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Byron Shire
March 9, 2021

NORPA – getting with the program

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1984-hero-VERT-HiLast Friday NORPA revealed its spectacular 2014 season, enthralling patrons with an exceptional array of dance and theatre productions in store for local performers. How is it that the Lismore City Hall has made itself a mini opera house?

The Echo asks artistic director Julian Louis about the year ahead.

How do you go about programming a season? Mainly I think about the northern rivers and imagine audiences getting access to great works that reflect the diversity of our region.

When it comes to programming, there are industry mechanisms, such as Long Paddock, that are like saleyards for shows. Some of these works receive federal government funding and become more viable options. I’m inspired by the diversity of our region and NORPA aims to connect to as many people as we can. In my job I do get to see a lot of work – or I hear about the work. The good stuff rises to the top and some gets supported for national touring. Some of the works we make, and some I just really want to bring even if they are risky, because I know they will add something special to the program.

Are there quotas that you try to fill of different types of shows, eg dance, cabaret, circus? No, but I like to have a couple of big dramas or classic texts that balance the edgier contemporary works. But I have a circus background (from my uni days… yes, I’m another fire guy but I used to juggle it – unlike the Byron mayor, who used to twirl it, as I understand). So Circus Oz is in the season and we finally have a quality venue with all the bells and whistles to put on a show of this size.

What shows do you think are going to surprise people? I think different shows will create different experiences for people and that’s a cool thing about theatre… it becomes a personal experience. But I think My Radio Heart, our homegrown work, will definitely be a delightful surprise. The audiovisual design is inspired by our landscape and the performances are by an ensemble of performers with and without disabilities; I think it’s looking extraordinary.

What is there in the program for kids? For kids there is 13-Storey Treehouse that I directed and has recently played five sold-out weeks at the Sydney Opera House. There are as many laughs in there for the parents as there are for the kids… and there are a heap of surprises in it. Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui is also a family show that re-invents Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Tiwi style – it’s very entertaining and a wonderful insight into Indigenous culture. And also Circus Oz will be great fun for children and adults. What I like about these shows is they are actually for families – they’re not just for kids.

What shows are you most excited about? I’m really excited about seeing our own show My Radio Heart on stage. It’s been more than two years in the planning and making and I think it’s unique. I’m also looking forward to Lake – just to see the stage flooded with water (on purpose this time!), and the show’s beautiful projections and lighting design in our theatre. Food because I want to see what kind of experience they create in our theatre – at one point in the Sydney show they fed us and gave us wine. It’s a beautiful show about siblings, family and dealing with the past – it’s also funny. And I’m really excited about Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui. I think the writer, Jason De Santis from the Tiwi Islands, is a real talent. I’m looking forward to seeing that show with my kids.

I’d be interested in 1984 – how is that story retold? Is it still contemporary? The show is very faithful to the original novel and indeed the film. It’s an extremely powerful production. Is it contemporary? It was written in 1949 and it’s regarded as one of the great classics. But this production by Shake&Stir employs the full capabilities of the theatre and their use of video is very clever. It’s a very contemporary production in its staging. Oh, and of course there is Big Brother, but no-one is voted off the stage. The story is a political science fiction and, amazingly, still has very pertinent warnings about the way our future could look, or what our society looks like now. I remember seeing the film and it was a haunting experience – this will be too. Not for the fainthearted.

Tell me a little about the Generator Program and My Radio Heart ? Generator is NORPA’s new work program it’s where we create original works inspired by the artists and culture of the northern rivers. Recent examples include: the play Engine, a site-specific circus show Open House with local acrobatic family The Pitts, Beautiful Bones, a dance theatre work, and Railway Wonderland performed on Lismore’s disused railway station. We’re about to stage and tour My Radio Heart and we’re working on The Gathering that is being developed with local Bundjalung stories and artists. We’re also developing a dance theatre work called Cock Fight with Animal Farm Collective, who gave audiences a thrilling taste of what they can do at our launch last week. We’ve also just done a series of artist-in-residencies with the community at the Winsome Hotel and the Lismore Soup Kitchen as part of the Home Project exploring homelessness in our region. Our shows aim to be performance events; they often take place outside the theatre or reflect local stories in playful and surprising ways.

What dance treats are in store? Lake will be mesmerising because the set is a flooded stage and the choreography is very emotive. Food also has a physical theatre element but it’s a play – it’s a beautifully conceived work by one of Australia’s best choreographers, Kate Champion. I love this production and I’m sure audiences here will too.

What about Henry V – are audiences still enthralled with adaptations or new interpretations of Shakespeare? In short, yes! I know I don’t enjoy Shakespeare in pantaloons. If you’ve seen Bell Shakespeare’s productions in the last few years, you’ll know they are among the best worldwide. Julius Caesar two years ago was the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen and I have seen Shakespeare at The Globe in London and at international festivals. Bell strips it back to the concept and lets the language do the work. Their productions let the audience hear the ideas in Shakespeare but also help them keep up! The concept is often just a hint of setting and context – the rest is the words and the language, which is still so rich and vivid. In a world of tweets and media grabs it’s such a pleasure to sit and listen to Shakespeare… I think I love it more as I get older.

If you had to pick five shows to see all year, what would they be?

If I had to choose it would be My Radio Heart, Food, Henry V, Walamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui, Circus Oz – and can I have another?… TaikOz, because it will just be so good to hear those drums resonate out into Lismore!

For ticket and program details go to norpa.org.au. Tickets are on sale now!

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