Get FUNPARKED this weekend!

Funpark 2016 - WorkshopsWow! It’s happening already! School holiday workshops are underway this week in preparation for FUNPARK at Bidwill on Saturday, April 23. Now making it easier than ever to participate in popular activities from previous FUNPARK celebrations are workshops in Parkour, hulahooping, art and craft and “Let’s paint Bidwell” – see times in poster, left. A packed program will run from 12 noon to 3.30pm, on Saturday in Bidwill Square and the adjacent Bidwell Uniting Grounds. FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project continues to involve participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt.

FUNPARK is the brainchild of award winning theatre director, Kaz Therese, whose own childhood was spent in Bidwill and inspires so much of her creative output. It was launched as an event of Sydney Festival in January 2014 and became an annualFunpark 2016 boy event as a result of popular demand. Professional development workshops began in January for FUNPARK 2016. Kaz and her team promise food, live theatre performances, games, and workshops in a whole range of activities, including filmmaking, hip hop, food making and mural creation.

There is a close link between FUNPARK, the Bidwill community and last weekend’s walk and camp in which Aboriginal elders from the Mt Druitt area passed stories, knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next: “Ngal lo wah murraytula”. CuriousWorks in partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts will be working with the young people who attended this camp over a number of years, to help them tell their own First Nations stories of life in western Sydney. “Ngal lo wah murraytula – Culture is the foundation, learning flows from here. Biaime, Stars and Grandfather Sun. Always today and every day.” Mt Druitt and Bidwill are on Darug country.

The community engagement and skills sharing of FUNPARK has already transformed Bidwill by drawing attention to its previous loss of community facilities and achieving recent upgrades to the square itself, and to shopping and services available.

Funpark 2016
Now in its third year, FUNPARK is supported by a coalition of six companies – Bidwill Uniting, Blacktown Arts Centre, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, CuriousWorks, UNOH and Learning Ground. FUNPARK is now cemented as a long-term creative program for Mt Druitt. Come and see what it’s all about at FUNPARK 2016! APRIL 23rd.


Get Funparked on Sunday while you buy your groceries!

They did it! Kaz Therese and her creative team from Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Blacktown Arts Centre and the Mt Druitt community raised more than the $5000 they needed to stage FUNPARK in 2015. Their efforts through the crowd fundraiser Pozible were spurred by their anger at the negative publicity about the Mt Druitt neighbourhood generated by the SBS program Struggle Street in May.

Funpark 2015

The inaugural Funpark last year was a celebration of the Bidwill community’s stories and strengths and a feature of Sydney Festival. One of the best practical outcomes, apart from increased confidence and self-esteem, was the decision of Foodworks to set up a supermarket there. Funpark had highlighted the problem for the community of having none of the local shops they once had and the complexity of access to alternatives.

Funpark - Rev John DaceyKaz says, “My hot tips are, if you are a guest in Mt Druitt it would be great for you to attend these two works: The Occult of Bidwill presented by Minister John Dacey, left, and also Cuppa Tea with Therese presented by local resident Therese Wilson. These are both fascinating and inclusive live art works that provide direct engagement and an opportunity to get to understand some of the local issues and how you can further support the community on the day. Also make a t-shirt and dance like it’s the revolution in the carpark of your dreams – to DJ Tracksuitpants!

“Of course there are DJ’s, performances, workshops and social actions so check out the program and I’ll see you and your family and friends in Mt Druitt this Sunday from 3pm-7pm to get Funparked!  Foodworks (carpark),Carlise Ave, Bidwill. It will be cold so bring warm things and pillows and blankets to watch the videos. Do the locals a favour and do your shopping at Bidwill Foodworks!”

Struggle Street betrayal spurs brilliant FUNPARK response at Mount Druitt

Struggle Street - SBSKaz Therese felt completely gutted three weeks ago when SBS television ran its promo for Struggle Street, set in the western Sydney suburbs of Mount Druitt (photo – SBS – Peta and Ashley Kennedy). Creative director of the highly successful FUNPARK, part of Sydney Festival 2014, Kaz shared a deep sense of personal betrayal with local people who worked with her on the project.

On May 4, she posted on Facebook – “Not long after FUNPARK 2014 finished two film makers came to Bidwill and told everyone they are looking to create a positive series about people from the area. In the light of the positivity created by FUNPARK they gained people’s trust and then produced this Struggle Street a completely negative and defamatory series. The release of promotional material has left many ofStruggle Street - Chan 9 the participants shocked, with a documentary they were told would take a positive look at their struggles instead appearing to mock, degrade, insult and exaggerate their hardships. Because of the promo material there are people in the area who are getting slandered on social media and being shamed and abused.” Above, the Kennedy family described their distress to Channel 9’s A Current Affair. On the same program, they have since given a positive response to the show. Struggle Street attracted record audiences for SBS.

