NORPA recently launched its 2012 season. A glance through the program shows a dozen diverse productions including John Waters’ remarkable Looking Through a Glass Onion, locally developed show Railway Wonderland and powerful indigenous production Bindjareb Pinjarra.
Melissa Hargraves chatted with Artistic Director Julian Louis about NORPA’s culture and the year ahead.
In what way is our regional theatre company unique?
In the last 14 years NORPA has put on many major shows so this is the centre for performing arts, certainly for theatre. A defining feature of NORPA is that it is not owned by council, there is autonomy, a creative licence to take risks on adventurous works that engage with people in other ways. Additionally unique is that we have the ability to create our own works including through our local Generator program.
What risks did you take this season? Is there a problem over shows not running long enough for a groundswell to recognise its brilliance?
There are a few but one example this year was a puppetry based show called Africa, about a really rough suburban lifestyle and child neglect. Yet it was performed with beautiful puppetry, very powerful and for adults only, although it had a childlike play to it. Only 250 people saw it and those 250 people will never forget it. It is sad for me as I think that show could have been seen by thousands of people and really enjoyed. That is the challenge.
Lismore City Hall has recently received major funding of $6m. Can you provide some insight on what improvements will be made?
Lismore has a vibrant alternative performing arts scene, especially big live performances. Partly due to the size of the City Hall, up to 680 people can be seated. The funding will expand the foyer, the balcony will push out towards the river, the loading dock will be improved and the grid above the stage will be enhanced.
As Artistic Director, do you observe your community for trends and interests when preparing an upcoming season?
I’ve been living here almost five years and I recognise how wonderfully diverse and vibrant the region is. In thinking about those people, groups and communities, I like to think that NORPA is everyone’s. I am bringing work that appeals to different groups and many persuasions.
To date, your works seem to possess a storyline that contrasts generations. Is that an important component of theatre?
I think there are always conflicts between generations. We want more from our elder generations, more wisdom. It’s there but do we hear it? And perhaps in the older generation there is a desire for honesty and simplicity. Innately, in a play structure you are looking for different tensions to create dynamic and characters.
How do you compare the virtues of theatre with other mediums of storytelling?
I think because we can see human nature in the stories. We get to understand leadership, frailty, the power of love and what love can make us do. We are asked more personally to suspend our disbelief.
So far, the Generator productions seem to be connected with issues in our region. For example; Engine and teenage speed driving, Railway Wonderland with railway usage. Are these connections deliberate?
Particularly with the rail issue, I try not to get too involved with the politics of it. I am drawing from the emotion to create something nostalgic, something delightful and something powerful. Not all of our works are politically or topically relevant, but they are all connected in some way with the zeitgeist of what is going on.
Railway Wonderland is a local production and kicks off the 2012 season. Can you excite us with some detail?
This is a Generator production that I have been working on for three years. It’s an outdoor show with live music, a fabulous cast who are all connected to the region. The performance is literally at the Lismore Railway Station. We are building a massive 200 person seating bank with a roof on the railway track. The show is a series of stories across time, from the late 40s until now. It centres on a proxy bride from Italy who did not know her husband but was already married to him. She then arrives in a regional town. The piece charts the development of a town and the way in which people try to find their sense of belonging and identity in a new place. We can all relate to that.
One of the standout productions for 2011 was Namatjira. NORPA has more Indigenous theatre lined up for 2012 with Bindjareb Pinjarra. Only in the last few decades has the Department of Education acknowledged our history before 1788. Do you see theatre as a medium to share Australian history with an audience that is potentially unaware?
Bindjareb Pinjara is about a massacre. It is very much about dealing with something very difficult through the power of performance. These guys perform this story with humour, physicality and dance.
Another staple of a NORPA season is theatre for children. How relevant is that in 2012?
It’s more essential now than ever because of “screen time”, a new phrase in parenting. Theatre is live interaction with the story and other audience members. Children’s imagination can be engaged not by screen detail but by seeing that we are storytellers. It’s our community telling the stories. It’s about bringing balance to children’s lives.
The 2012 season is certainly world class. Are there any tips on navigating the season?
I suggest people go to www.norpa.org.au and look at our season passes. Our program has all the dates and overviews so it’s a great idea to plan in advance.