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Features/Theatre

Unmasking our unsung heroes

20 July 2020

Sure, you can enjoy Black Swan State Theatre Company’s latest season from your couch but more importantly, Ara Jansen discovers a handful of local stories to remind us heroes don’t always wear tights.

Poet Emily Dickinson wrote that some people think a word is dead once said. She believed it only began to live that day.

Either way, it feels fitting that Black Swan State Theatre Company’s “Unsung Heroes” has been turned from a live event to a digital one, making the fleeting and momentary permanent.

As part of their newly launched Black Swan Home Theatre, the five originally solo stage performances have been reimagined into “Unsung Heroes: A Digital Festival of Western Australian Stories”. Each filmed as a live on-stage performance, the program starts streaming this week.

For Black Swan Artistic Director Clare Watson, this takes theatre’s ephemeral nature and makes it permanent, changing the way the company can engage with its audience. “The artists who have created these works have managed to keep the integrity of the theatre experience and create something that’s enjoyable for screen,” says Watson. “I’m proud of everyone involved and grateful for their ingenuity and talent at a time when things are really challenging.”

“The artists who have created these works have managed to keep the integrity of the theatre experience and create something that’s enjoyable for screen.”

Watson says this new world isn’t necessarily unusual for actors as in each new project they are regularly asked to pivot, bring their best creative initiative, apply extraordinary discipline and diligence, and find fresh ways of delivering.

Having a digital version of “Unsung Heroes” also creates a natural accessibility outside the theatre space, giving the company something to share across the state and further afield. There’s also no reason the pieces can’t be presented live to an audience when circumstances allow or that digital mode becomes a regular offering.

In “Unsung Heroes” the short stories, around 25 minutes each, cover a variety of topics from the right to die with dignity to the life of a male impersonator and a life-long love for music. They are stories of people who you’ve most likely never heard of but are undeniably interesting.

One theme that threads these stories together, though, is courage. The courage of one’s convictions, the desire to pursue something meaningful with passion – and, you suspect in some cases, a bone-deep need.

Actor Mararo Wangai presents the opening night piece, Song in the Key of Trust. Each writer was tasked with finding a Western Australian who had an exceptional life story. Written and performed by Wangai, Song in the Key of Trust tells the story of a musician named Momed Saluman, whom he has known through the local African community.

“For me this is a story of celebration, of not compromising for anyone else or letting anyone tell you what your life should be.”

“For me this is a story of celebration, of not compromising for anyone else or letting anyone tell you what your life should be,” says Wangai. “This was a chance to step into [Momed’s] shoes, to listen to his words and be part of his life, if only for a brief moment. Momed has had such an amazing life and in the beginning worked with such few resources, yet he was so clear that he was committed to becoming a musician.”

Over cups of tea and digging around Momed’s music collection, the pair talked of his journey from Mozambique 25 years ago and his drive and dedication to making music no matter the odds and despite the fact that at the time it seemed a totally non-viable way to make a living.

To match his subject’s story, Wangai will be both acting and singing some of Momed’s songs. “I got such a clear picture of how complex we are and how our journeys are so diverse and unpredictable. Pieces like these let us share those journeys.”

The other pieces in the series are The Unremarkable and Ordinary Life of Carmela Caterina Tassone, written and delivered by Chris Isaacs, The Perfect Boy written by Gita Bezard and delivered by Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Lesson in the Art of Butterfly written by Hellie Turner and performed by actor Alison van Reeken and Own Way by writer Barbara Hostalek with performance by Jo Morris.

Both Watson and Wangai hope that the digital presentation will appeal to a wider audience, including those who don’t normally see live theatre.

“You don’t have to be a certain type of person to go to or like the theatre,” says Wangai. “Theatre should be seen by more than just the converted and I hope these stories draw more people into that creative world.”

Watson continues, “We want to promote a bunch of different ways to engage with theatre and storytelling. This is an age of social and cultural change, so how can a theatre move with that? It’s something I’m talking about a lot. For me community is essential for this experience and that’s what excites me. We get the opportunity to bring people together and give them a collective experience. For that 90 minutes they have a sense of being together because of what they have just witnessed.

“We might be alone, but we can watch this series together!”

The five stories will be live streamed free weekly to registered users from Tuesday, July 21 at 7.30pm WST and then on demand. A live Q&A facilitated by resident artist Ian Michael follows each stream. To watch the performances live or on demand, registrations are essential at https://bsstc.com.au/plays/unsung-heroes 

Pictured top: A still from ‘Song in the Key of Trust’, picturing actor and writer Mararo Wangai.

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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