Dane Noble is a teacher at Whittington Primary School. His year 3-4 class has participated in WEYA’s residency program at the school. He kindly took a break from his school holiday bathroom renovation project to talk to me about his experience of the program.
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington has run over two ten week terms, both last year and this year. Dane explained how the first term of each program is a series of theatre workshops, and the second term is about putting together a play that students then perform for their school community. This year’s production, Arabian Nights, will take place at the school on 18 August.
Talking about his first term working with the WEYA teaching team, Dane said:
‘I didn’t realize at the time that we were going through the whole story that we then created as a play. The way that process works is really effective for the kids.’
What he is particularly excited about, as a teacher, is the impact of the program, that permeates well beyond the bounds of the theatre workshops, into other areas of learning, the discussions that are sparked in the class room, and the ‘stories they write’.
The production they are currently working, is set in the Middle East and ‘that’s really interesting to have those conversations’, he says, pointing out that Wittington Primary is a relatively disadvantaged regional school, with many students who don’t have many opportunities to gain an expansive visions of the world.
He focuses in on the impact on students’ general sense of confidence and capacity. ‘It’s great for kids with different sorts of abilities’ he says, ‘some kids who might struggle with reading have an opportunity to come to the fore.’
And the inclusivity of the programs is also a plus for him: ‘last year we had 3 or 4 kids who had really low attendance, but they still had a role.’
I asked him what the WEYA residency had taught him about his students:
‘That element of those kids having an opportunity to be successful, even though they’re not reading at anything like the standard of their year level. If a kid is in year four and he can’t read well, then he isn’t in a good position to be feeling confident about his capacity to achieve… [what’s great about the WEYA program] …is the opportunities for success…’
And he gave this example:
‘This particular kid, he’s been asked a couple of times to read some lines. You can see he’s been told the line. He’s hanging around the back and repeating and repeating the line so he knows he’ll get it right. In this process he’ll sit there and he’ll work on it till he knows he can get it right. Kids who would, in other circumstances, just say ‘no I can’t do that’ can reach that success, and learn about the process of learning, having multiple opportunities to get it right. He was practicing and practicing. You find out about [the students’] resilience, that comes out in a different way.’
Dane also talked about the cumulative value of the program over the two-year period that it’s been running:
‘Kids that are repeating, you can see their confidence, in the way they’re acting. Learning how to actually talk to the crowd, you can see how they’ve retained that learning. One of the stars from last year, you can see how he’s showing the others how to do it.’
I asked about where they are at in the process. ‘We’re at the point now of running through the play and figuring out who’s going to take what role’, he explained. This is not a simple process, he explains, because each of the kids is given a role, and some lead roles are shared around. Last year there were ‘three different Hades’, for example.
Dane is anticipating that Arabian Nights will be a bit of a big deal for the school community. Talking about the production last year he said:
‘They [the WEYA teaching artists] don’t just chuck them up on stage and say “have a go”. They go the whole hog. Big performance, great set, great lighting… Six classes performed on the same day. There was a massive parent turn out. That showed something about how it was valued both by the kids and by the families.’
So I asked him to say more about the parents, and the Whittington community, and what he’d learned about them through the process:
‘It was interesting for me to see the parents that did turn up’, Dane reflected, explaining that he’s only been living in the area for the two years that he’s been teaching at Whittington Primary, so he’s still getting to know the neighbourhood:
‘There was that element of not being part of the community and not knowing who they were’ he said, but he really appreciated the opportunity to connect with parents ‘outside of the formal teacher interview’, which was the main forum in which he’d met them previously.
His impression is of a community that is significantly less economically and educationally advantaged, compared to the inner city school where he previously taught. He remembers when he started this job, being surprised about the expectation that he wear a suit and tie to meet with parents, and how the principle explained that “when the parents come to see us, we’re probably one of the most formal people they see in their lives”. Dane goes on to explain that:
‘For many of these parents, their other experiences with authority are often not very good. So seeing that many people engaged with the drama program…it’s amazing to see that kind of engagement with parents and a sense of building an understanding of the shared process of learning, and building respect and trust in these communities. The school is gradually building that respect in the community, and the Western Edge project has helped to build that.’
