Erth – Visual and Physical Incorporated and NORPA in association with the Lismore Lantern Parade presents I, Bunyip, a stunning live show for children. Mandy Nolan spoke with director Scott Wright about this extraordinary work.
Why have you decided to present a story using the Bunyip as a main character? There are countless stories and creatures in Aboriginal folklore from all over Australia, but it seems the only creature that is known by everybody is the Bunyip. The irony is that even though it is part of common language nobody actually knows, in any detail, what a bunyip looks like. In the show we ask children to describe a dragon and fairy – of course there is no end to their descriptions – but then when you ask them to describe a bunyip, their answers are vague or not at all. The Bunyip has been disempowered over the years with whitefellas using the word without care, which explains why, in popular culture, bunyip can be used to name a chocolate, a TV show, a book. Over the years a word that names a very powerful and sacred creature has become a word that is acknowledged as Aboriginal but without any real connection with its true meaning.
How important do you think story is for children? Story is the reason for language; we did it thousands of years ago to tell of our daily activities and adventures. Folklore is a form of storytelling that serves a number of functions. One: they are protection stories, warning children of the dangers of wandering off by themselves in hostile environments or swimming in deep water, etc. Two: They serve as a way of identifying landscape geographically. Three: They place an intangible respect for country and the magic contained within the landscape.
Do we need to contemporise our stories for children, or just the way we tell them… what are the themes that you believe hold the most resonance? I, Bunyip may utilise contemporary methods such as sophisticated puppetry, an inflatable set and incredible use of technology, but the stories and the knowledge we share in the show are the same stories that have been told to children for thousands of years. These stories all hinge on respect and humility, care for the land and all that live here, and caring for one another – old themes that are as relevant now as they ever were.
What are the particular staging challenges for I, Bunyip? I, Bunyip’s biggest challenge is the way we talk about and present creatures that come from various locations around Australia that are culturally connected to different tribes or language groups. We have to be very careful that we don’t misrepresent them and the people who have shared their knowledge with us. One of the other challenges is making the show tour-able without compromising the overall look and aesthetic. What makes a show tour-able is the speed with which the set and lights etc can be bumped into each new venue. One way that we have successfully achieved this is by the use of projection as a major source of lighting. We have some incredible technology woven into the show that allows our projector to see the performers and decide whether or not to project light onto them. If you don’t know this then you won’t really see what it is we are doing, but the awesome part of it is that when we developed and programmed the software we realised we were the first people in the world to do it.
How do children respond to your show? Children are thrilled by the show and ask many questions at the end. And really that is the aim of the show. We want to empower children to ask more questions about the land they live in and the creatures that inhabit it. If we can be the catalyst for children to seek out the stories that need to be shared with them, then we have done our job. I, Bunyip is a show, but it is also a conversation that begins with the show and then carries on long after we’ve gone.
What were the emotions that you wanted to stir in them? Wonder, curiosity, fear. The show works on many levels, but it should always be considered an introduction to stories and knowledge that are very old, and there is a real need for these stories to carry on as some are in real danger of being lost or forgotten. We bestow upon the children the stories that will be passed on to their children.
Tell me what to expect for the Lismore show. A team of wonderful artists will descend upon Lismore and bring with them an incredible menagerie of creatures from Aboriginal folklore that many people will not know of. The show is magical and innovative. It is honest and yet it has many tricks up its sleeve. It will leave everybody wanting more, and that is a sign of a good show.
Monday: 5.30pm, Tuesday: 10am & 1.30pm. NORPA Lismore City Hall. Bookings 1300 066 772, www.norpa.org.au. Tix $16.50 / family of 4 $60. Recommended for children five years plus.