The Kinetic Energy theatre company, a Sydney-based independent company, has just returned from its first national tour of the year: four weeks of performing our Village Space theatre-in-education program in Tasmania, Melbourne, Gippsland, and the Riverina, across April and May.
Over the years, we have developed an engaging way of educating young people about social justice. We focus on issues such as poverty, inequality, refugees, Indigenous struggle and the environment, and how these issues are interconnected.
Using dance, drama, song and music, our team re-enacts true stories from around the world in an interactive way and from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed and the afflicted.
It is a unique program, and part of its success, with students and teachers alike, is due to our performance style: the shows are played in the round, with the action taking place in and around the audience.
For each show, at least a dozen volunteers are taken from the audience and briefed to take on small parts. This dynamic form of presentation generates empathy, awareness, empowerment and that vital impetus: the desire to take action.
Because our subject matter has strong curriculum links, not only to English and drama, but also to legal studies, Indigenous studies, history and sociology, the program is strongly supported by teachers and educators, both in the state and the Catholic school system.
The education branch of the national office of Catholic Mission Australia has commissioned and sponsored the project since 2003.
The shows we are taking on the road this year are Where is My Home?, which looks at the plight of displaced people, stateless persons, asylum seekers and children in detention, and Indigenous Struggles = Our Struggles.
Indigenous Struggles has two parts, the struggle for independence in Bougainville and the 1965 Australian Freedom Ride. Where is My Home> is directly connected to the national campaign to get refugee children out of detention.
Via the show about Indigenous struggles, we confront our audience with the ever-expanding land grabs by mining companies, the blatant racism of the NT intervention and Stronger Futures policies, as well as with questions surrounding constitutional recognition of the Australian Aboriginal people.
Student reactions consistently show there is a genuine desire in young people to be informed, to learn how to join the dots, and to figure out how to put their beliefs and value system into action, including political action.
For example, in two of the high schools with a large percentage of immigrant students we visited recently, as a result of our show a “homework club” was set up at the school, where the “Aussie” students will help the students from a refugee background settle in and overcome their disadvantages.
In other schools, we triggered a lively debate about racism in society and within the school community. Most teachers follow up with work in class, and show documentaries that underpin the issues. We hand out action sheets, with calls for petition signing, letter writing to the pollies and more.
Witnessing and being part of the stories through drama makes it an unforgettable event for the students, and takes them as close as possible to the real thing. It brings together the head and the heart, and is an experience they can draw inspiration from for a long time.
In June and July we will be touring this same program in the Sydney metropolitan region.
[Jepke Goudsmit is co-director of Kinetic Energy. Visit www.kineticenergytheatre.org for more information.]