This year marks a significant shift for Citizen Theatre. For the first time, the company has a core group of members – The Citizens – with whom I’m meeting on a regular basis to train and experiment together. This has been a long term dream of mine. I knew that to in order to make the work I have always wanted to make, I would need to have a group of regular actor-collaborators who I could work with outside project rehearsals: I needed people to challenge the ideas and take them further, people who share my vision for an inclusive, creative, inspiring and politically engaged theatrical future. It has taken some years to gain the skills and confidence necessary to facilitate this experimental work, so it’s very exciting to finally be embarking upon this new creative chapter.
Though I may from time to time continue to work on ad hoc projects, I feel like I’ve come to the end of the ‘project to project’ approach for the company. It’s time to get more strategic and to start exploring the themes and stories that have a common artistic rationale. Part of this will involve finding a regular home for Citizen Theatre to help grow and build our audience base and establish long term relationships within a local community. The aim is to move towards a more sustainable model that fosters experimentation and lengthy development periods to create works of significance.
The work of The Citizens this year is primarily focused on working towards what I am going to call (for now) a feminist musical theatre. What this means… we don’t even know yet. But to give you some context: I use the word ‘musical’ to mean something with music - an adjective perhaps, rather than a noun. The noun 'musical' for many people tends to evoke a tap dancing, high kicking, camp glitter-fest - and there is some truth to this stereotype. I say this with equal parts affection and criticism for the form. Affection, because it's so much fun and can bring such joy to many lives. However it is a form that I struggle with as a feminist because many (though not all) characterisations of women in many (though not all) musicals don’t lend themselves to a feminist agenda (depending on what kind of feminism one ascribes to), not to mention a history of problematic racial representations.
I have always thought there was more to explore when it came to combining storytelling and music and I find current popular conceptions of musical theatre quite limiting. The combination of music and theatre can be incredibly powerful - after all, musicals are among the most valuable intellectual property in the world. But as Kelsey Blair notes, unfortunately most musicals (but not all) contain feelings of empowerment rather than messages of empowerment for women. For me, a feminist agenda aims to improve the lives of all women (and men) through political strategies…I could go on but I think that will suffice for now. The main strategy I use/will use more deliberately in the future is subversive performance. This means our content will be subversive, as well as our treatment of the form. I think it's time to shake up our current conceptions of this combination of music and theatre, use this to empower women identifying people from diverse backgrounds and work towards a future we can all look forward to.
But back to The Citizens! What a bunch they are. Head over to the about us page to meet them. Together, this group of creative, clever and dedicated people are starting off by challenging the ways we habitually move through space, to find unexpected – and just plain weird ways of moving. This will create our entrance point to new worlds and ideas, which will then open us up to unexpected and unusual combinations of sound/singing/music and theatre. The training we are doing is being created week to week, building slowly to help the group consolidate and hone a shared vocabulary and approach to working together.
The idea is that by moving in unusual, subversive ways that disrupt and challenge social norms, we will have a physical and highly theatrical context for exploring sound making, singing and music-making. Our resident composer Imogen Cygler is going to be instrumental (pun intended) in creating the musical content for this integration of experimental vocal, musical and physical expression.
I’m particularly interested in our group reflecting the diversity of Melbourne. If you or someone you know identifies with this (whether that be terms of ability, neurotype, culture, language, sexuality or gender) please get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.
Keep your eye out for pictures and news on how our training and work is progressing - our resident designer Stu Brown will be documenting our sessions as we go… lots of exciting announcements coming to you in 2018, stay tuned…
Image by Stu Brown