too because they’re over-worked. So the City Loop is
a mess. And we’re all pissed off, stuck in train carriages with people coughing, sneezing.
Sometimes not even covering their mouths.
1 in 4 of us are casual workers. Our bosses are cancelling our shifts, so we’re broke, getting evicted.
Office people are screwed. Most of us are on contracts. Hardly any sick leave. So our kids are at home too
because we can’t afford the childcare. And the women working in childcare are sick too, so childcare centres
are shut. Bored teens are breaking in and trashing all the nurseries.
We’re sick, getting shitty. But underneath the irritability and the fever is fear.

We are so freaked out because someone on the plane recorded the trippy pilot and so now the trippy dead pilot
is immortalised all over the internet. People are calling him the Qantas Angel of Death. We’re at home, re-
watching the crazy Qantas angel pilot video on YouTube again and again, transfixed.
[USHER to get Joel ready.]
And other people, like Joel Edgerton, who’s trying on a nerd role, he’s googling:
JOEL EDGERTON: Pandemic. Melbourne. Flu. Is this the end?
[USHER to get Joel to sit down.]
[USHER to get Naomi ready.]
ASSISTANT: And some of us, like Naomi Watts out micro-cameoing Hugh Jackman, are going:
NAOMI WATTS: Fuck this –
[USHER to get Naomi to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: And we’re leaving home and stockpiling food.
Aldi puts a limit on how many cans of tinned beans we can buy.
Coles and Woolies impose safety shopping protocols – one metre between each trolley.
Bunnings starts stocking fall-out shelters.
ASOS are selling designer face masks.
We’re buying them for a laugh. Jokes on us. Australia Post is getting clogged up. Saline bags aren’t getting
And all the people outside of metropolitan Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth are
putting up citizens’ barricades so the infected city people can’t enter their towns. Because people are trying to
flee the city. And they aren’t getting far.
And then montage.

International headlines. Experts being interviewed. Julian, Ines, Steve, Justin, Cassidy – all talking heads.
Hospitals shutting doors. Airlines cancelling flights. Qantas stocks plummeting. Travel insurers closing shop.
People stranded overseas. Alt Right religious groups organising apocalypse rallies.
[USHER to get Cate ready.]
Cate Blanchett, playing one of us, is losing her mind, with Oscar-winning emotionality:
[USHER to get Cate to sit down.]

10.4 Q&A #5 – ASSISTANT is stepping down into the audience. 7.56pm-
where is vaccine, 8.03pm
govt’s role as panic ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] Sorry. That is, in fact, a question.
Audience members Giving her notes to two people, getting them to speak.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Julian: from the perspective of a laboratory, where would the fucking vaccine be at this stage,
say a month in? Cassidy, what is the fucking Department of Health and Human Services doing?
ANOTHER AUDIENCE MEMBER: And Cassidy, Steve: what the fuck oh my god oh my god we’re all going to die
what would our fucking government be doing to try to keep people calm? What the fuck would Emergency
Victoria Management be doing?

[Julian, Cassidy, Julian, Cassidy and Steve to answer for about five minutes.
Steve] Follow-up questions:

How are vaccines tested before they’re released to market?
It’s day 20 or so, day 30 even. So what’s happening at this stage? What’s happening with the other states
and territories? What’s happening with governments of other countries?
What’s happening to counter the scare campaigns?

ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] What would freak you out the most? Workforce meltdown? Public transport meltdown?
Social media meltdown? Businesses capitalising on meltdown?

[All panel] The panel can give quick answers.

ASSISTANT: [To the audience.] 10% of us are infected. 1.2% of us will die.
That means two or three people in this room. Maybe you. Or you. You. You.
Who’d be freaking the fuck out? Who’d be outrageously freaked out? Who’d be yeah whatever cynical?
Who’d be too tired? Too sick? Who wouldn’t get freaked out until there was looting and bodies on the street?
Who’d be dead?
Hands up. Hands up. Hands up.

[ASSISTANT has pointed to four people. USHERS to get them up. Russell Crowe and Geoffrey Rush on
one side. Russell to stand, Geoffrey to sit. On the other side Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth. Hugo to
stand, Liam to sit.]

[Damien] Meanwhile, Damien from Red Cross to raise his hand. ASSISTANT to point to him. He’ll talk about some
tips for coping, we’ll probably run through a quick exercise with the room.

11.1 Story part 7 – A moment to re-calibrate. 8.03pm-
pandemic affecting And she’s back at the lectern. 8.05pm
federal politics
ASSISTANT: So a woman played by Nicole/Rachel/Toni has been scratched by her pet pig. She’s dead now.
But she infected others. Including the “Crazy sick Qantas pilot babbles whole flight to Bangkok freaks out
passengers” 343 million views.
1.2% of those clinically affected will die. 5,400 in Victoria. 28,956 across Australia.
Cassidy’s telling us to keep calm and carry on. Julian and his mates are working on the vaccine.
But no-one trusts the government.
ABC downsized. Fairfax now is Channel Nine. Buzzfeed gives us lists. gives us brain cancer.
There isn’t any point relying on the media.
Scott Morrison, our new PM, is polling so badly. Worse than Turnball or Abbott ever did.
And then fast-paced tense sequence with Scott Morrison, played by a very grey-haired Russell Crowe.
Russell steps out to flashing lights and tape recorders for a national media conference.
And then cut to Russell Crowe after he’s finished. Stepping into his cavernous, austere office.
Pan out, wide shot.
A serious looking man is waiting for him, played by Hugo Weaving doing his best non-creepy thing.
[USHERS to get Russell and Hugo ready.]
Canberra. 2018. Day 60.

