A new culturally diverse work made in Melbourne’s western suburbs is about to be unleashed at The Coopers Malthouse later this month. Caliban explores the battle ground of global climate politics through the eyes of those on the front lines. The work is an Australian re- ‐imagining of The Tempest where Ferdinand is an oil baron, Prospera a scientist and Ariel is an artificial intelligence system with the power to save the world. The project is being presented by Western Edge Youth Arts with writer Georgia Symons acknowledging the collaborative nature of the ensemble.
“It’s not quite accurate to say I wrote this piece,” she says. “The Edge Ensemble devise work together, and we attempt to include everyone’s voice. So this script is the result of improvisations and research, predominantly led by Dave Kelman. I was inspired to be involved and add my voice to this process by the cast members. The Edge Ensemble is comprised of a group of young people from around Melbourne’s west, from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. They all have voices that sit apart from the majority-white, majority-upper-middle-class voices we hear in Climate Change discourses. And they’re all excellent, committed, funny, intelligent people. I love working with the cast, and will always dive at any opportunity to work with them.”
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is not only an interesting template choice for this particular work but is also very apt – the original work published in 1610 and our contemporary discussions about climate change a potent correlation. Says Symons: ” The island of the Tempest is “dangerous”, “unknowable”, “savage”. Prospero, a white man, comes to this island and attempts to “tame” it with his “magic”. The metaphor sits at the intersection of colonialism and climate change, which is the space we are working in today.”
Western Edge have a long and respected pedigree having worked in the community and youth arts sector for over 20 years. Symons’ relationship with the company spans 2 years but her respect for the ensemble is palpable as is her eagerness to encourage diversity.
“The only conversation worth having is a diverse one – otherwise you’re just a group of similar people sitting around and (mostly) agreeing with each other,” she says. “It creates stale art and stale politics. Western Edge are wise to encourage diverse conversations between various cultural groups in the west, but the west is not the only “diverse” part of Melbourne – people from around the world live in the north, south, east, west – and it’s up to each individual artist to reach out and start conversations with people different to them. Western Edge makes this work their company’s mission – I don’t see that in many other arts companies in Australia.”
According to their website: “At Western Edge Youth Arts we create a place where young people can make socially engaged art to change the world and discover some new perspectives along the way. Many of our performers are unlikely to set foot in a mainstream theatre. They’re under 26 and living in the west or beyond, and move between cultures. Sometimes they’re cash poor, but rich in ways that make for complex, funny, challenging and beautiful art.”
Originally seeded as a street show presented at Big West Festival in 2015, Caliban has undergone intensive development and is now an entirely new work – it sets a new benchmark for the Edge Ensemble and brings personal stories and passionate perspectives on climate change into a main stage theatre space.
Symons’ hope is that audiences come away from this performance with new information about climate change and – perhaps more importantly – new perspectives. “In Australia, we know that climate change is happening, and we hear about the effects that it’s happening overseas,” she says. ” Members of the Edge Ensemble and their families have been affected first-hand by these global changes in our climate – from the desertification of Africa to the rising sea levels of the Pacific. I’d encourage audiences to come along and hear from young people whose families and cultures are directly at risk from climate change – they are the experts, and should be respected and listened to alongside scientists and media commentators.”
Georgia Symons is a writer, theatre maker, arts educator, and co-founder of a theatre company called Small and Loud. Her recent and upcoming works include How to Break Into Someone Else’s Universe (FCAC 2017); You Must Come Alone to Read the Last Book on Earth (Fringe/Library at the Dock 2016), and of course, Caliban, coming up at The Coopers Malthouse.
November 24 – 26