This Is Our Youth – A Review

I was reading Spectrum about a month back when this giant full page ad for This Is Our Youth glared back at me. It wasn’t the fact that Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno, Superbad) or Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down, Cider House Rules) were going to be coming to Australia to be in it (although that is a feasible draw card). It was the fact that it had come from Broadway, one of the world’s best theatre scenes and that the playwright Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, Analyze This) is a credible playwright and screenwriter.

That the Sydney Opera House was investing that kind of money to bring the production out was also really pleasing to see. I like watching, credible, well written theatre. Who doesn’t? I like companies that take risks too even if it may be more a commercial cash cow type risk than a creative one. Still, it’s getting young people to the theatre and that’s important in my honest opinion. Just like movies though, there is a lot of drivel out there and you’re forking out a heck of a lot more than a movie ticket so you want to know it will be good.

This Is Our Youth follows Warren Straub (Cera) as he turns up at his friend Dennis Ziegler’s (Culkin) run down New York apartment, looking for a place to stay after having a disagreement with his Dad and taking with him $15,000 of his Dad’s business money.

Warren is an awkward, gangly and quirk young man, who has brought memories of his childhood in a suitcase. He’s the gentler, passive friend in contrast with Dennis who is outspoken, inconsiderate and selfish, spending most of his day either dealing drugs, sleeping late or watching television.  They’re intelligent Upper West Side kids with educations and money to match. They’re both lost and lacking in this need to take some responsibility for their situations. Dennis constantly verbally attacks Warren, telling him all the things he’s doing wrong in his life.  Their interactions are fast paced and capture the essence of teenage conversation. In answer to Dennis’s questions Warren teeters between lots of  “I don’t know” to thoughtful grabs of deep and meaningful personal awakening to the ways of the world. For someone who works with teenagers daily this totally hits the spot.

I found Cera and Culkin hillarious together. I particularly felt Culkin was the stronger of the two mainly because I found the character of Dennis quite repulsive, which I liked but Cera’s comic timing, use of pause  and subtlety really creates a sensitivity in Warren which is so likeable. Warren’s scenes with Jessica (Emily Barclay) capture the awakardness of young love and the arguments that seemingly have no point or purpose. The moment where Warren complains to Jessica about not understanding what they’re arguing about again captures, to me, the essence of youth – this inability to articulate new feelings and to have a clear sense of who you are and what you should be. The tension between Cera and Barclay was strong and believable.

I’ve read a couple of reviews that comment on the sitcom nature of the play, that it doesn’t go anywhere, that the set sits like a tiny boat lost in a huge sea which to some degree is true but theatre is about its characters, themes and ideas resonating with its audience and I think it does this very strongly and humourously. A must see.

Image Credit: #ds506 – A Long Way Down / Sharon Drummond / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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Pygmalion – A Review

The lights come up and a sparse stage is revealed. No props. No set. No people.  A rectangular opening at the back of the stage appears, rain is falling heavily and a woman stands in it, soaking and shoeless. She has come to find Professor Henry Higgins to ask him to give her speech lessons. To help her “become a lady” so that she can “make her own life”. Thus is the opening to The Sydney Theatre Company’s current revamping of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”

Based on Ovid’s” The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue” from Metamorphosis, Pygmalion explores the relationship between Professor Higgins (Marco Chiappi) and his flower-girl and cockney accented Eliza Doolittle (Andrea Demetriades), as he attempts to transform her into a “duchess” so as to win a bet made between himself and Colonel Pickering (played by Kim Gyngell). He is outdone by Eliza who grows into a woman who can think and argue for herself.

Peter Evans’ interpretation brings the themes of identity, nature vs nurture, social convention and the battle of the sexes into the modern era with a very contemporary visual interpretation (aided by the designs of Robert Cousins and Mel Page) that helps to highlight how these ideas have changed or, for lack of a better word, metamorphosised over time. With most of us fraternising in an online world and struggling with insecurtities the world of celebrity and the magazine image can bring, this issue of identity and the social standing it brings, is still a relevant one.

For me, the theme of identity was the one I connected with most. It was wonderful seeing Eliza blossom and to be able to stand up to Higgins at the end of the play and tell him what she thinks. That is something that I feel has certainly equalled out over the years. This battle between the sexes. At the same time, whilst women have moved forward in leaps and bounds, I do feel there is still this underlying belief that we are second rate to men and that chauvinism is certainly highlighted by Higgins.

This plays out most clearly in the final scene between Higgins and Eliza in Act 5. Demetriades is subtle as Eliza and Chiappi captures much of Higgin’s arrogance in his swift, snobbish line delivery. I’m not sure that the tension between Eliza and Higgin’s is fully realised and the ending is very ambiguous. However, David Wood’s is hillarious as Eliza’s father, really highlighting the social difference between the characters in the latter half of the play. I loved Wendy Hughes as Higgins’s mother and Deborah Kennedy as Mrs Pearce. They are further examples of the strength of feminism and the subtlety with which we can have power over men.

