Back to Back Theatre's new show, Super Discount, follows the classic narrative of a hero fighting back from early set backs to a new position of insight and strength.
It could be said that this is a theme that defines the philosophy of Back to Back itself . The company was founded in Geelong in 1987 to create theatre with people who are perceived to have a disability. It has since gone on to become one of Australia’s leading creative voices, focusing on moral, philosophical and political questions about the value of individual lives. Alice Nash has been Back to Back Theatre's Executive Producer for 10 years and works for the company and works for the company because she believes it to be Australia’s most exciting independent theatre company. "Back to Back Theatre makes experimental theatre work from the hearts and minds of a unique ensemble of actors who nominate themselves as being perceived to have intellectual disabilities, giving voice to social, economic and political issues that speak to all people," Nash explains. " The company is 26 years old, makes works locally – in Geelong – and tours extensively internationally, in leading contemporary arts contexts." The company recently won critical acclaim for their Helpmann Award winning production Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
The company usually works with a full time ensemble of 6 actors although this number is at 5 at present. Guest actors are invited in if required. All of the works are devised – improvised through a long process until a script comes into being. So, Nash explains, when Back to Back are considering working with guest actors they look for someone who is a skilled and open improviser, who can keep pace with the idiosyncratic genius of the core ensemble, and who has a compelling stage presence. "We head off down a dark narrative path each time we make a work, and it scares the hell of out of us. A guest artist needs to walk down that path with us," says Nash.
Personal challenges and rewards possibly come in equal daily doses for Nash but I get the feeling she wouldn't have it any other way. "Someone said recently of Back to Back Theatre: “Who woulda thunk it? A small disability theatre company from Geelong that tours to the world’s most exciting stages?” It’s been an immense privilege to be part of this journey, to serve these artists, who remind me every day what it means to be human. The challenges? Art is not really at the centre of civil society in Australia; it’s a big gritty task garnering support for experimental artistic practice in the long-term," says Nash.
Super Discount talks of sticky notions of identity, representation and power which are pulled apart and investigated with humour and candour. The work – originally entitled Laser Beak Man and based on a character by artist Tim Sharp although Sharp's work forms no part of Super Discount – has evolved considerably in the year that has passed since this co-production between Back to Back Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre was programmed.
With the recent resurgence of Marvel and DC Comics characters it is clear that everyone loves a superhero. Nash admits that a few of the back to back ensemble are obsessed with comic books and superheroes but the genesis of Super Discount and the reason for its ultimate staging is really a lot more personal. "There’s always some superhero paraphernalia on our big kitchen table. So this subject matter is inherently familiar to many in the company," she says. "But SUPER DISCOUNT also came in part from a dialogue that is sometimes in the public domain about whether people with disabilities should be represented on stage by people with disabilities only, or whether non-disabled actors can take on these roles. The work is incredibly personal, vulnerable and – I would say – generous."
"SUPER DISCOUNT is a tale about how we all get things wrong in the world, and how we all together – can try to get it right. It’s about goodness and about darkness. It’s sneaky, sly, funny, disarming and matters."
Performances of the world premiere of Super Discount are at STC’s Wharf 1 from 20 September to 19 October, followed by a season at Malthouse Theatre from 13 November to 1 December 2013