After three years of studying performance theory and creating works within the university campus, it was an incredibly exciting opportunity for us, a group of final year students from the Bachelor of Performing Arts, to take our work to the Coopers Malthouse Theatre’s Tower Theatre. This opportunity came about through the Monash/Malthouse collaboration, a partnership that has already provided us with discounted tickets and panel discussions and now was taking us inside the building to create our own theatre. Our performance, Welcome to Nowhere, was directed by acclaimed director Emma Valente of THE RABBLE and included five separate plays written by multi-award winning Melbourne playwrights; Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene, Fleur Kilpatrick and Morgan Rose. We also had Eugyeene Teh as a design consultant. The new daring work was performed, designed, marketed, stage-managed and assistant directed by students and it was an incredible opportunity to collaborate with artists whom we have admired and had been influenced by throughout our degrees. We had been in the rehearsal room since July and when production week came around everyone was buzzing with excitement. The entire cast and crew had put an incredible amount of hard work into the production and were ready to cross the threshold and have an audience breathe life into our work.
Welcome to Nowhere explored the concept of ‘liminality’, a premise set out by director Emma Valente, who asked the five writers to consider these in-between spaces in relation to individuals, communities, or entire countries; this could be anything from ancient rituals and ceremonies to being on an aeroplane that is about to disappear. They were also given the visual stimulus of two Australian photography series: “First Job Series,” a collection of pastel hand-coloured photographs by Tracy Moffart, where she inserted herself into found photographs of casual jobs, and “Welcome to Nowhere” by Trent Parke, which depicts abandoned and unusual Australian Landscapes. The writers went away and each wrote their own versions of nowhere, returning periodically to workshop their text with the ensemble. The five resulting works were incredibly diverse, covering everything from death, car parks, and moving to Mars.
The five performances ran one after the other, transitioning between each play with light and sound interludes. Each play carried its own distinctive style and traits, but were held together by a strong aesthetic vision. The first play, Inertia, featured the interaction between a girl determined to be chosen to move to Mars for the Mars One project and a sweet boy from the country who she brought home to have a one night stand with; it featured ‘aliens’ wearing biohazard suits and a spectacular moment where the main character was sprayed in a luminous substance that glistened under UV light. Started From The Bottom by Zoey Dawson explored a desperately famous girl giving a speech at an awards night and her relationship with her dying grandmother, who was dressed in a giant bird suit. Ash by Daniel Keene had more naturalistic tones and was a story about three siblings with a tortured past who were collecting their dead father’s ashes. New Bright Future brought the comedic element with underlying tragedy to the show with a performance about five people who are left in an endless, carless car park as their town mysteriously disappears. The show ended on an explosive note with The Curling Ribbon by Angus Cerini, which explored the moment before death, oscillating between flashbacks to a carnival and the scene of a siege. Naturally, this involved a lot of cream pies being hurled around the space and smashed into faces. Whilst the works expanded across an array of forms they all held resonances in their ideas and evocations of these intermediate spaces. It was an immense yet exciting challenge to bring together five disparate works, but one that allowed us to have the experience of approaching a large variety of works and bringing together a vast array of writing and performance styles.
This year was the first of the Monash/Malthouse partnership and it has been incredibly valuable to be able to work with professionals in the industry we are graduating into, especially at a venue where we have been audience members for years. The “liminal space” of graduating from a degree where there is no clear-cut pathway can be pretty scary, but opportunities such as these make the transition feel much smoother and give us a taste for what we are about to get ourselves into. We are very thankful to everyone who was involved in the project and it is definitely something to keep an eye on each year. Considering the names the Monash/ Malthouse partnership is bringing to work with the students on these projects, they are sure to produce high quality exciting, contemporary theatre that challenges preconceived notions of what students can do.
Brodie Rowlands is the Assistant Director on Welcome to Nowhere