A new work devised by participants from integratedliving Australia and St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen (2009). Case Study prepared by Alison Richardson, co-director Home Among The Stars.
Integrated Living is an innovative, not-for-profit community business delivering a broad range of quality community care services across regional New South Wales and Queensland. integratedliving’s reason for being is to deliver quality outcomes based on the individual goals and aspirations and constantly strives to maximise people’s quality of life.
One of integratedliving programs is aimed at providing recreation and leisure activities for people living with a disabilities in an age-appropriate and supportive environment.
When planning programs for 2006 the then program Team Leader Lee Deverinne and Chief Executive Officer Peter Rothnie dreamed up the concept of an 5 day live in workshop series based on drama and dance with the inclusion of music. In January 2006 the All Stars were born and the first workshop was held at the Muswellbrook RSL. The workshop concluded with a concert for family, friends and the wider community to showcase everyone’s talents. All involved gained so much in confidence and increased self esteem from this workshop that that this workshop program has become an annual event.
The current team leader, of the Overton service Chic Taylor saw how much the group of people in her care love singing and acting has continued to develop this concept. The annual four day drama camp is based at the Overton farm house whereby a group of about 18 people from their services, can attend theatre making workshops and be involved in a performance of their own devising over five days at the local high school, St Joseph’s, Aberdeen in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. The piece of theatre is devised over 4 and half days with a performance of the fifth day for the families, friends and local community.
The piece that will be the focus of this case study was titled Home Among The Stars and was co-directed by Emma Palmer and myself in 2009. It was based on the themes of ‘home’ and ‘belonging and what that means to each of the participants. A film tutor & documenter, David Lawrance also came along to document the process and outcome and also to facilitate a filmmaking workshop. A multimedia element was also incorporated by David into the final show based on interviews and footage from the local area.
The process for creating Home Among The Stars was a very intense and tiring one for all involved due to the large amount of people involved and the fact that a show was to be devised from scratch in four and half days. Having said this it was also a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience and for a lot of the participants a life changing one. The integration of students and the All Stars (the name given to the performers from integratedliving Australia) was fantastic and the involvement of the whole community was incredible.
Home Among the Stars was the second piece of work that Emma and I had devised with the group and as a director coming from the city I am always moved and impressed by the level of support from the community and the willingness and generosity from all those around. This feeling of community can sometimes get lost in the city and so it is always refreshing and touching to see this during the All Stars week.
Emma, David and I arrived on the Tuesday. This year we were better prepared as we had already devised one work with the group the year before. We spoke with Chic before arriving and asked if she could ask the All Stars to bring in a object(s) that held some significant meaning to them- it could be photographs, something from their room, a piece of jewellery a stuffed toy, anything at all. We started the devising process immediately upon our arrival and these items became the starting point. They each placed them in the middle of our very large circle of people and spoke about it’s significance. This placing of the objects in the middle of the space also became part of the show. Over the next three days it was then jamming in as many theatre exercises and scene work as we could in the hope that it would all piece together in a fabulous piece of intimate and moving theatre. The key was to facilitate exercises that could be then used in the performance as well. We were devising with the group from 10-4pm each day and would also spend abut 4-5 hours each night preparing for the next day. David also ran a film making workshop for anyone that was interested and also conducted interviews with participants. The Saturday was the final day of rehearsal and this was the day for running the show with no new ideas. We relied a lot on the St Joseph’s students to help get the show up and running, from being responsible for the lighting and sound to helping make and props and sets. We also ‘buddied’ up the All Stars with a St Joseph’s student. The student was then responsible for their buddy’s props and if they needed any assistance with remembering when and where to go on and off stage.
Our goal as directors this year was to place as much power in the hands of the All Stars as possible so encouraging a performance that was driven, devised and performed entirely by them. We were really wanting the performance to be non patronising and were also trying to extend the All Stars and at the same time give each person a moment to shine. The All Stars also get very excited about the talent quest that happens after the devised show. They work on pieces themselves and with Chic (who they love having involved in their pieces and who is fabulous) which is usually a short skit or singing a song.
The All Stars week is one of the activities funded by The Upper Hunter Peer Support Program, funded by the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. However the resources required to deliver this program exceed those provided by DADHC and local business and community groups have come on board and provided financial support to enable this program to grow since its inception in 2006.
I believe a big strength of the All Stars week was the level of support from the community. From volunteers making lunches to people offering to fetch anything we may need for the creation of the show. Everybody is there to support each other and provide the best possible experience for the All Stars.
The exceptional leadership from Chic inspires all those around her. Everyone wants to help as much as they can as they know Chic is going way beyond her call of duty and will neglect her own self in order to provide a positive and rewarding experience for ‘the guys’ as she affectionately calls them.
The collaboration with St Joseph’s was fantastic. The principal and students give up their time in the holidays to be a part of the experience. Some say that they didn’t know what they wanted to do after leaving school but now after being a part of the All Stars week they will think about working with people with a disability. It is hugely satisfying being able to reach teenagers at this impressionable age by providing this experience for them. We encouraged them to support the All Stars to be as independent as they could on and off stage and to avoid mollycoddling them. It was also heartening watching everyone interacting during the lunch time period where they all danced, sang, played cricket together- a perfect, integrated, supportive environment to be in.
I think extending the group beyond the lip syncing and singing & dancing to favourite songs that they are used to performing was a strength of the devising process. I think intimacy of this show by not using the traditional stage but by presenting the show on the floor and in the round and hearing about personal experiences allowed the audience a glimpse into lives of the All Stars and made for a powerful theatrical experience. Also the inclusion of the film element into the show as well exposed the group to something that was new and unfamiliar in their theatre making experience.
Chic says that, ‘Christmas doesn’t get a look in, they all just start counting down for when the next All Stars week is going to be.’
The main challenge was the pressure to produce a new theatrical piece in four and half days. Both Emma and I care about not producing a piece of theatre that people don’t give the ‘pity clap’ to and say how good it is that these people with a disability are ‘giving it a go.’ We really wanted to present something that had integrity and artistic merit as this was presented to a relatively large audience and we really wanted to show them the capabilities of this group.
Everyone was quite resilient but by performance day quite tired. The group was very large as well, with 18 All Stars and over 25 St Joseph’s students. Everyone was cooperative and all worked well together but just by having that may bodies around and feeling like they should all be engaged in some way was also a challenge.
The ongoing success of this annual event is dependant on the support of St Joseph’s and the many local community groups and business that have supported the program over the last few years. With the support of Bengalla Mining, integratedliving has recorded a song written by Chic Taylor and all proceeds made from the sale of the CD will go towards this event and similar events.
The outcome was a 40 minute devised piece of theatre called Home Among The Stars. It incorporated movement sequences, short scenes, solo performances and sound scapes & a multimedia element. It was performed in–the-round at St Joseph’s school hall in Aberdeen on Sunday January 11th, 2009 to an audience of over 100 people consisting of family and friends of the students and All Stars, people from disability services and local the community.
Libby Aird, Neville Abrahams, Nathan Brown, Rachel Chapple, Malcom Cole, John Coleman, Aymee Cook, Nadia Cumberland, Kellie Dallah, Vassie Kyriakou, Lockie Lee, Suzie Moore, Doug Neale, David Oxford, Bruce Palmer, Daniel Sevil, Ashley Thompson, Rebecca Tuckey.
St Joseph’s students:
Lucy Murrie, Katie Andrews, Lauren Smith, Amanda Morris, Hannah Taylor, Nikole Brooks, Zoe Donaldson, Maddie Collins, Shelby Lewis, Jaydan Klus, Ben Leece, Matt Bailey, Edwina Casey, Chloe Jennet, Jess Scotts, Lewis Turvey, Nathan Lane, Melissa Barnett, Kate Mollema, Sofie Casson, Matt Wallace, Erika Sokolowsky, Jordana Keaton, Shennae Leece, Clara Collison, Kate-Eliza David, Mady Wykes, Amelia Gill, Anastasia Nixon, Nichola Rawson, Amelia Hobbs-Haigh, Maddy Quinlan, Andrea Watts, Lindsay Canavan, PJ Tickle, Kim Hasset, Amy Richards, Matt Folpp, Kyle Webb, Luke Bradley.
Producer: Chic Taylor
Directors: Emma Palmer, Alison Richardson
Video Artist: David Lawrance