As we approach the school holidays the arts scene is cranking up for kids.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra is offering two movie screenings with live soundtrack: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fireon March 29/30 and The Little Mermaid on April 26/27. Did you know it has been 30 years since Disney released The Little Mermaid? Dust off the costumes and get ready to sing along to Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning score!
WA has two youth orchestras and both offer hands-on concerts tailored for children. On April 6/7 the WA Youth Orchestra invites children aged 2–8 to experience live music in an up-close and personal setting. At Babies Proms concerts children learn about the instruments, are invited to conduct the orchestra and can join the musicians on stage. Also popular with kids and the carers, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra’s similar Jazz for Juniors series on April 16-17 includes a have-a-go session at the end of the show.
During the school holidays (April 13-27) Spare Parts Puppet Theatre will reprise an adaption of Tim Winton’s Blueback. The moving story captures the mystery of the sea and the majesty of an old fish called Blueback. The audience follows Abel’s journey from inquisitive boy to a man prepared to stand up for what he loves and believes in.
Youth Week WA also coincides with the school holidays and Propel Youth is celebrating with their annual KickstART Festival from April 13-20. On offer are 40 free events and workshops celebrating the positive contributions young people make to our community. Craft, songwriting, collage, puppetry and a huge variety of classes are on offer for youth aged 12-26.
There are some great holiday courses available for children. Fremantle Arts Centre offers two and three-hour classes including sessions on how to make your own piggy bank, t-shirt, cuddly toy, or explorations into photography, pottery and animation. Barking Gecko‘s drama classes on April 16-18 look great, with a fairy tale theme and classes catering for ages 5-7 and 8-12.
The State Theatre is hosting two shows touring nationally with CDP Theatre Producers: Room on the Broom, based on Julia Donaldson’s much loved classic (April 23-28) and Billionaire Boy based on David Williams hilarious children’s book (April 24-27). CDP Theatre are the team behind The Gruffulo’s Child and The 13-, 26-, 52- and 78-Storey Treehouses and are pretty reliable for a great live show.
Finally, on May 18 one of my favourite music educators Paul Rissmann returns to WASO for another EChO concert. Backed by an 11-piece orchestra Rissmann will explore the gorgeous children’s books The Giddy Goat and The Lion Who Loved in his gently invitational and entertaining style.
Dive into the arts with your family and enjoy the magic that is autumn in Perth!
Pictured top: children get hands on at Jazz for Juniors.
Perth Festival review: Barking Gecko Theatre, A Ghost in my Suitcase ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, February 26 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅
The supernatural children’s adventure A Ghost in my Suitcase opened at Perth Festival last night. Playwright Vanessa Bates’ adaption of Gabrielle Wang’s novel had its premiere in Melbourne last year, played Sydney Festival in January and has finally arrived in the home town of its creators Barking Gecko Theatre.
Barking Gecko is renowned for empathic, playful children’s theatre, and now it can add thriller to the catalogue! Directors Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton have captured both the hair-raising adventure and the sensual, otherworldly flavours in Wang’s novel.
When twelve year old Celeste arrives in China her observations of the sounds, images and even the smells (garlic!) she encounters invites us into her experience of otherness. As her journey of self discovery unfolds we meet grandmother Por Por and Ting Ting and discover the family history of ghost hunting.
Quirky ‘journey’ cameos (bicycle riding, a leaking bus, a sampan boat) are interspersed with scary ghost hunting scenes, linked by Celeste’s reflections. Rachel Dease’s sound design sets the tone for each scene; gentle gongs and burbling water contrast with thunderous explosions and a singing voice (Celeste’s) that is darkly edged with distortion.
The white boxes and frames of Zoe Atkinson’s set design are rearranged and stacked to frame the action and provide backdrops for Sohan Ariel Hayes’ stunning video projections. The cliffs and mist of Cloud Island are particularly beautiful.
Some scenes like the ghost under the bed are the stuff of childhood nightmares, lit by Matthew Marshall in spooky reds or with strobe lighting. But they are balanced by humour and provide opportunity to witness Celeste’s gutsy resilience. Of course Wang’s ghosts aren’t just external. The biggest challenges for Celeste are the ghosts of her heritage and her grief, hovering in the background and bringing real weight to the story. With Por Por and Ting Ting at her side these and all the other ghost complaints are successfully resolved.
