A devised theatre piece by Australian Theatre for Young People, Walsh Bay (2006)
Case study prepared by Bronwyn Purvis, Director of Craving.
Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp) is a Sydney based theatre company exclusively devoted to young people. Driven by the idea that the arts can inspire creative, courageous and confident young people wherever they are and whatever they want to be. We believe that the arts have the power to transform lives, enrich communities and ultimately impact upon the future of our nation.
Artistic Director of atyp Tim Jones approached me to create a show with atyp, asking me what I would like to do. This was an amazing opportunity and one of the key things I wanted to explore was working with an ensemble of performers with and without a disability.
Craving began with an idea that “The deepest principal in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” It got me thinking about how some compulsions are innate, and how the desire for love and acceptance manifests itself in so many different ways, popping out and bubbling up as addictions and obsessions around weird or mundane things.
The performers in Craving came from across Sydney and were all young people between the ages of 16 – 28. atyp advertised auditions through their database and usual performing arts networks, as well as advertising through Australian Theatre for the Deaf, Accessible Arts, Shopfront Theatre, Family Advocacy & Ever After Theatre Company. This attracted a lot of people to the group auditions but only 3 performers with a disability. This came as a surprise. This was the first project where atyp had specifically invited people with disabilities to take part, and thus it took a little while for performers with disabilities to connect with the new approach.
I then had to actively seek out individual performers with a disability to do solo auditions. This involved talking with other producers and directors who recommended performers, as well as approaching performers with a disability that I had worked with in the past. The method of meeting with individuals and small groups face to face to talk about the project seemed to work as a better method of encouraging people with disabilities to get involved. After meetings, people agreed to do individual auditions. So introducing the project in a number of different methods – not just traditional advertising was an important part of the process. This required additional work but paid off in terms of creating a truly unique, diverse and dynamic ensemble.
The audition process ran over 2 weeks, with 1 large group audition and then a series of individual solo auditions. Participants paid a workshop tuition fee to take part in the process. Two scholarships were awarded by atyp to participants who could not afford the fees. The funding for the show came out of atyp’s budget.
Once the cast was decided upon we began to workshop the ideas associated with ‘craving.’ Scenes & stories were developed about plane spotting, email addiction, water compulsion, Kate Winslett and global domination, un/happy families and the fear of being alone.
After the initial ideas generation it was then a process of devising workshops and rehearsal. There were two workshops a week over an 8 week period with each being 3 hours in length. One workshop each week was dedicated to multi media work including scriptwriting, filmmaking, sound recording, photo shoots, super 8 shoots and screen performance. The other workshop was based developing theatre skills and devising workshops which included movement, voice, Theatresports, improvisation, monologue and stage combat work.
Throughout the workshop process the ensemble was set many homework tasks including writing a personal monologue about a craving/ obsession they have, bringing in their favorite objects, bringing in a musical track that they like to play over and over again, documenting their lives using mobile phone cameras and more.
Jessica Tuckwell was essential in her role as assistant director. As a young performer herself, she was able to connect with the ensemble, share her own performance experiences and ideas as well as provide individual performance support. atyp’s Artistic Director Tim Jones and Artistic Associate Becky Chapman provided valuable directorial mentoring and dramaturgical support throughout the workshop and rehearsal process. It is important when doing youth theatre and particularly when you are working with a mixed ensemble that the technical crew and artists have and understanding of needs of the ensemble.
Luke Cowling as production manager and Matt Marshall as lighting and sound designer/ operator were fantastic in how they worked with the ensemble. They were both professionally across their roles so had time to form individual relationships with ensemble members, as well as give a relaxed and humorous vibe to the company which assisted with such things as the pressure of opening night.
A series of artists contributed to the process (some with disabilities and some without) including filmmaker Nathan O’Sullivan, Erica Hardwick, Antoniette Dyce and Paul Corfiatis, visual artist Leigh Davenport, musician Angus Hailer (Nothing Sold) who each contributed film, sound design, music and artwork for the show. Also guest workshops artists including Katherine Daniel and Holly Austin ran physical theatre and voice workshops respectively. Vanessa Bates, Chris Saunders and Phillip Crawford provided important dramaturgical feedback.
The process culminated in 2 weeks of intensive rehearsal and 1 week of technical rehearsal in which the cast were required for 5 days each week, similar to a professional companies rehearsal schedule. The production ran for 1 show week which included 9 shows.
The strengths lay in the ensemble of performers and the honest and original perspectives they bought to the devising process. The time spent in the casting and bringing together of the ensemble was invaluable in terms of how the workshop process panned out.
