Barking Gecko Theatre has responded to the challenges of the global pandemic with a new project that gives young West Australians the chance to connect with children and teens on the other side of the world, reports Miranda Johnson.
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We are living in a time of physical isolation and global shutdown, but Barking Gecko Theatre is giving young West Australians the chance to engage in an international arts project.
Titled Isolate > Create > Connect, the project is a collaboration between the WA-based theatre company and Think Arts in Kolkata, India. Connecting children and teenagers from around the world, the project invites them to respond creatively to the feelings and emotions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the aim of creating a historical record of life in confinement for young people during this time, Isolate > Create > Connect presents free weekly videos by teaching artists from Barking Gecko and Think Arts, aimed at children and teens, aged 5 to 17. Participants will be invited to create an artwork that explores their perception of the world at that moment, with all works uploaded to the Barking Gecko website as a virtual record of the activities, and of this significant moment in global history, from the perspective of the world’s youth.
Speaking about the project, Barking Gecko Artistic Director Luke Kerridge explains that, whilst there are many differences between the children’s theatre sectors in India and Australia, the intent is fundamentally the same. Kerridge points to the shared values between Think Arts and Barking Gecko’s CEOs, Helen Hristofski (Barking Gecko) and Ruchira Das (Think Arts), who are both passionately focused on providing children and young people with access to quality theatre in order to become cultural citizens within their own rights.
The organisations hope the project will benefit young people by allowing them to explore their own emotional responses to the global pandemic, and to place this response within a global context. “There’s a sense that we are all weathering the same storm, but in reality, we are actually all in different boats”, explains Kerridge. “Each country is experiencing this pandemic differently, so this is an interesting opportunity to highlight the differences between each country whilst continuing to connect children across the globe.”
Kerridge finds the possibilities of online programming an exciting challenge during the shutdown. “Barking Gecko didn’t want to simply move our existing workshops online, as these rely so much on the physicality of performance,” says Kerridge. “Online programming is such an exciting new space – its potential should lie in its ability to frame new experiences rather than transfer existing ones.” It’s also a rapidly changing and unpredictable space, with every development of the pandemic changing the rules of engagement and modes of practice.
The unpredictable ground Barking Gecko finds itself upon due to the shutdown is exacerbated by the disappointing outcome in the recently announced Australia Council Four-Year Funding round. Despite previously receiving this funding, the much-loved theatre company was not successful for this funding round, a result that Kerridge points out has been a “persistent pattern across the youth arts sector throughout Australia.”
In light of these cuts, is there anything Barking Gecko will be doing differently in the near future?
“In the immediate term we’ll be planning for many different scenarios, with the COVID-19 crisis changing so quickly, it’s about negotiating the day-to-day,” responds Kerridge. But in the medium term, he continues, the challenge for Barking Gecko, and for the youth arts sector as a whole, is about continuing to advocate for the value of what the company does to enrich the lives of young West Australians. Key to this advocacy is reinforcing the need for funding for the youth arts sector, in order to continue to reach children and young people.
It’s a challenge that Barking Gecko is ready to meet. “We’ll hold true to our values and use them as a compass during this time, when things are changing so quickly,” says Kerridge.
During this time of global uncertainty, this sounds like sage advice for us all.