RUSSELL CROWE: It’s fucking murder out there.
HUGO WEAVING: Prime Minister, do you mean in Melbourne?
RUSSELL CROWE: In the goddamn Press Gallery. Dutton and Bishop sniggering up the back. Did you see those
HUGO WEAVING: Prime Minister, if I may speak –
RUSSELL CROWE: You’re the head of the Australian National Centre of Disease Control, the ANCDC,
GODDAMMIT. I’m hoping you’ve got something to say.
HUGO WEAVING: Prime Minister. This is worse than Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Swine Flu.
RUSSELL CROWE: Shorten’s going to have my ass at the election. FUCK.
HUGO WEAVING: The good news, Prime Minister, is that Australia’s top virologist is so close to finalising the
RUSSELL CROWE: And the bad news?
HUGO WEAVING: She’s in Melbourne. And she’s pregnant. She just went on parental leave. Baby is due any day.
RUSSELL CROWE: I don’t care if she’s the Octo-mum. She better step the FUCK up and get back to work.
HUGO WEAVING: But, with all respect, her risk profile is significantly high –
RUSSELL CROWE: I’m the fucking Prime Minister of fucking Australia. Get her here, to Canberra. Now.
[USHERS to get Russell and Hugo to sit down.]

And another moment. She’s musing.

11.2 Q&A #6 – ASSISTANT: …I’m just thinking… 8.05pm-
impacts at day 60 God. Russell Crowe is horrible. 8.12pm


Hands up. Hands up if you think Russell Crowe is horrible.
Or maybe they’d cast another actor as Scott Morrison. Someone younger.
Maybe Rebel Wilson would… maybe she’d play me… in a movie of my life…
[To the panel.] So. Day 60. Tell us about it. What’s happening? What does it mean for your work, for your

[All panel] All panel to answer. Discussion for about seven minutes.
Follow-up questions:
What is capacity for your organisation? How does your organisation respond when your workforce might
be down by about 40%?
What does it mean for the general public?

12.1 Story part 8 – ASSISTANT: Melbourne. 2018. Day 80. 8.12pm-
Vaccine is finished, So a woman played by Toni/Rachel/Nicole has been scratched by her pet pig. She’s dead now. 8.15pm
Scott Morrison The crazy Qantas pilot played by Mel Gibson is dead too. And his family is trying to sue Youtube for not
wins the election taking down the video 761 million views. 10%. 1.2%. 5400. 28,956.
ASOS has teamed up with Gucci to release a designer personal protective wear range. All the Kardashians are
posting selfies of themselves wearing masks and nothing else.
More death. More sickness.
Scott Morrison Russell Crowe is losing his shit over another bad news poll.
Rose Byrne! You bloody legend! She’s been there all along.

She’s playing the part of the brilliant virologist from the Doherty Institute. She has brown mousy hair and
glasses. And she’s eight months’ pregnant.
[USHER to get Geoffrey and Rose ready.]
As Rose Byrne tries to leave Melbourne, she’s ambushed by an angry Alt Right protestor, played by Geoffrey
Rush, doing his over-the-top character acting thing.
GEOFFREY RUSH: I’m white! I’m white! I have a right to life!
ROSE BYRNE: Get out of my fucking way, white guy!
[USHER to get Geoffrey to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: A heavily pregnant Rose Byrne misses her ride to the airport.
But! There’s a private helicopter for her. At the top of Crown Casino.
She climbs into the helicopter, it takes off. Cue logo placement of Crown Casino. Cue panoramic shot of
Melbourne, the Yarra.
Rose Byrne makes it to Canberra.
There’s a special and top secret world-class lab there. Cue logo placement of global pharmaceutical company.
[USHER to get Liam ready.]
The big pharma rep played by Liam Hemsworth. Muscles out, for some reason.
ROSE BYRNE: I think I’m falling for you.
LIAM HEMSWORTH: The feeling’s mutual. I always wanted to be a father.
ROSE BYRNE: But something’s telling me that this can’t possibly work…
[USHER to get Rose and Liam to sit down.]
ASSISTANT: Is Liam Hemsworth only trying to trick Rose Byrne and steal the vaccine so his global company can
make a killing, profit off sickness?