Dane sums up our chat, saying that:
‘The key message that I want to get across is that element of – its not just going in for a little drama class. There are great education benefits. The facilitators obviously know what they are doing. I love going in there and knowing that it’s going to be organized and knowing that the kids are going to have fun. It’s not just a fun play where someone dresses as a tree. There’s actually great educational depth to it. I know I enjoy it and I think most of the other teachers do to.’
Visit our shows page for details of the upcoming production of Arabian Nights.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington Primary School is supported by the Kimberly Foundation.
Our Passionate Pathways feature for this month is the awesome Ada Cardona.
‘It’s not just a cute love story’ says Ada about At First Glance.
At First Glance is the piece she has been creating on Wednesday nights over the last four months, with fellow members of WEYA’s Werribee based Wyndham Edge ensemble. After a successful preview showing as part of a World Refugee Day event in June, the Ensemble will be presenting the completed work in Hoppers Crossing on 3 August, and again in Footscray, as part of Due West Festival on 26 August. Click on the dates for details.
Ada, who is in year 10 at Point Cook Senior Secondary College, joined Wyndham Edge last year. She says that she’s ‘always liked the idea of acting, but never considered actually doing it before’. When she came into contact with WEYA’s programs she ‘really liked the ideas and concepts’.
It ‘felt real to me, and vivid, and I wanted to be a part of that’ she says, and explains that she always thought theatre would help her ‘get out of [her] shell and be a little more confident’, concluding that it definitely has!
Wyndham Edge is the newest of WEYA’s open access theatre workshop programs, and in its second year, it is really beginning to find it’s flow. Ada reflects that ‘this year, a lot of us who were in the Wheel of Fate production last year had to leave, so we have a new set of people to work with, but it’s been really interesting and fun, and it’s just nice to be around’.
About At First Glance Ada reflected:
‘The basic idea of the production was that we were thinking about love stories…we were playing around with ideas about culture and how different cultures see love and courting. I’m from the Philippines and our views are very traditional and conservative. The other main character, her ideas on love are based on her [Nigerian] culture, but she’s trying to put love aside to focus on work cos her mum is sick’.
The subjects that Filipino born Ada likes best at school include English – ‘I’m doing advanced English, ‘cos I actually really like English it’s one of my favorite subjects’. She also likes PE when they get to do dance, and is taking a theater unit as part of a special VCE preparatory program. This semester she is also doing a history unit which she says is ‘alright’.
After first saying that she has ‘no-idea’ what she wants to do after high school, she goes on to say that she’s thinking of possibly doing ‘something art related’, perhaps in design or theatre. On the other hand she is attracted to teaching:
‘Working with kids is nice. …I like what teaching does for kids. It impacts on who we become in the future and I think that’s nice’.
Ada has been living in Australia since she was seven months old, and only speaks a little bit of Filipino, but understands it well because her parents and most of the extended family in Australia do, and she’s been back to the Philippines a couple of times.
I asked her what her family think of her involvement in theatre and the Wyndham Edge ensemble. She says that her Mum, Dad and brothers, and sometimes her uncle and aunty, come along to performances, and she says: ‘they think it’s pretty cool – they mostly like the bits where I’ in it though!’
Ada is looking forward to At first Glance and she tells me that:
‘I’m always looking forward to performing, although I also get nervous. I’m looking forward to people seeing our show. It’s not just a cute love story. It touches on issues about discrimination, racism, domestic violence. What I hope for the shows that I perform in, is that people enjoy it, and that they learn something from it.’
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Over the last few weeks, a group of WEYA’s senior emerging artists have been involved in an exciting new creative development with Westside Circus.
I asked Simone Liew, one of WEYA’s emerging artists, about the creative development process so far for the show that has the working title Quarter Acre Block. The first stage of the development involved three emerging artists from WEYA and three from Westside Circus, as well as one lead artist from each organisation guiding the process.
‘It’s been very interesting and a little bit challenging’ was Simone’s opening summary.
