Q&A | Rachael Coopes talks Sugarland

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 27th, 2016

Tonight (Fri 27 May) is opening night of Australian Theatre for Young People’s beautiful show Sugarland, toured by our Sydney colleagues for Blak Lines and presented by Barking Gecko Theatre Company at the State Theatre Centre of WA. We had a chat with playwright Rachael Coopes about how the play was created, the protocol observed and how theatre can be catalyst for difficult and important conversations.

We also excited to relaunch the Performing Lines WA blog with some exciting new categories of articles. We will be regularly posting Industry News and Opinion, Opportunities for Artists and Presenters, Profiles on shows, artists and artforms; and updates about Performing Lines WA and what we have going on. Got a burning issue you want to discuss or an artist or presenter we should interview? Email thom@performinglineswa.org.au

ATYP_SugarLand_HERO_by Zan Wimberley - CopyPerforming Lines: Can you tell us about the process of researching Sugarland and the series of residencies in Katherine?
Rachael Coopes: Wayne and I did a series of residences in Katherine, over three years. We ran workshops in schools and then we’d hang out with kids in all the places they spent time outside of school- the YMCA, the springs, the river, the footy, the boxing ring. Wayne came the first two trips and we talked about the kind of story we wanted to tell. Australian Theatre for Young people (ATYP) had commissioned it to be a football play. At one point it was a boxing play. But that wasn’t the story that really tugged at me from the very beginning. The high levels of teenage homelessness and teenage pregnancy in Katherine and remote NT towns were key things that stuck out for me early on. The impact of ‘The Intervention’. The importance of frienship. The universality of being a teenager wherever you live in Austraila, or the world. The characters appeared very quickly. Then trying to put them in the same room – the implausibility of these characters being friends – that’s where the singing competition idea came in. I started to write. After each draft Wayne gave me notes – and he was always right. It was a beautifully slow, organic, supported process of building real, meaningful relationships with the community.


PL: What did you experience whilst taking part in these residencies that you hadn’t expected?
RC: I fell truly, madly, deepy in love with the NT; the raw, realness and spirit of the place. The way they wear their hearts on their sleeve. Nothing is hidden. It’s all out in the open in a gloriously refreshing way. I was frustrated by the misunderstanding at an institutional level about what these kids and communities need. My heart was ripped open by the dumbfounding shame and rippling effect of The Intervention. But equally blown away by the cheeky nature and eternal humour of these kids who face such huge obstacles in their lives. ATYP_Sugarland,2014_IMG_0138_(c)TraceySchramm

PL: How did you go about attaining the approvals from the local community to tell these stories more broadly?
RC: At every step of the way, we kept checking in and showing the community various drafts.  Tom E Lewis (respected actor, musician and Artistic Director Walking with Spirits Festival) gave us permission very early on to weave a version of his River Boy story through the play. We knew from the moment he told us that story, it had to be in there. We went into schools, boarding houses and communities, showing them scenes and asking them if it was ok, if it sounded authentic, if they were happy with the story, right up to the opening night in Katherine. As a result, there is a real sense of ownership and pride felt by the community. Which was absolutely vital.

PL: I heard the name Sugarland came from a story you were told whilst in Katherine. Can you tell us how it came about?
RC: We were sitting by the fire at Tom’s place having dinner and Tom E had just told us the River Boy story. Then Alex his son, who was five at the time, told me his made-up story about a place he wants to live where everything is made of sugar and you can eat it all. I asked him if he’d get bored of sugar if he could have it all the time and he said no. I said “But if you eat sugar all the time, it’ll make you sick.” He hadn’t thought of that.  “Oh yeah…oh well I’d still live there.” And there was something so poignant and symbolic about this idea. I knew then the play would be called Sugarland.

PL: Sugarland is touring through Blak Lines on a big national tour. What has it meant for you as a playwright to have really varied communities around Australia experience the show?
RC: It’s such an honour and privilege. I’m so grateful this story is being shared with a wider audience. I’m deeply passionate about the power of theatre to start difficult conversations in a way no other medium can – especially with young people and especially in this digital age. I think it’s the best way to unpack tricky things, to reflect what’s really going on for teenagers and then have a challenging conversation afterwards. There’s a degree of separation when examining issues through story and characters. To me this is a hugely important conversation to start, not just with our young people, but with everyone who is part of this country. How are we gonna fix it?_DSC5219

PL: What are you working on at the moment? What’s up next for you?
RCI am busy replicating the Sugarland process – running workshops and researching to write a play with the extraordinary Guy Webster (who did the sound design for Sugarland) in the NSW community of Bathurst. There’ll be another large musical component to the Bathurst project, but potentially with original songs. It’s a collaboration with ATYP and Stephen Champion at Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre. So I’m about to head down the rabbit hole of a couple of heavy drafting months. I’m also writing for Play School, which I also present. And I’m mama to three year old Gabriel. That’s probably my toughest and most rewarding gig.

Rachael Coopes is a renowned playwright, scriptwriter and actor, working across stage and screen around Australia. Her play Sugarland, co-written with Wayne Blair, produced by ATYP and directed by Fraser Corfield and David Page, is touring nationally through the Blak Lines Indigenous touring initiative, produced by Performing Lines.