“The film makers from KEO FILMs should be boycotted. They lied to the individuals and the community. Shame on you KEO Films. . . . Please sign this petition and support the shut down of Struggle Street.” The protest, supported by Blacktown Council, was so strong that SBS pulled the promo, though they didn’t cancel the series. They merely brought forward the third episode and showed it with the second.

1-Kaz Therese 2014Local anger was galvanised not merely by Struggle Street, but by the fact that it was yet another in a long line of media forays that consistently portray Mount Druitt in an endlessly negative light. In fact Kaz’s inspiration for FUNPARK had been her childhood experience of the “Bidwill riots” in 1981, when a TV helicopter descended on a fight between two school girls watched by a bunch of other students, and heard her street described on television that night as “the worst in Sydney.” One of the central performances of FUNPARK was a highly entertaining musical parody of the event, which still resonates in community memory. Kaz Therese, above.

One response came on ABC’s Q&A with Tony Jones, on Monday, May 11, Struggle Street on Budget Eve. Among the panellists was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwright and actor Nakkiah Lui, who grew up in Mount Druitt. In the audience were local high school students, community workers and the Mayor of Blacktown Stephen Bali. Defying the stereotype and without artifice, they were all highly articulate, dignified and well informed.

Funpark kidsBy May 15, Kaz was announcing the return of FUNPARK to Mount Druitt and the launch of a  Pozible campaign to fund it. FUNPARK was re-ignited. Kaz says, “FUNPARK is about positive action and activism and we want the Mt Druitt community and FUNPARK community to feel like FUNPARK is there when its most needed. We are inviting everyone back to an adventure to Mount Druitt.

“FUNPARK 2015 – July 19th 2015!

“Today I am launching a Pozible campaign to raise $5,000 to create a significant event that re-ignites the positivity created in January 2014. The FUNPARK Pozible campaign accepts any donations from $5 up to a zillion dollars. It’s just about everyone coming together offering what you can to support it. In light of recent events FUNPARK is working to reaffirm the pride and potential of this great community. Sydney and broader Western Sydney audiences are welcome to attend. If you didn’t catch FUNPARK in 2014 this is your chance to come and see what all the excitement is about!

Funpark hoopsters“FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project actively involves participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt. Through a program involving community engagement and skills sharing, the FUNPARK initiative will transform the small suburb of Bidwill in Mt Druitt into a funpark on Sunday, July 19. FUNPARK will present original works from 2014; Cuppa tea with Therese, The Occult of Bidwill, presentations of video work The Underpass and a screening of the acclaimed performance work; Mt Druitt Press Conference, presented by the Social Revolutionaries.

Blacktown Council is stepping in to help and artists have already rallied to ensure FUNPARK’s success. Put July 19 into your diary and make a donation by clicking here. Use the search tool on this blog to find more information about FUNPARK 2014, Bidwill, Mount Druitt, and Kaz Therese.


Powerhouse Youth Theatre launch turns migration complaint on its head

PYT 9 Lives 2015Powerhouse Youth Theatre launched its 2015 program at Fairfield School of Arts, on Monday, March 9, in an atmosphere of exuberant warmth and enthusiasm. Guests were welcomed with traditional Iraqi coffee, tea and sweets, the PYT Ensemble gave a taste of their performance range in languages including Arabic, Spanish, Pashto and English, and the Choir of Love presented a set of songs drawing on the musical heritage of Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac cultures.

Catering was provided by Parents’ Cafe Fairfield, a social enterprise established to explore pathways to training and employment in hPYT - Parent Cafe and Kaz 0315ospitality for newly arrived refugees. Parents’ Cafe is incorporated in partnership with Fairfield High School and Sydney South West Area Health Service. Above, artistic director Karen Therese introduces project 9Lives and right, stands proudly with the team from Parents’ Cafe. The atmosphere of good will and cooperation in support of young people was palpable.

