No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Fairfax Festival

Fairfax Festival Wrap Up Blog

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?”

“Rosary beads.”

“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.

“Go on!”

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.

They argue.

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.

Advertisements

Fairfax Festival Blog Ten: Claire Glenn and Adrian Corbett interview

Claire Glenn Adrian Corbett

On the final day of Fairfax, in a few rare spare minutes for the festival director Claire Glenn and manager Adrian Corbett, we sit down to talk about how they were feeling about the event. The answer? “Really great.”

“I feel really excited and pumped that it’s all going to happen,” says Glenn. “I feel really confident. It’s all about to go off.”

There is a huge amount of love at the festival for both Glenn and Corbett. Both have been involved in the in-community workshops in the lead up to the festival, both run themselves off their feet during the week itself, and both have considerable fan clubs – and more than a couple of kids who want to grow up to be just like them.

As we speak, the mainstage for YES Fest is having a sound check, and kids dressed up like skeletons are placing notes on cars, letting them know the street will soon be closed for the festival. This is the first year the festival has the students performing on the streets instead of in the Town Hall, and it’s a significant and exciting move for both Glenn and Corbett.

“A lot of the groups that come here come from really remote communities where they don’t have a town hall, they don’t have a theatre, they don’t have drama on the curriculum, but the kids are still really interested in performing,” Glenn tells me. “So we wanted to show them that it’s possible to create art – to create theatre – without having the stage. It can be done anywhere. It can be done with whatever you have around you.”

“I hope that after this all of them will go back to their communities and start creating theatre anywhere, using anything.”

For Corbett, it’s the change that he observes in the kids that he is really excited by. This change, he says, “goes back into these small communities and spreads from there. Especially the joy of this sort of project, ‘theatre beyond the stage’: we’re suddenly showing kids you don’t need a theatre, you don’t need a big theatre company to create theatre. It can be in a fountain, it can be in a shipping container, or a box, or an empty store.”

Through this transition to street performance, Corbett has been observing a different type of energy in the students. While in previous years there was an excitement about performing in a traditional theatre, this year he says “there is a sense of excitement about how the audience are going to take it, because it’s very non-traditional; it’s very out there for these kids and these families and this town.”

For Glenn, it has been “interesting to see the shift” in thinking around taking the performances outside.  “The kids who have been here before who also do drama at school, and it is very traditional: they were a little bit wary at first of the idea, but as soon as we put them with the artists  they are collaborating with they just really ran with it and were inspired.”

Says Corbett, “because they really have invested with the artists as well in creating this piece collaboratively, they’re just so much more engaged and excited in the outcome.”

One of the remarkable things about the festival is the sheer kindness that is present: from the staff, from the artists, and from the children. For everyone, it really felt like a kind and supportive atmosphere. Glenn speaks of being really proud of the opportunities Fairfax gives these kids, but also the community they give back into. For many children, she says, “it helps them come out of their shell, gives them some self-esteem and self-confidence, and it’s a lovely thing.”

“Walking around and seeing all the kids, and going into some of the workshops – they’re all just best friends. So it’s so lovely to see 107 kids getting on so well. It’s like a big family.”

For Corbett, it’s seeing the kids develop over the four days in Swan Hill that “makes it all worth it.”

Corbett proudly tells me that one of the artists involved in the festival, Don Bridges, once described it as a space that gives kids who don’t belong anywhere else that somewhere to belong.

“These are the kids who may not be great academically, they may not be really interested in sports, they may be just a little bit odd,” says Corbett. “And suddenly they come here and they realise there is another 116 odd kids, who actually like the same things they do. And they go ‘this is actually a potential career’, or, ‘it’s okay to be who I am.’”

For Glenn, this is a real marker of pride. “I think it’s so important for the kids in these regional areas that perhaps don’t have any way to correct with like minded people, or don’t have much of an opportunity to express themselves creatively in these communities,” she says.

“It just gives them a real chance.”

