A new work devised by members of Can Do Performance Group, Great Lakes region (2008)
Case study prepared by Vicki Smyth, Team Leader, Great Lakes Leisure & Respite Options.
Can-Do Performance Group was born out of a Social Support programme at Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options (GLLARO), in celebration of International Day of People with a Disability. The original aim was to present a piece of theatre which could give the performers a new and positive personal experience and to increase performing skills. It was also intended to give individuals a sense of accomplishment and pride, and to create a quality piece of theatre to entertain and touch a local audience, while having relevance to the actors.
Can-Do Performance is a group of diverse people with varying abilities who came together for the first time in April 2007 with a common interest being drama. The group evolved from an adult social support program in 2007 at GLLARO a service which provides respite for carers and social activities for people with a disability. The group showed their first performance of Mr Zarbouvray Dreams of a Flying Machine in December 2007.
December 2008 saw Can-Do’s 2nd play which was performed to celebrate International Day of People with a Disability. Can-Do Performance group staged Peregrine, a contemporary piece of theatre exploring notions of individuality, group mentality and personal treasures. Set in a 1946 train station this non-narrative play tightly follows a sound score consisting of a mix of 1940s, contemporary music with sound effects of steam trains. Not one word is spoken through the entire show as station crowds come and go and individuals privately reveal to the audience the contents of their precious suitcases: the thing they treasure most. Earlier in 2009, Can-Do Performance group were awarded the Cultural Award at the Local Government Cultural Awards 2009 for Peregrine.
At the 2008 GLLARO annual Planning Day, drama was the number one requested activity by the clients. The Team Leader, Vicki Smyth negotiated with the show’s writer, director and designer, Mel Harris regarding terms for the project, roles, timeframes, etc. Since the inception in April 2007, Can-Do performance group breaks after the annual performance in early December and re-forms the following April, getting together on a fortnightly basis until September, then weekly until the December performance.
When the group re-forms in April, discussion and exercises focus on the possible themes for the upcoming production. Mel takes her time to get to know each individual and the talents brought by each person to the group – as well as challenges.
Each of the rehearsals are filled with lots of good fun, side splitting laughter, warm fuzzy feelings, with new friendships being formed and existing ones deepened and barriers being broken down.
April commences with drama exercises which provide the chance for individuals to explore, express and share feelings, dreams, frustrations and secrets – it is liberating and provides a great sense of freedom for the group to express themselves.
The drama exercises include short script work, improvisations, ice breaker circles which all allow individuals a chance to express and experience a range of emotions. Individuals would happily step out of their comfort zones and their use their faces and bodies to express great joy, deep sadness, total surprise, being lazy, happy and sociable, lonely and dejected. Individuals are shocked with the amount of noise produced by singing, clapping, stamping, shouting and a melody of different sounds. Other times were soft, quiet and gentle, floating around like thin air.
By approximately June, the storyline is universal and revealed. The culture of the space needs the individuals to feel a sense of safety, acceptance and security so the cast feel open to share their views and feelings. The writing of Peregrine came by posing the question, “If you had to pack up your life and move to another place and you could only take one thing with you, what would it be?” Again the performers experienced various activities focusing on their individuality, uniqueness, and what was important to each of them. Old black and white prints were used to inspire a sense of the setting and gain feedback. Feedback can come in a range of ways; observing body language, drawings, acting & showing pictures. When each person identified their most treasured thing, this became the contents of their suitcase. A 1946 train station was chosen as the setting for the show as this was a period of great social change and migration, and the train station is a metaphor for life’s journey & new directions. The entire cast of 19 went on a train trip for a weekend to Sydney (from Taree) this was so they could experience first hand the business of travel, stations, luggage and they also saw Cirque du Soleil to give them the experience of what it was like to be an audience member and also to see a professional production.
Peregrine had no script, the entire show being driven by a tight score of sound & music. The performance consisted of 21 linked scenes, each with it’s own music piece. Crowd scenes, exploring group mentality and the individual verses the mass, were interspersed with solo scenes in which individuals privately revealed the contents of their suitcases to the audience.
When it came to costuming, the community stepped forward. Local theatre groups Taree Arts Council and Great Lakes Amateur Dramatic Society offered costumes for free, or at low cost. A local hairdresser gave her time to create the stunning hairdos, parents and friends gave assistance and the cast was transformed into 1940’s travellers. Other volunteers created props, stage managed behind the scenes, and kept the cast fed and watered. The process which the performers undertook during the intial stages allowed each person to own their role and breath life into it so it was truly their message which they wished to convey. The transport for clients was provided by either volunteers or car pools organised for the families.