The most important part for my eight year old companion was the fight scene where Celeste and Ting Ting work together. And we’ll never look at goldfish the same way again!
Alice Keohavong is endearing as Celeste, Amanda Ma is a multifaceted Por Por and Yilin Kong pulls some cool martial arts moves as the aloof Ting Ting. They are supported by John Shrimpton and Frieda Lee in various roles.
10 – 27 October @ The State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company
and Barking Gecko Theatre Company ·
Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa shot to fame in Australia and around the world with her poetry on Australia’s Got Talent. But before she went viral, Sukhjit was a brown, hairy Sikh girl growing up in the suburbs of Perth.
Fully Sikh is her story. The show is a hilarious and heartfelt poetic procession through Sukhjit’s life, her family and her faith, all told with her trademark lyrical flow. Fully Sikh will be a sensory feast for audiences, full of music, dance, poetry and food. As the first Aussie Sikh story to hit our stages, this is unique and unmissable.
26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Barking Gecko Theatre ·
Travel from contemporary Australia to cosmopolitan Shanghai and to the misty byways of rural China in the enchanting family mystery A Ghost in My Suitcase.
Twelve-year-old Celeste arrives in China to scatter her mother’s ashes, but in no time flat she’s thrust into a world of magic and myth. Her grandmother has carried on the family tradition of ghost catching and Celeste finds she too has a knack for the hair-raising pursuit.
Barking Gecko Theatre’s visually spectacular stage version of A Ghost in My Suitcase, adapted by Vanessa Bates from Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning book of the same name, is equal parts thrilling and heartwarming.
10 – 25 November @ Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA ◆
When Ophelia moves with her family to the seaside, she’s not impressed. She doesn’t like the beach, misses her old home and thinks the people in this town are pretty strange. While unpacking her room she discovers a mysterious box full of gadgets, parts and pieces, and a strange note that reads ‘You. Make. Me.’ Her curiosity gets the better of her and she spends all night assembling the objects into Olivetti, a robot with a typewriter chest and an alarm clock heart. Made up of pieces, but more than the sum of his parts.
Together Ophelia and Olivetti take on the local bully and make friends with a child so worried about allergies that he never leaves the house, all while trying to keep her dad from discovering that Olivetti is really a robot. But a bigger challenge is coming – can the pair save their friend and reunite him with his mother?
My Robot takes audiences of all ages on a rambunctious adventure filled with robot antics, laughter, daring rescues and bewildered parents, all told with the care and artistry synonymous with Barking Gecko’s award winning shows. Children will discover that we’re all just made from pieces, and that when we feel less than whole we can find – or make – a part that fits!
Suits audiences: 4 – 10 and their grown ups
When: 11 – 25 November, 2017
Where: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA.
Tickets: Ticketek: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=MYROBOT17
More info: http://barkinggecko.com.au/play/my-robot/
Wendy Martin, artistic director of Perth International Arts Festival, talks to Nina Levy about the artists and audiences she has discovered in WA.
Wendy Martin is already halfway through her four-year tenure as artistic director of Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF), but, she says, the time has zipped by. “I can hardly believe it,” she remarks. “It feels like I’ve just started, it’s too fast for my liking.”
Originally a Sydneysider, Martin’s résumé includes stints heading up theatre and dance at the Sydney Opera House, and performance and dance at London’s Southbank Centre. Since arriving in Perth from London she has prioritised familiarising herself with the local arts scene and she’s excited by the companies and works she has found in the world’s most isolated city.
It’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s Bambert’s Book of Magic Stories that gets first mention. “I thought that show was one of finest pieces of theatre I saw last year,” she comments. “It was a beautifully conceived, designed, written, performed and executed piece of theatre. That’s what the very best of children’s theatre does, it’s as appealing to adults taking kids as it is to the kids. Seeing that show enabled me to engage in a conversation with [Barking Gecko artistic director] Matt Edgerton. We now have a project on the table, which is a Major Festivals Initiative project. We were able to get other festivals on board… so that’s really exciting.”
Another work for children that Martin names as a favourite is The Last Great Hunt’s New Owner, which was presented at the 2016 Awesome International Arts Festival. “The Last Great Hunt, [a collective of seven Perth-based theatre makers], is doing wonderful things,” she remarks. “I was away in May and the beginning of June and every time I spoke to someone from here they were asking, ‘Have you seen The Irresistible?’” Indeed, The Irresistible, presented by The Last Great Hunt and Side Pony Productions, was a critical and popular hit.
