Windmill Theatre Trilogy: Ah, to be a teenager again—to feel your hormones raging, your pores clogging, your frenemies backstabbing. There’s no denying the inherent drama of those years, and an Australian theatre for young audiences has, in fact, built a trilogy around them.
It started in 2010 with Windmill Theatre’s Fugitive. Playwright Matthew Whittet transposed the legend of Robin Hood into a dystopian Australia and reframed it as a futuristic rite of passage, complete with the ineffable coolness of a teen rebel and the angst of an adolescent love triangle. Crackling with pop culture references, from manga to hip-hop to Star Wars stormtroopers, the play asks, as director Rosemary Myers puts it, “How far are we prepared to go for our ideals and in the quest for justice when structures of law and order are removed?”
Whittet and Myers—along with the design team of Jonathon Oxlade, Luke Smiles and Richard Vabre—reunited for the 2012 Adelaide Festival to premiere another coming-of-age story—a 1980s-flavored fantasia of awkwardness titled School Dance, which toured to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong.
Now both shows get a remount at the 2014 Adelaide Festival, in rep with the premiere of Girl Asleep. Whittet’s trilogy of “meme-jams of the teenage psyche” is capped by this story of a shy young woman dragged into a terrifying parallel universe. According to Myers, “While School Dance and Fugitive are focused outward on what may be described as the physical and masculine, Girl Asleep looks inward to a realm that is equally cruel and bewildering.” A realm that is also, apparently, suited to the big screen. An adaptation of Girl Asleep is scheduled to debut at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival. (Through March 16; www.windmill.org.au)
AUSTRALIA, EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA
Belarusian Dream Theater: On March 25, theatres throughout Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S. will give free presentations of new short plays about Belarus. The goal is to support Belarusian freedom of expression, a cause that has gained traction in the global artistic community in large part thanks to Belarus Free Theatre. The underground troupe has faced severe harassment in its own country, and and its leaders now operate in exile, based at the offices of London’s Young Vic.
Belarus Free Theatre can count Brendan McCall among its supporters. McCall organized this month’s Belarusian Dream Theater event, and as the American artistic head of Ensemble Free Theater Norway (and manager, alongside his wife and EFTN co-founder, Dushinka Andresen, of Western Australia’s Cummins Theatre), McCall recruited two dozen playwrights for this “international theatre action,” which he modeled after such coordinated events as NoPassport’s 2013 Gun Control Theatre Action and Theatre Communications Group/Japan Playwrights Foundation’s 2012 Shinsai: Theaters for Japan.
The title of Belarusian Dream Theater is a reference to Ekaterina Kibalchich’s 2011 documentary Belarusian Dream, which expresses the hope that Belarusians will shed their current political reality as though waking from a nightmare. According to McCall, the Dream plays run the gamut in style—“kitchen sink dramas, abstract plays, satire, agit-prop, a musical”—as well as in points of departure. Some of the writers know Belarus only through the news, or a brief visit. Some, like Nikolay Rudkovski and Tatsiana Tuteishaya, call it home. McCall himself first met Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, co-directors of Belarus Free Theatre, when he visited Minsk in 2010 to conduct a movement workshop. “They lived and worked in conditions incredibly different from most of my professional peers in the U.S. or Europe. These theatre people weren’t concerned about getting an agent or a good review, but about freedom of expression, about democracy,” he recalls.
