On November 13 1935, celebrated aviator Charles Kingsford-Smith was pronounced ‘missing’ when his plane vanished while flying from London to Sydney.
On the same date as his disappearance, another (fictional) story unfolds that lies at the centre of Blancmange’s intriguing new immersive theatre production, We Are The Ghosts Of The Future. It’s currently playing in Sydney as part of The Rocks Village Bizarre.
Theatre People was fortunate to speak to one of its writers, Hilary Bell, about the genesis of this fascinating theatrical experience, part of genre we see nowhere near enough of in Australia.
Bell belongs to a group of seven playwrights, collectively known as 7-On. Between them, they’ve written over 150 works, a number of which have been performed around Australia, and even across the world.
“What we do is we look for projects that…lend themselves to being written by a multitude of voices,” Bell tells Theatre People.
“We write independently, and then we bring together what we’ve got and shape it and refine it in context.”
According to Bell, 7-On’s inspiration for We Are The Ghosts Of The Future came from ‘City of shadows’, a photography exhibition currently showing at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum.
“They’re old mugshots and forensic photos and crime scenes,” Bell says. “They’re just so evocative, and the people in them are so modern-looking, and it’s a real change from the period photos we often see, where the people were wearing their Sunday best and they’re posed carefully.”
The group initially conceived of a work that would take place in the cells of the museum itself. Later, that idea evolved to a piece that would be housed in Darlinghurst Goal, but Bell says that was ultimately logistically impossible.
“We re-wrote it to be performed in a house. And because there are seven of us, we each took a room and decided what would happen in that room.”
More precisely, the events of We Are The Ghosts Of The Future take place in a boarding house.
“In each of the little rooms of the boarding house, there’s a little mini-drama being played out. Some are quite dramatic. One is a couple who have no money and can’t afford to pay their bills, and make a considered decision to take arsenic and commit suicide together.”
“The piece that I wrote is about a policeman from the country who comes into this house, ostensibly looking for a crook,but discovers a closet of women’s clothes, and puts them all on and indulges his transvestite yearnings.”
So where does Kingsford-Smith fit into this concept? Bell explains: “We hit upon the idea of vanishing, and we took the day that Charles Kingsford-Smith, the aviator, was declared missing.
“Even though he’s not a character in it, all of these lives in the play are affecting in some way by his vanishing.”
“[The work is] a metaphor for change and loss and things disappearing.”
Running approximately 60 minutes, the scenarios that occur in each room of the ‘boarding house’ are played out several times over, and audience members have the opportunity to move freely between each room as they choose.
Asked to cite the most challenging aspect of bringing We Are The Ghosts Of The Future to life, Bell says it was finding someone to actually help bring it to a stage. “We were really fortunate to find a producer, Steven Carnell, and then really fortunate to find this wonderful young director, Harriet Gillies, who’s incredibly energetic and patient and smart and resourceful.”
Gillies is a recent NIDA graduate and called upon some of her classmates to assist in the task of breathing life into 7-On’s concept. This includes Hugh O’Connor as production designer, and Alex Berlage as sound designer.
“It’s all very well to write a play, but getting it on is a challenge. I have to say it’s really thanks to these collaborators that it’s gotten off the page and onto the stage,” Bell says.
We Are The Ghosts Of The Future is Bell’s first foray into immersive theatre and she told Theatre People about the process of bringing together the story for this experience. “You do have to think about a journey or an arc the way that there is in a regular theatre, and you have to think of little tricks to compel them to come to another room or to get out of a room.”
On why potential audience members should come and be a part of the work, Bell says: “The intimacy of the experience is going to be something you can’t really find anywhere.”
Australia has not yet been part of the immersive theatre crazes that have won sizeable audiences over in other markets (Sleep no more in New York City continues packing patrons in almost five years after its premiere), so theatre-goers even remotely attracted to the concept of immersive theatre should head to The Rocks without hesitation to take part in what will be a totally unique experience.
What: We Are The Ghosts Of The Future
When: Until 28 November 6:30 and 8:30pm
Where: The Rocks Discovery Museum, 4-8 Kendall Lane, The Rocks
Tickets: From Eventbrite or at the door