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For and by kids with a little help from friends

Bryoni Trezise, The Drawing

The Drawing The Drawing
photo Katy Green Loughrey
Against the backdrop of an eerily projected forest stands a lone tree, its assemblage from everyday leftovers—water bottles, feathers and plastic wrap—elegant, white and wispy. The stage is darkened to red as a shiny-shirted compere (Chris Dunstan) enters to set a fable in motion. We are in the recognisable land of fairy tale: of lost children, mysterious houses and shape-shifting environments. Our protagonists are a sister and brother, who venture inside a house of ‘worlds’ after the boy’s curiosity takes him deep into the woods. She follows as the reluctant older tween, navigating herself through nature with an iPhone and a digitally stymied desire for some good, old-fashioned adventure.

The Drawing is structured as a choose-your-own-adventure narrative and has been built across a number of development phases by writer-directors Natalie Rose and Chris Dunstan with the collaboration of groups of child participants. The project began as a series of workshops across five months with Shopfront Theatre’s Junior Ensemble of 8-15 year olds. For its current iteration, Blacktown Arts Centre brought artists James Brown, Clare Britton and Matt Prest into the mix to enable the work to realise more complex dramaturgical and design possibilities, as well as engage a new community of children in the process. The result is a work that draws some participants from the original workshops into conversation with newer ones, led by both adult artists and paid younger artists who take on the primary performer and devisor roles.

The Drawing The Drawing
photo Katy Green Loughrey
The complexity of the process here speaks to the myriad challenges of engaging children as ‘rhetorical’ agents in creative practices that aim to enable them to experience the capacities of their own self-representation. Setting up opportunities which allow young people to be drivers of the conceptual landscape of a work, as well as to participate in its realisation, has often been the domain of youth and community theatre. In The Drawing, the young collaborators additionally replay a version of their own participatory agency in the dynamic the work establishes with its audience: we get to choose what happens. What emerges is—as the program bills it, “a show made by kids for kids”—with the seams of such extended agency a little clunkily and quite delightfully peeking through.

To participate, the audience is given a package of equipment (feathers, balloons, glow sticks) with which to signal when we have a choice to make. Our first involves the action of the narrative: do the lost children climb through a window, ask for a hot dog or look for tap shoes? We wave our feathers and suddenly we are inside the house of a mysterious old man Otto Von Chesterfield (Prest), who has a particularly odd relationship with the children and to the ever-changing rooms in the house. In another moment, we select a book—Matilda, Harry Potter, or Green Eggs and Ham—and are told we have taken a wrong turn causing the show to end prematurely. Here our agency felt undermined: the ramifications of our selection were not indicated upfront—a slight unevenness in the way the idea of ‘choice’ is understood in the work overall.

The Drawing is impressively supported by the characteristic excellence of designers Clare Britton and James Brown—the latter’s signature sounds of urban clatter, disco thumps and unnerving atmospheres illustrated by projected animations (originally inspired by drawings from the children) that give a three-dimensional, cinematic depth to the worlds the fantasy house charts. Performances by Prest and Dunstan are animatedly comical, leading us into a story that is increasingly sinister, elaborate and compiled with pop-cultural references in possibly just the way you’d expect a work made ‘by kids for kids’ to be.

Blacktown Arts Centre & Performing Lines, The Drawing, writer-director-performers Natalie Rose, Chris Dunstan, devisor-performers Matt Prest, Hania Goro, Samuel Rosenberg, Brayden Sim, Maud Mitchell, design Clare Britton, AV & sound design James Brown, Lighting Mirabelle Wouters, Blacktown Arts Centre, Sydney, 21-31 Jan

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 37

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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