Does technology connect us? Or does it push us further apart? That’s a question that Mandurah’s youth performing arts company Riptide will be asking in The 1’s the 0’s and Everything in Between. Nina Levy caught up with artistic director Katt Osborne, to learn more about this timely new work.
Recently I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. Although the moment of deletion was impulsive (close to midnight, mid-scroll), for some months prior I had been concerned about both the amount of time I was spending on the app, and the fact that the ratio of enjoyment to anxiety experienced whilst “using” seemed to be tipping in favour of the latter.
In theory, I’d like to delete my social media accounts altogether… but there’s no way I will. Facebook, in particular, is central to both my professional and social life. I’m not alone in this, nor in experiencing newsfeed-induced anxiety. Social media is a double-edged sword.
It’s this paradox that is at the centre of The 1’s, the 0’s, and Everything in Between, a new play from Mandurah Performing Arts Centre’s youth company Riptide, that’s been co-commissioned with The Australian Theatre for Young People. Written by local playwright Chris Isaacs and directed by the company’s artistic director Katt Osborne, the work explores the effects of digital communication and conversation on our relationships.
“1’s and 0’s is a play about connection and disconnection through the use of technology,” explains Osborne. “But it’s not about technology, it’s more about ways humans communicate and seek those connections, and how that has changed over time; and how the internet and devices can bring us closer together, but maybe sometimes that doesn’t make us feel close, and what that means for human relationships.
“It’s a play that’s written in… I think it’s 47 short scenes,” she continues. “The scenes are little glimpses into people’s lives and how they might be communicating. That has a cumulative effect over the course of the piece, that asks the audience to ponder the questions, what are the connections we’re seeking? How do we get that in modern life and how are we missing out? Chris and I talk about the work more as a piece of music, in a lot of ways. It has three movements and they all have a different tempo. A lot of it is about the rhythm.”
That episodic structure makes the work relatively abstract, Osborne reflects. “Our challenge is how to pull that all together with a satisfying through-line for the audience. It’s ambitious… and I think it will pay off.”
While the script is written by Isaacs, the performers, aged 15-25, have been involved in shaping it. “The script is very open and that’s been exciting for me, as director, and for the performers, because we have a lot of room to make it into what we want,” says Osborne. “The Riptide ensemble feel ownership over it, because they participated in the initial discussions and giving feedback on the script and workshopping it.”
That involvement in the creative process is central to Riptide’s philosophy, says Osborne. “The aim [of the company] is to grow and empower young artists – specifically performance makers and performers in Mandurah – to grow their skills and be exposed to more professional work. We also aim to empower young people to make their own work,” she elaborates. “We do that through a bunch of different ways; in more traditional ways, in terms of masterclasses with experienced artists, but also in less traditional ways, in that all of the work we make is either is co-created by the young company members [in collaboration with experienced artists] or created solely by the young people, with my mentorship.”
And so Riptide is as much about writing and making work as it is about performing, she continues. “I think that’s often the missing link for young people,” she muses. “My training is through theatre making at university, and I remember that being so eye-opening, going from Year 12 into something that was about making a piece into performance. That’s where my passion is, so obviously I’ve brought that into the company. Having some ownership over the thing that you’re performing in, or a part of, is so important in terms of gaining skills, but also in terms of confidence, understanding the world, finding a voice to say what you want to say.”
Those who are familiar with Katt Osborne will know that she has a diverse background in theatre as a maker, director and creative producer. After graduating with a Bachelor of Contemporary Performance from Edith Cowan University in 2007 she founded an independent company called The Duckhouse, which presented work at Perth venues such as The Blue Room Theatre and PICA. After five years that company morphed into The Last Great Hunt, and Osborn became both a core artist of the company and its general manager for three years. She has also worked in opera as a director, and last year worked in the UK as assistant director for Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, at The Old Vic. In addition to directing Riptide, currently she is a Black Swan State Theatre Company Resident artist, and is producing Actéon for West Australian based opera company Lost and Found.
It’s her own experience of working in the performing arts that makes her particularly passionate about exposing her young charges to a variety of theatrical experiences and roles. “Because I do a lot of different things in my practice, I like to show them that there are so many ways that you can be an artist or be involved in the arts or creative activity, and that involvement can be community-based or professional. There are all these different pathways to find the thing that you’re passionate about and do that thing.”
Pictured top: Teaghan Lowry (centre) with Harrison Mitchell and Tristen Pateman, rehearsing “The 1’s, the 0’s and Everything in Between”. Photo: Jamie Breen.