Friday, June 21, 2013

Urban Theatre Coming Up

Catalogue of Dreams – devised theatre for the Canberra Centenary 2013 by Urban Theatre Projects, based in Sydney.  Co-Directors: Rosie Dennis and Alicia Talbot.

Performances at Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre.
Previews: Saturday July 13 and Tuesday July 16, 8:15pm
Opening: Wednesday July 17, 8:15pm
Season: Thursdays – Saturdays July 18-27, 8:15pm

Preview by Frank McKone
June 21

The history of Urban Theatre Projects can be seen at
where the group’s 30 years of work explains why Centenary Director Robyn Archer approached Alicia Talbot more than two years ago for a theatre piece from Sydney, as part of the program of works representing a wide range of Australian local communities for the celebration of Canberra, the nation’s capital.

Rosie Dennis tells me that Catalogue of Dreams is ‘contemporary theatre’, collaborative and ‘devised’ – different from the standard convention of an audience watching a performance through a 'fourth wall'.  The audience in the Courtyard Studio will find themselves integrated in the acting space as if they are in the Family Court with the young Canberra people who find themselves in difficult circumstances there.

Though for many theatre-goers in Canberra the tradition of this form of theatre – going back to at least Carol Woodrow’s company Fool’s Gallery in the 1970s – will not be a surprise, the keyword for this production is the Dreams of the title.  As a Centenary piece, there are two aspects which make it clearly ‘different’.

First, instead of showing off something that represents the community where the theatre company resides, such as we saw in the Northern Territory’s contribution, Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui by Jason De Santis, Talbot and Dennis have worked here for some 12 months with local performers starting from issues that face young people dealing with bureaucracy and the law.

The result is a scripted work, now in solid rehearsal as I write, largely written up by Dennis, which is entirely appropriate in the Canberra context – raising concerns for us about the centre of government 100 years on – while also being relevant to audiences around the country.  Anyone who has ever had to explain again and again to, say, Centrelink officers, to police officers, to lawyers or in court hearings who they are, what has happened to them, what they did and why, will appreciate this show.

But rather than this becoming another kind of ‘reality’ show, what Catalogue of Dreams reveals is the disjunct between the playful dreamlike fantasy world which is natural to teenagers, still naive and childlike in so many ways, and the formal situations demanded by the system of laws and rules of behaviour which constitute the ‘adult’ world.  Here is a universal theme, applicable to any human society as Wulamanayuwi showed us in the Tiwi Islands.  For anyone caught up in fraught circumstances, the experience is surreal – as it will be for the audience in the Courtyard space when this drama opens on 17th July.

In performance, the work is essentially image-driven – not so much in the form of multi-media presentations but rather through creating images in the minds of those observing through text and story, voice-over and devices such as masks.  In this sense, it seems to me, this Urban Theatre project is not so different from the long tradition of street theatre going back to the commedia dell’arte of centuries ago, with its combination of humour and absurdity, now in a modern context.

Though personally I’ll be travelling – perhaps following my own fantasies – while Catalogue of Dreams is on stage, I feel disappointed to miss what should be a fascinating and significant production.