Last weekend Danielle Micich, Ashley de Prazer and Annette Carmichael spent three days with 12 volunteers from the Merredin community, making a film about personal loss for the upcoming Shiver tour
Danielle shares some quick thoughts about the project….”The one thing we asked each person was to give everything we do a go. For some there was a lot they had never done before. We laughed, moved, ate delicious oranges and found a common thread that we put onto film. A wonderful collective! I look forward to putting it all together and sharing it with the rest of Merredin.”
The film will premier in Merredin as a curtain raiser for Shiver on 2 October at Cummins Theatre.
Check out some behind the scene photos on Cummin Theatre’s facebook page!
Pictured: Ellen and cast on Cairn Rock
Pictured: Ghosts. Images made from the sand.
Pictured: South Merredin Primary school sand pit. Cast performing their collapse movements.
Pictured: South Merredin Primary school corridor. One of the two primary schools recently closed down.
Pictured: Cairn Rock. Searching sequence.
Photos courtesy of Ashley de Prazer
Photos courtesy of Ursula Andinac, Cummins Theatre
Perth Director (and Performing Lines WA core artist) Sally Richardson has just returned from Melbourne after directing The National Institute of Circus Art’s (NICA) graduating class in their show Lucy and the Lost Boy. Written by Richardson herself,the show is a hybrid of theatre, movement and circus arts, and showcased some of Australia’s most promising up and coming circus performers in a dazzling display of acrobatics, aerial trapeze and clowning to name but a few. I recently caught with Sally to find out more about this exciting production.
Words: Tom Cramond (TC), Sally Richardson (SR)
Images: Courtesy of NICA, provided by Sally Richardson
TC. Firstly, directing circus seems like a highly specialised area for a director and is something you have quite a bit of experience in. How did you first start out?
SR. Kim Walker, the then Artistic Director of the Flying Fruitfly Circus and I sat on the Theatre Board of the Australia Council. He had heard/seen the work I was doing in contemporary dance and physical theatre and invited me to come and spend some time with the company. Initially I acted as dramaturg on the Fruitfly show Circus Girl directed by Jodie Farrugia which went on to tour nationally. This project provided a great opportunity to learn about circus and the very specific and highly technical nature of this age old art form. The company then commissioned me to create a new work for their thirtieth anniversary celebrations. The Promise was produced for Sydney Festival in 2009 and went on to win the Helpmann Award for Best Presentation for Children.
TC. What is it about the circus and circus performers that you find so appealing?
SR. Circus is a language that is genuinely universal and speaks to all people. It is wonderful to create works that entertain, awe, and inspire audiences of all ages, and backgrounds. I find circus artists highly dedicated, physically and mentally tough, with a genuine spirit of collaboration operating at all levels. There is a real spirit of the ensemble as a ‘family’, as often your life may depend upon someone else at the end of that line! There is also a respect for both sides of the creative/artistic and production/technical process – and there is less of a hierarchy in company structure. They say you are never truly a member of the circus unless you have swept the sawdust from the floor!
TC. Lucy and the lost boy is a work that was devised by yourself specifically for the performers of NICA – how does the creation process differ for you from traditional theatre?
SR. That’s a tricky question, as I don’t really see myself as a creator of ‘traditional’ theatre as such. I think if you are a writer/director/devisor/co-creator – call it what you will, then each project and its process is fundamentally different. What you ultimately will create depends upon the subject, the space, the people, the time you have, and the skills of your team. In this instance, having worked previously at NICA (Rhapsody 2008), I knew in some sense the environment I was dealing with and was able to be prepared for that. I then focus on playing to everyone’s strengths, and enjoy with NICA the fantastic opportunity that is a creative process with an ensemble of 20 performers who have been training for three years together.
TC. Each member of the NICA class brings a unique set of skills and abilities to the table – were these individual traits something you had to take into account when designing the show?
SR. The unique specialities of the performers must be at the core of the work. What we seek to do is align these skills in terms of character and narrative, both on a literal and symbolic level. It also means that not all the performers will get to perform their speciality, as it may not be suitable or a focus for the production.
In Lucy and the Lost Boy there was a strong theme in terms of the experience of flying, and of flight, and this was echoed throughout the work. For example – Lucy watches the world from behind her window, a purpose built static double trapeze. As she moves away from her ‘home’ and her childhood, she learns how to ‘fly’ in a number of stages and utilising different apparatus including chines pole. This translated into a hand loop (counter weighted), then into a form of ‘flying’ (in the show’s final moments) on a swinging trapeze that was high above the audience’s heads. Another example is when Lucy is trapped in the laneways, and two spider-like creatures try to capture her – one is on an aerial net (not unlike a cobweb), the other on a new apparatus , a trapeze that is made of metal chains. Visually these align with both narrative and content, while also providing the audience with a dramatic use of apparatus they may already recognise.