This is a play that is 100 years old this year and proves that theatre can transcend time and still be as relevant today as it ever was.

Image Credit: Gérôme, Pygmalion et Galatée, 1890 / leo.jeje / CC BY 2.0

Simple Ways to Integrate ICT and the Drama Logbook

The use of technology in Drama is a tricky one in my opinion. When you think of technology in Drama most people think, “oh, using a video camera.”

Drama is all about the making and performing of a work and especially in class, you become so caught up in the “doing” that you miss the “reflecting” part. Or the “documenting of the process” part. My kids are reluctant to write anything at the best of times and it has still been challenging getting them to write using their laptops but it is because of them that they are a little less reluctant to write 🙂

The NSW syllabus like many others, has three key areas: making, performing, appreciating. The logbook has been an essential part of the “appreciating” section of the syllabus for years. It is vital during the HSC in which student’s must show their process in creating their group performance work and their individual project.

Now, I’m really going to put my opinions out there and say that I am certain that in a few years, the logbook will become digital. Just like the written exam. Not just in Drama. I’m sure in many other subjects as well.

I think this opens up enormous possibilities for the Drama logbook and how dynamic and interesting it could be in showing the theatre making process.

As such, as teachers it is not only our responsibility to be integrating technology in our lessons but making it meaningful and a tool for preparing them for the HSC and the effective documentation of process in a logbook.

So, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started in turning the logbook digital:

1.Type in Microsoft Word: It’s basic and it’s boring but it’s also familiar. I’ll probably be crucified for suggesting this but if you’re apprehensive about getting your student’s to create a digital logbook start with something that most of us these days actually knows how to use. It’s tried and tested and it’s a good way to get student’s into the habit of writing their thoughts on screen rather than paper. Trust me, they’ll be just as apprehensive. They’ve been taught for years to write everything with a pen and paper. This will be weird for them.

2. Use OneNote: This is another really simple start to creating a digital logbook with a few cool features. Most of the DER laptops have OneNote. It is like a paper ring binder sans the paper. It has tabs to organise your work, an endless page and an automatic saving function. You can copy and paste images into notebook and it copies the source link with it. You can also freely move things around your page. Here’s a really brief intro to it:

3. Start a Blog: This is my latest favourite.The great thing about a blog is that it is like a personalised web page. Student’s can customise them, connect with student’s from around the world, embed video, links, sound clips, photographs (all of which are technology in themselves). They’re dynamic and they broaden the scope of their work. They are public pages so it is a great way to teach student’s about digital citizenship, the appropriate use of language, editing and spelling. Here is an example of one from one of my student’s. I provide student’s with a very structured template with which to base each of their entries on. Starting off with a class blog first might also be a great way to take a dip into technology.

4. Create a Digital Portfolio: This is a great idea for mini-assignments as well but you could get student’s to create an interactive Powerpoint that includes links, video, sound clips and photos for each week of their project. Have them create a slide that looks at the problems they faced in their group and how they solved each problem. Make sure student’s submit everything (video etc.) to you in one folder. Missing parts means the portfolio’s interactive bits won’t work.

Finally, it’s important to remember that these are just some simple ways to move away from the traditional book and pen scenario. Some people can be really turned off by technology because they think it is all bells and whistles and the truth is it is. Another thing I’ll probably be crucified for.

I think some teacher’s feel they are becoming redundant because the teaching is being done by technology. This is when I would say that is, absolutely, 100% not true. Student’s will not know how to write well and skillfully without your guidance. They way student’s create their blogs, portfolios or whatever is dependent on what you show them is the best way to do it. You are still the most important tool in creating critically reflective, appreciative writing in Drama. Don’t forget that 😉

Have you tried anything that is working well in your class? Please share them in the comments.

Image Credits:Moleskine Retro PDA Part1 / Stephen Ticehurst / CC BY-NC 2.0

Terminus – A Review

The theatre is filled with a white haze. The stage is framed by what looks a broken mirror, some of the shards still attached. The house lights dim. There is a building of sound that becomes a roar, the lights on the stage flash quickly and brightly, catching you by surprise after being immensed in the darkness. After the shock of the bright lights, three actors appear, each standing on their own podium, dressed in the everday, lit only faintly by white light crossing horizontally across their faces. The lights fade on “B” and “C” and “A” begins to speak…

And so begins the STC’s Touring Production from The Abbey Theatre in Ireland, Terminus. It is an intense 1 hour and 45 minutes. No interval, no movement of any kind, no interaction between the three actors, just three monologues that eventually intertwine.

