Supporter Spotlight:

Matthew, Anne and Margaret Paliaga



Margaret Paliaga is 82, has 13 grandchildren and has been a Canberra local for 60 years. She has a long history of engaging with, and loving the theatre. This love has been passed down to her daughter Anne, 51, and grandson Matthew, 33.

Matthew Paliaga dedicated a Seat to Margaret and a Seedling to Anne at Bell Shakespeare’s new premises at Pier 2/3. This dedication was his way of saying thank you to them both for the gift of theatre.

We spoke to Matthew about his connection to theatre, his mother and his grandmother.

1. What does theatre mean to the Paliaga family?

Storytelling. This is why we are drawn to the theatre. My family are avid readers and there is a tradition of parents reading complex, exciting and well beyond typical books to their children. We all engage with theatre in different ways. My mother is fond of historically accurate settings for the productions she sees as she enjoys looking backwards as if through a window in time. I am usually more excited by a production that breaks conventional boundaries, as I love the idea of giving a director and cast the opportunity to explore something never considered. My grandmother loves both these aspects of theatre. In Shakespeare’s work she particularly loves the language, and development of different themes throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime.

I think the main reason we love the theatre over other mediums is the shared experience by both the audience members and the cast of the production.

2. Do you have a special first memory of the theatre, drama or live performance?

My grandmother was ten when she saw her first big show. She developed a desire to act and auditioned for the conservatorium when she was 18, she was accepted into the opera ensemble, however she fell ill and spent her savings (which were for the cost to study) on her recovery.

I think my first special memory of the theatre was a production of Pirates of Penzance, that involved the mighty Jon English swinging over the audience, on a rope as if from the top of a mainsail. It was spectacular for a small child to see.

3. How did you come to engage with Bell Shakespeare?

There are a few things that led to our continued engagement with Bell Shakespeare.

During the late 1990s my cousin Emily wrote to John Bell to come and speak to her school about The Tempest. John not only replied to my cousin, but he come to the school and spoke with the students.

Bell Shakespeare offered preview nights which meant that my Grandma could afford to buy tickets. (My Grandfather is not as supportive, so it was difficult to afford things like the theatre). At times my Grandma was buying as many as 13 tickets per show to take as many of her family members as she could. In her own words “I wanted to pass it on, it was what I could give you”.

For me it was the playful take on productions, keeping them fresh and engaging. I know if I am going to see a production of a play I may have already seen, it will not be executed in the same fashion. This and the ritual of our family going out to the theatre together, talking excitedly beforehand, lining up, discussing the set as we wait for lights up, and dissecting the performance for hours, sometimes days, after curtains.

4. Do you have a favourite Bell Shakespeare production?

Grandma struggled to choose a favourite, however a few performances stood out for her.

One was the 1998 performance of King Lear, directed by Barrie Kosky. This performance outraged some of the theatre community for its vulgarity, however I think it certainly opened my Grandma’s eyes to the different approaches to productions. She also loved John Bell’s performance of King Lear.

The production that really sparked my interest in further theatrical studies, and the pursuit, promotion, and involvement in the theatre was the 2014 production of Henry V. This production set the piece in a school classroom during The Blitz. It was the first time I had imagined you could reimagine a piece of theatre so entirely while still keeping it true to its themes and intentions.

5. You’ve purchased both a Seat and a Seedling at our new home in Pier 2/3.

What inspired you to support Bell Shakespeare in this way?

Bell Shakespeare has been such a positive influence in my life, and I believe that there are so many more relevant and exciting ways to bring these plays to life. 32 years spreading the joy of theatre, Shakespeare, history and performance isn’t enough. Let’s keep it going indefinitely (no pressure).

You received your love of theatre from your grandmother, Margaret. In what ways did she pass on this gift?

I received this gift through both my mother and grandmother, but we have a large family and many of my family members weren’t lucky enough to have a mother that appreciated the arts. My Grandmother bought tickets for everyone. She would use all the money she had all year for herself, on tickets to every Bell Shakespeare production she could see. Some of us took this and explored the theatre further and others didn’t, but we absolutely all gained new perspectives on the world, gained empathy for those unlike ourselves, and got to experience something that so many children rarely get to. From her having imaginary sword fights with me after school, to her reading The Hobbit with me at 4 in the morning before the sun had even risen, she has always inspired me.

Margaret's Seat Plaque

Tell us about the friendship you share with your mother?

My mother is a superhero. Our lives were not without some significant hardships. She raised two children by herself and gave us everything she had. She was a young mum so for much of my life that people thought we were siblings. She took me on road trip adventures around the country, introduced me to reading and videogames. She passed on her kooky sense of humour that has absolutely gotten me through the darkest times in my life. Any experience I have she is one of the first people to know. She also opened my eyes to different kinds of performance, taking me to musicals, concerts, comedy shows and plays (this is ongoing… I can’t imagine how much money she has spent.) She is an avid supporter of the arts and has always supported me in all of my craziest ventures.

Anne Paliaga's Seedling

Bell Shakespeare would like to thank Matthew, Anne and Margaret for sharing their story. If you would like to share your story about what moves you to support Bell Shakespeare, we would love to hear from you. Email

If you are interested in dedicating a Seat or Seedling to someone who has shaped your relationship to theatre, you can do so here.