ATYP's showcase for young writers and performers bodes well for the future of Australian theatre
There’s nothing like the anxiety, excitement, and dread of your late teens. You’re trying to tackle adulthood, to make decisions that could, for better or worse, shape the next few decades of your life, and you’re reckoning with an abstract sense of loss as childhood innocence and ease disappears, and a new, unknowable stage of life approaches.
It’s a tough time – but it’s also dramatic gold. Enter Australian Theatre for Young People.
ATYP is a critical part of the national theatre ecology. Its program of plays and workshops are designed to introduce young people in the arts, and it nurtures young actors, designers, and writers, allowing them the opportunity to hone their skills and make their professional theatre debuts.
Their long-running Voices Project (a yearly showcase of monologues penned by young writers, tackling what it means to be 17 years old) has morphed into Intersection, short monologues or group scenes by young writers, still examining what it means to be a teenager – but now all scenes and stories take place within the confines of the same fictional Australian town.
Directed by Katrina Douglas, who cannily manages the scene transitions with a hint of DIY flair (a flurry of teenage bodies sweep the stage, re-setting props while dancing or chasing each other), each story seems to evolve organically from the imaginary town, fitting right in to anywhere Australia. And each one is relatable, recognisable, and emotional.
A young woman in a blueberry costume (Esther Randles) tries to hold on to happy memories while struggling with her home life. Two misfits (Kurt Pimblet and Adam Stepfner) try to broker an uneasy peace over a shared refuge. A boy (Steffan Lazar) bails from the school formal to the relative safety of the arcade, taking a sort-of-reluctant girl (Ingrid Leighton) with him. Two young women (Asha Boswarva and Monica Kumar) have a chance encounter at a bus stop. Two teens on either side of a racially charged riot try to hold a civil conversation.
As the scenes fly by, their commonality emerges: they’re a cross-section of an adolescent community that is staring down grief and change, treading the line between childhood and adulthood, and exploring love, sex and self-discovery.
ATYP productions can be a chance to see tomorrow’s stars of stage and screen as they’re still finding their feet (Rose Byrne, Rebel Wilson and Mitchell Butel all started out by treading ATYP boards), and Kumar, Randles, Pimblet and Stepfner give especially surprising performances: detailed, well-rounded, and honest. The cast is gender, race, and body-type diverse, a reflection of our own society, and this quietly progressive approach to storytelling is crucial – it provides opportunities for more voices (that aren’t the default straight white male voice) to be heard.
And it’s a way to hear new, young and exciting Australian voices – our future playwrights – for what might be your first time. Charles O’Grady’s Pray 4 Mojo, of the aforementioned misfits who find the same shelter from a harsh world, is sharp and stubbornly contemporary, with naturalistic dialogue, matter-of-fact characterisations of minority groups, and a strong sense of internal structure, with not a moment of the short scene wasted.
Suzannah Kennett Lister’s Cassie and Saoirse – featuring two young women and an urn at a bus stop – is smartly comic and still tender, and Jordan Shea’s Little Differences tackles race and class without pretension or preaching.
Intersection reflects Australia back at us, explaining in young people’s own words what their concerns are, what their hopes are, and what we can expect from our artists in the future. According to Intersection, our stories are about to get more queer, more neuroatypical, and more challenging on thorny issues like race, disability, inclusion, and social evolution. As long as we keep giving emerging artists the resources they need to carve out their path in the industry, we are in for an exciting theatrical future.