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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Young people take drugs on stage

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ByronYouthTheatreIce use has been a hot topic in the media in the last twelve months with health professionals and educators all grappling with the challenge of how best to address illicit drug use with younger people. Byron Youth Theatre have used funding from Nortec Employment and Training Services and the Northern Rivers Community Foundation to create Altered States, a show that attempts to tackle drug use head on. Director Lisa Apostolides and the Youth Theatre tackled some questions about their upcoming show.

Why did you decide to do the show on illicit drugs?

We always ask our audiences to fill out evaluation forms after watching our performances. From those we could see that many young people wanted us to do a piece on drugs. There is also a community concern about ice use, which was evident at the Community Matters discussion held in Mullum last month.

What were the key messages or stories that you wanted to communicate? 

If you are going to do drugs, which most young people will do at some time, then know the consequences, what you may be getting into, look after each other and know where to get help, know you can call an ambulance without the police being involved. We also want to impress the importance of human connection and the environment we create for ourselves, how we live our lives, what we do with them. One article we came across in our research talks about the ‘age of loneliness’ and how it is easier than ever before for people to become disconnected. We also want to communicate that parents and community members need to be role models if they want to change the culture of drug use. We’re not blaming or shaming anyone but the intention is to bring awareness, because you can’t expect young people to not try drugs if people in their immediate community are showing them it’s okay to do so.

Why do you think so many young people use illicit drugs regardless of the messaging from the broader community?

Young people are curious; they want to experience new things, especially things that are forbidden and that make you feel great (if only for a short while). It has been the same way for eons. I think young people see through the facade of adults telling them not to do things that they do. It’s pure hypocrisy! For some young people they use drugs to ‘numb out’ from stressful life situations, avoidance of pain, grief and sadness; for others it may be peer pressure or simply monkey see monkey do!

What are the issues that face young people in our shire in regard to drug use?

There’s plenty available! Whether it is getting backpackers to buy you cheap booze or being able to get weed from an older sibling or parent, or buying pills from dealers at school for the party on the weekend.

The old excuse ‘the kids are bored because there isn’t much to do in rural areas’ doesn’t cut it any more because there are heaps of great things young people can get involved in around here. We do, however, live in a drug culture, not just here: everywhere. Somehow much of it has become so socially accepted that we never question doing things differently. How many people can imagine having a party without booze?

What is great is coming across more and more young people who are not interested in getting ‘wasted’ on any drug. They have already come to realise that nothing outside of yourself can make you happy, take away your sadness or complete your life.

How did you develop your script?

This has been our most challenging production to date, mainly owing to the subject matter. The company members were clear which drugs they wanted to focus on – alcohol, cannabis and ice – but unlike other productions some of the issues are outside of the cast members’ experience. Similar to other productions, the topic and issues are so broad it was a challenge to decide what to include and exclude.

After our research phase we started to think about three main characters who were affected by each drug, what their life story could be, what choices they made, how those decisions affected other people in their lives. Through improvisation, scenes were developed and then Lisa Apostolides, director of BYT, assisted by creating ‘skeleton’ scripts for each character. These were then embellished by the cast through many, many rehearsals!

BYT always likes to impart a certain amount of information on the chosen issue as well as crafting character-driven scenes, so it was decided that the opening would be a great place to include a stylised satirical section on each drug.

What kind of research did you do to back up your ideas?

As part of this project funded by NORTEC Employment and Training Services and Northern Rivers Community Foundation, BYT members attended an intensive Youth Mental Health First Aid training provided by MindRight Institute founder Nicqui Yazdi. Guest speakers from relevant organisations, such as INTRA and NSW Health, attended BYT’s weekly sessions during this phase, which supported the research, interviewing and surveying of other young people in the Shire as well as adults in rehabilitation. We are extremely grateful to all those who shared their personal stories and for permission to incorporate them into our production.

What kind of staging techniques have you used?

Our productions have a strong practical element to them as we perform in several different school spaces as well as the public performance at the Drill Hall. Lighting, set, props and costumes are kept minimal yet effective.

We tend to stylise using song, chorusing, monologues, and choreographed movement as well as group scenes. We have found short punchy scenes that are direct and to the point work extremely well with youth audiences. By using a staging technique we have divided up the three main character’s stories rather than keeping it linear.

Why do you think theatre is a powerful tool for generating conversation around challenging and often taboo subjects?

As a reflection of life, theatre provides a viewing point where issues can be portrayed, examined and reflected upon. Social action theatre is thought provoking and emotive, it often challenges the status quo, posing questions that we all want to ask but often dare not. It actively encourages us to ask how could this be different?

The power of Byron Youth Theatre is that it provides Social Action theatre for young people by young people.

It is authentic, rich and powerful. After each school performance we have a workshop session where the issues can be explored further, audience can ask the cast questions, share experiences and ideas and more information can be offered.

What should we expect from your show?

It’s punchy and moving. We believe it will give an insight to some of the issues young people face in relation to drug use. We hope it will make people, whatever age, think about their relationship with drugs and their relationships with family and friends.

Altered States at the Drill Hall in Mullumbimby on Sunday 24 May. Entry over-18 $10 with under-18s free. Followed by Q&A.

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