Martin’s first two festivals have included a number of works that take place in non-traditional venues, so it’s no surprise to discover that she’s a fan of Perth’s Lost and Found Opera, a company that presents “unusual” operas in spaces that are both unexpected and relevant in some way to the work. “I went to dress rehearsal in 2015 of Lost and Found’s Médée, that took place [in a former asylum cell] at the Fremantle Arts Centre, and it was stunning,” she enthuses. She regrets that she was away for their most recent production, Trouble in Tahiti, set in the kitchen of a private home in City Beach. “They’ve had massive success, there are stunning reviews for Trouble in Tahiti. So they are really exciting and we’re in conversation with them now.”
Martin believes that non-traditional theatre spaces appeal to audiences. “I think people love the adventure,” she remarks. PVI Collective’s Blackmarket, an immersive and interactive work programmed by Martin at the 2016 Perth International Arts Festival, is one example of that, she says. “People loved that show, on the streets of Subi, and the interaction with technology and humans.”
Another local artist who has caught Martin’s attention is James Berlyn. His work I Know You’re There was also presented in the 2016 PIAF program. Playing to an audience of just 16, I Know You’re There is a very personal reflection that invites, although doesn’t force, conversation with its viewers. “Later today I’m having a chat with James about a project that he is going to explore for us,” says Martin with a smile.
Talking to Martin, it’s apparent that, in spite of the relatively short amount of time she has been in WA, she has a strong sense of connection to the state and to the people who comprise the audiences for the Perth International Arts Festival. “Reflecting on the last two years, some of the things I feel most proud of are the opening events of the Festival. Home  and Boorna Waanginy  are both events that could have only happened in Perth, Western Australia,” she remarks. “The creative teams other than Nigel Jamieson are all artists from here.
“The richness of story in WA is really inspiring. When you talk to people in Sydney and Melbourne they want Australian stories. I feel very much that people in WA connect with the stories the of this place. In 2016, for example, when I was meeting people during the festival and after the festival, the thing that people seemed to respond to was a simple but beautiful project called ‘A Mile in My Shoes’. That was the sharing of people’s life stories, people that you mightn’t necessarily have the chance to talk to.”
Martin is also proud of the work that PIAF has done in the area of disability in the arts sector, particularly in 2016 when Claire Cunningham – a self-identifying disabled artist whose work combines dance, aerial techniques, voice and text – was artist-in-residence. “Claire Cunningham’s presence, her brilliance as an artist helped shift people’s understanding of living with disability,” reflects Martin. “In final days of the Festival, I was having a meeting with her, sitting at a table in William Street, and we had to abandon the meeting because so many people wanted to talk to her, and thank her for her work, or relate their own experience.”
It’s that interaction between artist and audience that seems to be at the core of Martin’s programming, and 2017’s “Museum of Water” encapsulates that concept. A free program of events, the 2017 edition ranged from a sensory walking tour of local wetlands to storytelling aboard a kayak. “The ‘Museum of Water’ is a two year project for us,” says Martin. “I wanted to bring that international project and give it a Western Australian twist because water is such an important story here. We are in the driest state, in the driest continent on Earth.”
Martin’s instinct proved spot on and even she was surprised by the results in 2017. “One Sunday morning we had something called the Swimmers’ Manifesto, where people got up on a soap box at Cottesloe beach. The sharing of really deep, emotional moments and stories in people’s lives was quite extraordinary… more than three or four people told stories that they had never been able to express and they had their loved ones sitting there listening to it, and they stepped down from the soapbox and broke down in tears. I hadn’t realised that water was going to be such a brilliant way in for people’s intimate life stories.
“One of things I am most keen on, as a curator of a festival, is that the people who the festival is for sit at the heart of it, that their stories and their concerns are as valuable as those of a visiting artist,” she concludes. “Creating projects like Home, like Boorna Waanginy, which engaged our Indigenous people, our scientific community and our children, those voices sit at heart of festival. So it’s about West Australian artists, but it’s also about the diverse communities and voices of the people of Perth. It’s really important to find projects and avenues that we can create with the community that resonate with their lives.”
Want a sneak peek at the 2018 PIAF line-up? Wendy Martin has just revealed four shows that will be on the program. Find out what’s in store here. The full 2018 program will be announced November 9 2017.