The “Sonder” of You

By Erica Brady

 Credit: Artist Catherine Holder. Photograph by Benjamin Brooker.

Credit: Artist Catherine Holder. Photograph by Benjamin Brooker.

Catherine Holder, past student, author and performer, is sitting at the share table at Corner Café, a popular lunch spot at the Burwood campus of Deakin University.

She graduated with Honours from her Bachelor of Creative Arts, Drama, in April this year and is here to catch up with members of the Arts Faculty and to borrow some props for her show at The Owl and Cat Theatre, Richmond. “It’s great here.  You’re treated as part of the community” said the 27-year-old.

Catherine created “Sonder”,  a piece that her Honours Supervisor, Dr Rea Dennis, Senior Lecturer in Art and Performance said was “a profound performance built on ideas of participation and intimacy”.

Catherine staged the installation piece at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Melbourne Fringe Festival at No Vacancy, in Melbourne’s Federation Square. “I wanted to explore themes of intimacy and connection, and to show these connections by performing with my audience in a non-traditional form of theatre,” Catherine said.  “It’s about the connection between us all.”

But drama wasn’t always Catherine’s dream.  After finishing VCE at Bellarine Secondary College she spent three years overseas working as a camp counsellor in the US for children with special needs.  Catherine was the special activities planner and this, along with an exchange year in the middle of her degree where she studied scenography, led to her decision to do a Bachelor of Creative Arts, Drama, at Deakin University.

 She remembers trying to “figure out how do I connect with people?” while reading Josephine Machon’s – Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance.  “I was reading about the effect one-to-one had on people and, because it was Honours and we had to come up with our own performance, we had to look at several artists as case studies to steer us in a direction,” Catherine said.

Adrian Howell’s “Foot-washing for the Sole”, an intimate piece about comfort and nurture and creating safe spaces (the audience of one had their feet washed throughout the performance) and Brian Lobel’s “YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE ME YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE ME YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE ME,” influenced Catherine’s work. “Lobel’s piece was interesting because the main prop was a bed and bedrooms are mostly people’s private safe places, where they are comfortable,” Catherine said. “So having my one-person audience choose out a number of props themselves allowed them the chance to build their own safe and comfortable place.”

“Everyone is scared of rejection in life and maybe that’s why a performance like ‘Sonder’ can be initially intimidating,” Catherine said. “You’re peeling back the layers of someone to make that personal connection.

Dr Rea Dennis said Catherine’s work was inventive. “The Bachelor of Creative Arts Honours year is dedicated to a creative research project, so Catherine elected her own topic area and was largely responsible for bringing it to life,” Dr Dennis said.

Amanda Santuccione helped Catherine with the installation of “Sonder” for the Adelaide Fringe Festival. “Whenever someone started the performance they looked anxious but when they came out they looked really peaceful and relaxed.  It was like they gave a big exhale,” she said.

Catherine said that although “Sonder” was a challenging performance for her personally and professionally, she said the risks were worth it.

“Everyone is scared of rejection in life and maybe that’s why a performance like ‘Sonder’ can be initially intimidating,” Catherine said. “You’re peeling back the layers of someone to make that personal connection.

“I like being part of the experience and that’s what I love about installation and immersive performances.   If something scares the shit out of you, you should do it”.


Erica Brady is a mature age student currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts – Journalism and Creative Writing, via Deakin Cloud. When she isn’t glued to the computer screen writing assignments and listening to lectures, she is working a part-time sales job and spending time with her two young girls, husband and pugs in Bayside Melbourne. After graduating, Erica will be a freelance writer for entertainment publications (focusing on the Arts, Design and hopefully gourmet food!), and is embarking on her own blog about being a twin and the great things that living in Bayside, with kids, offers.