Rose outsmarts Liam. Pushes him off the top floor of Parliament House. Rushes back to the lab. Puts the final
touches on the Melbourne Flu vaccine. Clutches her belly as her waters break and she gives birth to her
daughter in a bloody messy victory!
Vaccine is released. Frontline health workers are vaccinated.
Then the general public. Pharmacies slammed. But… they meet demand.
Russell Crowe triumphant. Infection drops. Death toll drops.
Popularity soars.
People return to work.
Planes and buses and trains are running again.
Maybe… I don’t know, a reassuring Aussie pop song like Bachelor Girl’s 1998 hit Buses and Trains, updated
as a cover by Dami Im, plays.
[USHER to get panel member ready.]
Cafés re-open.
[USHER to get Russell ready.]
ASSISTANT: Scott Morrison wins the election.
RUSSELL CROWE: Here’s to three years of a Sco-Mo government!

12.2 Q&A #7 – ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] And now what? After the death, the infection. Now what. As people recover. 8.15pm-
recovery How do you guys re-set? 8.18pm

[All panel] Panel answers, discussion is brief, three minutes.

13. Wrap-up ASSISTANT: And then thank the panel. 8.18pm
And then thank the audience.
[To the panel.] Thank you.
[To the audience.] Thank you.
[Reading.] Thanks everyone, my name is Alicia Perry (no it’s not) and thank you all for attending tonight’s
discussion. I hope you learnt more about what would happen in the event of a pandemic that starts here in
Melbourne. Worse than Spanish Flu etc etc etc.
Please take time to now fill in your evaluation form.

No-one really does anything, people are just staying where they are.

14. Contagion again ASSISTANT: Look, about the movie Contagion. 8.18pm-
Kate Winslet is in it, and she’s an officer on the ground, and then she gets sick, and then she dies. 8.19pm
So there’s Gwyneth Paltrow who brought the flu back to all of America – and by the way she infected all of
Chicago first because she stopped off there on her way back home to have sex with her boo.
And then there’s this no-name actor playing wife of Laurence Fishburne who is playing the head of the
American disease control centre and Laurence Fishburne told his wife that there was an outbreak and that she

should leave Chicago but not to tell anyone but then she did tell her friend and it got back to Laurence
Fishburne’s bosses – which is basically the President of the United States – and things got very tense.
So there’s all these people, all these women fucking up.
It’s so moralistic.
It’s just a movie, I know.
It’s so white and it’s so USA-centric, I know.
And even if we re-made the movie here, with Australian faces, with the finest whitest Australian movie stars,
we’d get the same story.
That our actions make us sick.
That we only have ourselves to blame.
That we’re bound to spread disease.
That we’re bound to kill each other.
That it doesn’t matter how many times we watch Contagion or zombie films or The Handmaid’s Tale or The
Hunger Games or the movie adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy book The Road set in post-apocalyptic
America, or even fucking Survivor.
That we can just keep rehearsing for social breakdown.
But that we can’t avoid it.
Because we’ll make it happen anyway.
That we’re not already living through a breakdown.
And Scott Morrison wins the election. Fuck. What’s that about?

[To the panel, to the others on stage, to the audience.] You don’t have to answer that.


15. Alicia #3 & End ASSISTANT: So Alicia, my boss, lives alone. And she has a pet pig. 8.19pm-
She made herself into patient zero. 8.26pm
Hands up… What if… Can we prevent epidemics? Is that possible? Can we prepare better?
Wash our hands more? Cover our mouths. Wear masks. Have decent sick leave. Work less. Enjoy life.
Pay our scientists more? Help them create a universal flu shot?
Build up our public infrastructure – trams, trains, public hospitals, GPs, ambo’s, public broadcasters.
Roll back the privatisation of drugs, of services, of people.
Treat our animals better, treat our environment better.
Make sure our homes are heated, make sure our tenants are warm, make sure our homeless are properly housed.
Check in more on our neighbours.
Would we get sick?

And I was like, “Alicia, I don’t want to be you. I want to…”
And Alicia said: “Well, what do you want?”
And I should have said: “The truth is that I’m terrified. I’m terrified of being in charge. I’m terrified that I’ll
have to fix up all this mess. That maybe I won’t even be bothered. And even though I work here with you,

Alicia, and all we do is plan for emergencies, there are so many moments recent and past where I can’t even
absorb it all Swine Flu Ebola SARS Mad Cow S-11 Bird Flu GFC Asian Financial Crisis Bali Bombings
Bourke Street Killer another mass shooting in America. Sometimes all I want to do is watch trashy movies and
trashy TV.
And I should have said…
Tell me about survival.
Tell me about compassion.
Tell me about patience.
Tell me about resilience.


ASSISTANT: [To the panel.] Knox and Vivienne. They’re the Jolie-Pitt twins.
This is the kind of trivia that will keep us sane when the shit hits the fan.
So tell me. About survival. Compassion. Patience. Resilience.
About what keeps you going.

[The panel] One short answer each, to any of the above.

I didn’t bring the evaluation forms.

It doesn’t matter.
How did I go?
How did you go?

The lights are dimming. There is a spotlight on the lectern.
The ASSISTANT goes over to it and stands in the spotlight. It fades to black.
Bachelor Girl’s 1998 hit ‘Buses and Trains’ plays as the lights fade out.


Proper thank-you’s And lights up.
Tara will come up and thank the team, the panel and the audience.