Arts / Young and old words to the wise

Young and old… Jasper Kilby and Diana Sandeman in Canberra Youth Theatre’s production”Verbatim”.

SIXTEEN yellow chairs capture the limelight in Canberra Youth Theatre’s production “Verbatim” about to tour to the Australian Theatre for Young People in Sydney.

It’s a revival of a stupendously successful venture last year that saw young artists from the company join Canberra Dance Theatre’s over-65 years Gold troupe to create an electrifying 50-minute theatre piece about their own anxieties and hopes.

CYT’s artistic director Katie Cawthorne is putting the finishing touches to a revamped version that we’ll see at the Courtyard Studio before it goes on tour.

Cawthorne is the entrepreneurial director who took company members on tour to NZ in 2015 with “Dead Men’s Wars”, a co-production with the Long Cloud Youth Theatre, but verbatim theatre is a long way from her normal focus on physicality in theatre.

“I didn’t have much background in verbatim theatre,” Cawthorne tells “CityNews”.

“It was really interesting to listen to the honest, truthful, fine feelings of teenagers and senior citizens in the society they live in.”

As the name suggests, “Verbatim” begins and ends with words. Cawthorne interviewed every cast member about “gender, love, anxiety, and family – the really big ones”. She found the most talked-about anxiety was about death.

“I’m not a teenager and I’m certainly not a senior yet, but the words that came out of their mouths astonished me, you don’t need to write them, they’re beautiful as they are,” she says.

Cawthorne immediately set about using her theatrical experience to identify the linking themes.

With 20 hours of audio recording to go through, she found herself slicing up the pieces and reorganising them under thematic headings. We’re getting the true words but everyone is not talking about death all at once.

Artistic director Katie Cawthorne… “It’s highly physical and symbolic, but a little bit hard to imagine when you haven’t seen it.”

As well, returning to her love of physical theatre, Cawthorne allowed the words to speak for themselves, as the characters listen to verbatim recordings of their own words and respond to the words, often in movement.

“It’s highly physical and symbolic, but a little bit hard to imagine when you haven’t seen it,” she says.

She was nervous about working with such a mixed age cast aged 14 to 80, fearing “this might just not have any zing”. So she staged a few weekend sessions involving theatre games and teamwork activities and it worked like a dream.

“They didn’t see each other’s ages anymore and the audiences don’t see the ages, either – they really don’t,” she says.

“What we discovered is that age doesn’t matter, even if you’re 80 you can still experience anxiety and even if you’re 14, you can fall in love.

“With such a lot of lively vibe, I thought this really needs to be seen elsewhere.”

So, armed with rave reviews and filmed footage, Cawthorne approached director Fraser Corfield at the Australian Theatre for Young People, who knew the work of the company and he invited them to perform at Studio 1, The Wharf, right on the harbour at Walsh Bay.

Great, but with pillars protruding on to the acting space, she needed to work out what movement changes would be essential to fit in before their shows there from July 19 to 22.

The cream on the cake came when Canberra Theatre Centre approached her with the idea of doing a test run at the Courtyard Studio first. Of course, she said yes.

“The Verbatim Project”, Courtyard Studio, July 14 and 15. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

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