It’s been a few weeks now since I returned to Adelaide from Swan Hill and the Fairfax Festival. A few weeks late, then, in getting you this final blog post but that’s the way life often happens: back on the ground, the real world catches up with you. And I think I rather needed those few weeks to process the experience.
It truly was a brilliant week, and I am so thankful to the team at the festival for inviting me up to cover the week, to talk to the kids, to try my hand at the workshops and the theatre sports. The week managed to remind me of things in theatre and the arts that I’d forgotten; to remind me of things about being a teenager I’d forgotten, too.
Primarily: how diverse your life is when you’re that age. There were kids at Fairfax for whom theatre is their number one goal in the world: who, when you ask who their inspiration is, they say their cousin who is currently at drama school. But then there are others for whom theatre is just an exciting thing amongst many other things: be that dance, or cricket, or football, or the army cadets, or knowing every fact there is to know about Doctor Who.
The most joyous thing about the week was just how kind everyone was, how you could really see the friendships forming. There was a lot of diversity in the students that participated in the week, but I never heard anything to suggest there was a problem: with race, with gender, with disabilities. Were there things I missed? Undoubtedly. Did I see the occasionally snotty look when a group of three friends had to break off to become partners? Yes. But, by and large, these moments seemed small, fleeting.
After their first performance, I go up to the kids from Shepparton, who had created a piece of live and pre-recorded sound art.
I tell them how much I liked their performance. How different it was from everything else. What a great job they’d done embracing that.
“When we were told we were doing sound,” they tell me, “we didn’t want to. We thought ‘why would we want to do that? We can do that at home.’”
“But it was so cool!” they excitedly go on to say. They tell me how they’re going to keep on playing around with it at home, how Tristan actually gave them much more than simply showing them a computer program.
I stand in front of the dry fountain, where the kids from Barham are sitting performing a chant and a rhythmic cup-song game that I used to play on high-school camps a decade ago. They start to tell a story of two characters: of Ruby and Brodie, and all about their current lives, and their future hopes and dreams. These characters dance, and are cricket players, they travel the world and become vets for the New York City Zoo, they stay in Barham and have dogs, and a partner, and kids.
One girl says, “She didn’t have any kids. She achieved all of her goals. And she was happy.”
Tears prick in my eyes.
One teenage girl, her character’s name Tim Tam, focuses her phone’s camera at Braydon, lying down in the front seat of the car. He is wearing a dress and a blonde wig, and his character gives birth to a doodle-bear.
The man behind me says “I have no idea what is going on.”
The artists who worked with the students tell me they’re planning on performing it back home in Manangatang, a community of under 500 people.
A giant pelican takes its characterisation a little too seriously, almost taking out a mother with a baby in her arms.
After rehearsal one day, I start talking to Imparja from the Marruk Project.
“I’m amazed at how you can make your voice sound like the didgeridoo when you’re beat boxing,” I say. “Where did you learn to beat box?”
“Oh you know, youtube,” he says.
In performance, Parj puts down his didgeridoo and starts to beatbox. Just as he is about to start his rap, he pauses. He’s forgotten the words, and looks to the girls standing behind him.
“Just breathe,” one tells him. “You wrote it, you know it.”
He breathes. And he confidently raps every word.
I go to the Bureau of Misinformation several times.
I ask the girl all in black with heavy black make-up “What should I wear to the film festival opening?”
“Just rosary beads? Should I wear something else?”
“Of course you should wear something else! But you should also always wear rosary beads. So you can pray. And ask for forgiveness.”
I return to this same booth later, and ask “What is the best way to get to Adelaide from here?”
“You should drive. It’s a long way. The road can be very windy. You might die. But if you do, it’s god’s plan.”
I step back and watch other people having questions answered. Niko steps out from behind his both, and demonstrates a short dance into a standing back-tuck.
“Now you try it,” he says.
The person he is instructing looks on wearily.
And he does. With a significant amount of rotation provide by Niko. And me wishing there was perhaps a safety mat or two.
At another booth, I’m faced with two girls playing twins, and a plethora of women’s magazines.
“What should I be when I grow up?” I ask.
“You should be a model,” one tells me.
“No! She’s not pretty enough to be a model! You should be a nurse,” the other fights.
In the end they decide I can be both.
A young woman is crying in the corner of Swan Hill Town Hall, surrounded by friends.
“It’s just that it’s all over. This huge huge thing in my life, and now it’s over. Gone.”
One night, earlier in the week, I’m working on a blog.
From the hotel room next door I hear “Chunga chunga chunga chunga, bunny bunny bunny bunny, talky talky talky talky.”
I step out to see a bunch of artists, including the festival director Claire, playing theatre games.
“Jane!” they say. “Come and play!”
“You’re all crazy,” I say.
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
It’s not only the kids who get a kick out of this week.