By Erin Cross
Canberra Youth Theatre is returning to the stage, showcasing Normal by Katie Pollock - in The Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre from 22 - 24 October.
Starring a cast of young emerging Canberra actors, the show is the first to be programmed and directed by Artistic Director Luke Rogers. Normal celebrates the company’s renewed focus on showing contemporary Australian plays that focus on the experiences of young people.
The play is an urban detective story and a critically acclaimed Australian play inspired by the true story of ‘the town that caught Tourette’s’. It raises questions about what it means to fit in, the viral nature of mass hysteria and pressures on young women fighting for agency, making it relevant to both the actors and the audience.
‘Katie has written a beautiful allegory about young people feeling disenfranchised and struggling to find a sense of identity,’ says Rogers.
‘She's done this through the narrative of a young woman who suddenly gets tics and spasms in her body and no one knows why it's happening. It's like a virus that starts to take over all of the young girls in the community. It explores the cracks amongst that community, young people and young women having agency over their own bodies and looking at the viral nature of mass hysteria. It does take on extra relevance at the moment due to COVID, there’s a parallel of what happens when an unknown disease begins to take over a community and the fear that permeates...The irony is not lost.’
Originally meant to open in May, the show was postponed due to the Coronavirus crisis. Earlier this year the cast and crew met briefly for in person rehearsals before Government health orders came into effect. Moving the rehearsals online was a challenge, according to Rogers, but it didn’t change the task.
‘When we met back in person for the first time, there was a strange energy in terms of how we relate to one another. I think we got it to a place where we are working safely but it was disorientating for a while.’
Canberra Youth Theatre has been working closely with the Canberra Theatre Centre and are lucky enough to perform Normal in The Playhouse, one of the best theatres in the country. Rogers says this is a special experience and it allows the actors and audience to safely socially distance and occupy the space.
For Holly Ross, who plays Poppy, working on Normal has been ‘a wonderful experience with some unique challenges.’ Joining Ross, McKenzie Battye-Smith, Jemma Collins and Elektra Spencer are starring in a powerful all female ensemble. For the young woman starring in Normal, the roles allow them to explore and express issues felt by young people all around the world; the creeping loss of youth agency and the way that societal pressures can impose themselves upon the bodies of the young women. Normal has been nominated for an Australian Writers Guild Award, keeping in line with Canberra Youth Theatre's passion for keeping it local.
‘It’s sophisticated, it's exploring a lot of complex ideas and I want Canberra audiences to change their perceptions of what youth theatre is capable of and surprise audiences by the calibre of home grown, locally made work that has the experiences of young people at their point of focus,’ says Rogers.
‘It's about trying to create sustainable, professional pathways for young artists but it's also about inspiring audiences as well...I'm excited about people coming back to the theatre, sharing stories and seeing them experience challenging and exciting theatre.’
Canberra Youth Theatre presents NORMAL by Katie Pollock 22 - 24 October 2020
BOOKINGS: canberratheatrecentre.com.au | 02 6275 2700
Suitable for ages 15+ | Years 9–12 for schools
Approx 90 minutes, no interval
CAST: McKenzie Battye-Smith, Jemma Collins, Holly Ross, Elektra Spencer Directed by Luke Rogers Set & Lighting Design by Gillian Schwab Sound Design by Kimmo Vennonen