Mrs Sybil Edwards, Head of Lilley House
Anyone who saw Brisbane Girls Grammar School’s 2011 Senior Drama Production would never forget the strange world of Bustown. A dystopian vision of the future, Bustown was compelling with its quirky characters, playful use of pop culture and inventive language choices. Written by acclaimed Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott and directed by Head of Drama Ms Joanne Martin, the production was a great success and therefore it is not surprising that the School has looked to Philpott again in 2013 to stage the Senior Drama Production.
Last year was an especially busy one for Lachlan Philpott. Not only did he obtain an Australia Council literature residency to work in San Francisco for five months but he had several of his plays performed on stages around the world, from Australia to the UK and Argentina. Amongst the myriad of projects underway in 2012, Philpott took the time to write a specially commissioned work for Brisbane Girls Grammar School — The Chosen.
With an imposing physical stature, a deep baritone voice and a broad smile, Philpott’s easy rapport with students reflects his years working in Youth Theatre and also as a teacher at NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and in various schools across New South Wales. Philpott’s notion of being a playwright is not necessarily someone who is locked away in an attic tapping on a keyboard but rather one which sees the creative process as collaborative, by working with actors, directors and designers. Ms Martin describes Philpott’s engagement in the project as bringing ‘a joy and light-heartedness to what is a serious and complex process.’
The process of writing The Chosen began in 2012 with Philpott spending many Friday afternoons with a group of Year 11 Drama students, workshopping ideas, characters and plot lines. Although Philpott came to the process with a central theme, the students’ ideas and voices formed an integral framework for the play. It was very important for Philpott to hear their opinions and capture the essence of teenage girls: the way they speak and behave, and their motivations and ambitions. Philpott also knows that audiences enjoy seeing aspects of themselves reflected in art. He says, ‘It’s very much like when we see a film that was filmed in our hometown, a place that we know well. There’s a connection to it when it’s acknowledged. When we see the place we spend our time in, we live in, and struggle in, it is quite nice to see that represented on stage.’ The Chosen is not set in Brisbane Girls Grammar School as such, but the audience of Grammar girls, their teachers, families and friends will find amusement in recognising aspects of both life at school and Brisbane in general.
The Chosen certainly carries the hallmarks of a typical Philpott play in that it is highly original, grounded in the truth but at the same time quite stylised and theatrical. Choosing to use a choir — almost like a Greek chorus commenting on the action and driving the narrative — adds another fun dimension to the production. The Director, Ms Martin, says that ‘the songs are partly recognition of this generation’s enjoyment of a sound track for all experiences and a choice that enhances the “Glee-esque” style of the play. They also deepen the sense of community created throughout the narrative.’
Ms Martin has thoroughly enjoyed the building of this production: ‘Its fast-paced, zippy, punchy dialogue, punctuated by poetic musings on a universe filled with life force, makes for energised rehearsals and an upbeat tempo.’ Exciting as the performances will be for audience and actor alike, it is the rehearsal period that matters most from an educator’s point of view. To be privy to the very beginning of a creative process, learning about the machinations of script writing — the craft of development, editing and refinement — and then being involved in the struggle to bring the page to the stage is an invaluable learning experience for the senior Drama students. The process can be challenging, exhausting and time-consuming but, on the flip side, the sense of shared energy and perseverance culminating in the final product is tremendously rewarding.
Ms Martin’s fine talents as a director have shone on the stage of the Gehrmann Theatre in previous productions (The Miracle 2010, Bustown 2011). These talents, honed after twenty years of teaching Drama at prestigious schools in Sydney, enable the cast of The Chosen to feel a level of trust in her ability to bring out the very best in their performances. However, even this veteran of many school productions feels the pressure to do justice to Lachlan Philpott’s play. This is the first time that a secondary school in Queensland has commissioned work from such an acclaimed playwright and completed the artistic cycle in publishing the work. The fact that Playlab will be publishing the play, including photos from the Girls Grammar premiere, adds a great deal of gravitas to the project. Sharing the pressure with Ms Martin is the equally talented Mrs Katrina Riveros, who is developing a piece of physical theatre which will act as a prequel to the main play. This was a way to include all the students who had been involved in the initial developmental stage of the process, and it has the full blessing of the playwright.
Another cast member who is feeling a little apprehensive yet thrilled to be a part of The Chosen is the lead actor, Sophia Bergman (11G). Despite winning the Prize for Year 10 Drama last year, Sophia has never been involved in any previous production and she is amazed at the effort needed to stage a play. Sophia plays the main character, ‘Freya Star’, and much of the story line revolves around her and her struggle to find her place within the complex dynamics of school life and the grander scheme of things.
It will be incredibly exciting to see the lights come up on the opening night of The Chosen. The end product of two years of dreaming, workshopping, scripting and shaping — this will be a School event not to be missed.
The Chosen will be performed on 15, 16 and 17 August at 6.30 pm. Purchase tickets online now.