At first, the story is engaging as the writing skill of O’Rowe reveals itself with his clever manipulation of the monologue form into that of verse. I think to myself, “this writing is modern day Shakespeare”. The rhythm and rhyme, ebb and flow of the dialogue suggests movement and supports that of the character’s stories.

Soon, listening to the character’s stories becomes a test of your skillful ability to imagine in your own head the events that the character recounts. Tune out (which I did a few times admittedly) and you miss a part of the story. All three stories and their respective characters, are bleak and not at all what you would expect.  Terminus means “the end or extremity of anything” and the stories are certainly that. The way they reveal themselves makes listening to them worthwhile. The revelation is simple and subtle and fits perfectly within the rhythm and length of the play. You are hanging on until the last minute.

The acting is incredibly skilled and strongly supports the uniquely written dialogue. Olwen Fouere as “A” is engaging with her clear and aptly intonated delivery. “B” played by Catherine Walker was incredibly intense which I suppose was complimentary to her character but I found it a little too so. However it worked well in showing a jarring contrast between Walker’s “B” and Declan Conlon’s portrayal of “C” who was softly spoken by comparison. I was straining to hear him at times. It was not at all how you would expect an essentially crazy mad man to sound. All three actors, standing alone speaking to the audience show the isolation they all feel even after their stories intertwine.

Whilst I can look at each of the elements of Terminus individually and appreciate and praise their merit, I didn’t overly enjoy this play. It really was exhausting listening and imagining the events in my head nor did I feel anything in particular as I was leaving the theatre. If I had to feel anything it was mainly exhaustion and a feeling of “oh isn’t the world bleak?” The lack of interaction disappointed me and the monologues were incredibly long and as such couldn’t maintain my attention.

A very well written work with highly skilled actors doing justice to the material but it didn’t quite reach the heights of my expectation.

Image Credits: Dublino, mariocutroneo, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Jack Charles vs The Crown – A Review

Are you one of those people that never wins anything? You know, you enter a competition to win a holiday to Fiji and 10,000 other people enter, you’ve referred five friends, clogging their inboxes with spam when the probability of you actually winning anything is probably…oh, almost a slim to none chance? Or you run a small raffle amongst the staff at your school for a bottle of wine and still nothing?

I hear ya. That is me all over. Ms, I-Never-Have-Any-Luck.

BUT-

I am a firm believer in, “you’ve got to be in it to win it” so I enter everything regardless and drag everyone’s e-mail accounts through the ringer.

Lucky for me, it finally paid off with me scoring two complimentary tickets to Belvoir St Theatre’s new play Jack Charles vs The Crown!

Not knowing anything about the play, I had no expectations heading into it. The play opened with a long video sequence, projected onto a set resembling a potter’s workshop. On stage was Jack Charles, turning a wheel and making a small clay pot. The images in the footage were shocking. A slightly younger Jack Charles, injecting himself with drugs. Calm and collected his expression never changes. Not before, not during, not after.

From here the story progresses into a one man monologue, told by Jack about his life. From his time at the mission home, his becoming acquainted with his Aboriginal heritage and his spiral into drugs and addiction which led to a life of crime and a cycle of gaol time.

Jack Charles is likeable as he tells us of his life. At times it is difficult to understand him whether muffled by his beard or his speech just naturally slurred . His musical interludes where he sings, accompanied by a three piece band on stage, breaks and links his story into its various chronological parts.His skills as a potter manifest very well on stage. Much of his storytelling seemed repetitive. I’m not sure whether that was intended by both Charles and John Romeril, the writer’s of the play. It gave me the impression that they were wanting to impress this idea of reptition and the cyclical nature of the indigenous people’s lives during the 70’s, making the final scene, where Jack is speaking to the parole board, even more poignant.

Jack Charles vs The Crown is, on one level, a reminder of the effects of the Stolen Generation but even more universally the ability of the human spirit to be resilient and overcome hardship. Jack’s ability to finally convince the parole board and make a life for himself that is uniquely his, independent and drug free, is uplifting.

This play is an excellent example of Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice and combines some of that with Verbatim Theatre. The use of technologies such as video and musicians on stage adds a new dimension to the modern theatre landscape. The fact that Charles talks directly to us, the audience for the entire piece is something unique about the way theatre is changing and progressing. It’s direct and in your face without being pushy or preachy. At no more than 90 minutes in length, these new types of plays are engaging with our shorter attention spans and getting straight to the point without missing out on capturing themes and issues relevant to Australians and the wider theatre going audience.

Image Credits:

Crown Jewels II, Stephen B Whatley, Licensed under Creative Commons