Women cue for "Big Sister" reality TV

Hobart-based filmaker Varcha Sidwell will start filming a three-part reality TV show on the life of nuns in a rural monastery in August.

The Mercury reports that hundreds of Australian women have jumped at the chance to live the life of a nun in a rural monastery for more than a month.

The mastermind of the reality TV project, The Abbey, Hobart-based filmmaker Varcha Sidwell, said she was pleasantly surprised by the rush.

Sidwell, who will produce and direct the three-part series for the ABC's Compass program, said there had already been 600 phone inquiries since ads started running a little more than a week ago.

While the location is being kept under wraps, filming will begin on 29 August. Sidwell is seeking five women willing to take up the challenge of living behind the walls of an enclosed Catholic order for 33 days - a day for every year of Christ's life.

The nuns will create the daily program for the participants based on the teachings of their own traditions. The women will live by the rules of silence and obedience, with personal problems directed to a sister mentor.

Morning prayer begins at 4.30am and prayerful singing is repeated seven times a day.

The women will undertake farm work and domestic duties as well as crafts such as making candles, leather bookmarks and Bible covers.

They will be cloistered from family dramas, phones, computers, books and television - their only outside contact will be in the form of newspapers brought in twice a week so they can scan events calling for prayer.

Sidwell said the 150-year-old order practised an ancient form of meditation, lived largely behind monastery walls and was financially self-supporting through selling crafts and running retreats.

It was through a three-day retreat 13 years ago that Sidwell, then a non-Catholic and non-Christian, first encountered the order. She found the retreat so life-changing she followed it up with longer ones and eight years later became a Catholic.

"It has been a really strong part of my own journey," Sidwell said.

But participants do not need any religious affiliation and there will be no push to convert them.

Geraldine Doogue, host of ABC TV's Compass, is enthusiastic about the project.

"Every now and then, a really bold, creative idea emerges which you know, with every bone in your body, will yield fruit like nothing before it. The Abbey is one such idea."

For a change of pace - nun like it (The Mercury 21/6/06)
Oh Brother, now it's Big Sister (Daily Telegraph 15/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Abbey (ABC TV)
Varcha Sidwell (ABC TV)

21 Jun 2006