Singleton Life on Stage in 'Singleton Tales'
What's it like to be a young person in Singleton in 2014?
Above: Members of Broken Leg Theatre draw images for stop-start animation with theatre-maker, Tamara Gazzard. Image credit: Claire Albrecht
Each Friday since June, 11 young people from Singleton’s Broken Leg Theatre have met with Tantrum Youth Arts theatre-maker, Tamara Gazzard and Broken Leg’s artistic director, Dan Stranger to create a work about their lives in the Hunter Valley town.
Tamara, also a performer and arts educator, is currently the Resident Teaching artist at Tantrum Youth Arts and a casual academic at the University of Newcastle.
The resulting verbatim theatre piece, Singleton Tales, will be performed on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 November, 7pm at the Singleton Youth Venue.
Tamara completed a theatrical internship with the Sydney-based documentary theatre company version 1.0 and undertook professional development in the method and process of documentary theatre-making. Tamara also has 14 years of formal training in classical and contemporary dance and in 2014 undertook a mentorship with professional Dance Theatre artist, Cadi McCarthy, in the creative development of Spent. She has recently been announced as a recipient of the Australia Council’s ArtStart grant, and is spending the next 12 months undertaking a program of business and professional skills development, travel and networking.
Tamara spoke to Robyne Young about her passion for verbatim theatre making, the partnership with Arts Upper Hunter and Broken Leg Theatre and the young people of Singleton who have embraced the form.
Can you tell us a little about the genesis of the project?
I think it came from a place of wanting to build momentum for creating a new work in Singleton. Arts Upper Hunter Regional Arts Development Officer, Mark Reedman, initiated the project and it was a logical step to connect with the young people at Broken Leg and its artistic director, Dan Stranger. They had been taking part in drama workshops with Dan on the Friday afternoons, so they were used to the routine. There was already a relationship based on trust.
By working with Broken Leg we tapped into the skills the young people already had in performance, but could challenge them in terms of being the creators – the writers of the work. The kids are really pioneering this type of work for the area.
How did they feel about being asked to tell their stories, rather than act out the stories of others?
There was a bit of eye-rolling at first about the process and a sense of ‘my story isn’t very interesting’, but as we went along, they found that their stories have a place, and that they’re quite universal.
One of the writer/performers is only 11 and I was blown away with some of her insights and observations. I thought she was much older.
What were the issues that were on their minds… the issues they wanted to talk about?
They’re very switched on and connected to their families and their communities. Mining was something they wanted to talk about … they see the positives and the negatives. Their responses to many issues were really compassionate. If they talked about their families it was about how much they mean to them, how great they are. They spoke a lot about problems in the community. They lost their self-consciousness very early on.
Can you tell us a little more about the process of verbatim theatre and in particular what’s being done in Singleton?
We did a lot of recording of their stories. Sometimes I would sit with them and record their responses on my iPhone. Then I would have hours of audio to transcribe, but you strip this back and prioritise. The students also went out into Singleton and interviewed people to gain their thoughts about the town and the district, then brought these interviews back to add to their own stories.
As I said, once you have the audio, you make choices about what will be included. Some liberties are taken because it’s about the theatricality of the work and engaging the audience but still remaining true to the stories that have been contributed.
You’re very drawn to this kind of theatre-making. Was there someone in particular who ignited your passion for it?
I had a wonderful lecturer in my undergraduate degree who was very passionate about documentary theatre and other political forms, and I think I caught a bit of his enthusiasm. I guess my main attraction to the form is that through documentary theatre you can make work that responds directly to the world around you. You can drag things out of the archive and look at them in a new light, or (as is the case with verbatim theatre) you can actually contribute to the archive by presenting new voices that maybe haven’t been heard before.
‘Singleton Tales’ has been a learning experience for the students, but I understand it’s also involved professional development for Dan.
Yes. Dan is very experienced in presenting theatre that is scripted, but this is giving him new skills in verbatim theatre that he will be able to use after Singleton Tales is finished.
The project’s been supported by ABC Open and Singleton Council. What was their role?
Anthony Scully from ABC Open interviewed the kids and videoed them. After the production these interviews will go online, but we’re also aiming to have a montage of their responses playing in the foyer of the venue before the performances. There will also be an original soundtrack from Huw Jones during the performance.
Here’s an excerpt from the performance:-
One thing I know about Singleton that I wish others knew?
That Singleton’s an actual hole. Like literally, it’s the Hunter Valley, then a hole.
But Singleton isn’t just a hole.
It’s a small town with good people who know each other
and can help you with whatever you need.