‘The theme that we are touching on is the great Australian dream’ she explained.
And it sounds, from her description, like the creative development involved some pretty rigorous debate and thrashing out of this classic topic, from fresh angles.
‘I related to the idea of the great Australian dream as a migrant’ says Malaysian born Simone, who is currently studying a Bachelor of International Studies at RMIT. She went on to explain more about their exploration of the topic:
‘We talked about the property market, and housing and belonging, and what the Australian dream really is and how that affects people coming to Australia. It’s interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on the topic and learn more about that. We shared a lot of personal experiences and memories as well. It was really interesting cos I hadn’t thought about these things from the perspective of people with other backgrounds. People have had really different experiences.’
We also talked about the collaborative aspect of the development:
‘It’s cool that we’re incorporating circus into it cos it’s the first time I’ve done anything like that. It was a new kind of facilitation as well. Very different to what I’ve done before. We did really cool things like incorporating circus acts as well as drama ideas: juggling and game shows; houses out of cardboard boxes; the metaphorical property market. A lot of different themes and tones throughout the narrative.’
Simone has been involved with WEYA since she was in year 7 in 2009, at Mt. Alexander Secondary Collage. She has worked as an emerging artist facilitator on several of WEYA’s school residency programs over the last few years. This year she has been working on the Wittington Primary School Residency Program, and is a member of the Phoenix Edge ensemble.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Quarter Acre Block: Creative Development has been made possible with the support of Australia Council for the Arts and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust
Our passionate pathways feature this month is Lan Chu. Twenty year old Lan is in the final year of her psychology degree at RMIT. I interviewed her in the lead up to the recent showing of, In the Light of Day.
We talked about her long association with WEYA, spanning nearly a decade, and the process of creating In the Light of Day.
Lan’s first memories of WEYA are from when WEYA had a residency at Debney Meadows Primary School, when she was a student there in year five. She was in a production called The Minotaur, performed at the Clock Tower centre in Moonee Ponds. She remembers ‘that massive minotaur head that they made, that we would carry out onto the stage’, and ‘this one scene where I had to be a mother who’s baby turned out to be the Minotaur’. She recalls having to ‘slowly pull the cloth from the baby’s face’ and ‘the moment I had to scream like a mad woman, which was the scariest part and I never wanted to do it until the show’. But she did do it, and felt ‘pretty good about that’.
Lan went to Debney Park Secondary Collage, now known as Mt Alexander Secondary College, a school where WEYA had already been working for a few years.
Reflecting on her early involvement with WEYA, Lan says:
‘It was fun. There was not much else that I did as a kid. The opportunity was there. I took it. Our high school was pretty poor. There weren’t the resources to support a pro music or sports program. When I was a kid it made me a lot more confident about my intuition – instincts and stuff. It explores so many issues. I always thought that it was good for me.’
She also talks about the inspiring example of older participants in WEYA programs:
‘Definitely it’s the people as well. Keeps you coming back. So many people at my school: Abraham, Soloman, Macky. I wanted to be at that level too.’
Lan was born in Melbourne, and raised by her Vietnamese born mother, along with three siblings. I asked her what her mum thought of WEYA:
‘She thinks it’s cool. She doesn’t have a problem with it. She only sees good out of me doing it. She tries to come to the shows, but it’s hard with her English.’
As we talk about family, Lan mentions mental health challenges among her siblings, that she as a psychology student has had time to consider.
We talked about In the Light of Day. Lan explained that:
‘We started off not knowing what we were going to do the show about. We just thought of a character, based off someone in the neighbourhood we grew up in. My character’s a “shut-in”.’
She tells me that her shut-in character is based on someone close to her, and that she wanted to raise awareness of the shut-in phenomenon:
‘A lot of people don’t really know about shut-ins. It’s really big in Japan. It’s like when people don’t really want to know about society, so they just shut themselves in.’
Lan goes on to talk more about the play:
‘The whole street ends up being quarantined and we [the characters in the play] have no idea why. And it’s interesting ‘cos of all the unique characters! We have a lot of random characters [in this show]! It will be interesting! Hahah! It’s a slice of life in a ‘normal’ neighbourhood in the Western suburbs.’