The devising workshops were also a strength with the ensemble having an opportunity to work with a number of guest artists to develop a broad range of skills including stage combat, filmmaking, sound recording, animation, writing and vocal techniques.
The opportunity to do school performances was another strength of the process where senior high school students could witness young people their age doing something truly unique to what they would have experienced or expected
Tim Jones and Becky Chapman provided in house directing support from atyp. Jessica Tuckwell was a regular performer at atyp and put her hand up to be assistant director on the production, as part of atyp directing mentorship system. The atyp production manager Luke Cowling production managed the show. He bought in a freelance lighting/ av designer Matt Marshall as well as a freelance stage manager. atyp promoted and advertised the show themselves. The highly technical production was supported by atyp on a number of levels. The creative process was greatly helped by the fact that Matt Marshall and myself had worked together before. It was also good that the stage manager was fluent in Auslan as one of the performers was Deaf. We were not able to afford to have interpreters at each rehearsal but luckily this participant was a very good lip reader. I had to just spend time discussing with him about what he needed and always make sure I was facing him when explaining anything. I also provided a lot of written material of what was going on at each workshop. The stage manager (who knew Auslan) was only there for tech week and show week which was useful as time had become tighter.
As a director, I was so excited by the ideas and work being created in the devising workshops, that I didn’t allow enough time for rehearsals. I learnt that in order for there to be enough time there needs to be a point to stop devising, consolidate and start rehearsing. This resulted in the final weeks of Craving being quite rushed, with ideas being thrown together too quickly and without proper dramaturgical analysis. It also meant the ensemble had to juggle full time work or school commitments with a full time rehearsal commitment in the last few weeks which did take it’s toll, in terms of people’s energy and concentration levels.
As we were still creating & devising up until quite late in the process enough time wasn’t allowed for the video art/ AV design. Barnaby Norris worked above and beyond his calling (with many sleepless nights!) to deliver a great AV design.
I think time is a very valuable element when working with a mixed abilities ensemble in a workshop setting. As there was such a wide variety of communication styles there needed to be time allowed so that everyone can engage in the workshop task and have time to reflect and share ideas. I did allow for this time, but may have underestimated how much would be required in the lead up to the production.
Another challenge was the ensemble being able to juggle their other commitments such as work and school as well as the Craving workshops and rehearsals. This was mainly only an issues for 2 participants who were trying to maintain their full time workload as well as an intense rehearsal commitment, particularly around the production week. However all cast tried their hardest to be there at all times, and all parents were very supportive of this.
Some ensemble members had difficulties with the fees to participate in the Craving workshop. This was solved by atyp granting scholarships to allow all ensemble members to participate fully in the program. atyp always has a scholarship program for its workshops and production and this is advertised in all their workshop brochures.
At the beginning of the process two ensemble members withdrew from the process due to not feeling comfortable with the mixed ensemble environment. It was personally challenging to think how such a response could have been prevented, except that perhaps the audition process had assumed too much of the young people without disabilities in having an understanding of what it means to be involved in a mixed ability ensemble. This response was surprising, however I don’t feel that we needed to be more clearer in the way the production was advertised, auditioned and the ensemble formed. Otherwise I feel that a production that is designed to be about creating a work of quality theatre, can easily start apologizing for itself and become viewed as a work of charity.
The outcome was Craving – a new devised work exploring where obsession begins, what feeds them and what happens when they take over. Through video, photography, music, movement, verbatim storytelling and text the mixed abilities ensemble cast created a unique performance.
Creating a show through a devised process always involves a step into the unknown. The cast of Craving made this exploration a truly revealing experience with their commitment and honesty resulting in a rich bank of ideas. The casts different cultural backgrounds & perspectives of the world was shown in the depth of their work.
By staging a show such as Craving it provided the opportunity for new audiences and participants to become more aware of the work of atyp does so was good in terms of audience development as well for atyp.
Craving had one performance week which in total had 9 performances, including 2 school shows during the day.
Craving was produced by Australian Theatre for Young People as part of their 2006 season.
Bendeguz Devenyi-Botos, Janet Diane, Sokong Kim, Freya Madelaine, Joanne Paterson, Tracie Sammut, Tim Stephen & Digby Webster.
Director: Bronwyn Purvis
Assistant Director: Jessica Tuckwell
Video Artist: Barnaby Norris
Production Manager: Luke Cowling
Lighting Design: Matt Marshall