MTC’s 2017 education show Melbourne Talam has wrapped a seven-stop regional tour, completing their 31st show at Launceston College in Tasmania. Community Outreach Manager Karin Farrell tells us the ins and outs of theatre on the road.
What were some of the highlights of Melbourne Talam’s regional tour?
Our Day One drive from Melbourne to Mildura meant approximately seven hours in the car together. The choice of music was crucial. DJ duties were rotated and we had everything from Crowded House to Fakear, thanks to Sonya and Sahil. Rohan was catching Pokémon. We had some great photo opportunities at the beautiful Brim silos and the (once beautiful maybe) Big Koala on the drive from Mildura to Warrnambool. Visiting the Cheese and Butter Factory just out of Warrnambool meant a lot of cheese was tasted and bought. We visitied a very ornate cinema called the Regent in Albury where we saw Wonder Woman. On our first day in Launceston we headed to the Stillwater Providore for cheese, olives, salami and crisps to have a picnic on the water’s edge as the sun went down – romantic until the bugs invaded.
What was the show’s reception like in these regional centres?
We were extremely pleased to double our audience in Mildura from last year. In most of our venues, we have had similar numbers to our Lawler season in Melbourne so that has been encouraging. We had three new venues this year – Warrnambool, Shepparton and Wodonga. Warrnambool and Wodonga particularly exceeded our expectations by having over 100 people in each performance.
We’ve had at least a couple of General Public audience members in all our shows, as well as our anticipated school groups. The general public were really interested in what the play was about and commented how much they enjoyed the dynamic style of the show, and that they had no idea these sorts of stories came from real, lived experiences. We have even had a few of the older General Public audience members stay for the Q&A and ask questions. The cast have commented that the questions coming from regional audiences are some of the best they’ve had across the whole season. These audiences seem really keen to know about the actors methods (especially physical and vocal), their training and how they personally respond to the material.
They’ve also asked how the actors relate to the material in the play and whether it’s similar to their own experiences. Sonya talked about how she sees her parents experience of moving to Australia being reflected. Rohan said he finds no personal connection as he was born in Australia and his parents didn’t want him learning any Hindi or other Indian languages. Sahil poignantly said without a beat ‘Yes. Every day.’
How has the bump in and out varied between each venue? Have you had any logistical issues taking the set on the road?
One of the major logistical issues is the unload and load of the set into a venue. It’s a heavy steel-framed set with some very useful castors built in for ease of movement. The notion of a traveling production is taken into consideration from the very start of the production process, which is why MTC Production Manager Michaeala Deacon’s Computer Aided Design drawings, detailing how everything fits into the truck, are so precise!
The problem comes though when a venue doesn’t have a leveller in their loading dock. So at times the set needs to be sent down a ramp off the truck to ground level which can be complicated and tricky, but a system of pullies and ropes has helped things. Again, Technician James Lipari and Stage Manager Lisette Drew do an incredible job here.
Why do you think it is important for people living in regional areas to gain access to productions like Melbourne Talam?
I think it’s important young people engage with their local performing arts centre. We love providing opportunities to come to Melbourne to see shows too (thanks to the Crown Foundation) but to enhance their connection at a local level is vital. To see that space as somewhere they can come and have life-enhancing or life-affirming experiences can be such a powerful thing, particularly in regional areas where social issues can be magnified in a small population.
I grew up in Mildura and know the impact theatre can have when you think there’s no one else out there like you, or who likes the same things as you. That’s why being able to not just do the shows but have all the ‘scaffolding’ around them (pre-show talks, post-show Q&As and workshops) can help some kids ‘find their tribe’. You only have to impact one life to have done something worthwhile.
And specifically for regional audiences to see Melbourne Talam means that they are exposed to cultural stories and perspectives they may not have had any idea about or experience of. Having an understanding of what they might initially find alien, breeds tolerance.
Being able to take shows regionally can also be a good way to support those with disabilities, for whom travel is difficult. In Wodonga, for example we had a blind student who we could provide the opportunity to see a show in a venue she was familiar with. We were also able to offer her pre-show extras such as the script in braille and archival footage of the show that she could listen to with her teacher, who could watch and audio describe for her. She also had Vision Australia volunteers come along to audio describe the performance for her as well. I was able to spend a bit of time with her pre-show to answer any questions and give the volunteers some insights into the show by showing them costumes etc. The student then had a tactile tour post-show where I could take her over the whole set to feel props etc.
How many people are part of the Melbourne Talam tour?
There are three cast members, one stage manager, a technician and tour manager. So a happy team of six.
We’ve also been joined at various times by Director Petra Kalive, Movement Coach Lyndal Grant, Lighting Designer Rachel Burke, Sound Designer Darius Kedros and Head of Education and Families at MTC Jeremy Rice. MTC Casting Department, Matt Bebbington and Janine Snape, also came to Bendigo to run a session of general auditions for regional residents, so they too joined us for a Q&A at the Ulumbarra.
MTC Education Coordinator Nick Tranter and Indigenous Facilitator Lenka Vanderboom have also been out in the regions visiting schools to run workshops exploring the themes, ideas, context and performance styles of the play.
How has the set travelled to Tasmania?
Our amazing Stage Manager Lisette Drew has escorted the set from Melbourne to Devonport on the Spirit of Tasmania. Then drove it from Devonport to Launceston so we could set it up for the first show at Launceston College.
Our equally amazing Technician, James Lapiri, arrived with the rest of us a day earlier to work with the Launceston College students to pre-rig lights etc. The college has an incredible Performing Arts team led by Liz Bennett (not the Pride & Prejudice one) and Cheyne Mitchell. They told us the students were desperate to start work on setting up the space at the beginning of the week ‘because MTC were coming’. From last year they remembered to black out windows, where to position the control desk, and how to configure the seating.
This is why I love wrapping the tour in Launceston, at a school, where students get to be hands-on, work with and learn from our professionals. They are hugely appreciate of the opportunity and for us it’s a nice reminder of why we do what we do – and who we do it for.
How does a show on tour differ from a show at the theatre in the city?
It really means the tour party can often play multiple roles. James and Lisette obviously have to tackle new venues each time – with all their different, unique peculiarities – and then have to drive themselves and the set to the next location (at times straight after bumping out of a venue).
The cast pitch-in and are hands-on too – with sorting props and costumes but also in making that extra effort in connecting with a local audience by doing Q&As, taking photos with students and attending meet-and-greet events, like Warrnambool’s subscriber event held after seeing Melbourne Talam.
Apart from it being busy and at times gruelling, it means you get to spend some quality time with other people on the same project. It’s a bonding experience like no other!