If we were asked to leave our safe space, what would we take with us and what would we leave behind?
Presented as a collection of vignettes, poetry enactments, short stories and various other art forms, SPARC Theatre’s The Greek Mythological Boat Show is an exploration of Greek culture and mythology, cultural traditions, migration and the idea of seeking refuge in a better place. Questioning where we would go if we had to leave, the show takes us to the idyllic realm of Fernaokiya, a spatial dream plane with its own language, its own governance and its own belief systems in a mimicry of the gravitas of migration, particularly from Greece to Australia. Loosely inspired by Greek comedy “The Birds” by Aristophanes, this heart-warming and insightful production is written and performed by an eclectic troupe of performers who have faced the cultural and psychosocial barriers that are delved into. Full of love and light, every moment of this show is a snippet of identity and empowerment beyond hardship, generating a sense of community that envelopes the audience in its warm embrace.
Katie Lockett dons the hat of Assistant Director as she acknowledges the co-creation of the project with her cast of multitalented performers. Allowing each of her cast to shine and bring their own story to the table, Lockett’s direction is a mould for those onstage to bring their own individual flair to the piece, never needing to bolt down any specific nuances in the casual, near familial atmosphere of the show. Combining various art forms, conventions and theatre styles including traditional song and dance, mime, comedy, soliloquy, and even animation, Lockett’s amalgamating approach lets the piece flow in new and inspired places without losing the audience in what could turn chaotic in its non-naturalistic structure, much like a ship crossing the calm waters of an uncharted sea. Always returning to the themes of migration and the things we would salvage and sacrifice, her direction explicitly bolstered those themes, keeping consistent in the use of symbol in prop and in gesture. It would be fitting to include the choreography in this as it was more a directorial choice than a choreographic one; it was less about the dance and more the culture of it, with moments of dance wherein the performers jumped in one by one with excitement despite skill or limitations, showing the comfort of the space and the beauty of how art and culture brings everyone together without inhibition.
We must mention the fun-loving cast who breathe life this into this show. Performed and co-devised by Spiros Dendrinos, Kate Dunham, John Eslick, Geoff Gent, Stezzo Gray, Rodney Leibel, Mary-Grace Levakis, Barry Lord, George Psylopoulos, Danny Quinlivan and Heather Tiker, with help of volunteers and support workers Jaya Narayan, Tali Brash, Angelina Lodge, Marjetka McMahon-Krizanic, AAD Nicolette Forte and Musical Arranger Rosie Burgess, there is always music and an electric energy sizzling on the stage. With such casual lightheartedness and unrefined interactions, our cast becomes less a cast and more a family, exchanging gifts and stories and memories. Forte and Burgess bring songs to fill as they grab a hold of a multitude of instruments and strum, strike and slap sound into the air, their voices ringing like Greek god of music Apollo’s children themselves; moments of harmony were achieved when the rest of our performers join in and layer the music like a choir, achieving a pure unity in presence. The sense of community that ties together not only our performers but their stories makes the audience feel part of each of their individual lives and their family, a power that is not often seen in theatre. It refreshes, it rejuvenates, it restores; this production fills the soul with warmth unparalleled.
Performed at the Christ Church in St. Kilda, it is only fitting to have a religious space converted into the theatre due to the explicit themes of culture and integration with undertones of spirituality. Associate Artist and Designer Nicolette Forte and Props Manager Jason Ochotnicki turn the entire church into a shrine of a Greek neighbourhood, hanging washing lines across the back pews to separate the theatre space from the foyer despite the challenge of it all being one room. With traditional Greek pastries and sweets ready for all to eat, the aesthetic is brought to life by the energy of both patrons and staff alike before the show has even started, with thank you-s and boisterous laughter buzzing in the air. The model of a ship sits centre in the foyer space, becoming a critical symbol in the show as it is carried around the stage, dancing across the waves to a new shore. Televisions stand behind the main performance space in this cultural vigil, surrounded by candles, suitcases and even a ship-in-a-bottle. Costumes consisted of casual everyday wear for our general ensemble, with our caretakers in traditional Greek garbs and our hosts in the contemporary twist of the traditional look – the undergarment of a chiton but an over garment of a western band t-shirt, combining the cultures they know. Utilising the whole stage with vestibules and pedestals and all in both direction and decoration, the overall design was achieved flawlessly.
Sound and lighting were managed effectively for a show that didn’t depend on them. Audio Visual Designer and Operator Shane Grant was precise on levelling sound volumes and made sure that things were heard clearly despite any sporadic vocal mumblings. Our two hosts were hooked up with microphones so that they could be heard clearly, but the rest of the cast projected without technology and could be heard with the resonant acoustics of the church. This also passed into the immaculate animations and their sound levels, not faltering for a moment. Lighting Designer and Operator had a slight bit of trouble towards the second act when it seemed there was a faulty wire, causing her designs to flicker distractingly and go dark completely for a small duration. Despite this unforeseen circumstance, her designs were conducive with the piece, consisting of general washes to create the stage and fading when the animations initiated, allowing the focus to shift with ease.
It is worth noting this show’s heart more than anything else. Project Manager Cathy Horsley has provide the platform for those with cross-cultural or sociopolitical barriers to break them down and take the spotlight without hesitation and with confidence, even providing AUSLAN Interpreter Harriet Devlin-Dunbar to communicate their message to those who cannot hear the words of love. SPARC Theatre’s accessibility comes as a shining light in this industry, their sense of community like a bear hug you find yourself grappled into yet not wanting to break apart from. With such a compassionate company ethos that considers all persons performers despite hindrances or differences that may otherwise go overlooked proves that theatre is everyone’s world, and becomes a beacon against the tide of self-indulgent performances and elitist productions across the artistic culture of Melbourne. With the sudden loss of their long-time companion Raymond Westwood who provided the art works behind Lindsay Cox’s animation that started the show off as well as some of the songs that were brought to life on the stage, their love is lathered in both their performance and their program, proving the purity of the importance of connection and relationship. That light is their “SPARC”, and their emigration will forever be admired, appreciated, and Australian.
When our safe spaces are taken from us, we all learn to create our own Fernaokiyas. We must learn to move on but carry part of our world with us to not only make the next one easier, but so that both worlds are accessible to those who dwell in both, whether separately or in-between, and for future generations to come. This world is all worlds and all’s world: and just like in a world of worlds, faraway places and unfamiliar cultures, in the words of director Lockett, “the evolution and eventual ending place for all creative work is dependant on the journey.” Thank you for this show.