Roland Manderson 8 October 1997
"I think I've always been an extravert!" Iconoclast extraordinaire, Roland Manderson will be remembered for his unlikely performance as a bird in Andrew Bovell's early play An Ocean Out My Window. That was in 1986 in a company called Ensemble Theatre Project. ETP no longer exists, but Roland goes on forever.
Since 1991 he has been Director of Canberra Youth Theatre, where his quirky combination of an absurdist world-view and a seriousness about the importance of theatre works a treat with young people looking for the meaning of life. Roland aims for the top, or indeed even over-the-top when a Youth Theatre group recently stirred the ire of Parliament House security with plans to perform on the grass over the heads of the politicians! Despite rejection of the proposal, the grass being sacrosanct, he still managed to conduct a rehearsal in situ just to prove a peaceful and dramatic point about the nature of democracy.
Symbolic action is perhaps the key to Roland Manderson. In manner he fluctuates between growls and grins in a most beguiling way, representing not just his volatility but more his concern for people's rights and the expression of this concern through theatre. Youth Theatre is not, for Manderson, a pleasant training experience for the future daughters of Mrs Worthington, but a centre of theatrical activism.
Therefore he encourages young people to write and perform their own works, and take up challenges against normal expectations. Under Manderson's overall direction, some 18 tutor/directors have given Youth Theatre members and students from two Colleges experience in around 36 productions during 1996 and 1997. Many of these were under the immediate direction of Youth Theatre members themselves, making Gorman House a-buzz with youthful energy and ideas.
In answer to the Great Brechtian debate about football being more theatre than theatre itself, CYT created the Giant Raider (in the days when the Raiders were still the local team) - a 7 metre tall puppet which went to the football. This was part of Manderson's vision of art for young people enabling them to see themselves as part of the community. As football is community celebration, so is theatre. The traditional conflict between the arts and sport is negative thinking from Manderson's viewpoint. "But I'd relinquish an Artist of the Year award for an extra $40,000 a year for Canberra Youth Theatre" he says, hopefully.
Two highlights of recent times are The Maze by young writer Niamh Kearney, touring to NSW and Victoria (a study of how for young people life can seem to be a maze without an exit), and an exciting collaboration with the Song Ngoc Water Puppetry Troupe of Hanoi in Water Stories with performances at the Sydney and Canberra Festivals earlier this year. A challenging experience was the performance of Malai Mongkol by the Makhampon Theatre Company of Thailand, about Thai prostitution and AIDS.
CYT has a special role because it is part of the theatre industry, not a school, but Manderson would like to build a bigger organisation with a full training and development component to give Youth Theatre the profile it deserves. "It must be fun" is still the perception of being director of CYT - but it's much more than just fun.
Roland wants to examine "the nature of the place we live in - that is, Canberra". Parliament House featured back in 1991, when youth theatres from several states joined CYT in planting their flag on top of this august institution. That time, there was no complaint from security. Have times changed? "Mostly I suffer fools very gladly" says Roland Manderson.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
Return to Frank McKone'sHome Page