This is where Polyglot Theatre’s Artistic Director Sue Giles, along with her amazing team of collaborators are currently standing. They have been developing a new work called Separation Street for the past three years, and folks, it is now ready for premiere.
Separation Street is the story of Frank. Frank is a particular kind of guy and always has been. For as long as anyone can remember he’s been obsessed by space and what‘s past the moon, because out there, he can hear people calling for help. And he knows it’s his mission to save them.
In theatre for young audiences you always have kids and you always have adults. In this work, these two parts of the audience are separated and go in different directions to experience the story of Frank. And experience is right – you are IN this show and it’s been a real adventure getting to this point.
We reflect on the process from day one until now, with notes from the artists and children informing the experience you can expect.
“We were FREE,” said James.
Our first child audience for Separation Street were the kids of Currajong School – a school where children go to learn to live in the world. The intense individuality of the kids is the first and biggest thing you notice and that they are super aware of how others relate to them. These kids have tried to go to ordinary schools but just haven’t fitted in. They’re accustomed to adult control and constant surveillance and it really took a while to appreciate the divide they experience every day.
Imagine the sense of release as they were asked to say goodbye to their adult carers, encouraged to create their own costumes, enter into a big box which transformed into a space ship and then as a whole wall dropped, offered a vast space with no instruction. They were free. Everything that they did was now part of what we all experienced. The kids were the agents of change. “We were free”
During the stage two development, we were aware of the secret place that became the glory for the child participants; the excitement of not being watched, of having their own space. We began construction of simultaneous worlds and dual storylines; granting the children the sensory physical world of abstract adventure and giving the adults a narrative based on a singular character.
“The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and sense in which he has attained liberation from self,” Einstein once said.
One of the powerful moments in our life as a child is when adults allow us solitude for the first time. The first time you were allowed to go to the milk bar by yourself, or when a babysitter was no longer deemed necessary and the house was yours, or the first time you went exploring in the bush alone.
Separation from the parent is at the core of many fairy tales. It is this rite of passage that allows the child to identify as a person in their own right, with their own responsibility for decision and actions. Every adventure starts with the leave taking from the familiar and the first step into the unknown.
One of our aims in the second stage was to address the way this separation affects the adult experience. Initial feedback from parents emphasised the stress of separation from their children, as well as wonder at the opportunity to sneak a peek at their child at play, in the wilds of a theatre space. Our challenge was to tie the two separate journeys together and make sure that each section of the audience complimented the other at some point.
Because our child audiences are experiencing every step of the way, physically and emotionally, their journey through this theatre work is unlike any other. Because they are offered image, sound and space as their only ‘story’ they live every moment as it happens. Children are able to run, to whirl, to drop to the floor, to move things around, to scream if they want.
“If I’m not with someone I’m in a different universe. Alone in a totally different place – doesn’t feel the same” said Fred.
The children we’ve worked with have given us a hint of the kind of parallel universe they inhabit. Our other consulting crew were children from Victorian College for the Deaf (VCD), who opened up a raft of new ideas about communication and the importance of touch and how this can change the way we make and present interaction theatre.
We discovered that story needs to be thought about in a very different way with this project – the overly recognisable ‘game’ worlds that the Currajong kids knew inside and out meant that the narrative structure was too familiar – we wanted to give them something that they have never known before. The way that the VCD kids understood theatre was brand new – with no experience of it they approached the huge space we offered with a kind of savage joy. Theatre offers live, touchable, emotional experience. Interaction demands a flexible form from theatre that embraces risk. So, wherever you are, whatever you do, influences what you experience. And you can’t miss out and it doesn’t matter if you do.
And another thing: as a pre and post show portal we have an experiential website, made by Frank, (and our Geek in Residence Kate Geck) which will take you on whatever journey you choose, into the strange and often bewildering landscape of Frank’s mind. Dip into this in the days before the performance and with your password, received as you collect our ticket; go deeper after the performance is over. We can’t wait to hear about your experience.
By letting our audience go, we are inviting them to be players in the world we create and in this, we are all taking risks in search of adventure.
Separation Street premieres as part of Darebin Arts’ Loudmouth program, in association with Melbourne Fringe from Saturday 19 September until Sunday 4 October 2015.
For ticket enquiries see here.