Ten years on, western Sydney inspires two great leaps in story telling

Not just one, but two professional artistic companies spawned by western Sydney experience are taking a great leap forward after 10 years of development. The first is CuriousWorks and the second is Sport for Jove.

CuriousWorks - ColonyIn a cavernous space at Carriageworks in Redfern, CuriousWorks launched the first stage of its ambitious story telling project Colony, on Tuesday, March 8, with a live audiovisual concert. Artistic director, multimedia artist and musician, S Shakthidharan supported the haunting vocals of fellow artist Aimee Falzon as they introduced Colony. “You can stand on a street corner in western Sydney and see the whole world go by,” Shakti said. This experience was the starting point for an epic narrative Shakti was given the chance to develop when he became artistic associate at Carriageworks in 2013. Colony will gather stories from world wide, beginning with the links across generations of people who have migrated to western Sydney. Much of the communication will be through image, movement and sound to transcend the barriers of language. The project will grow during the next few years as a response to mass migrations occurring throughout the world and an exploration of ways to synthesise traditional wisdom with contemporary culture. Western Sydney is also home to a significant population of indigenous Australians and their stories will form a vital component of the whole project.

NT of P S. ShakthidharanShakti, right has spent the last decade since graduation assembling a team of talented people who share his philosophy and commitment to provide communities with the tools to tell their own stories “powerfully and sustainably”. It is a commitment that has taken them to work with marginalised communities north of Melbourne, in western Sydney and in remote Western Australia. Individually and collectively they work with professional artists in local and international settings, challenging and extending their own skills and work. Simultaneously, they work respectfully with community groups over long periods of time until they are sufficiently trained and equipped to operate independently to produce and tell their own stories and generate their own financial support.. CuriousWorks combines art, education and technology to deliver communities the ability to create unique, acclaimed artistic product that celebrates their cultures.

Their goals seem to correspond with the opinion of Aboriginal lawyer, academic, writer and filmmaker Larissa Behrendt in her new book Finding Eliza – Power and Colonial Storytelling – “History, then, is no longer just one romanticised story – it becomes a series of competing narratives, brought to life by different groups whose experiences are diverse and often challenge the dominant story that a country seeks to tell itself about its history.”

In the course of their community work in western Sydney in the past few years CuriousWorks has developed a team of young creatives, whose interest and commitment has turned them into leaders training and supporting the next round of story tellers. Among them is Guido Gonzales, who co-directed the film Riz, which had its world premiere at last year’s Sydney Film Festival.

CuriousWorks - connecting to CountryShakti’s background is Hindu and for him there is a natural empathy with the spiritual world of Aboriginal or First Nations people. Among CuriousWorks’ current projects is Connecting to Country – a five-year collaboration established between CuriousWorks and Moogahlin Performing Arts guided by esteemed elders and community partnerships, such as FUNPARK based in Bidwill and the Mt Druitt Reconciliation Group. Beginning in January, they worked on their first filmmaking project, above. Next month, young people will take part in an 80km walk, from the lower Blue Mountains to Blacktown, known as NgAl Lo Wah Murrytula (Darug for ‘together we share and enjoy’). The walk has been initiated by elders Uncle Wes Marne (93 years old) and Aunty Edna Watson (75) as a means of sharing their historical, environmental and cultural knowledge of the western Sydney landscape.

The Colony “universe” is being created over eight days, from 8-15 March 2016, and begins with the epic themes of destruction and creation. The first three chapters of the first story – When The Tide Comes In – were shown at the launch, with more to be released during the current eight days. In an atmosphere of menace and apprehension, we find ourselves in a post climate change Sydney of the 22nd century. A young woman must carry out an unusual mission in order to learn the truth of her family history. As a result, the story will move to and fro between the future and precolonial times. It is a multifaceted project with global reach combining work to be created along the way while drawing together many components of stories already produced. There will be live performances at intervals in sites across western Sydney, Australia and internationally. Click here and stay tuned.

