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A whole new bird

Black Swan State Theatre Company taking centre stage with contemporary 2018 season.

Holly Ferguson, ECU Daily Reporter

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The Perth theatre community is buzzing following the announcement of Black Swan State Theatre Company’s 2018 Season.

The season is unlike anything the company has done before. Creative, contemporary and provocative, the season is broken into four conversations, or mini festivals, made up of six shows.

Each conversation contains two performances that will be in conversation with each other, one will be housed in the Heath Ledger Theatre whilst the other will run simultaneously in the Studio Underground.

The conservative political climate of Western Australia hasn’t prevented Black Swan from embarking on projects that will challenge the educated, middle aged, largely female demographic of Perth theatre goers.

When asked about how they went about programming the season, Artistic Director, Clare Watson said she worked with a small creative team to develop a season of performances focusing on relevant issues, “I began with the provocation what are the things we need to be talking about right now. We had some pretty intense conversations gender politics, the environment, extremism, imbalances of power and from those conversations we started to think about plays.”

These issues are clearly reflected in the diverse shows they’ve picked with equally diverse casting.

Black Swan has hired their first transgender actor for a subversive American comedy, Hir, about a middle-class family going through a challenging transition.

Watson acknowledges that Hir may present new and challenging ideas to a traditional theatre going audience, “[It] could be quite provocative for that audience and I’ve been very open about that. I said at the launch that it’s not for the faint hearted, I think that’s one that’s really progressive in its politics.”

However, Watson believes that it’s a piece that more forward thinking theatre goers have been waiting for, “I think anyone who is pretty progressive in their gender politics will be like, finally!”

Black Swan is also collaborating with Aboriginal theatre company, Yirra Yaakin, on the world premiere production of Skylab, which is based a true story set in WA. Watson says the production is made up of “an entirely Aboriginal cast, writer and director.”

The 2018 season will also see an Aboriginal creative on every production.

Black Swan is also collaborating with Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) and Disability in the Arts Disadvantages in the Arts (DADAA) for You Know We Belong Together. The show focuses on Julia Hales, who is performing on stage and the Lead Artist on the production, and her experiences of love as a creative, daughter, dreamer and person with Down syndrome.

Watson explains that the reasoning behind programming these shows wasn’t just fuelled by the focus on minority groups but by, “what I find most interesting and I think audiences will find interesting. These stories and these characters have so much to provide in terms of audience entertainment and engagement.”

This is Watson’s first season that she has programmed with the company as their new Artistic Director. She says she was warned of the conservatism that is often perceived of the WA theatre community, “people had spoken about the conservatism, so in some ways I felt like I was doing some major culture change under the radar.”

However, this was not the case when she eagerly presented the season at its launch. “I was really affirmed on Monday night, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, the ‘classic’, could have got the biggest round of applause but it was things like talking about Transgender actor, Aboriginal employment, the more socially progressive actions that the company was taking were the things that got the most applause. I was like, Go Perth!” she said.

“I thought people where whole heartedly accepting a cultural change. I’m hoping that something like this can create a new normal, shifting that sense of what we expect to see and who we are.”

The 2018 brochure features a front cover of a self-portrait by multi-award-winning artist Abdul Abdullah. The captivating image links in with the ethos Watson is trying to present through the season, “The image that we’ve chosen is the idea of theatre being a mirror, whatever we see up on that stage reflects what we see in society. I want to see a much more inclusive stage because I want to be in a much more inclusive society.”

Abdul Abdullah restitution (of self), 2015. Abdul Abdullah/ Licensed by Viscopy,2017.

Each conversation in the season will also have accompanying events to enhance the festival vibe that the company is striving to create. Watson admires Perth’s festival scene and wants to replicate it through various film screenings, panels, dance parties, lectures, pop up museums and more.

The events will act in cohesion with the shows to add depth of conversation and thought, “Perth does festivals so well. I thought this is an energy people enjoy and engage in so much. So, wouldn’t it be great to have that festival feel happen throughout the year. It’s partly to get that vibe established and get that activation of spaces around here. Also, when you put two plays together and it’s kind of a frisson, an instant conversation,” said Watson.

When asked what she is most excited about with the season, Watson couldn’t help but express her enthusiasm for the collaborative piece Xenides, which she is working on with five other women, “I think it’s going to be fun, funny and tragic and full of song.”

Watson also believes, although it is not confirmed, that this may be the first time that a state theatre company has done a devised piece.

The season is also unique in that, by co-incidence, it is made up of shows entirely by living writers. “We didn’t actively pursue it. But then we got the program and we realised that we did it. We definitely wanted to have gender parity in terms of writers and there’s not so many older classics written by women, so it means there are more contemporary works.”

Other shows in the season include:

The Australian classic, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which Watson says has “contemporary resonances” with similar themes in fly in and fly out workers.

The Events, which is a show written in response to the 2011 Norwegian shootings that happened on the island of Utøya. Watson has previously directed this sell-out show in other states. She says, “I think it’s the best example of what I’ve seen or read about how to fight terrorism. It’s about doing it psychological and emotionally. It’s about not letting us be changed and become fearful. It’s about fighting fear through building community more than anything.”

A bit of Broadway fun is coming with Tony Award-winning Assassins, a show about those who have attempted, and successfully, assassinated U.S. presidents. The show is by Stephen Sondheim, who is also known for Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd.

A history lesson is also programmed through the show In the Next Room or, The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl. It’s a re-imaging of the strange inception of the vibrator, which was created to treat hysteria in females.

Black Swan has three shows left of its current 2017 season, Switzerland (currently playing), I Am My Own Wife and Let The Right One In.

If you would like to buy tickets for the upcoming season click here.

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A whole new bird