State Theatre Centre of WA | Fri 27 & Sat 28 May

microLandscapes in action

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 19th, 2016

Check out these absolutely beautiful images of Emma Fishwick’s microlandscapes at Northcote Town Hall for Next Wave Festival taken by Gregory Lorenzutti featuring dancers Ella-Rose Trew and Niharika Senapati.

resize20160506-GL-microlandscapes-0464 resize20160506-GL-microlandscapes-0445 resize20160506-GL-microlandscapes-0192 resize20160506-GL-microlandscapes-0120 resize20160506-GL-microlandscapes-0071




Filed under Uncategorized

CALL OUT | Work with Sensorium Theatre

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 17th, 2016

Sensorium Theatre is seeking a Performer to join our eight-week regional WA tour of the sensory theatre production Oddysea, with the potential for ongoing engagement with the company beyond this project. The tour will commence on 1 August and finish on 23 September.

Sensorium’s mission is to improve the lives of children and young people with disabilities by sparking their imaginations and enabling greater creative responses. We do this by creating high quality immersive workshop and sensory theatre experiences that they can enjoy as audiences.

Currently the only company in Australia making work for this neglected audience, Sensorium Theatre have recently performed at flagship venues: the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne. This year we are touring Oddysea regionally and have a national tour secured for 2017.


Performer – Ideally you would be a multi-talented performer who is passionate about storytelling and inclusion, and are committed to socially-engaged arts practice. We work as an ensemble delivering workshops, performances, and professional development sessions for venues and teachers.

While you will receive full instruction on Sensorium Theatre’s performance and workshop methodology, experience in this area will be looked upon favourably. The production includes puppetry, singing, and participatory performance – click here to watch a video about Oddysea.


We require a one-page cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should outline why you wish to work with Sensorium and how your experience will contribute to a successful production and tour. Shortlisted applicants will then be invited to audition. Applications close COB Fri 27 May. Send applications to Sensorium Theatre’s producers Performing Lines WA – details below.

Producer contact: Rachael Whitworth
rachael@performinglineswa.org.au | 08 9200 6232


Fri 27 May  | Applications due
Fri 3 June   | Shortlisted applicants notified
Fri 10 June | Auditions
Aug – Sept  | Rehearsals and tour

Filed under Sensorium Theatre

John Baylis on Bundanon Artists in Residence

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 2nd, 2016

Bundanon Trust is a stunning asset to Australian arts and culture. Applications are now open for the artists in residence program for 2017. The program is open to artists from all disciplines and is an amazing opportunity to explore your practice and create work surrounded by nature. We had a chat to John Baylis the Chief Programs Officer at Bundanon to get some insider info about this beautiful place and the residency program.

RA | You have had a long and impressive career in the arts. How did it all start?
JB | I worked as a performer with a number of emerging contemporary performance groups back in the late 1970s, including the One Extra Dance Company.  I began to mix management and creative roles fairly early on, jumping between being a performer, a dramaturg and a manager. I co-founded an influential company called The Sydney Front in 1986 that created work and toured until 1993, then I was artistic director of Urban Theatre Projects in western Sydney in the late 1990s.



RA | Bundanon looks absolutely amazing. Can you tell us about Bundanon Trust and your role there?
JB | Most artists know Bundanon for its residency program, and our residencies are at the heart of what we do. Bundanon was a gift to the Australian people, and in particular Australian artists, from Arthur Boyd, one of our greatest artists.  He set up Bundanon Trust in 2003, and since then we have hosted thousands of artists from all disciplines and from all over the world (over 34 countries). Bundanon is now an engine room for contemporary art practice in Australia – a place with outstanding facilities, dedicated to the making of contemporary work across all disciplines – music, dance, theatre, writing and the visual arts.

But the residencies are only part of what we do.  We have an education program that reaches over 5000 school children each year, both on and off site.  We have a sizeable collection of work by Arthur Boyd and his circle, which we tour regularly.  We have an outreach program, bringing, for example, great artists like William Barton to work with the local Shoalhaven Aboriginal community, or Branch Nebula to work with local skaters in the Nowra skate park.  And we have an events program: regular performances on our property by artists such as Dan Sultan, TaikOz, Goldner Quartet and Joseph Tawadros. Perhaps the event that bring all the different strands together is Siteworks, our annual spring festival that brings scientists, artists and community voices together to share knowledge and ideas arising from the Bundanon sites through a series of discussions, presentations and experiences.

My role is to program all this, though luckily I have highly experienced staff to help me.

The artist-in-residence program at Bundanon seems like a wonderful opportunity for artists.  What does the program offer and what is it about the program that appeals to artists?

Having time and space away from the pressures of everyday life are the main things we offer. Your time is your own, and you can go in any direction you want. But there is also something very special about the Boyd legacy. You can fell the generosity of his gift all around you, and you know that this is a site where generations of artists before you have been inspired.

Wesley Enoch, who has been here a few times, put it this way:

“A residency at Bundanon gives artists and artistic leaders the chance to dig deep into the history and spirit of the landscape; and to be inspired by the artistic legacy of the place. It’s like the river and the rocks allow you to think differently, to provide inspiration and a safe place to explore the role of the artist”.


RA | What is the board looking for when it comes to selecting artists?
JB | We are looking for artists who have shown through their record that they are something to offer and who can articulate an interesting project to work on while in residence.

RA | What advice would you give to someone wanting to apply to the Bundanon residency program?
JB | Keep it simple: who are you, and what you want to do.  And chose your support material carefully.

RA | And finally, what do you think artists will get out of this program that they might not expect?
JB | You are not alone at Bundanon, and it’s often the chance encounters with other artists on site that can make your time here special.
Bundanon Trust artists in residence program applications are NOW OPEN

Applications close at midnight on 21 June 2016.
Head to the website for more information or contact Bundanon directly at  programs@bundanon.com.au