More than 200 young people of diverse cultural backgrounds come into PYT’s home in Fairfield’s old School of Arts each week. They participate in a wide range of programs and wPYT 2015 Program Launch - Team 9 Livesork with some of Australia’s leading artists.  Among this year’s special projects is 9Lives, an urban choreographic portrait of the streets of Fairfield to be developed with Force Majeure for presentation in August. Team 9Lives is a local group  dedicated to the philosophies and movement practices of parkour. Wikipedia describes parkour as a holistic training discipline using movement that developed in France in the late 1980s. Only the human body and the surroundings are used for propulsion, with a focus on maintaining as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe. Team 9Lives has turned parkour into a dance form thrilling to watch, let alone participate in. See their Facebook page.

Team 9 Lives - SOH  2 0315Self-taught from the beginning, Team 9Lives is now western Sydney’s underground street-style champions. Ali Kadhim, Joseph Carbone, Justin Kilic, Jimmy James Pham, Johnny Do, Natalie Siri and Patrick Uy of Team 9Lives have already conducted workshops and performed at Sydney Opera House, right. There are plans for a full scale performance there next year. They share their skills with anyone willing to learn and conduct regular evening workshops with local young people in the RTA car park, almost opposite PYT’s home. For the core practitioners, there is a strongly spiritual base to their work, mental discipline and a commitment to overcome obstacles and disadvantage. A constant creative exploration has led them to filmmaking, sharing skills on YouTube and providing entertainment for public and private celebrations.

PYT - David Capra and Kate Blackmore 0315A series of projects will be developed throughout the year, where young people work with established artists and partners like Fairfield City Council and C3West (MCA Australia) to create new theatre and dance works, dinner parties, dance parties, exhibitions, a film festival and opportunities to become part of continuing PYT programs. Lifetime Fairfield resident and artist, David Capra and Kate Blackmore, above, will work with young artists and experimental filmmakers to present Motion Pictures – A Festival of New Cinema in Youth Week.

PYT 2015 Program Launch - Iraqui danceThe launch was the perfect antidote to a Facebook response to my recent blog post about Cat Thao Nguyen’s memoir We Are Here. The Facebook respondent said: Australia was a great and kind nation because we put Australia first and people who immigrated here wanted to assimilate. Today, we have to try and please the new immigrants to their way of life. It just doesn’t and won’t work. Immigration has gone too far and taken over the Australian way of life. Unfortunately, all the do-gooders out there have allowed this to happen.

The writer seemed unaware that immigration is government policy. The number to be accepted in 2014-2015 is 190,000, set at budget time. Governments want more workers and more taxpayers. Click here for detail. In addition, I understand a further 13,000 may be accepted as refugees. By any standards, Australia’s current treatment of refugees is far less humane than it was in the 1970s and 80s. Like Thao, who is now an international lawyer, many refugees make a great contribution to Australian society. In the photo above, young and old, Middle Eastern, Asian, European and Anglo Australian join a traditional social dance at PYT’s launch, with much whooping and excitement. For more launch photos, click here.

1-PYT 2015 Program Launch - Bridget and AuntieWestern Sydney is “a frontier society . . . It tells us the way Australia is going . . . in western Sydney they’re working out the multicultural project day by day, in a way most Australians are not called upon to do,” says social researcher Hugh Mackay. This is the introduction to the About section of this blog and is the daily experience for most people living in the region. And it’s not always easy. The Fairfield area has experienced non-English speaking migration since the mid 19th century and for decades has had more than 130 different cultural groups and languages. For those who have lived in parts of the region, which have retained their Anglo-Australian composition for longer, change can seem comparatively hard to accommodate. Above, Sydney Opera House head of education and performance for young people, Bridgette Van Leuven, left, with Aboriginal elder Auntie Maggie Williams at the PYT launch.

Powerhouse Youth Theatre is now approaching 30 years since its establishment in 1987 at Casula Powerhouse. It seems it’s already embedded in an “Australian way of life”. For more PYT program information and how to get involved, click here.

Bidwill hones originality and commitment

Bidwell hoopsters 0114It’s clear that having a classical education in theatre and the arts is not a prerequisite for inspired interpretation in theatre production. In fact the lack of it gave Kaz Therese and Damien Ryan the freedom to develop their own approaches.

Both contemporary theatre directors were students at Bidwill Public School when a TV channel helicopter landed on the roof in 1983 and fomented the media beat-up, which became the “Bidwill Riots”. Bidwill is a suburb of Mt Druitt, an area largely developed for public housing in the 1970s and 80s, and a continuing exemplar of poor infrastructure planning by governments and social disadvantage.

