A devised production by Powerhouse Youth Theatre and the Mixed Abilities Ensemble (2009)
Case study prepared by Claudia Chidiac, Artistic Director Powerhouse Youth Theatre and Craig Anderson, Director Hard Daze.
Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) is the leading youth theatre company in Western Sydney. By engaging with young people from across the region, PYT creates new, innovative and inclusive performing arts opportunities lead by collaborative processes and participation.
Hard Daze was created from the real life stories of young people living and working across Western Sydney. Nine community participants collaborated with a diverse team of professional artists to examine the complexity of equitable working rights and discrimination in the workplace.
Hard Daze was born out of informal community consultations with young people working across Western Sydney during 2007 after the proposed changes to the Liberal governments Industrial Relations Laws. A climate of anger and revolt has brewed since then particularly amongst young workers from Non-English speaking backgrounds and those with disabilities.
A number of young people came to PYT with stories and experiences of being mis-treated, exploited or discriminated against at work.
Set in the still beating industrial heart of Sydney. A modern factory space came to life as the mixed abilities ensemble sang, danced and flung open the door on the private underbelly that is the day-to-day going-ons of a modern workplace.
STAGE 1: PERFORMANCE TRAINING
In 2008 PYT formed it’s first Mixed Abilities Ensemble (MAE). The MAE was developed in consultation with Accessible Arts and supported by the Matana Foundation for young people. For 15 weeks PYT ran professional training workshops in voice, movement and theatre making. Please see the ‘Workshop Plans’ section of this kit for a description of the first 7 weeks of workshops with the MAE.
STAGE 2: CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT
The creative development is a process where the artistic team and participants work together to explore the themes of the performance. The Hard Daze creative development took place from August to October 2008 at PYT.
It was an eight week process that eventuated in a short 30 minute performance for family, services and the performance industry.
The creative development stage helped to create a wealth of resources, scenes, stories, songs, movements and expressions that dealt with work place relations, power, control and past experiences. This was a very important period. Participants learnt about each other and became very familiar with the subject material. This stage also locked in many of the key design attributes- such as the long tables that were the focal point of the performance & became an important physical framework. The performers worked with props at these desks, which helped to develop performative characters. Another important element that grew during this period was a sense of community between the performers. As they all had differing abilities the only common thread joining the participants was being part of the ensemble- a desire to perform, create and tell stories.
This stage was funded by Matana Foundation, Accessible Arts, Fairfield City Council, PYT.
STAGE 3: REHEARSAL
In February 2009 the ensemble re-united for the rehearsal phase of Hard Daze. This was led by Director, Craig Anderson.
This stage was funded by Community Partnerships – Australia Council for the Arts, Parramatta City Council, Matana Foundation, Accessible Arts, Fairfield City Council and PYT.
Note: the following notes are from director Craig Anderson’s artistic report.
I introduced the idea of the show to the group. I told them the style and form that I thought the show would take. I referenced television shows and movies- which I showed clips from to illustrate my point. I decided that I wanted to create the environment where the performance would take place. One thing I learnt during the creative process is that the participants’ stories were all varied and needed a semi-expressionistic environment to be performed in. The common thread in most of their stories was ‘being screwed over by overpowering circumstance”. So I decided to represent this with a giant ‘machine’ that ruled over them in an Orwellian manner.
The ‘machine’ would control their lives- ironically the majority of characters ended up ignoring the machine- but it’s presence should be felt by the audience and it’s dominance over the characters absolute. I explained this to the group and they were all happy with it.
During the creative development phase myself and one of the participant’s carers, Paul participated in performance exercises and in the showing of the work. As a lot of performers were ‘inexperienced’ and tended to follow their own tangents, Paul and I found that we could help guide the show ‘from the inside’. After the development period Paul was no longer the carer for the MAE participant and I had moved onto the director’s role, so I felt that there was a gap in the ensemble for one or two performers who could guide the performance from the inside.
I knew of Will and Collin through PYT, other projects and had taught them in Improvisation and Clowning. I knew that they would work well in the group and be able to use their improvisational skills to guide the performances. I asked them to join the ensemble and fortunately they agreed.
Week 2/ 3
After various comedic/improvisation based warm up exercises I got the group to start thinking about story. We already had a wealth of material from the creative development and pasted these collective memories/ resources up on paper around the rehearsal space. I then introduced the group to some story structure theory. They were receptive.
Characters were created by the participants and were loosely based on themselves and more importantly their fantasies.
During Week 2/3 I created a story structure based on the character points. Lumping them all into scenes. Most could happen with the whole group on stage- some points had to happen with the individual members of the group in their own scenes. The structure changed almost every week- even up until the final night.
