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52 Weeks of #SydCulture: Week 18

Matt Ravier

Welcome to the 17th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! May's culture selector is Mathieu Ravier: manager of Programming at the Australian Museum, board-member of Sydney Film Festival, and founder of The Festivalists (behind Jurassic Lounge and the Possible Worlds Film Festival, among other things). Every Wednesday of May, Matt will be telling us what he loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to him.

I’m always surprised when friends complain about culture in Sydney, dreaming of the spoils to be found in New York, Paris or Berlin. Even if you went out every night of the year, you’d struggle to make a dent in the sheer volume of culture on offer in this city of ours. Back home in France (where I grew up), culture and the arts are part of the conversation, a standard feature – for example – on every single primetime TV news program. But while we can improve the way we talk about, fund and celebrate culture in Sydney, I’m shorter on time than I am on options when comes to getting a weekly fix.

Take Shopfront Arts. This creative haven in South Eastern Sydney has allowed under-25s to make innovative new work (not to mention meaningful connections) for over four decades, and yet I’d never sampled their work. My partner Stephen is the architect working on the expansion of their HQ in Carlton, so when we heard they were bringing Treats to Belvoir, we jumped at the chance.

Alex Francis and Tasha O’Brien in'The Carousel'
Photograph: She's an Artist

Treats is made up of two works, Unit and The Carousel, both developed through Shopfront’s ArtsLab program for emerging artists. Kirby Medway’s Unit is a radio play which audience members listen to through wireless headsets while seated on cushions on the downstairs stage. It’s a compelling multi-voiced tale that contrasts the mindset of youth attending a protest, and that of a property developer stuck in a lift. There’s a great rhythm to the spoken word, and it’s easy to forget the crowd and immerse myself in this oh-so-Sydney story. The play captures the disconnect between the soulful but confused aspirations of youth and the soulless but concrete aspirations to wealth. There’s a loneliness that’s common to both, and perhaps at the heart of a certain Sydney malaise.

Shopfront Arts Co-Op presents 'Unit'
Photograph: She's an Artist

The final words are spoken by an actor who had been seated among us the entire time, made all the more powerful by that person’s physical presence. I’m not sure if headsets are the best delivery method for this text. I’m already spoilt for choice when it comes to podcasts. Theatre is about a live communal experience, and I wish the entire work has been delivered by actors casually sitting among us.

The one that really blows my mind though is The Carousel, written by Pippa Ellams and directed by Hannah Goodwin. The two-hander charts the relationship between two sisters from childhood to adolescence and early adulthood, and quickly gets to the complicated, messy, wonderful essence of what siblings can do to and for each other. There’s a confidence at work here that belies the relative inexperience inherent in youth theatre, with dialogue crackling with truth and insight. The actors are so good you’d think they were playing themselves, navigating the tonal and emotional shifts at a hundred miles an hour, taking each one of us along for the ride. I’m floored.

Alex Francis and Tasha O’Brien in 'The Carousel'
Photograph: She's an Artist

Too often, my Sydney is the size of three contiguous (Eastern) suburbs, and I’m more likely to fly to Melbourne for a show than travel a few kilometers South or West to make new discoveries. This time, Shopfront came to Surry Hills, but with treats like this in store it’s clear I should seek out the talent where it lives and breathes.

Check out our hit list of the best theatre in Sydney this month – then read more about our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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