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A group from Adelaide’s northern suburbs – an area often maligned and ostracised – fly to Ontario in Canada next month to represent Australia in the World Festival of Theatre for Children, performing their wholly original work, A Kid like Me. For many it will be the first time they will have left the State, for others the first time they’ve left the country, but for them all it’s set to be a journey of a life time.
The biannual Festival, which originated in Germany in 1990, invites participants from all over the world to take part. The mandate is to bring the world’s young people together to share each other’s stories and culture through theatre. Whether it’s an adaption of Pinocchio or a new take on Shakespeare, raw dance works or storytelling by the deaf, audiences will see the world through the eyes of children and experience stories that children feel should and must be told.
This year 22 troupes from six continents and 20 countries will offer an illuminating array of artistic expression and theatre traditions. And every one is subject to a rigorous selection process. A Kid Like Me, by Adelaide’s True North Youth Theatre Ensemble, lead by the award-winning director and performer Alirio Zavarce, was the only group to be invited from Australia.
A Kid Like Me is a performance made up of a series of vignettes focusing on a variety of themes relevant to young people today – such as bullying, social justice, social anxiety, consumerism, sexism, peer pressure and the pressure to succeed – and the ensemble explores what they all mean to them. But, importantly, this isn’t a show that follows a set script. The audience isn’t passive in the storytelling; they become a critical component to the show.
Through innovative handheld devices called zigzag controllers, the audience has the power to influence the topics discussed, the characters that take part and ultimately the final outcome of each performance. The technology was originally developed by Adelaide’s notorious Border Project and has gone on to be used by them with companies such as Ontroerend Goed to create critically acclaimed work such as Fight Night.
This clever construction was the brain child of Zavarce, True North’s Artistic Director and also a founding member of the Border Project, along with writer, Sally Hardy. “When we first started working on the show I knew I wanted to combine interactivity with techniques of the Theatre of the Oppressed where the spectators become active; exploring, analysing and transforming the reality in which they live but I had no real plan as to what shape it would take when we began.”
Zavarce continues, “For me, what I’m most proud of is that everything that the audience sees or hears has been created by the kids, through lots of workshopping and playing on the studio floor. They decided on the all the topics that they wanted to address – not me or Sally or any other adult – and set out to tackle them honestly and frankly, in ways that made sense to them. We teach by making so they lead the work. We then give then the skills required to the development of that vision. It’s their creativity and dedication to the piece that has made it such a fantastic piece of theatre.
“Interestingly, I think the technology component is also hugely appealing to this generation. It’s so much part of their everyday lives that it seems absolutely right that it should be part of their theatre too!”
Zavarce set up the True North Youth Theatre Ensemble in 2013 with the aim to help young people in marginalised communities in the northern suburbs of Adelaide by giving them a place to express themselves.
“The northern suburbs of Adelaide have always been stigmatised for a number of reasons. I wanted to create opportunities for young people to make theatre and to have an environment where they could feel safe and proud of who they are and where they live; to give them the opportunities I wish I had had when I was a kid.”
Since its formation, True North has grown rapidly and it now works out of three centres, has 60 members and has produced four theatre productions. Its first, Sense of Home, won the Graham Smith Peace Trust Award in the 2014 Adelaide Fringe.
A Kid Like Me premiered at Adelaide’s Come Out Festival for Children in 2015 and The Australian named it as one of the best theatre productions that year.
“I believe very strongly that theatre has a huge power to raise awareness and promote social change. This show started as something we hoped would help a small group of kids in the northern suburbs of Adelaide; we had no idea we would be talking to children all over the world about these issues too!
“I hope that when all these kids come back they share what they’ve experienced and might go on to lead and teach other young people about what theatre can be and do too!”
There is little doubt that A Kid Like Me will do Australia proud in Canada and all the children taking part will have had an experience that many others like them could only dream of.
Before departing for Canada, A Kid Like Me has a short season in Adelaide at The Parks Theatre on Thursday May 5 and Saturday May 7. There are also two school shows at on May 6