Week 4- Week 8
From Week 5 onwards I had drawn up a rehearsal schedule that included rehearsal hours being extended before and after the normal rehearsal time. Everyone agreed that it was the only way to get things done. The following weeks continued in the same manner- ‘scene work’.
I always wanted to finish doing scene work with a few weekends left- this would allow us to do a have a few run throughs of the entire show. Unfortunately due to the large amount of scenes (close to 40), this was impossible and the first time we got to put the show together was when we were in the space for the tech run.
STAGE 4: PRODUCTION & PERFORMANCE
The production process utilized a lot of material that had already been developed and hung them around a blank story arc that I had drawn up. Each performer then filled in the blanks on the story arc and created a narrative for their character (which was going to be similar to their own personalities).
We then worked with these narratives and created scenes where the characters would interact- some dialogue based, some music or movement based. All participants were asked to come up with ways that they could tell the story.
This occurred over eight weeks, until finally we locked in the types of scenes and focused on running the performance together and solving transitions and other performance problems- this was the same time that we got into the space.
After that we had two run-throughs before audience.
The intention was always to perform the show in a non-theatre space within the Parramatta region. Early on in the process we began looking for factories/warehouses that we could perform in. We always knew that we may not have a space locked in until the final weeks- and this is what happened. To prepare ourselves for this we worked with the desk spaces that we had already established in the Creative Development and knew that they would be the focal design element. Kate, the designer, was very accommodating to this and was smart not to push more design elements on top of what we had. The majority of our design meetings existed under a very “let’s see what happens” vibe. At some point she started to toy with the idea of scaffolding- in case we got a space that was literally a big empty space with nothing exciting in it. Once we locked in our location, Kate was happy enough to say goodbye to the scaffolding and focus the performance around the existing features of the found space.
Our first rehearsal in the space involved moving through the show from beginning to end and finding spaces for all of the scenes and learning where performers could travel between scenes- this process took six hours the first day and another two and a half hours the next day. It was useful and I am glad that we were in the space for it. It was the first time we had put the show together and I had a few fears about the running length of the show.
Two nights before opening we had a dress rehearsal with lights & sound. It went well and the show’s duration was now shorter. The run helped the performers to realise the gravity of the situation and focus more intently on what they were doing. Some scenes still needed shortening and so did some monologues. The following day we started working on these changes.
On Opening Night the group all arrived early enough for us to do a warm up- the only warm up we did (as a group) was to rehearse the complex movement piece known as the Love Quadrangle. The Love Quadrangle is pure farce and set to a five minute big band piece of music. It involves characters entering and exiting the stage rapidly and then expressing their feelings and intentions with quick, over exaggerated gestures. The group loved developing this piece and it was done so in a very mathematical and collaborative process. We rehearsed this once before the Opening to help focus the team and get their bodies warm. After this everyone went backstage and got ready for the show. The show went well. I saw a multitude of problems with just about every transition and about eighty per cent of the scenes. The majority of the problems were with the storytelling’s fluidity. But this was simply because we had not sufficiently rehearsed the full run of the show. Everyone had fun and felt great when the audience liked the show. There was real value in it- a value in the exchange. Everyone had told his or her story.
After the matinee (which moved at the same pace as the Opening Night show), I focussed on tightening up several of the key scenes. Perhaps the most important thing was the speech I gave them all an hour out from the show. I had the participants sit in the audience seating and told them about pacing and how they all needed to move the show along- ‘the audience will get bored if they have to watch you walk around and sit down when you finish a scene’. I demonstrated and they all took the criticism on board and then performed faster. Whilst talking to them, almost reprimanding them, I realised there had been an amazing transformation- they were no longer a ‘rag-tag’ group – they were all experienced performers and I was speaking to them, the same way I would talk to a professional company. It was amazing the transformation they have all been through. The group’s passion and desire to tell their story had driven them to this point.
The group was very high functioning and the fact that they had different abilities made the creating process as easy as utilising a palette of various performance skills. There was never a time where their individual disabilities got in the way of the storytelling- this was partly because the story was being created by them and because we were not beholden to any storytelling technique.
At times when we were rehearsing like a professional troupe there were certain allowances and exceptions that had to be made based upon their personalities (mostly originating with their disabilities). Basically it was no different to the kind of eccentrics you can find directing any acting group- as long as you remain attentive, available, impartial and patient then you should have no problem.
For the participants I believe that having a goal (storytelling on stage) gave them focus and desire. It was important to remind them every couple of weeks, why we were doing the show- to tell the story of what it is like to have a disability at work and how there are many obstacles. This strengthened their resolve and provided them with the passion to continue.