Fairfax Festival Blog Nine: Kaarin and Jess Fairfax Interview

Community radio workshops at the Fairfax Festival

Community radio workshops at the Fairfax Festival

This was the seventeenth year of the Fairfax Festival, established after the death of George Fairfax. Fairfax was born in the Mallee region of Victoria, before moving to Melbourne to study law. While there, it was in student theatre he discovered a love and changed over to a much more volatile career path. He went on to be an influential figure in Melbourne theatre, including as the first CEO/GM of the Arts Centre, where one of the theatres now bares his name.

His daughters Kaarin and Jess carry on his love for the arts, and have an on going commitment to the Festival. In a break between workshops they were running in community radio, we sat down and had a talk about George, the Festival, and Swan Hill.

“George was cool,” Kaarin tells me. “He was a really cool guy. Definitely he was a champion for young artists and encouraging young artists to have the opportunity to explore their loves and expose their artistic dreams. And there’s not often a lot of opportunities to do that.”

As he grew up in the region, it was important for the family that his legacy carries on there. “Just because you’re born outside of the cities, and maybe somewhere where you feel like you don’t have as much of an opportunity, that should never stop your dreams,” says Kaarin. “It doesn’t matter your location, it’s what you choose to do and how you choose to live your life.”

“That’s how the Fairfax Festival was then set up: to say to kids and the area and they beyond ‘dream big; think big.’ We’re in a fortunate position where we want to give you an opportunity to come in and find out what you love, and nurture what you love.”

Adds Jess, “if it’s not visually there for them, sometimes it’s like [the kids] don’t know those opportunities exist. Bringing in all these professional artists into Swan Hill and work-shopping with the kids and working with them opens up a huge idea of what’s available out there and what you can achieve and what you can do.”

“If you have never experienced this thing, how do you know that it’s there?” she asks. “Once the kids get to have a go of it all these opportunities open up.”

For both Kaarin and Jess, the Festival is an important platform for these young people to have their voices heard and respected. “So often I know young people feel ignored,” says Kaarin. “Or that their opinions and desires and needs are not listened to or even noticed.”

At Fairfax, says Jess, “They get their voices out there. It’s coming 100% from within them, no one is telling them what they can or can’t do, or what they should or shouldn’t say. Whether they’re on radio talking about what they want to do, or if it’s them expressing themselves through their theatre or their puppet making, it’s coming from within them.”

This is a huge part of what George Fairfax worked for, says Kaarin, “taking young artists and saying ‘here is an opportunity to expand your knowledge, to feel valued.”

“Dad loved to make new work and was always behind nurturing artists. I think he was just a great lover of art.”

His choice to move from law to the theatre had a profound influence on his daughters, and for Jess one of the things she took from him and continues to take from the arts in Melbourne is the sense of community. “When you do endeavor and take that path into a career into the arts which is not stable, it’s so incredible to have that community around you and to meet new people that have a similar mind frame to you and share similar experiences with.”

“So I think just because you’re from the bush doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same opportunities as a kid in the city,” she says. “And you think about all the incredible talent that is out here in regional and remote areas, and if they’re not given the opportunities to explore that imagine what a loss we’re at as the general public.”

They are both clearly excited by the impact of the Festival that extends beyond the kids. Says Jess, Swan Hill is involved “because we’re on the radio and people are listening to it, it’s involved because there are giant skeletons walking down the street, there are kids everywhere, and there is the YES Fest Friday night. So it’s really about giving Swan Hill a bit of a shake up as well.”

Says Kaarin, “for all of us I think it’s important to be challenged in some ways. We can get set in our ways, and we can get stuck, and I think something like the Fairfax Festival is like a little explosion.”

Picking off a few pieces of glitter of Kaarin’s arm from a mask making workshop, Jess laughs. “An explosion of glitter!”

Fairfax Festival Blog Eight: Kids Interviews Part Three

A few more Fairfax Festival posts will be coming up over the next few days. Between the excitement of the last night, eight hours on a bus home, and catching up with real life it’s all a bit behind what I prepared. 