Kaz Therese remembers as a nine year old hearing her street described on 60 Minutes that night as the worst in Sydney. It contributed to her resolution to refute the stereotype and ultimately to develop an international career as a creative producer and artist. Her work is grounded in performance, political activism and community building. She is currently director of Powerhouse Youth Theatre, at Fairfield, and earlier this year directed Fun Park as part of Sydney Festival (see Bidwill Hoopsters above). She plans an extension of the Fun Park experience and has won many academic and arts accolades

Fellow Bidwill student Damien Ryan also has vivid memories of the helicopter on the school roof. The subsequent media hysteria and dismissive stereotyping of locals certainly didn’t deter him from absorbing a passion for Shakespeare’s plays through his mother’s love of the Bard’s work. He developed a professional career in school teaching and theatre. In 2009, he launched the independent theatre company Sport for Jove with the first of a series of annual outdoor productions of Shakespearean and other classic plays in The Hills district and Blue Mountains. In January this year, Sport for Jove won several accolades at the Sydney Theatre Awards for its summer production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

1-SFJ Hamlet 2012Of Shakespeare’s plays, Damien says, “Probably the thing that appeals to me most . . . is that they are so overflowing with life and passion and imagination and incredible poetry, while also being among the most psychologically detailed observations ever made of what it is to be a human being. Young people can learn so much about life and loyalty and love and family and pressure and violence and forgiveness from ‘experiencing’ these plays, not just reading but jostling with them as performers or audience members.”

In 2012, Damien established a NSW school education program in partnership with the Seymour Centre, beginning with a production of Hamlet (see photo above). His philosophy in introducing Shakespeare to students is, “Just plunge into the world of it, make them recognise themselves in it – which it is impossible not to – and they will work out for themselves that some of this stuff is incomparably good. It is far more effective and fulfilling for a student to feel they have discovered something for themselves than to let them share in your ‘ownership’ of it.”

Sport for Jove has increasingly embraced other theatre classics, remaining as faithful as possible to original texts, but offering stimulating interpretations and fresh insights. The latest education program at the Seymour Centre was Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Adam Cook.

You could hear a pi1-SFJ dollshouse01n drop, so absorbed was the audience in A Doll’s House, last month. Henrik Ibsen’s play was first performed in Denmark in 1879 and has lost none of its power to move and provoke an audience. Although the stifling mores of middle class society and the powerlessness of women within that context has eased, the play still resonates strongly with a contemporary audience.

Outstanding in the controversial role of Norma Helmer was Matilda Ridgway (see photo above with Douglas Hansell as husband Torvald). Her gradual transition from  devoted wife and mother to a figure of distraught disillusion and conviction that she was harming her children was entirely credible and deeply moving. In the Q & A following the performance, students questioned the role of women and men in society then and now. To a question about separation of the actor from her role, Matilda responded that acting required the sensitivity of a butterfly and the hide of a rhinoceros.

Damien Ryan himself can be seen in the production of Nora, Upstairs, Belvoir St Theatre, from August 9 to September 14. Nora is a new work by Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks written in response to Ibsen’s original. Damien plays the role of Nora’s husband.

Bidwill revolution to counter doomsayers

Young Aboriginal dancersThe revolution has begun declares theatre director and former Bidwill resident Kaz Therese.

Here, a recently formed group of young Aboriginal dancers performed at Bidwill’s Funpark, directed by Kaz, as part of January’s Sydney Festival. The local energy and enthusiasm released by the event run entirely counter to the suggestion by Minister for Family and Community Services that social dysfunction is a creation of the community itself. Government concerns for local public housing tenants are contradicted by evidence from residents that recent reductions in bus services have further limited access to services and that the shopping centre leaseholder may be under no obligation to provide the shops and services that existed more than a decade ago. Life is undoubtedly difficult, but locals are determined to change that.

Bidwill’s angry rebuttal of media laziness

An angry post by Judith Ridge, February 8, about the endless and lazy media bashing of Bidwill – this time by ABC News – follows hard on the heels of the eminently successful Bidwill Funpark, part of Sydney Festival and directed by Kaz Therese. Theatre director Kaz was a nine year old living in Bidwill, when she was shocked to hear her street described on television’s 60 Minutes as the worst in Sydney (PPM p.99). The media indulged itself in a total beat-up about “Bidwill Riots” and Kaz was ultimately inspired to study theatre and work for the rights of communities to respect, understanding and adequate infrastructure through celebration of their strengths.  Funpark, an event of Sydney Festival supported by Blacktown Arts Centre, did all of that. Some media reporting has been more intelligent and constructive. The big hope is that the work of Funpark can be sustained and developed.

See the story that provoked Judith’s reaction – Bidwill residents describe life in a western Sydney suburb ‘full of sad stories’