I believe that the participants got out of the process an understanding of story structure and scene structure, as well as an understanding of how narrative performance can be put together. They also learnt important lessons about preparing as an actor for performance, stage presence, and how to work with lights and sound.
Individual strengths were realised during the process. Performer Ana Nguyen, had a long desire and dream to record her own song and it was in this process that she worked alongside a sound artist and musical composer to record her first ever songs, they were then compiled onto an album entitled: Ana K. A soundtrack of the performance was recorded onto an album and both this and Ana K were sold after each show. For very album (30) that was sold Ana made $5 of each album.
The professionalism of the core team, the designer, sound artist, musical composer and Director played such an important role in the delivery of Hard Daze. As a result, they were able to support the participants in creating a unique production, who for some it was their very first time performing.
There were audience members who felt confronted by seeing people with a disability on stage. Hard Daze broke down many stereotypes that mainstream society have of people with disabilities, it humanised their struggles, in particular the struggles they face in the workplace.
PYT was able to pay the participants a fee for their performance. It is an initiative that the company has begun to implement where box office is split between the producers (PYT) and the performers (ensemble).
The funding received allowed for all four stages to happen, something which is quite rare in youth theatre. It is a common practice for companies to charge participants to participate in a production, however, the Hard Daze ensemble did not have to pay.
There were many exciting challenges. Perhaps the toughest one was utilising time effectively as we only had 8 weeks to put on a site specific show. A lot of the participants had time restraints due to work commitments, carer availabilities, cost, travel requirements, broken cars, overprotective guardians and the simple fact that life is a tad more difficult for people living with disabilities.
When taking all of these factors into account, I would draw up rehearsal schedules each week and was extremely careful not to leave anyone without something to do. I didn’t want to waste their time when they were in rehearsal.
Sometimes participants would understandably require special attention. This was because we were dealing with deep and loaded issues that were affecting their daily existence. In fact most of them were using stories that came from their own lives and playing heightened versions of themselves.
Every so often I found myself fulfilling the role of councillor, listening to their problems, allowing them to vent their frustrations, deal with their parents, etc.
As a director I am familiar with this sort of thing, but was not ready for the levels that happened in this process. I dealt with it, but I admit it was challenging- as the pressure of the show and the team’s individual problems built up.
The intention was always to perform the show in a non-theatre space within the Parramatta region. Early on in the process we began looking for factories/warehouses that we could perform in. We always knew that we may not have a space locked in until the final weeks- and this is what happened. For the artistic team this was a challenge as they had to be prepared for whatever site was found. And for the participants this proved to also be a challenge, the open space wasn’t very accommodating for vocal projection.
Hard Daze was targeted at an audience who identified as living with a disability and those who don’t. We wanted the audience to reflect the diversity of the ensemble, so it was really important to be able to get people with disabilities to attend the shows. The company decided to have a matinee performance at 11am, the morning after opening night, to cater for disability services and their clients. We felt certain that this would attract a large audience, particularly those from disability services who would otherwise not be able to attend without support. However, the attendance for that performance was incredibly low, with only one service bringing a few clients.
There were challenges and the final numbers of audiences with disabilities were not as high as the company would have liked.
There needs to be a marketing strategy designed especially for the disability community, where upon the community that include services are given up to 8 weeks notice of an event; that audience development needed to begin more thoroughly during the creative development stage.
Transport amongst the ensemble proved to have challenging moments. Who is responsible for the participants arriving? You want to make sure that they are going to arrive safely but when the pressure is on the creative team to pick up the participants and drive them home it does affect the creative process and put pressure on the creative team. In this instance it would be recommended that families and carers play more of an active role in picking up and dropping off participants.
Set in a disused factory space, the audience were taken on a journey that comprised of nine stories, that reflected the voices of young people living with and without disabilities. Their stories were told through the use of lights, music and dance.
Hard Daze was performed over three days with a total of four performances, to audience of over 300 people.
A combination of comedy, drama and madness, Hard Daze was a unique site specific performance experience.
Georgia Cranko, Janet Diane, William Erimya, Collin Gosper, Ana Nguyen, Andrew Pall, Ramak Razy, Tracie Sammut, Omeima Sukkarieh.
Director: Craig Anderson
Set/Costume Design: Kate Shanahan
Musical Composition/Sound Artist: Pete Condello & Milo Taylor (Brickhouse Productions)
Dramaturg: Claudia Chidiac
Production Manager/Lighting Design: Larry Kelly
Stage Manager: Ruben Matheson