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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Land of dreams

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Last year local theatre company NORPA took performance on to the railway platform at Lismore; this year they’re taking us in to the hills to Eureka Hall for their new homegrown work Dreamland. The Echo caught up with Julian Louis, NORPA’s artistic director and director/devisor of Dreamland.

What was the impetus for creating Dreamland?

The beautiful small halls in the hinterland and villages of the northern rivers have always struck me. Every time I go into one of these halls and stand on those old wooden floorboards I can’t help but imagine all the people, the gatherings, the events these halls have seen – from debutante balls to raging parties. These halls house all those memories, the collective memory of a particular part of the community throughout time.

Why Eureka Hall?

The Arts Northern Rivers ‘If These Halls Could Talk’ project match-made NORPA with Eureka Hall. But we have always wanted to do a work in the Byron hinterland. We often hear from coastal arts lovers that sometimes they find it hard to get to Lismore to see what NORPA is putting on, so it’s great to make a show that is accessible to a new audience in the Byron Shire. I live in the Byron Shire, very close to Eureka, and it’s close to my heart. In doing the research I’ve met a lot of neighbours.

How have you developed the story?

The story has been developed through research, conversations and interviews with local community members around Eureka – delving into history, and also talking with friends – people at soccer clubs, peoples at parties. I even recorded some people I met at a wedding last month ago at Eureka. We’ve been like bowerbirds for stories. Then those stories, images, emotions and concepts act as inspiration points for developing the story of Dreamland.

I work very closely with writer Janis Balodis, who wrote Railway Wonderland. He is a tremendously experienced writer. He has this unique ability to work collaboratively and that is quite a special skill for a writer, as writers tend to be more solitary with their craft.

Dreamland is set in contemporary times but traverses eras in a magical way. Jason has come to hire the hall for an event and has to convince the hall committee members, who are all great characters. They have this kind of other-worldly quality. They grill him, because there have been a lot of complaints about events in the hall; the police have been called; there have been threats to shut down the hall. When they start the process of asking questions they transport Jason and the audience to these other moments of history and events in the hall. ‘Is there going to be dancing?’ and we’re transported into a dance sequence; ‘Is there going to be music?’ and then the band plays…

How does music interact with the show?

You couldn’t do a show that looks at the dance floor as a metaphor that’s performed in a small hall that used to be the site of Friday night dances without having a band! And we have an awesome band.

We have Shenzo Gregory, our musical director (of Fourplay String Quartet), percussionist/drummer Ben Walsh and double bass player Barry Hill. Shenzo is an incredible composer and multi-instrumentalist, Ben has worked with TaikOz and toured his own work internationally many times – he is an absolute force of percussion. Barry is a hugely talented local musician who can nail any groove.

They form the band that will provide the live soundtrack throughout the whole show. Kirk Page, NORPA’s associate director, is a tremendous singer as well as actor so he’ll be singing songs, all relating to the theme ‘dream’.

How are you staging this? It’s a small hall so I imagine capacity is limited.

Each show seats only 90 people. It will be an exciting, intimate experience for the audience. We’re really relishing putting the drama and the action up close and personal.

The whole site of Eureka Hall will be utilised. People will enter into a dreamland from the moment they get on the grounds of the hall. There’ll be food, music and a bar, wonderful lighting. I think people all should come early to soak in the whole experience.

And then after the show we’ll clear the seats and the band will play so if people want to dance, they’ll be free to do so.

Dreamland by NORPA is on at Eureka Hall from 23 November till 10 December (including Saturday matinee performances). Be quick as performances are selling out. For tickets and more info visit www.norpa.org.au or call NORPA on 6622 0300.

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