Celebrate All Abilities

Susan Hartigan

In Geelong International Day is celebrated with a three-week festival called Celebrate All Abilities which this year was generously sponsored by Alcoa. Back to Back Theatre is always excited to be part of this event as it gives us a chance to showcase our community programs. This year Back to Back presented two events: our annual Summer School and Theatre of Speed's performance of their new work, Minotaur.

Summer School takes place over the weekend of 26 and 27 November, a warm up event to International Day. Over 35 participants from as far away as Bairnsdale, Moe, Ballarat and Warrnambool made the journey to Geelong to work with the Back to Back ensemble and a team of guest artists. Summer School is always a stimulating and exciting weekend in which participants explore new theatrical forms, learn skills in performance and theatre making, and have a chance to network with disability arts organisations, artists and performers and Back to Back's staff.

The number of requests Back to Back receives to run programs like Summer School is enormous, indicating a huge demand for training programs in theatre for people with disabilities, particularly in regional Victoria. Earlier this year Back to Back toured its POD project (an inflatable performance space that is used for experimental performance residencies) to Ballarat and Colac, working with Brrrr Theatre and Ants Pantz. Back to Back is unfortunately unable to meet all the requests we get for workshops and residencies and Summer School is our annual workshop program for those able to travel to Geelong.

At this year's Summer School there were sessions in acting for camera (with television actor Neil Pigot), developing ideas for scripts and stories (with local writer Ross Mueller), clowning with Clare Bartholomew, slapstick and circus with Luke O'Connor, hybrid arts with Katrine Gabb and Andrew Tranter, creating sound effects for theatre with Chris Kohn and Jethro Woodward, and dance and movement with regular Back to Back collaborator Ingrid Voorendt.

As always the workshops were intense and focussed, with participants creating a range of material for the show and tell sessions. Highlights were the short TV crime show with a range of dubious villains and a slapstick session that would put Buster Keaton to shame. (For people interested in finding out more about Summer School we have a DVD of the 2004 Summer School which can be hired).

From Back to Back's point of view, the highlight of the Celebrate All Abilities Festival was Minotaur, an exhilarating and confronting exploration of the genesis of the hybrid creature, half man half beast, who in Greek mythology is imprisoned in a labyrinth. Theatre of Speed is Back to Back's community theatre workshop, a group of ten young people with intellectual disabilities who come to Back to Back each Wednesday to collaborate with the professional ensemble to make a new theatre show each year. Minotaur was Theatre of Speed's third large scale production, taking the audience into a world of desire, greed, secrets and, not to avoid confronting subjects, bestiality.

The production was fast paced, frenzied, funny and at times frightening. Told through narration (Brian Tilley as the narrator and architect of the labyrinth was outstanding), video, movement and a pumping sound track, Minotaur was a sell out. In fact, such is the reputation of Theatre of Speed, that the three performances were fully booked a week before opening.

Director Kate Sulan described the production as an "eclectic interpretation of the ancient Greek story - telling the Minotaur story from conception to death". The set, two giant images of the King and Queen of Crete, was designed by Back to Back ensemble actor Rita Halabarec, who also created the images for the show flier and accompanying T-shirt.

The audience for Minotaur came from near and far, including a group who travelled down from Moe. Audience comments included " a totally professional entertainment with a community spirit"; "fabulous"; "it was awesome, fun and I loved the rock and air guitar"; "enjoyed it immensely"; "brilliant - I loved every minute of it"; "Having had little interaction with the disability sector, it took me to a new place. Thank you"; " a great and memorable experience".

The young cast, most of whom come from St Laurence's Futures for Young Adults program, was elated by the reception and the standing ovations. Their photographs in the Geelong press, the chance to meet Minister for the Arts Mary Delahunty, and the beautiful costumes they created with designer Emily Barrie, added to the experience.

Back to Back is a professional ensemble theatre company and International Day is the chance for us to put back into our community. The enthusiasm of workshop participants and the talent and commitment of Theatre of Speed are some of the reasons we continue to work with community. We hope to see even more people at our new production next year, but you will have to book early.