SfJ - Shakespeare Carnival logoAlthough very different in orientation, award winning company Sport for Jove also emerged from the diverse communities of western Sydney almost 10 years ago. Sport for Jove is now expanding into regional NSW. Their new Shakespeare Carnival is a NSW state-wide event that encourages students to get up and get active creating their own theatrical worlds by designing sets and costumes, composing music, choreographing dances and acting scenes that are inspired by the work of William Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare Carnival, they say, is a great opportunity for students to challenge themselves, learn new ideas, gain confidence and social skills, and improve literacy as they bring Shakespeare’s inspiring characters to life. The annual event is open to all NSW high school students, and participating schools will be aided and supported by Sport For Jove to hold their own Shakespeare Carnival. Schools will then select representatives to join other schools’ selected students at a Regional Carnival, which will lead into
a State Carnival, to be held at the Seymour Centre in Sydney in June 2016, where the top
performers will be offered opportunities to develop their knowledge of Shakespeare and theatre skills working alongside trained professional theatre makers and compete for a range of prizes.

The Shakespeare Carnival is a continuation of Sport For Jove’s education program. Click here for more information.


Sport for Jove and ICE celebrate success

1-SFJ dollshouse01Sport for Jove Theatre Company has achieved another milestone in its short but distinguished life. It is joining the Seymour Centre as a new resident theatre company alongside Critical Stages, SIMA and Shaun Parker & Company. The Seymour Centre is the performing arts centre for the University of Sydney and in its 35 year history has become an urban hub for cultural exploration, arts education and audience engagement. It hosts major festivals, large scale theatre, music and dance performances and partners small and emerging companies to develop and present innovative independent productions. Click here for more information.

SfJ - Damien RyanSport for Jove began with an outdoor Shakespeare Festival at Baulkham Hills and Leura in the Blue Mountains in 2009. The company was the brainchild of managing artistic director Damien Ryan, left, whose mother’s love of Shakespeare’s plays inspired him during his Mt Druitt childhood. A career in acting, directing and education, in both secondary and tertiary sectors, followed, in Australia and the UK. He taught at NIDA, worked with young artists in schools and authored Bell Shakespeare’s teacher kits. The partnership with the Seymour Centre began in June 2012, when Sport for Jove launched a major theatre education program for schools with a production of Hamlet. The photo above is from their critically acclaimed  2014 production of A Doll’s House at the Seymour Centre.

Damien says, “The exhaustive interrogation of thought and human behaviour in Shakespeare’s plays is honest, compassionate and it changes the way I think, the things I feel, and the way I see the world, and it does those things for all of us when that special connection comes in the theatre. His plays are fuelled by a faith that we like Prospero or like Cordelia have the capacity to change, to forgive and to tell the truth.”

SfJ - The Merchant of Ven 2015Clearly his vision has inspired others. Sport for Jove is a repertory theatre company, an actors’ company where everyone participates in creating the work and aspires to the highest standards. While their focus is on presenting unique and insightful productions of classical theatre, they are also dedicated to developing and producing new Australian plays. School students are clearly inspired by their experience of Sport for Jove productions and young people comprise a large and enthusiastic portion of all their audiences. In May this year, they will present a new production of The Merchant of Venice (see photo, left) at the Seymour Centre and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, and then John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, at the Seymour Centre in July.

Champions of the West logoCelebrating their success in the recent Champions of the West awards conducted by The Daily Telegraph, is Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE), at Parramatta. ICE has been awarded $10,000 as winners of the Arts section for their Family Creative Hub.

The Hub is a family support program for recently arrived refugee and migrant mothers with preschool children living in Parramatta, Auburn and Holroyd. Families are supported in successful transition to life in western Sydney through mentorship and iPad-based creative learning that facilitates social inclusion, and builds their social, English and digital skills. ICE welcomes contact from female artists who speak more than one language, in particular Farsi and Hindi, and who are interested in working with families. Living in western Sydney is a plus. Please email eddie.abd@ice.org.au or call 9897 5744.

