No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: July, 2013

Fairfax Festival Blog One: In-Community Workshops

Last Tuesday, I spent my day travelling to Swan Hill on the Victorian/NSW border. I took a plane to Melbourne, bus to Bendigo, then train to Swan Hill. It’s a bit of a trek. But it was all worth it to spend two and a half days with young people preparing for September’s Fairfax Festival.

The Fairfax Festival draws students aged 12 to 17 from around regional and rural Victoria and southern New South Wales for four days of art and performance workshops. In the lead-up to this week all the groups will take part in in-community workshops with professional artists to create works to present at Young Entertainers in the Street, or YES Fest, on the final day of Fairfax.

I’ve been invited by Fairfax to be the official blogger for this year’s festival. While in Swan Hill I participated in workshops run by Angela Frost from the Outback Theatre for Young People, and Snuff Puppets – coincidentally, both saw me help craft puppets – and in September I’ll be back again to write about the week itself.

Ianna Nelson is sixteen and lives in Balranald, NSW, a town with a population of 1159 according to the 2011 census. Each day last week, Ivana took the one-hour trip to Swan Hill for workshops with Snuff Puppets with a teacher and fellow student Ciana Field, 13. This will be her second Fairfax Festival, and I asked Ivana how she would describe the festival.

“Usually I try to explain it as a bunch of actors get together, we perform, we do a few workshops and stuff,” Ianna tells me. “Fairfax is important, it gives everyone a chance to go out there, do something, just experience what it’s like to act. Being in a small town – a very small town – you’re not getting as much experience.”

“A lot of people think about it as a week away from school,” she says. “But really you’re still learning and everything. It’s like school, but it’s something you enjoy. It’s enjoyable school – hard to understand, I know!”

For her, performance is “just a way of expressing yourself. And sometimes it’s just a way of getting away for the day, not having to be yourself for the day, and experiencing being in someone else’s shoes.”

Snuff Puppets worked with the students from Balranald and members of the Swan Hill Youth Theatre Ensemble, or SHYTE. I came into this workshop on the Wednesday afternoon, and they had already been working hard since Sunday building giant puppets of a fisherwoman and a pelican. The kids brainstormed puppet ideas, drew pictures, and then built the puppets up from bamboo, foam, material, and a healthy dose of industrial strength glue. At YES Fest, the girls will take these puppets to the street.

Chelsea King, 13, lives in Swan Hill and this will be her second Fairfax Festival. Last year’s, she says, “was amazing! All of the workshops and the staff that have been working there are really nice and it’s a really good experience.”

This will be the first Fairfax for Ciana. She recently moved to Balranald, and she says she “decided I wanted to do it because I like acting and performing” which, like Ivana, isn’t something she has much of a chance to participate in at school. “At my school we have art and an art club, but nothing else really.”

When I wasn’t with Snuff Puppets, I was with Angela working on The Marruk Project. The Marruk Project has been running from 2009, and is usually a large performance with members of the local Aboriginal community and other cultural groups. In YES Fest they will be performing a scaled down version of the work, only working with the participants aged 12 – 17.

For Latiesha Chaplan, 15, there is a freedom in creating work with Marruk. “When it’s at school it’s really structured and stuff, but when you come here it’s not so structured. It’s more of a calm environment, it’s easier to get loose.”

At YES Fest, the kids will present three takes on a story taken from the Dreamtime. Latiesha brought the story to the group, of the kookaburra that laughed and brought the sun up for the first time. All the other animals then wanted to imitate the kookaburra so they could bring up the sun. In the end, says Latiesha, they learn “we’re all different in our own way, and that you are unique in your own way, and that’s why we’re here on this earth. So they all decided to be themselves.”

This story will be told through shadow puppetry, projection with acetate slides, and through a retelling of what the story means today to Imparja Pettit, 15, through a rap he wrote himself that he’ll pair with playing the didgeridoo. Imparja gave the first performance of his rap in the workshops, and “Ka-Ka-Ka goes the kookaburra” is still earworming it’s way into my brain. It only took Imparja two days to write the rap, but he seems quite casual about the process. “Sometimes I’ll write just heaps of random rhymes and that. I’ll cross this rhyme out here and put it here, make it sound better.”