The GLLARO Team Leader, Vicki Smyth developed a full budget for the project and sourced additional funding and in-kind support. A $1,000 Community Development & Support Expenditure (CDSE) Grant was obtained. This provided most of the funding needed for the purchase of stage props and theatre sets. Clients of GLLARO paid a $5.00 contribution for each rehearsal, which also paid for the director. The venue was donated free of charge. Stage props were loaned by Bunnings, or at subsidised cost by Great Lakes Resource Recovery. A local photographer provided his services at a reduced rate, and provided a CD of all photographs free of charge and free of copyright. The production of a DVD of the performance was provided free of charge. Admission was by gold coin donation. The project is self-funding.
Audiences were stunned after Can-Do’s first show in 2007, Mr Zarbouvray Dreams Of A Flying Machine. Positive feedback rippled through the community for months, and the DVD of the play was shown to community groups long after the event. There was a sense of amazement that the group could produce such a moving, high quality show.
Through the process of building Peregrine the cast developed a greater empathy with each other and a shared bond within the group. There was also an obvious increase of self value and worth.
Longer term objectives of Can Do are to break down barriers, stereotypes, and challenge community perceptions of people with a disability by presenting quality and professional theatre with a Can-Do punch to delight, touch and astound audiences. The group set out to make theatre which can stand on it’s own strengths, and not be appreciated in a condescending manner simply because it was performed by people with a disability. Part of this objective is to make the Can-Do name well-known and respected in the local area for the quality and innovation of the group’s performances. Another objective is for the productions to have a ‘not-to-be-missed’ reputation as we build on the group’s skills and repertoire into the future.
The Community have embraced the performances and numbers have increased from the first performance to the second, and currently people are asking when the next show will be. The show finished with afternoon tea following the show, during which the cast and broader community mingled.
One of the challenges following the initial success of the 2007 production of Mr Zarbouvray Dreams Of A Flying Machine was to raise the bar even higher, and to produce a completely different piece of theatre to wow audiences once again, and demonstrate the versatility of the group. Learning to move in particular ways to a set rhythm was a challenge for most, as was the demanding performance order of many entrances & exits. In some ways it was like a ballet of walking, precisely timed and executed, therefore many hours of rehearsal were spent getting it right. Within the cast were 5 volunteers who aided the process.
The performance was entirely non-verbal, with not a word spoken. The previous year as there was words spoken within the performance a sign language interpreter was present on the stage to interpret. On reflection of Peregrine, we received some feedback from a vision impaired person, who found it very difficult to read and work out the concept of the performance due to their vision being limited.
The outcomes reached a broad spectrum within the Great Lakes community and beyond. These included; the ongoing, planned respite component for the families of the person with the disability by delivering an activity which the client is enthusiastic to attend, bringing carers together with a positive goal to focus on & a social and meaningful experience for the person with a disability which includes friendships and a deepening of relationships with peers. The project was cost effective and provided the opportunity for community involvement, friends and family to engage and contribute towards a positive goal. Networking with other service providers, private businesses, government organisations and individuals within the community resulted in a positive relationship with a view to ongoing ventures.
The audience viewed a quality production which was entertaining and had the ability to move the audience and transport them into another world. The fact that it was performed by a cast who had disability was an after thought. The clients were viewed in a light which promoted dignity, respect and admiration.
There were two performances of Peregrine which was seen by approximately 700 members of the local community. An audience of approximately 800 school students who attended the performance were engaged and remained quiet and interested through the performance. The cast also now have increased their acting skills, improved their physical abilities in rhythm and timing, and have a greater appreciation of theatre.
David Camilleri, Peter Cary, Gary Hopkins, Kim Bush, Kelly Burns, Paula Dillon, Shane Extrem, Tim Griffith, Kristin Hancock, Anthony Hatcher, Vivian Hoare, Alisha King, Emma Lowry, Jenny MacDonald, Ellie Mugiven, Vicki Smyth, Peter Stemp, Neva Trinajstic and Lyn Walpole.
Director/Writer: Melanie Harris
Peter Craig, Lisa Stone, Jenny MacDonald, Grant Melzer, Kim Winter, Kaye Hancock, Trish Caddis, Leslie Stemp, Kathleen Fraser, Matt Watters, Shane Chalker
The Team Leader, Vicki Smyth initiated the drama activity into GLLARO in 2007 and the staff all support this activity and annual performance including the additional workload leading up to performance time; Sandra Davies and Linda Trinajstic.