What Lan has enjoyed about studying psychology is that ‘it’s all about human behaviour, what makes up personality, how your brain works with your body, social behaviour, the play between how you behave and other people behave.’
She muses that ‘I kind of thought that by doing sociology I’d be able to understand other people more and be able to put myself in other people’s shoes and stuff.’ And notes that she sees herself as an empathetic person:
‘whenever I watch things I also put myself in the character’s shoes. That’s why I don’t’ like watching horror movies. Cos I always put myself in their shoes!’
Lan will be graduating at the end of this year but plans to keep studying as she wants to go into education. She’s considering specialising in psychology, as a teacher, but also reflects that ‘I could teach drama, with my WEYA experience.’
Whatever you do Lan, the Western Edge Youth Arts team is right behind you, and super proud! Not to mention grateful for all you’ve contributed to WEYA over the years!
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Congratulations to Piper Huynh, on being accepted into the Footscray Community Arts Centre’s Emerging Cultural Leaders program.
Piper is an actor, maker and facilitator. She has been involved with WEYA as a participant since 2010, and has been a member of WEYA’s flagship emerging artists’ ensemble, the Edge Ensemble, since it’s inception, playing key roles in Iago (2015) and Caliban (2016). Read more about Piper’s Story with WEYA here.
I asked her about the Emerging Cultural Leaders program.
‘I’ve been wanting to do the program for about the last three or four years’, she says.
This year she’s ‘taking a step back’ from her creative practice, ‘to reassess’. So it seems like the perfect time for a professional development program like this one.
Piper explains to me that it is a seven-month program where the sixteen participants, with diverse creative practices, meet weekly. There’s writers, photographers, people who work in schools (facilitators), poets, zine people, visual artists, radio broadcaster. The common thread is that they ‘all work in different communities’.
‘Speakers – industry people – come in and have a talk to us, and show us the ins and outs,’ she says, mentioning the names of General Managers of key Melbourne arts organisations, and respected Indigenous cultural leaders, as examples.
‘We talk about everything’ she says, outlining a range of key skills for artists and cultural workers, ‘even the dry stuff…yesterday we just did budgeting!’
She is also looking forward to working on a creative project, as part of the program, that will have an outcome at the end of the year, that industry people will be invited to attend.
We look forward to hearing more from Piper about the Emerging Cultural Leader’s program, and her many other rich and varied activities as a creative, over the coming months.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Phoenix Edge showed their new work-in-development, In the Light of Day, to an enthusiastic house at Phoenix Youth Hub on 10 June. There were some individual standout performances by this strong group of young theatre makers. But their work as an ensemble was the highlight under the talented leadership of their director/facilitator Georgia Symons.
After the performance, actors and directors asked for feedback from the audience, to inform the ongoing development of the work. One young audience member who was attending theatre for the first time in Australia said that he ‘liked the parallel stories that were happening at the same time’, and another enjoyed the ‘use of the ensemble as metaphors’. Check out the photos in our photo gallery.
In the Light of Day will be shown as a finished work, in late August. Keep your eyes peeled for more details.
Thanks to Gandel Philanthropy, Newsboys Foundation and Maribyrnong city for their support of the Phoenix Edge program.
WEYA’s Werribee based crew, Wyndham Edge, performed a preview of their new original work At First Glance as part of World Refugee Day celebrations in Hoppers Crossing last Saturday 24 June.
Multicultural Runway was a free family event with activities, rides, live performance and cultural food, held at the Youth Resource Centre, Hoppers Crossing. A diverse and attentive audience enjoyed the performance. Check out the photos.
Wyndham Edge will also be performing At First Glance on 3 August, at the Youth Resource Centre, 86 Derrimut Rd, Hoppers Crossing. Details will be up on the WEYA website and facebook page soon.
Here’s the scoop:
Follow Benji as he falls in love on the Werribee line. Touch on to meet Lucinda, a young woman trapped in a dead-end job. Transfer to Joel, a shy guy in a music shop.