Back with Snuff Puppets, I learnt that while these workshops were taking place in the school holidays, the Festival itself will take place in the last week of the school term. I jokingly asked if it was better than school. “Way better!” said Chelsea. “I’d trade Fairfax for school any day.”

“I would too,” enthusiastically agreed Ciana.

I’m very much looking forward to trading a week of my life for Fairfax. I’ll see you in September.

No Plain Jane around the web

On Vitalstatistix’s Adhocracy for the Adelaide Review:

The landscape of the arts in Australia is changing. Increasingly, artists aren’t making works that can be easily defined as theatre or visual arts, etcetera, but instead work across art forms and disciplines. It is in this spirit many of the works at Adhocracy will be developed.

Emma Webb, Vitalstatistix’s Creative Producer, says programs like Adhocracy are part of a “growing movement to engage with how we make art, and art’s position in the world”.

On the excitement I felt of the ‘Australianess’ of Belvoir’s Angels in America for the Guardian:

Angels in America is certainly not a new Australian work in terms of its text, and the production makes no pretensions to be. The story may not be ours in 2013 – and probably never was ours even when Tony Kushner wrote his story about AIDS in a 1985 New York City. But the theatre of the piece feels firmly ours of today.

It’s both surprising and exciting how Flack’s production has this spirit to it, and he has found this largely through an Australian irreverent sense of humour. While Kushner said it’s “okay if the wires show” in his stage directions, in this production Flack’s stage magic is, for the most part, so delightfully rudimentary there aren’t even wires to hide.

A review of You, Me, and the Bloody Sea in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival for ArtsHub:

The Space Theatre for the Cabaret Festival was the wrong venue for You, Me and the Bloody Sea. We needed a pub.

The kind of pub where the wind howls by outside, its salt stinging faces as they hurry inside to where bodies pack under the slightly too dim lighting. As the band plays, we want not so much as to watch them perform but to feel them. To stamp our feet and clap our hands and yell and sing along; or to tightly wrap our hands around another and softly sway.

An interview with Anna Krien about her book Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport for Artery:

Exploration of these themes has lead to a book that is frequently uncomfortable, and I wondered if Krien needed breaks from the material in developing the work. ‘You just kind of wade into it’, she replies.

‘I can’t get out of it. There is no real point in taking a break from it because it kind of consumes me, so no. You just go into that dark place and dig your way out.’

A review of The Comedy of Errors from the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Bell Shakespeare for the Guardian:

[…] scenes happen under the glow of a tanning bed, in 24-hour table tennis halls, and under the flashing strobe of a night club. It’s Shakespeare shown at his crudest and broadest, and his text feels comfortable in this world. At times the language is near impenetrable, at others it feels startlingly contemporary – but Savage’s production finds most success and its biggest humour when it goes beyond the text and into the physical.

And I’ll leave you with these sentiments from an unpublished (big on the One Man, Two Guvnors spoilers – shoot me an email if you want to read it) interview with Richard Bean for Arts Centre Melbourne’s Artist to Artist critical conversations:

“One thing that maybe this play has brought back into the tool kit of a playwright is the aside,” he tells me. “We’ve completely lost that from modern theatre – comedy or drama. There is absolutely no reason you can’t do a very serious play about a very serious topic and have asides. It doesn’t have to be comedic. And I think it’s quite refreshing to see this. It’s not the expansion of the form because it’s always been there, but the recovery of different techniques is going to be with me forever now. Why isn’t the actor talking to the audience?”

“It may have ruined me”, he finishes, thinking he’ll never be able to do a work without asides again. This draws contemplation to thoughts about what other facets of theatre have been dropped for being old fashioned or out dated, and how they can be re-employed in contemporary work.