Young people prove theatre ain't dead (yet)

September 24, 1997

By Level Crossing (Bradfield TAFE performing arts students)
Directed by Patrick Guerrera
ATYP Studio, The Wharf, Sydney

Review by Brendan Doyle

Have you noticed how mainstream Sydney theatres are cutting themselves off more and more from the general public, and young people in particular, with outrageous ticket prices and lacklustre productions that address themselves to well-off, middle-class subscribers? No? You mean you haven't been to the Opera House lately, darling?

Current government cultural policies encourage this situation by properly funding only "profitable" theatre companies which can't afford to take risks any more, while denying funding to smaller, more interesting community-based or youth theatre companies, which have to go begging for the crumbs from the corporate sector.

In this context, it's heartening to see a collaborative experiment like Level Crossing, a performance skills course jointly run by Bradfield TAFE College, the Australian Theatre For Young People and the STC.

Coraggio, their group-devised piece loosely based on Brecht's Mother Courage, asks the question: "What does it mean for a young person to have courage today?" Judging from the response of the high school audience, Coraggio is a great success.

This multicultural ensemble of 17 young performers, who speak some of their lines in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish or Hindi, created the performance with the help of director Patrick Guerrera, on the theme of courage. Bits of Brecht, Patrick White and other authors are used, but also poems written by the performers which express their feelings about war, drug abuse, authority and "family values", in which they do a hilarious send-up of a conservative politician. In a harrowing scene of young people being sent off to war by a cynical government, they chant "No war, no order", showing war as the ultimate form of social control.

The group use dance, group movement, rhythmic chanting and more conventional theatre, as well as subtle lighting and sound effects, to get across their message of hope, in spite of all the abuses around them.

The Level Crossing performance training program was set up to give young people from multicultural backgrounds skills useful in the entertainment industry. But as the course director, Paul Weingott, says, young people today cannot "rely on the major organisations, like the established TV, radio, film and theatre companies, for employment because that is where they are least likely to find it. The adept students will, I'm sure, go on to become innovators."

Even innovators, however, have to eat. More programs like Level Crossing are needed. This sort of training is vital for young people to develop their expressive skills. Director Patrick Guerrera says, "Australia has a strong delineation between professional and so-called 'youth' theatre". Beyond the training, however, much more public funding should be channelled into performance by and for young people.

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