Can you really fall in love at first sight? Can love be found in unlikely friendships? How do we find the strength to act from love and not spite?
The Wyndham Edge program is a WEYA program, proudly supported by Wyndham City.
In the Youth Arts sector there are a lot of heroes, often unsung. Board members who volunteer their time to do the work of guiding the direction of an organisation and nurturing its culture are certainly in this category. Bernadette Fitzgerald who recently resigned as Chair of WEYA’s board after nine years on the board and five as Chair, has been involved in supporting WEYA and its predecessor programs for over 14 years, and she is deservedly proud of this organisation that she has watched and helped grow over so long. I chatted to her in the sun outside Footscray Community Arts Centre where she is a Creative Producer, and where it all started for WEYA, as she recalls.
Bernadette talks about SCRAYP and Y3P, the two successful programs at FCAC, out of which the current WEYA incorporated grew. And mentions some of the names of the people who were involved back then: David Everest, Viv Sercombe, Professor Maureen Ryan from Vic Uni, who all made invaluable contributions to building the legacy of what WEYA is today, as well as Dr Dave Kelman who is still with the the organisation as Artistic Director. Bernadette remembers some of the young people, ‘like Ezeldin Deng’ she glows ‘who learned English through SCRAYP and hip hop and rap with DJ Wasabi, and is now an amazing film make, continuing to support his peers and community and support their voices through the arts’.
When I ask about milestones, she says: ‘the incorporation of WEYA from a project to becoming an organisation in it’s own right, that was an extraordinary accomplishment’. ‘At FCAC’ she emphasis, ‘we are proud of…not our baby, but something that’s grown into it’s own entity’. And it’s again clear that for Bernadette, who was actively involved in the incorporation process, this is a deeply personal pride.
She goes on to reflect that WEYA has grown into ‘an agile organisation, through necessity. That commitment and agility to being responsive is important’ she says, ‘and that’s across the arts and education. Rising up to that challenge, while continuing that commitment to young voices is to their credit’.
But she emphasizes the privilege: ‘I’ve had the privilege of seeing the participants grow up’ and ‘the privilege of being an audience member and hearing those voices’ and being challenged to ‘think differently about something’ as a result, and the privilege of watching the ‘staff and the artists and all the young people who’ve made the commitment over all the years’.
But it’s seeing some of the real outcomes of all this long term effort paying off that really lights her up. Talking about the emerging artists that have come through WEYA’s programs, as young school students, and that are now working in schools as WEYA teaching artist. ‘The diversity of young people that work in those schools now’, she says ‘that’s really significant’.
And she also mentions the significance of the pathways to work as professional artists, as well as arts and cultural workers, employed across a range of organisations and programs, locally, nationally and even internationally. She mentions alumni working in community arts and professional theatre and stresses that ‘the training at WEYA has been acknowledged in the industry. A small team has achieved big things.’
Talking about what has changed over the years, she says that ‘what shifts is the diaspora that comes through, with the shifts or waves of migration’. ‘That shifts with Western Edge’, she says, as the organisation responds to the needs of the community.
But what stays the same, she reflects, is the impact on individual young people, and the ‘ripples’ that can have. The ‘extended story’.
Bernadette attended the Geelong Edge Ensemble’s street performance of The Secret City that they performed as part of Geelong After Dark, at the beginning of May. She comments on the pride of the young people involved. As well the response from the very diverse audience – a moment where a young child in the audience told the actors to ‘stop fighting you too!’, and the family laughed and there was something very real in that moment. And the middle aged man who said ‘This is important!’.
Finally, she stresses her thanks to the staff and the artists and fellow board members. ‘It’s been a huge privilege’ she says, ‘to support the work that they do, including all the past board members and artists. They will always be a part of the family and have been part of what’s formed and shaped the company, and that’s incredibly valuable. Working with the exceptional, creative and passionate supporters of WEYA’ she says, with emphasis, ‘has been an enormous pleasure’.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts.
Our Passionate Pathways feature for this month is the Fabulous Finn Lloyd.
Finn is dedicated to developing his skills as an actor. In the second year of a science degree at University of Melbourne, he’s been taking breadth subjects in theatre with the VCA as often as he can.