Niko and Kimberly

Niko and Kimberly from Birchip

What have you been working on for Fairfax?

K: The Misinformation Booths: you can tell us any question and we’ll try and answer it.

What’s your favourite thing about this week?

K: Probably the giant puppets.

N: Same with me, that was cool. And scaring people.

K: [Laughing] Yeah, I made a little kid cry.

N: And the sound art was good as well.

What is your favourite thing about theatre?

N: If you mucked up, you still have to keep going even though it looks bad.

K: You improvise.

N:  Yes, that’s what I love most. Improvising.

K: I like the musical side of things.

IMG_1058

Abol and Marnas from Swan Hill

What have you been working on for Fairfax?

M: We’ve been working on puppetry and the story of the old dreamtime in Aboriginal history, and we;ve been doing a bit of singing and dancing.

What’s your favourite thing about this week?

M: Food! No, kidding. Meeting people, and doing the different activities.

A: Making new friends.

What is your favourite thing about theatre?

M: I like how they can just get up, not forget the words, and perform and make everyone happy.

A: That you can just get lost in the acting and you can just have fun with it.

Fairfax Festival Blog Seven: Day Two

SnuffPuppets

And just like that, we’re here on our last day of the Fairfax Festival. As I post this, the kids are packing up their cabins on Pental Island before driving back into Swan Hill. We have two more workshops this morning, then bump in and rehearsals, and tonight they perform with YES Fest.

Yesterday, as I revisited some of the rehearsals, I was stunned at how far some of the kids had come in just a day. There is still some hesitance, some lines dropped, but they made such a leap. If that’s what they can do in one day, I’m excited for tonight to see where they end up at the end of another – and when they’re able to feed off the crowd.

My highlight of yesterday was the Snuff Puppets workshop. The artists brought five skeleton body-suits – twenty years old, they’re a bit worse for wear in places, some of the zips instead became held together with gaffa tape and safety pins, but they were amazingly effective costumes on the kids. They dressed up and wandered down the main street of Swan Hill, waving at cars, popping into shops and holding up shirts to see if they suit their skin tone, or they tried to eat some sneakers. Even though I helped them dress, I immediately forgot who was in each suit, as I laughed following down the street.

What I loved about it, though, was how uninhibited the kids were when they were dressed like that. With 107 students, there is a wide variety of comfort levels in everything that’s been happening here – from rehearsals to warm-ups – but this was the freest I’ve seen anyone be. When all possible markers of identification are removed and they are skeleton’s walking down the street, what can’t they do?

This discovery of freedom has also been happening in other workshops. My other workshop for the day was with Jess Fairfax at Smart 99.1 FM, Swan Hill’s community radio station. Taken over by “Fairfax Pirate Radio” the kids got a run down in how to create a radio show, and then in groups of three to five they scripted and presented a short segment – live to air. While some kids were clearly ready for it from the get go, a few others were a bit nervous about taking it on. Once they did, though, although I heard a couple of “I’m never doing that again”, they were all pretty happy with how they’d gone. The station offers training on Wednesday nights, and their are certainly a few Swan Hill kids who seemed keen to take it on – I really hope they do.

Today, I’ll be learning about Shakespeare and sound design, then partying the night away on the streets of Swan Hill. Well, at least until nine.

Fairfax Festival Blog Six: Coffee with Caitlyn Barclay

Today, in a break from watching rehearsals, I sat down with Caitlyn Barclay, up from her current hometown of Melbourne to visit her old hometown of Swan Hill. Barclay is currently studying theatre at Monash University, but before she was there she was a participant in the Fairfax Festival, and, in 2011, their first Young Artist in Residence.

Her first Fairfax Festival was 2009. “We had this three day festival,” she said, “it made us super motivated, and then we didn’t have anything again until it comes around the next year.” So with Fairfax Director Claire Glenn, Barclay set up the Swan Hill Youth Theatre Ensemble, or SHYTE.

