I have promised my magnificent hosting family, Pam and Neal Rodwell, ‘not to tell anyone’ on the Mainland how wonderful this little north-west coast Tasmanian town of ‘W’ is: pretty without being dinky, a stunning natural setting, friendly happy citizens of all ages, who almost always say hi to you when strolling around town. After the riotous experience of the Wynyard (oops – I am damn hopeless at secrets) Agricultural Show more than a week back, it has been foot-to-the-pedal in getting Big hART’s new show, This Is Living, ready for opening night.
Essentially, this has included all that involves a bumping into what is a classic Aussie country-town ‘heyday’ auditorium. The Old Wynyard Theatre (1926) is owned by the new proprietors of the adjacent Wharf Hotel, who have recently restored both properties with great love and attention to detail.
I owe the owners of the pub no favours, so this is an honest pitch when I say anyone touring a show around Tasmania should think about taking advantage of this lovely venue – and the keen local community who packed the short debut season of This is Living to the rafters.
Tech runs involved bringing together the three core groups of performers: the professional leads (Anne Grigg, Lex Marinos and Bruce Myles), the Wynyard ‘Witnesses’ (the older-age community component), and the young (skaters and other youth).
Big hART regular, Peter Dixon, of pumpkin-growing fame (see earlier post) lives right next door to the theatre. His sheds, yard and even his house is a treasure-trove of abandoned engines and other unidentifiable mechanical wotnots from times past, some restored – many still awaiting his attention. I think, these days, Peter makes corrugated-iron water tanks for a living; but he has been involved in many shows.
The ultimate Mr Fixit, Peter (aka Captain Caravan) was responsible for the workability of the convoy of ancient mobile homes engaged in Big hART’s production, Drive-In Holiday, which toured the Tasmania extensively as part of the 2007 Ten Days on the Island festival. Apparently every vehicle got home without succumbing to an unsolvable technical hitch. Peter has stepped up in this production to an ‘acting’ role, as one of the Wynyard ‘group of four’ Witnesses who will tour with the show.
Proximity and suitable equipment led to Peter’s yard and shed being used for the heavy-duty prop-making which included a lot of welding and assembly by other sometimes more ingenious means. Ben Lambert, who was on the Ngapartji Ngapartji tour to Ernabella has been involved in most of this work.
While Wynyard Witnesses settled into their evocatively ‘ghostly’ outfits, screen-printed with images of old newspaper clippings (costume designer Zoe Churchill), the hard yakka of putting up lights and wiring audio-visual equipment together – and then making it all WORK! – began to eat into days and long into evenings.
Meanwhile, a few days prior to opening night a massive half-pipe was assembled outside the theatre. There was to be a display of skater skills for audiences on the way in to see the show; but from the time the tube was up, it became a town youth hotspot.
I even had it explained to me just how a skateboard rises with the feet in advance of jumping a gutter or skidding along a rail: it would take a truly ‘beautiful mind’ to mathematically calculate the gravity-defying physics of these seemingly ‘mainstream’ skater feats.
A number of young locals, who have worked on previous Big hART shows have lalso joined the production team including George Nicholas who worked on Love Zombies, taking over the lighting desk after Nicholas Higgins had ot leave the show early.
Meanwhile, my own personal duties began to kick in. Scott Rankin had asked me down to Tasmania to work on a program, typical of his lateral thinking, called ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, designed to encourage more vigorous critical thinking among local audiences. In Wynyard, this would begin with a troupe of eleven enthusiasts, ranging in age from 16 to 81!!
A wooden disk for a stage, a live band and a row of directors’ desks lined with several laptops. The old-fashioned filament globes symbolise beautifully the era of still photography and contrast dramatically with the digital projection of live skateboarding. But the question echoing from the technical run is whether the multi-media technologies are complimentary or conflicting?
I will go into this project a little more next time: suffice it to say, it is a brave director who lets lose a bunch of potential brutalisers and naysayers on a new work. On any work! I will also let you know when a meaningful amount of this work has been posted onto the This Is Living website.
