Youthful look at ANZAC narrative in theatre

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“FORM into groups,” assistant director from New Zealand, Lily della Porta calls to an ensemble of young actors from Canberra Youth Theatre.

cy 4 photo Lauren Atkin

“Now, show us something domestic – what’s going on at home.” No, this is not a kitchen-sink drama, but a provocative piece of original theatre under creation as theatre companies from Canberra and New Zealand collaborate on a World War I-themed show playing over the next three days at The Street.

cy 1 photo Lauren Atkin

“Now create a moving image of what’s happening while the troops are fighting in Gallipoli,” artistic director of Canberra Youth Theatre Katie Cawthorne cuts in. They do so instantly, stalking, crawling through the trenches and occasionally putting their heads up for air.

Round the corner in another part of Gorman House, New Zealand director Brett Adam is working with three principal actors, Bella, Liam and Lydia, closely on New Zealand playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell’s script for “Dead Men’s Wars” analysing it for motivation – “when you realise you’re on your own, how do you feel?” Panic, one of them suggests.

cy 2 photo Lauren Atkin

The production, which was initiated and developed by Karla Conway has been in the making for 2 to 3 years, with a lot of flying backwards and forwards between Australia and New Zealand, and based on the idea that the word ANZAC truly denotes a collaboration between two countries.

Well see it here in Canberra this week, but then it will travel to New Zealand, where there will be a brand-new supporting ensemble.

Exploring the role of youth as part of the ANZAC legacy, the new work, co-produced by Canberra Youth Theatre and Long Cloud Youth Theatre from New Zealand with support from The Australia Council, artsACT, the Anzac centenary arts and culture fund and The Street, looks through young eyes at the relevance of the ANZAC narrative for the 21st century.

The play follows one young woman who dares to speak out and question a nation founding myth that “leaves out half the nation,” twisting between reality and the abstract to suggest that sometimes “the story spoken the loudest isn’t the only one there is.”

The actors were asked to look candidly not at what ANZAC has meant, but what it means to young people today. The core cast of six actors aged 18 to 25 years is made up of both Australian and New Zealand performers, for whom this will be their first professional acting job and their first time on an international tour.

The role of Canberra Youth Theatre has changed from its earlier days and Cawthorne says, “Our role is not only to provide a platform for young people to voice their ideas theatrically but also to give them opportunities to transition from a youth theatre training experience to training at schools like NIDA, WAAPA and VCA and working in the industry.”

“Dead Men’s Wars,” at The Street Theatre, 12.30pm and 7.30pm October 14-17, bookings to or 6247 1223.

All photos by Lauren Atkin

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