Mentorship at Mentone Magic for the Misses
TheatrePeople catches up with director, Claire Wearne, to get the low down on the latest creative project at Mentone Girls’ Grammar School.
Changing lives of Australians at war.
Freya Wong, an MGGS student, stars in ‘When the Stars Go Blue’.
Makeup mentor, Heather Tustin, pictured with student Jade Lindsay.
The aftermath of World War II is riddled with stories of psychological, physical and social trauma as a result of the atrocities of war. Australia fought valiantly for over five years, losing around 40,000 lives. Following the Japanese surrender on 2nd September 1945 those surviving Australians serving across the world returned to home shores. With almost one million servicemen and women involved throughout the war, adjusting back to life as Australian civilians was difficult. Most brought with them scars of their experiences while overseas. Others hadn’t traversed the seas but had instead served in the women’s auxiliary services and other local industry and military defence efforts. Even half a world away the war had altered everyday life from Hobart to Broome.
It was during WWII that the role of women in society evolved, to fill the void of their husbands, sons and brothers on the front line: leaving their ovens to stoke an industry furnace, swapping petticoats for pants and a wooden spoon for a wrench. At the war’s conclusion it was expected that these women would return to their homes and the primary role of wife and mother. As you would expect, communities instead struggled to realign gender roles and overcome the grief of the cost of war.
This upheaval of society structure is a fascinating topic which Mentone Girl’s Grammar School have chosen to explore in their latest creative project. In a pooling together of resources, experience and skill, in some ways epitomising the stalwart ideal of a community coming together during World War II, MGGS have established collaborative partnerships with industry professionals to produce unique theatrical productions.
Director Claire Wearne established the program in 2010. Having worked in community, university and professional theatre for over a decade, Wearne realized not only that there is too often a chasm between high school performing arts and the professional industry, but that the most valuable asset in theatre making is most often the person standing next you.
“Having been fortunate enough cut me teeth as assistant director to a number of well established professional directors, such as Julian Meyrick and Deborah Leiser- Moore, I recognised the enormous value of following in another's footsteps.” Wearne, explains. “Studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts at Melbourne University, I met a world of artists and practitioners across a range of mediums, many of whom I still collaborate with now. We bring these professionals into the production process as teachers and mentors for our students. We have also recruited graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts who are looking for employment opportunities.”
This year MGGS commissioned the production of ‘When the Stars go Blue' - A poetic story, set in 1946 in a small Australian seaside town. The plot interweaves the struggles of family life post war and the tragedy of loss, with gorgeous moments of magic realism and shadow puppetry.
“This play was created in consultation with a team of 6 student collaborators, who advised Lucy Stewart, the playwright, which ideas, themes and characters they were most interested in. This team worked together to help shape the direction of the script and the result is very impressive.”
The production has broad appeal to all ages, with some audience members as young as 6 to attend from the MGGS Junior School. Wonderfully, the school has also invited members of a local nursing home to attend the production free of charge.
“As the show is set in the 1940’s, we are hoping that it will remind these older residents of their own childhoods, with the sound track sure to spark some happy, jazz filled memories. The music was so fabulous back then, and yet the cast of 'When the Stars go Blue' can't stop dancing to it either.”
A variety of mentorship roles cover the production from script conception to the final bow, e.g. in sound, lighting, set design, costume and makeup. Among them is set designer, Mischa Long.
“Mischa has worked tirelessly to evoke a beautiful sense of the 'home made' about the look and feel of the piece. Working primarily in cardboard and canvas, he has channelled an old school set of theatre making skills, such as perspective painting and pulleys and hoists to fly in set pieces. The 'home made' feel of his design ties in perfectly with the 1940's, where people were forced to be resourceful and thrifty and is a real point of departure from our more recent productions, which have utilized digital projections.”
The MGGS collaborative production program is intended to run annually, with any interested artists more than welcome to get involved. The time commitment is comparative to that spent working on a professional production, but extended across a longer rehearsal time frame around the student performers (February to August).
Certainly, a mentorship role is a rewarding and valuable experience to up and coming or already established professionals in the performing arts industry. Furthermore, the benefits to students in developing communication, performance and production skills should illicit investigation by other schools into establishing similar programs.
“ Students have been given the opportunity to undertake mentorships with industry professionals through all stages of production, which has afforded all mentees a complete theatrical experience.” student and assistant director, Emily Barron, elaborates, “Being able to harness the knowledge and experience of these professionals has encouraged us to challenge ourselves. It has provided a base to develop our communication skills as well as enhance our own creative thinking. Undertaking the role of Assistant Director, I have been able to oversee this rich and rewarding theatre making process that has provided endless learning opportunities. Working together with experienced professionals has granted us an understanding for the entire creative vision of the play and what it takes to put on a performance from conception to the stage."
Wearne adds, “The girls are also imparted with the knowledge that a career in the Arts in Australia IS possible, and that Australia's theatre scene is alive and accessible to them.”
Well done to Claire Wearne, her team of collaborative partners and MGGS for investing in this program – shaping these ladies into better communicators and the next crop of talented performing arts professionals.
“It is fantastic to be working at a School like Mentone Girls' Grammar, which is bold enough to innovate, to challenge and to create.” Wearne concludes, “I believe the mentorship program is the first of its kind and I am hoping it continues smoothly for many years!”
The ‘When the Stars go Blue’ show season Is short but sweet, running from the 9th to the 11th of August. Be quick to pre-book tickets at www.mentonegirls.vic.edu.au/stars. Tickets are $17/$22.
Those interested in mentorship roles for future programs are encouraged to contact Claire Wearne via firstname.lastname@example.org.