Music ensemble, the Dunaways, exceeded my expectations in creating soulful melodies inspired by 60’s pop and folk music. And so I ask the question: does the music suit the show and vice versa? The answer is an emphatic – amazingly! For those of you attending, all I can say is be prepared to be impressed. Big hART has once again put on ‘the big show!’
Local newspaper, The Advocate, took an interest in our little ‘criticism’ project: and so after opening night a full page was devoted to our activities, including some nifty paragraphs from some of the participants. They could not be full reviews, as the writers had to work from what was to be a dress rehearsal, but turned out to be a tortuous tech run. Make that crawl! My writers were still impressed.
The new stage attracts the eye like a full moon tilted in the sky, surrounded with many stars. Around the stage ghosts are seen drifting and observing the progress of the world. Moving at speed, boys on skateboards can be compared to life with all its ups and downs.
One of the appealing characteristics of any Big hART production these days is the accumulation of workers who are capable of putting their egos in their pockets and simply getting on with the – usually massive – job that needs to be done on minimal budgets and emasculating time frames. This was noticeable out in the desert with Ngapartji Ngapartji and again this time on getting up This is Living.
Part of the luxury for me on this tour so far has been the above-mentioned accommodation. I have been guested by the Rodwells, who have been friends with Scott Rankin pretty much since his arrival in Burnie in the early 1980s to work with so-called ‘street kids’. Neal, already engaged in schemes assisting the disabled, saw a like-minded comrade in Scott Rankin; and their lives and ideals have remained intertwined for the past thirty years.
In fact, Neal and his wife Pam attended Scott’s first-ever show in Burnie, a one-person musical entertainment at the then popular and very alternative venue called The Electric Jug. Neal says, even back then, Scott revealed a fascination with multi-layered themes. Apparently as the story unfolded, and between songs, Scott would disrobe to reveal a new character in a different costume underneath.
Not surprisingly, a bevy of fresh local faces turned up to be part of the opening night support team. Including no less a figure than Don Carter, retired Advocate photographer, on ushering duties, whose life story shares quite a few similarities with that of Morgan, the character played by Bruce Myles. The script refers to specifically photos of sporting highlights, debutante balls and a visit by the Queen.
And just as the skaters kicked into their truly spectacular pre-show display our in the street, a section of the sidewalk was populated by the voices of the Wynyard Chorale, with appropriate bodies attached – big men to the bass voices etc.
The street outside the theatre began to fill with audiences, and various volunteer staff working with everyhting from front of house to a fundraiser stall.
Characteristic of the production’s core theme, young and old took it in turn to impress the milling crowd. In good time the audience was called into the theatre, and it wasn’t long before the Dunaways opened the show with just a hint of the exquisite musical backdrop they had created over recent months.
To be honest, the show was somewhat behind schedule on several technical fronts: and opening night was about as close to a slip on a banana peel as you could get. To mix metaphors: it was a breach birth, the child was born with ugg boots on and an umbilical cord around its neck, red-faced as a nun caught out with a surfie in the back of a panel van, laughing and crying in equal amounts. But it was ALIVE! And the many parents involved were beyond joyful. Out the front, workers from different Big hART shows got together to say hi to each other.
Show over, technical people had to be reconstructed back into humanoid shapes from the pools of sweat they had been reduced to through the previous two-and-a-half hours. The healing powers of Tasmanian beer cannot be under-estimated. Core cast members could remember little of the experience.
Witnesses were thrilled to at last have participated in a full run in the presence of a life audience – and experienced the resultant the buzz . And the kids behind the scrim, whose job it was to occasionally burst into skater action or wild mosh-pit moves, against a backdrop of fleeting moving images, were more proud of the fact that for most of the evening they had been able to sit still out the back there and not talk or move.
Okay, so there was a bit of mucking up, but by modern-day ‘attention deficit’ standards the achievement for most was akin to surviving alone in a Himalayan cave and living on melted snow for a several years.