The highly anticipated Book of Exodus PART II is set to arrive at St.Kilda’s Theatre Works next week and co-creators Adena Jacobs and Aaron Orzech have devised an incredible conclusion to their work which is a radical, poetic response to an ancient narrative of violence and division, plagues and miracles, punishment and liberation, the drowned and the saved.
It has certainly been a mammoth journey for both director Jacobs and Orzech, and Part II brings its own set of joys and challenges given it is presented entirely by an ensemble of children.
Says Orzech: “The most joyful and satisfying moments have been the many occasions when the performers have improvised images or scenes emerge straight from their private imaginative worlds and manifest something onstage which is more arresting, divine or theatrically transgressive than anything an adult could ever construct. The most challenging moments have been organisational! Boring but true. Trying to fit a large-scale devised performance work into the everyday lives of a group of primary school children is really, really difficult.”
Challenges aside, for Orzech the experience of working entirely with children has been exhilarating. He describes it as eye-opening, inspiring, maniacal, refreshing, surprising, emotional, chaotic, educative, and, a pretty successful attempt at creative cross-pollination between “adult” artists and “child” performers.
For those unfamiliar with Fraught Outfit’s Book of Exodus experience, the starting point for this work is the second half of the biblical book of Exodus: the children, who have escaped from slavery in Egypt, wander alone in the desert
Explains Orzech: “Their prophet, Moses, ascends Mt Sinai and communes with God. The children seem to be abandoned. They build an idol, which they worship: a golden calf. Their have forgotten their leader, their god and their law, and when Moses returns form the mountain, they are punished for their transgression.”
Orzech is quick to explain that this production does not tell the story of the text and the piece has no clear message. “Thematically, it draws on the notion of abandonment: a group of children in limbo, attempting and failing to form a community, to make meaning,” he says. “A tribe of children in a world without parents. A past of violence and slavery which they cannot understand but cannot erase. A desperate attempt to communicate, to make meaning, to cry out for help. A wilderness of frozen time. A child’s fantasy of liberation, wholeness, and succor, staring into a nightmarish mirror of hungry narcissistic amnesia.”
Orzech, Jacobs and the creative team have had very strong instincts about the key images, achetypes, objects and ideas of the piece from very early on. “So we have been clear about the importance of certain key images drawn from the biblical Book of Exodus (eg. a golden calf, a burning bush, the wilderness) from the beginning, he says. “The process of weaving them together has involved going deeper and deeper into this imagery, excavating richer and more challenging meanings as we go.
So in the sense of a theatrical tale, we are really making it up as we go along. But in the sense of response to a biblical text and the key most significant images within it has involved pushing further and further into the implications of placing these symbols in relation to a group of children, and in this sense meaning has unveiled itself as we discover more and more. It’s not at all dissimilar to the process of biblical interpretation; returning again and again to the meanings inherent to a baffling, poetic, mysterious text, and its interaction with us, now.”
When the project is all over Orzech will miss the energy and inquisitiveness of the cast, the intellectual and artistic intensity of the creative team, the constant surprises in store when these elements are fused.
But for now, if you like the idea of a requiem for the future performed by a brilliantly eccentric group of children you will love this. Says Orzech: “If you’re just sick of two-handers you’ll really like it too. If you find adult performers boring you will have a terrific time at our show. If you’re magnetised by work that explores power, abandonment, sacrifice, suckling and worship you should come along.”
18 – 29 October