Last time I was in Swan Hill, Barclay was with SHYTE on a theatre exchange program in the Czech Republic. Collaborating with a Czech youth theatre company to create a work about birth, life and death, the Australians made the first third, the Czech’s the last, and they collaborated to make the middle.

While they could “all swear fluently” in Czech before they went, one of the biggest concerns Barclay had was the language barrier, and how to construct a play under those circumstances. “I think I learnt so much about communicating and culture,” she says, “how little language can be used, and how irrelevant it can be.”

She excitedly told me about plans to revisit within the next year: “I really want to go back. I think we made some life long friends there.”

The YAR program was established for young artists with a connection to Fairfax who want to go on and have a career in the arts. Amongst other things as the 2011 YAR, Barclay got to work with musical theatre company Magnormos and do a workshop with Noni Hazelhurst at 16th Street.

She was able to work closely with the tutors that worked with that year’s Festival.  “At the end of the residency you become friends with all the tutors and they ask what are you doing,” says Barclay. To puppeteer Penelope Bartlau of Barking Spider, she says, she  “mentioned I was moving off to Melbourne to go and further my career and expand my horizons.” Their relationship has continued, with Barclay working with Bartlau on several works since.

The opportunity to carry on this relationship past the end of the festival, she says, is “really amazing”.

Barclay has also participated in Regional Arts Victoria’s CreativeLeadership Program, before working with them on their Regional Arts Living Expo. “I keep popping my head in there every now and then,” she tells me, “and that really opened a lot of doors as well. They were like ‘any time you need help just call us up, and so I do: I just pop in and sit an talk to everyone.”

And in case that wasn’t enough for her first year in Melbourne – while also studying – she was a participant in St Martin Youth Theatre’s Catapult program, and worked on a show for the Melbourne Fringe.

All of this, says Barclay, stemmed from her time at Fairfax and with their YAR program: “one thing rolled on to another.” Now studying, all of the things that have steamed out of Fairfax and YAR has “kind of set me up too well, in a way,” she laughs.

When we finished our coffees, we wondered up to the local Anglican Church to watch some rehearsals. We spoke about independent theatre, our favourite festivals, and the fun around this Festival. While her last festival as a participant was in 2011, I get the feeling she’ll be making the return trip for many years to come.

Fairfax Festival Blog Five: Kids Interviews Part Two

IMG_1015Jess from Lake Boga, and Tianna and Maree from Swan Hill

What have you been working on for Fairfax?

 M: Pretty much Lake Boga, when it got dried up and then it got refilled by floods.

T: We’re also working on the different creatures that surround the lake: the pelicans, the yabbies, fish, stuff like that.

J: We’re joining all the animals from mainly Lake Boga and putting them into a performance in the street.

What’s your favourite thing about this week?

M: Free food.

T: Meeting the new people.

What is your favourite thing about theatre?

M: Acting and getting to show who you really are.

J: The new experiences that you get to see.

T:Taking on new characters, making them your own.

IMG_1017

Tori and Ruby from Mount Eliza

What have you been working on for the Fairfax Festival?

R: A Shakespearean-inspired play to show in the park.

What’s your favourite thing about this week?

 T: Getting to know new people.

What is your favourite thing about theatre? 

R: Getting to be someone that you’re not usually in real life, and expressing yourself in different ways, through different personalities.

Fairfax Festival Blog Four: Day One

First full day at the Fairfax Festival yesterday. I’m already a tad exhausted.

The day was broken up into two halves: during the morning, groups worked with the artists they have participated in workshops with, rehearsing for their Friday night performances. In the afternoon, the groups were mixed up and everyone participated in two of the six workshops they will participate in before the week is through.

The thing that I’ve been enjoying the most so far is seeing some of the absolute diversity of what these kids are working on. With Tristan Louth-Robins, I watched a group of students rehearse for their sound art performance, a work that will combine recordings they created in workshops at their school and live sounds the kids make with their mouths, drumming pens on paint cans, and stomping their feet.

I watched some kids working with the artists behind Norm and Elsie rehearse their work that will be performed in a car parked on the street, and a satire of Australian politics based on a Game of Thrones inspired Shakespeare under Don Bridges. I watched Alex Pinder direct the movement of saris, representing the fall and rise of Lake Boga. I revisited with the kids from Murruk, who will perform in a shipping container, and the now completed giant Snuff Puppets.

The Fairfax Festival stared as a much more traditional multi-school eisteddfod type situation, but here the kids are getting to experiment with the arts and theatre, and be excited by facets of that they might have never come into contact with before. The works are very hands-on, with the students creating works that are theirs and they can take ownership in.

In the afternoon, workshops I first learnt how to make human pyramids – I feel rather a lot more comfortable being the base then the fly, although I perhaps secretly harbour hopes of climbing to the top of a giant pyramid.

I then moved into a workshop about peformance in the outdoors. And, look, a lot of it was the things that annoyed me about drama class: pretending to be an animal. Pretending to be an animal with a particular emotion. Pretending to be an animal with the opposite emotion. Strange vocal exercises that I could totally see the point of, but wouldn’t it just be more fun if we were actually acting right now? It’s no surprise I never went to drama school, and that was for many reasons, but an inability to keep a straight face through three years of this could have weighed heavily on my mind. Of course, for many people, I don’t think writing about theatre is the funnest thing they could imagine, to which I say: it’s brilliant, and you should try it more.

In saying this, though, who knew that practicing your lines with your thumbs in your mouth actually makes you sound so much clearer? I will now assume this is how all actors get good diction, forever.

On to day two, I’m not sure what crazy tasks they’ll have me undertaking today.

Fairfax Festival Blog Three: Kids Interviews Part One

I’ve been grabbing a few quick interviews with the kids of the Fairfax Festival – more to come!

Raven

Raven from Shepparton

What have you been working on for the Fairfax Festival?

We’ve been working on this sound play, and it’s just about the sounds of Shep, where we come from, what we hear every day. We’ve had a lot of help from our teachers, Ms Wilton and Ms Stewart, and [artist] Tristan and [Young Artist in Residence] Alex, and just a whole bunch of our leaders, so really grateful for that.

What’s your favourite thing about this week?

I think all the workshops we get to do, and the things we get to learn. They’re just really valuable.

What’s your favourite thing about theatre?

I think being able to be yourself, and letting it all out.

Braydon and Alex

Braydon and Alex from Manangatang.

What are you working on for Fairfax?

B: We are doing a play with a car, a broken down car on the street.

Do you want to tell me anything else about it?

A: Oh, you might have to tune in and watch it!

B: We don’t want to give it away.

What is your favourite thing about this week?

A: So far it would have to be meeting new people … and getting Macca’s on the way in.

B: Yeah, just meeting new people. And getting to be a girl. Getting to play a girl on Friday.

What’s your favourite thing about theatre?

A: I don’t know really. Comedy.

B: Yeah, comedy. Improvisation.

Fairfax Festival Blog Two: Welcome Back!

FairfaxFestival2013

I’ve arrived in the temperamentally weathered Swan Hill for this year’s Fairfax Festival. As I wrote back in July, the Festival brings together kids from around regional and rural Victoria and New South Wales for four days of games, workshops and rehearsals before, this year for the first time, they’ll take over the main road of Swan Hill with the YES Fest.

The kids will be working with artists based in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, doing workshops including Shakespeare, sound art, improvisation, and human pyramids. This afternoon we began with group theatre sports to crack the ice. It turns out if you walk around a room pretending to be a roster while a hundred teenagers also pretend to be a rooster, you begin to feel like you’re in high school all over again. Apparently, I’d also shunned the exact mechanisms of how to play ‘Big Booty’ from my mind, only for them to all come flooding back this afternoon.

I’ll be blogging all week from the Festival, bringing you my observations about the day, my experiences of taking part, and hopefully some interviews with the kids and staff involved. It’s my first time being invited to blog an event like this  – and Fairfax’s first time inviting a blogger – so where the week takes us, we’ll just have to wait and see.