In a time where our discussion is stilted, mediated and increasingly online, community engagement has formed a central aspect of contemporary theatre. The facilities to congregate and share stories are rare, particularly in outer urban areas or those where many cultures co-exist separately. While Reclaim Australia toots it’s white power horn, there’s a deeper issue at play; one where the multicultural heart of our city is fractured, and the places to bond and share new customs is fraught with politics or simple fear.
Staging The Events at Granville Town Hall is important for these reasons and more. A multicultural hotbed through post-war European migration and decades of new Australians, Granville is now heavily populated by growing Arabic and African communities. It has formed an epicenter of Sydney’s multiculturalism at the gateway to Parramatta – the city’s shining light in a utopian plan for massive urban growth. Within the current political discourse of freeway expansions, second airports, massive new developments and skyrocketing property prices sits a number of burgeoning communities of refugees and second generation migrants who are witnessing many teething problems of their own. The Events aims to place that story right in its heartland.
Claire (Catherine McClements) is a minister who’s coming to terms with a mass shooting during a rehearsal with the local choir, which she leads. She should be dead, but instead she’s one of a few spared along with the perpetrator, a local boy who grew up in the town to a broken home. She questions herself, the town, the boy and the larger politics at play – wondering why a simple local choir would be marked as a platform for multicultural propaganda by a local right-wing group, and whether this influenced the horrific acts as some sort of ethnic cleansing.
She speaks to various characters throughout, including the boy, all played to great effect by Johhny Carr; but the real star of the show is the local choir, who sit at the rear of the stage for the entire play and sing numerous songs throughout. A new choir is brought to the show each night, and this night’s performance was joined by The Choir of Love, itself a community engagement program of mostly Iraqi refugees from the Fairfield area. The choir form the backbone of the play; a kind of Greek chorus to Claire’s confusion; its singing helping her come to terms with loss in a darkly political time. Adding locals to the story only adds to it’s Meta themes, along with its setting.
The play comes to Belvoir and a national tour later in the year, and was a surprise hit of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, however this short Sydney Festival run seemed to be the peak of its powers; a global story told at a community level, by and for the community – something the mainstage theatres simply can’t recreate in the big city with it’s ubiquitous blue-rinse audience.
The play isn’t perfect, with some sections a little too fast-paced and some confusion over the characters being inroduced, but the local hall setting affords some errors in the storytelling. Walking out after the show with my parents – both migrants and locals to Granville in the 60s and 70s – the stories flowed of a time when they were making a mark in a new country, something many new families were now doing on the same streets. With endless expansion also comes greater responsibility for inclusion, and we can only hope – and push for – more vibrant offerings in greater urban areas and more inclusive projects at this level.
The Events ran at the Granville Town Hall from the 13th to the 17th of January, as part of the Sydney Festival.