TC. Can you give us a quick over view of the show? I’m really interested in how the circus arts were used in conjunction with the shows narrative?
SR. There is no flying without wings – French proverb
The inspiration for the show is in the back streets and laneways of Melbourne, with the street artists and their creations. Their work is a springboard to an exploration of Street Art and how this form connects with the circus and physical theatre traditions. Street art creation in it’s essence celebrates: skill in placement, originality of style and degree of risk (associated with the creative act) All elements that the creation of circus/physical theatre shares along with a sense of rebellion, energy, fun, colour, and irreverence – they are both creative forms with a do-it-yourself (and often anti-establishment) ethos!
Melbourne has a unique and proud history of creating (and preserving) street art. The show directly references and engages with known Melbourne figures/creations/and artists (Flying man – Vexta, The Red hooded girl by Urban Cake Lady, Anthony Lister’s clowns, Ha-Ha’s humerous figures & others).
The springboard for the show creation included visual materials (existing street art works, and known spaces) and archetypal characters recognisible from classic fairytales and stories. All reflected upon the journey of self-discovery with a coming of age sensibility.
This new work takes as a physical starting point the idea of the tower and the window – the dream of escape, of freedom and of learning how to fly. It is about those who live on both sides of the window frame – those who ‘run away’ and those who return…and above all the passionate indivdual need to find a creative outlet and form of self expression.
Lucy, dreams of being an artist, while her parents dream of her law degree. By chance Lucy meets the free-spirited Flying Boy and Ladybird and is drawn into the night subculture of these street artists, performers, their friends and enemies. A war of the walls is being waged between the various laneway crews and the landlords, and there can be only one winner.
TC. Do you have any personal experience in any of the circus arts? Have you ever been tempted to take to the trapeze yourself?
SR. I can Hula hoop a little and that’s it.
TC. Now that you’re back from Melbourne, what’s next on your agenda?
SR. Directing a new aerial dance work The Snap for Southern Edge Arts in Albany
Then the realisation of my adaptation of The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett with PLWA and MANPAC – a new performance work incorporating live original music, theatre, dance and puppetry.
Sally is a past recipient of an Australia Council Dramaturgy fellowship (2006) and a Creative Arts Fellowship from the Western Australia Department of Culture and the Arts (2008). She was a member of the Theatre Board of the Australia Council (2001-5), and Artistic Director of Steamworks Arts Productions (2001-). Sally was a board member of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre (2007-10), and is currently Partnerships Manager for Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company. Sally was the director and producer of Live@Woodside (2008 -2010), and in 2010 was the selected dramaturg for the New Visions, New Voices International Festival held in May at the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. Sally’s productions are often presented nationally and internationally, and at major arts festivals. Her work has been a winner/finalist for the Helpmann Awards, Green Room Awards, Equity Guild Awards, Ausdance Awards, Dance Australia Critics Choice Awaard amongst others. Sally has written and directed works across the performing arts spectrum into theatre, dance, circus, visual arts and physical theatre. Theatre productions include; Savage Grace, Nocturne, Medea 05, for Steamworks, Black Swan, PICA and B Sharp, and The Danger Age for Deckchair Theatre. Dance productions include; The Drover’s Wives for the Perth International Arts Festival, and Shanghai and Beijing International Festivals, I am Njinsky, Loaded (National Tour), So Do You Come Here Often? (Mobile States) and most recent Standing Bird (Fringeworld 2012). Puppetry productions include; H20 for the Perth International Arts Festival, and Splat! Spare Parts Puppet Theatre. Circus productions include; Rhapsody for National Institute of Circus Arts (Melb), and The Promise for The Flying Fruitfly Circus (Sydney Festival 2009) Winner 2009 Helpmann Award for Best Presentation for Children. Current projects include director/co-devisor The Step for Southern Edge Arts (Albany), Awesome International Arts Festival – Artists Challenge, Director/ co-producer of Nullarbor (now Road Trip) in collaboration with Maakan Productions (VIC) and the up coming world premiere of The Ghost’s Child with Performing Lines WA and MANPAC
To kick start the 2012 Shiver Tour, Annette Carmichael from Ausdance WA has been busily creating a community engagement/ audience development strategy which involves working with local artists in towns throughout regional WA.