An updated list of presenting partners—which numbered 17 at press time and include, in the United States, NYC’s Urban Stages, Vermont’s Bennington College, Southern Illinois University, and the L.A.-based Global Theatre Project—can be found on EFTN’s website along with the full list of 25 plays. McCall hopes to publish them in an anthology later this year, acknowledging that no one venue can produce all of them on March 25. As for the significance of that date: Celebrated by some in Belarus as “Freedom Day,” it commemorates the 1918 proclamation of the first (though short-lived) independent Belarusian state. The holiday is not recognized by the Belarusian government, and has in fact become a catalyst for annual anti-government protests—and, now, for this global show of solidarity. (March 25; www.ensemblefreetheaternorway.com)
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
Colombo International Theatre Festival: The organizer of this festival, the multiethnic troupe Inter Act Art, has trimmed its third edition from to six days from eight. That’s partly due to financial constraints, but it’s also an attempt to concentrate buzz during a busy festival month in Sri Lanka; festival director M. Safeer expects to build on last year’s turnout of 4,000 spectators by 20 percent. In addition to a directors’ forum, seven productions are scheduled. Two are Sri Lankan—a version of Othello choreographed by drummer/dancer Ravibandu Vidyapathi; and an adaptation of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle titled Hunuwataye Kathawa, staged by Parakrama Niriella for Janakaraliya Mobile Theatre Group. The others are Zurich-based director Taki Papacontantinou’s take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale Little Claus and Big Claus; a documentary theatre piece called 72 Migrantes/Altar, about the migrant workers found massacred in August 2010 in Tamaulipas, Mexico; two plays from India dealing with social issues (The Balancing Act, directed by Vidyanidhee Vanarase, about the effect of violence on impressionable youth, and The Transparent Trap, directed by Shrikant Bhide, which decries the environmental impact of plastic); and The Kathmandu Blues, Tanka Chaulagain of Nepal’s solo show about a boy’s descent into addiction. According to Safeer, the dream for CITF—if sufficient funding could be secured—is to expand the program to as many as 20 productions on stages throughout Colombo (currently its British School is the sole venue), as well as beyond city limits—“to take the global theatre culture to the village, too.” (March 27–April 2; www.citfsrilanka.com)
Motherhouse: In 1979, David Fennario gave Montreal’s English-speaking Centaur Theatre its, and his, biggest hit: the bilingual Balconville, set in the multiethnic, working-class Montreal district of Pointe-Saint-Charles, where Fennario was raised. The playwright is also known for being, as the Montreal Mirror has put it, a “hard-charging leftie.” (He once picketed a revival of his own play in solidarity with striking ushers, and in the past two decades has worked mainly outside the professional theatre system.) Fennario himself has stated, “The process of becoming a political activist gave me the confidence to be a writer.… Reading socialist literature convinced me that working-class people can change themselves and the world around them.”
This conviction animates his newest play, Motherhouse, which marks a rare return to his former artistic home at the Centaur. Following on the heels of Bolsheviki, his unflinching portrait of WWI trench warfare, Motherhouse exposes conditions of civilian life on the homefront, particularly among the female workers of the British Munitions Factory in Verdun, just south of Pointe-Saint-Charles. “War is a big number in Verdun, a major industry,” Fennario notes. In another sense, war has ravaged the city, which lost more of its young men in the two world wars than anywhere else in Canada.
Fennario was born in 1947 to a war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and a mother who’d worked at that munitions plant in Verdun. She is the inspiration for Motherhouse’s narrator, Lillabit, who rails against the unjust and dangerous working conditions at the factory and denounces the glorification of the combat that systematically erased husbands, sons and brothers from her neighborhood. The script is studded with poems, songs and wry asides to the audience, and if some of Lillabit’s comments sound “out of character”—anachronistic even—it is an intentional dramatic choice. In the script’s performance notes, Fennario urges the actors to remain themselves onstage, sharing the story of their characters without attempting to vanish into a staged reality. “Teaching theatre based on illusion works well for academics living in a tenured bubble,” he writes, “but not for those who want to change history.” (Through March 23; www.centaurtheatre.com)
A just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. If you are able, please join us in this mission by making a donation. As we reckon with the impact of COVID-19, the theatre field needs committed and nuanced journalism. Free and unlimited access to AmericanTheatre.org is one way that we and our publisher, Theatre Communications Group, are eliminating barriers to crucial resources during this crisis. When you support American Theatre and TCG, you support these emergency resources and our long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!