First Choice - Week 1. Canberra Youth Theatre at Gorman House. December 5 – 7, 1996.Love Puke by Duncan Sarkies and Icarus' Mother by Sam Shepard.
These productions, and the Week 2 program (December 12-14) of Five Visits from Mister Whitcomb by Carter L. Bays and The Balcony by Jean Genet, are "an experiment; 2 professional tutors, 30 odd young people, no budget. Each play was co-directed by a young cast member while David Branson and I (Robin Davidson) divided our time between several groups and production management." Branson writes: "Each script has its own demands, the major decisions with all the work was made by the young people themselves. I think it has been valuable for us in terms of handing authority to the members." If this is an experiment, then it has been done many times before, and indeed is a common process in our secondary colleges.
By chance I have seen rehearsals and performances in three colleges recently, including a much more sophisticated Love Puke, also directed by a student. This play is a neat very stylish satire about sexual relationships, but the Youth Theatre cast, co-directed by Naomi Milthorpe, did not understand clearly the need for polished timing and most were too young to carry the sexuality required. They played sincerely, but this script demands more than they could be expected to give.
Jess Baxter and her cast did much better with Icarus' Mother - but I wish in the program they could have spelt Sam Shepard's name correctly. This is performed outdoors, so watch out for storms. The play is in the Samuel Beckett tradition, and I thought the directing found a good level at the beginning, with silences and implications being made with or sometimes deliberately without eye contact. However the actors were not able to maintain their first strength of focus, but still did a creditable performance.
I'm not sure, after watching these productions, what Canberra Youth Theatre is offering different from secondary college drama programs. Maybe I expected more evidence of skills training and greater sophistication from an institution with a longer history than the colleges and drawing people from across the whole Canberra region. Maybe the colleges have simply caught up.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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