He has also been working with the Owl and Cat Theatre in Collingwood. After taking an acting short course with the Owl and Cat last year, Finn was cast in a role in Erasers, as part of the independent theatre’s 2017 season, and they loved him so much they’re talking about programing future productions, with Finn in mind.
Finn’s first taste of theatre was when he became involved in a Western Edge Youth Arts program at Mt Alexander College, nine years ago, when he was in year eight.
He participated in several school productions with WEYA, including Fate, in 2010 and wanted more.
Finn joined WEYA’s Phoenix Edge program, based at the Phoenix Youth Hub in Footscray, four years ago. ‘I’ve learned a lot’, says Finn, ‘it’s helped me personally. It’s a lot of fun’.
He comments on the friendships that he’s made through being part of Phoenix Edge, ‘cos I don’t get out a lot outside this’, he says, with that half shy smile that leaves you wondering.
But being part of Phoenix Edge is clearly more than an opportunity to socialise for Finn at this point. ‘I’ve been taking it pretty seriously this year’, he says, and comments that the richness of the process and the quality of the writing in Western Edge shows, keeps him committed and coming back for more.
And it’s a supportive place for him to work on his own craft. ‘I’m trying to push the stuff I’ve learned recently and apply that’, he says, referring to a recent unit at the VCA that looked at Method Acting, as well as things he picked up working along side seasoned actors at the Owl and Cat.
I asked him about his character in In The Light of Day, the show that he is currently working on with Phoenix Edge. ‘My character was based off this this guy I saw once trying to rob a car’, he says. And goes on:
‘It’s a very different character to anything I’ve played before. He’s a fun character. He doesn’t hold back. In the previous Phoenix plays I haven’t thought much about how I carry myself. But I learned about that in Erasers, and I’ve been learning about embodiment.’
He talked about some of the processes they’ve been using to develop In The Light of Day; starting with anecdotes, and from that developing characters, which then interact, and from that plot is developed. ‘It’s been a lot of fun’ he says, ‘and Georgia has done an amazing job of turning our collaborative work into a script’.
What Finn is particularly enjoying about working with Georgia Symons, is the rigorous character based approach. ‘You could say this is the first time I’m not playing myself’ he says, and reflects that in Tek, Phoenix Edge’s 2016 show, in which Finn played the lead role, ‘I was definitely playing myself. But this time I’m confident that this character is not myself’.
Besides acting, another passion of Finn’s is drawing. And there’s a determination, in his eyes when he says he’s aiming to ‘make a permanent mark on the world’ as an artist.
A free work in development showing of In The Light of Day will be taking place at the Phoenix Youth Hub on 10 June 2017 at 7pm.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts.
Over the next couple of weeks WEYA teaching artists are heading to three schools to work with young people and their teachers on creating new works that celebrate young people’s own voices and stories.
This week, Lilly Fish, Penny Harpham, Dave Kelman and Jane Rafe will begin year two of our residency at fabulous Whittington Primary School. This project involves 150 primary school students from Prep to Year 6. The project will adapt stories from the Arabian Nights to teach oral language, literacy and humanities and to create a huge community performance event scheduled for August. See details of the 2016 student show, Adventures in Ancient Greece.
Next week Penny Harpham, Dave Kelman, Katie Mudlin and Claire Pearson return to Victoria University Secondary College to begin year two of WEYA’s residency there, delivering a series of workshops on Shakespeare’s Othello that will engage every student in Year 10. WEYS will also run a Shakespeare based after school performance project for students in year 8 to 12 that will culminate in a major community performance at the school in September. How will WEYA follow up our extraordinary 2016 Samoan language Hamlet? Watch this space.
And in a couple of weeks time Lilly Fish and May Saba Sabet (new staff) will be kicking off our third year at North Geelong Secondary College, building on last year’s Romeo and Juliet of Corio project. This twenty week residency engages twenty English as a Second Language VCAL students from many different cultural backgrounds in a radical re-working of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a vehicle for exploring contemporary Australian society. The residency will culminate in a community performance at the school in September.