Last week 15 young dancers from Esperance were the first to work with Shiver director Danielle Micich, on the creation of a short performance that explores personal stories of loss. These photos picture each young dancer walking up to a camera and stating the name and age of a person or pet they had lost.
The final performance will premiere at the Esperance Civic Centre as a curtain-raiser to Danielle’s dance theatre show Shiver on Friday 5 October, 7.30pm, tickets www.esperanceciviccentre.com
Over the past six months I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside four local artists who’ve undertaken a very inspiring endeavour – to form Australia’s first sensory theatre company for children with special needs. Headed by Francis Italiano, Michelle Hovane and Bec Bradley with Rachel Riggs, Sensorium Theatre create immersive, intimate worlds which invite children touch, taste, smell, hear and see stories unfold around them.
In March the collective launched their 2012 tour of The Jub Jub Tree. I caught up with Francis to get an update after being artist in residence at Malibu, Sir David Brand and Kenwick School and to find out what kind of impact sensory theatre has had on the students so far.
Words: Sarah Rowbottam (SR), Francis Italiano (FI)
Photos: Sarah Rowbottam
SR. From creating large-scale spectacles to writing scripts for short films and plays – you’ve had quite an eclectic history as an artist. What are you currently working on now?
FI. At primary school I was the resident storyteller and growing up I was an avid drawer and painter, so it’s always been about words & pictures for me – stories & visuals – and I like using those elements in performance-based projects. Over the last couple of years I’ve been exploring immersive interactive performance-making through sensory theatre, in particular ways to use this medium to make shows for kids with complex disabilities – like the current show we’re touring, The Jub Jub Tree.
SR. The Jub Jub Tree is the first piece created under the banner of your newly formed company Sensorium Theatre. Can you explain what sensory theatre is and how this performance was devised?
FI. Sensory theatre is a totally interactive way of performative storytelling that’s particularly magical for kids because it’s theatre as a hands-on experience for them. Small audiences of say, 12 kids max, get to touch, taste, smell, see and hear the story unfold around them on a purpose-built installation-style set that they sit in with the performers. So, with The Jub Jub Tree, for instance, Sensorium comes into a school and “grows” a totally tactile “forest” for the kids to engage with up to a week before the actual performances.
This show originally grew out of a modest seeding grant from Barking Gecko in 2010 that got us working with a visiting UK artist, Amber Onat Gregory, to expand on solo sensory story sessions she’d been giving to kids with special needs. Amber would “tell” her stories using simple props for the kids to touch and “activate” as well as basic sign-language, rhymes and a few masks – encouraging them to use their senses to follow along. While the writer part of me was intrigued by the possible non-verbal “access points” in the story, the designer part of me got excited about making life-size super-tactile puppets of the characters and putting the kids and puppets together in an interactive sensory environment for the story to play out in. Co-performer and Sensorium composer Bec Bradley went to town with the music and aural possibilities and has kept refining the live score and soundtrack since then, and (following physical-theatre performer Sarah Nelson’s movement and puppeteering in the first development), current core-artist Michelle Hovane has been perfecting the movement dramaturgy and physical language of the show, while associate artist Rachel Riggs has been layering in her early years expertise in imaginary play and visual theatre. An amazing 14 week AIR grant residency last year at Carson Street School gave Bec, Michelle, Rachel and myself time and space to trial loads of different approaches to making our audience’s experience deeper and simply get better at acting for/interacting with kids with complex disabilities. Devising this show, and the workshops and resources that frame it, was very much enhanced by the influence of the educators, therapists and especially the kids we worked with there.
Photo: The teachers at Sir David Brand School are taken through a sensory walk-through experience
SR. All of us in the office are absolutely amazed at the creativity and ingenuity found in your work. What made you passionate about making sensory theatre for children with special needs?
FI. Sensory theatre is totally hybrid and very collaborative in the way it’s put together, so from the beginning I loved being free to wear designer, maker, writer, performer and facilitator hats all at the same time. But more importantly, once I started working with these kids in this way I couldn’t help thinking that, with the best of intentions, a lot of the mainstream theatre that special needs audiences get to see under the banner of “access and inclusion” can end up being mostly colour and movement that goes totally over their heads. I started to get excited at how the sensory theatre we were devising– with all its hands-on puppetry, music & interactions – could get kids with special needs swept up and carried away by a story in the way that all kids everywhere love to. As a theatre-maker who’s loved live shows since I was a little kid, I’m really conscious that it’s a universal experience that many of them have missed out on.