Celebrate summer with dreams, nightmares and magic in Sport for Jove’s theatre season

SfJ - In rehearsal for Crucible 3Join Sport for Jove Theatre Company this summer for a transformative journey through dreams and nightmares – a double bill of magic and the spirit world, and what happens when all hell breaks loose in the woods…

Since he began presenting The Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park programs at historic Bella Vista Farm five years ago, artistic director of Sport for Jove Theatre Company, Damien Ryan, dreamed of presenting The Crucible in the atmospheric old barn, which dates from the early 19th century. This year, Arthur Miller’s famous play opens there on December 12 and will continue through the Leura Shakespeare Festival until January 25.

Lizzie Schebesta, above, plays Abigail in The Crucible – photo: Seiya Taguchi.

Damien says “The barn is perfect for a play about the ways people fill their imaginations with things that scare them. I love that it feels remote from the day-to-day life of Sydney.” He says Arthur Miller “wanted The Crucible to be all-inclusive, more than just a comment on his times. He’s asking how does a society turn on and wipe out its women? Why do communities and nations poison their own democracies?”

SfJ - In rehearsal for Crucible 2While The Crucible is about the trial of The Witches of Salem in 1692, its themes of fear, hysteria, half truths, accusations and counter accusations, hidden agendas and religious intolerance have powerful contemporary relevance. Alongside is a rehearsal photo from the show.

SMH theatre critic Jason Blake says “Damien Ryan can marshal a fit and youthful ensemble better than just about anyone else in the country right now . . . clarity, energy, humour and invention are the hallmarks of Ryan’s style.”  Independent company Sport for Jove won plaudits at this year’s Sydney Theatre Awards. Damien directed Bell Shakespeare’s 2014 production of Henry V and played the role of the husband in Belvoir’s production of Nora earlier this year.

A new pro1-SfJ - Midsummer Night's Dream 2duction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Susanna Dowling, is the Shakespearean component of the program and opens in The Hills on Friday, December 5. Alongside is a production photo by Seiya Taguchi.

In addition to these two plays, Sport for Jove is again presenting a Second Age Project developed with students in The Hills District. Will-I-Am will be seen for three nights at 5.30pm, from December 19 to 21. You are invited to “Follow the journey of William Shakespeare and 17 of his best students as they desperately try to save his complete works from ending up in the deep bosom of the ocean buried, and try to answer that age old question ‘why are we still studying these plays?'” It promises great fun and interest and is all part of the company’s continuing commitment to provide a bold, vigorous and inventive program of syllabus-based works for NSW students and teachers through its ‘Rough Magic’ Education Program . Click here for more detail.

Click here for more information about The Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park dates and bookings. Click here for more information about the Leura Shakespeare Festival dates and bookings.


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.

Celebrate with Sport for Jove

Cyrano de Bergerac

Sport for Jove’s Cyrano de Bergerac won several gongs at the Sydney Theatre Awards in January. A fantastic achievement for a company barely five years old, founded by Hills Shire residents Damien and Bernadette Ryan in 2009. An independent theatre company, Sport for Jove expanded from an outdoor season of Shakespeare in the Hills district to include venues at Leura and Faulconbridge in this latest summer season.

The company is notable for its refreshing, contemporary interpretations of plays which engage the interest of school students and seasoned audiences. Damien grew up in Mt Druitt, where his love of Shakespeare was inspired by his mother. Bernadette is a graduate of Theatre Nepean UWS.

Now an indoor theatre season celebrates Shakespeare’s 450th birthday in 2014 with a production of Twelfth Night at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from March 5 to April 9 and All’s Well That Ends Well at the Seymour Centre, from March 27 to April 12. In July, they partner with another company to present The Doll’s House at the Seymour Centre.