The development & creation of a new major work by Ever After Theatre Company, Rozelle (2009) Case study prepared by Sue Johnston, Groups and Arts Access Coordinator and Lara Thoms, Ever After Theatre Company Coordinator.
What is now the Ever After Theatre Company, began in a coffee shop with the parent of a young person with a disability, a worker from the Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre and a community worker from our local council. Together they recognised a need to provide opportunities for young people with intellectual disabilities to access the creative and performing arts. The theatre ensemble is a local performing arts group made up of twelve young people. The company members have an interest in movement, drama, music and creating self devised performances. They also have an intellectual disability.
The group was formed in 2001, and has so far delivered 12 performances to the public in the Inner West of Sydney. They have also appeared at the Sydney corporate headquarters of Swiss Re, the NSW Arts Activated Conference at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The Awakenings Festival, Horsham Victoria, Leichhardt Town Hall and Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre.
The group meet weekly at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre for one and a half hours of workshops and rehearsals to create performances which give shape to their ideas, experiences and creativity. Participants have been together in Ever After Theatre Company for up to 7 years, others have been with the group for 2 or 3 years.
The participants reside in the Inner West area of Sydney. Many of the participants attend other programs at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre. Ever After Theatre Company is a program of the Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre, and funded through corporate sponsorships, one- off grants and donations.
Coming Up in Adoration is a work made in response to participants’ stories, and improvisations looking at the larger themes of family, spirituality, empowerment and change. Material for the show comes from the actors facilitated by the director, and other collaborating artists workshopping participant’s ideas. After several years of making short works Ever After wanted to develop a new self devised work for a broader audience. Coming Up in Adoration was the creative development stage of the production, How to Handle a Fractured Heart.
Ever After Theatre Company meet weekly to attend development workshops/ drama classes so they are all very familiar with each other so there is already a strong bond & trust set up amongst the participants from the outset.
For Coming Up in Adoration seven extra lab sessions were implemented which focused on a particular skill. These were in voice, improvisation and indigenous story-telling/movement, with a specialist practitioner for each area.
The ensemble would improvise scenes based on their own writing and themes of family and spirituality. These were documented and reviewed and then developed in weekly sessions. Selected scenes are then workshopped & rehearsed further to be included in the final piece.
During rehearsals, actors get to work in small groups on their scenes, made possible by supporting volunteers with arts experience – this intensive work again refines the material.
An important part of the process was open workshops/performances for small audiences throughout the development process – this provides valuable opportunities for actors to practice performing their scenes with an audience, and for practitioners to refine their directorial approach to the work. This occurred in December 2008 at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre for an audience of fifty family and friends.
In 2009 Ever After commenced further development of Coming Up In Adoration and began to refine scenes. Director Majella O’Shea created a script, which included text and improvisational directions throughout. The group began intensive rehearsals. The designer and technical director were engaged, and started attending some rehearsals in order to contribute to the final aesthetic of the work. Funding was sort and received from the Ian Potter Foundation.
The group renamed the work to How to Handle a Fractured Heart and continued to rehearse intensively, while preparing for a short performance season at PACT Theatre.
Whilst they have performed at other venues, this work is the group’s first major production at a theatre, with professional design and technical staff.
The strengths of How to Handle a Fractured Heart are many. The performers comprise of young adults with a disability who have been working together for several years so are quite experienced on stage and also working as an ensemble. Due to an ongoing performance program at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre (RNC) & regular attendance by a core group of performers there is a strong relationship in place with the director, Majella O’Shea performers and RNC. The long lasting relationship is beneficial as for performers are more comfortable to take risks in creating content and perform together as an ensemble who trust one another.
Due to receiving arts funding for this production the performers were also able to work with several arts professionals on the work. These are Ashley Dyer – Voice Tutor and Terrence Olsen, Indigenous story-teller. Other designers, technicians and musicians were recruited for the final production. These artists build participants skills and offer advice on how the production can be presented in the most engaging manner.
Volunteers have come to us from word of mouth or seeing a production Their contribution is primarily beneficial because as it is a large group, participants are often divided into small groups to rehearse with a volunteer. They also support productions though hands-on activities such as assisting with costume and make-up, handing out programs, catering and bump out.
The strength of the show lies in it being developed from the participant’s own ideas, stories & experiences. This is a strength as it draws on the skills of each individual member and allows stories not often voiced in mainstream culture to shine.
It was challenging to schedule some extra development sessions due to varying time commitments of participants and artists.
As there was a diversity of skill level within the group some actors are more comfortable devising their own work, and some actors are more comfortable working with scripted pieces. This meant some got distracted during improvisation or others had literacy issues with reading scripts/remembering texts. This has been resolved by scripting words out of improvisations for those who prefer it.
For many participants any changes in routine can be challenging & also for those people (parents/carers) who are responsible for transporting them to & from rehearsals. When extra development sessions were scheduled it took some time for everyone to adjust and initially slowed down the process.
It was a challenge developing work in a different space to that of the performance venue which meant there was limited time for actors to become familiar with the performance space that they will be performing in. We spent production week rehearsing each evening in the performance space which enabled the work to be plotted out and the actors and workers to become familiar with the work in the space.
Negotiating the relationship and role boundaries between director and participating artists. Collaborative processes can be complex if a director is used to working solo or other artists are not familiar with the directors process. However this has not been a significant problem.
It was also challenging to maintain the holding space of a creative project – as this piece is an intensive self devised piece, sometimes containing people’s focus on arts as opposed to deeply exploring their personal issues can be a challenge, however we are lucky to work with expert arts practitioners with significant skills in this area.
And lastly it is challenging to plan further into the future and make plans for the company without secured funding for 2010/2011.
To date there has been an open workshop public performance which took place on December 2nd, 2008 at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre and was attended by fifty audience members who were mainly family and friends of the participants.
The group further developed the work into a full production of named How to Handle a Fractured Heart which ran for a short season in August 2009 at PACT Theatre, Erskineville.
The experience of being in a theatre space with full technical and design support has positively impacted the company and our perception of ourselves as a performance group.
Documentation of this project has included photography, audio and film and these are valuable materials for the group to evaluate our work and convey our unique style to future collaborators.
Kerrie-Anne Bezzina, Matthew Cutmore, Tara Elliffe, Sophie Grivas, Tom Hancock, Megan Jury, Thomas Maxwell, Emma Plant, Jo Rix, Luke Salmon, Roddy Salinas, Digby Webster.
Director: Majella O’ Shea
Company Manager: Sue Johnston
Designer: Julia Young
Lighting Designer: Aaron Clarke
Production Management: Ashley Dyer and Lara Thoms
Production Assistant: Caroline Thomson
Cellist: Karella Mitchell