SR. Over the next three months you will be undertaking residencies at Malibu, Sir David Brand, Kenwick School and Kalamunda Education Support Centre. What are you looking forward to most?
FI. I really enjoy the intimate one-on-one interactions with the kids in the workshops and especially the performances – the “buzz” of connecting. Sometimes a response can be as subtle as one of the kids blinking vigorously or reaching out to touch your hand when that’s not normally something they’d readily do – and because you’re only centimetres away from them that response is magnified and even more appreciated as a performer. It’s very much a heart-based way of working. It’s hard to explain, but it can be really joyous as an artist to have such resonant interactions with your audience.
Photos: Sensorium Theatre perform The Jub Jub Tree to students at Malibu School in Safety Bay.
SR. Working with children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (pmld) obviously presents a number of unique obstacles. How is The Jub Jub Tree residency and performance structured to meet these challenges?
FI. Sensorium has developed a kind of “embedding” approach to help the kids’ understanding and enjoyment of the show which happens over a week-long residency before the performance. We install the sensory forest on the first day and let the kids explore it before individually introducing each new puppet over the next days in “make and play” sessions based around the characters and story. Along the way the kids and performers get to know each other, with the performer/facilitators tailoring the workshops and then spending the last day re-rehearsing the show for that specific audience. We’ve also designed a 2D storybook of the show and recorded a CD of the songs which go out to the schools before the residency. It might sound counter-intuitive to how you normally save up all your “magic moments” for the actual performance, but all these elements combined make for stronger engagement with the show from the kids – which ultimately makes the experience more magical for them.
SR. You recently visited the UK with Michelle Hovane to learn from Oily Cart Theatre, Bamboozle and Horse & Bamboo. What was one of the most exciting moments on this trip?
FI. Falling in love with this kind of work and then getting to learn so much by working with world-leaders in the field was pretty exciting across the whole trip, but getting to London and fronting up a day later, still jet-lagged, to the city’s flagship children’s theatre venue next to London Bridge to meet Oily Cart – and finding ourselves on-stage with tech-guns in our hands within minutes felt so “real” it was surreal!
SR. Both yourself and fellow ‘Sensorium’ core artist Rebecca Bradley recently worked with Spanish company Teatro de los Sentidos on the Perth Festival show Oraculos – has that experience shaped this show at all?
FI. Working with director Enrique Vargas and his company was like inhabiting a dream – and re-learning a whole new appreciation of the aesthetics and vocabulary of the senses. For instance, we’ve noticed that our appreciation of the power of touch (one of the senses we use a lot of with the kids) is way deeper. Sentidos’ way of working from the heart and using sensory theatre to co-faciliate experiences with the audience-member as an active participant rather than a passive recipient is totally relevant to what we’re doing with Sensorium.
Photo: The teachers at Malibu School are taken through a sensory walk-through experience
SR. After the schools tour wraps up in early July – what’s next for Sensorium Theatre? Do you have plans for a new project?
FI. We’re very focussed at the moment on how best to grow the company alongside our artistic development – so the next 6 months is about longer-term strategic planning around where we want to go as a company, with the next 12 months including building on the touring potential of this show while working through the creative processes towards our next show. The next show will be a bit of an underwater odyssey that might use performers more as main characters rather than puppets. We had a fair amount of discussion with our UK counterparts around experiential vs narrative-based shows for special needs kids, with most of them swinging back towards story-driven sensory theatre – so we’re also keen to keep exploring the balance between all-out sensory experiences for the kids and sensory approaches to getting stories across.
Photo: Michelle Hovane offering students at Malibu School jub jub tree fruits.
Francis Italiano Francis is a Hybrid Artist with Writing, Design, Performing and Visual Arts skills that have lead him to design/devise for Theatre, Large-Scale Spectacle Events and Short Films, and have numerous scripts for plays and short films produced. In particular, he has developed his practice as a Community Cultural Development artist, working with marginalized groups to produce theatre, films, performance events, publications and exhibitions. He has also been a core artist of WA’s spectacle & CCD multi-arts collective, SWERVE. He has worked extensively for DADAA-WA, leading multiple projects in writing, visual arts, and theatre for people experiencing disabilities. Most recently he performed with Spanish company Teatro de los Sentidos in the2012 Perth International Festival Show Oraculos.
Performing Lines WA delivers the Managing and Producing Services for theatre and dance artists in WA (Maps for Artists), which is a joint initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s art funding and advisory body, and the State of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts.