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Review: Dropout at Tandanya

By Theodora Galanis

Presented by True North Youth Theatre Ensemble and the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Dropout offers youth an engaging insight into the troubling dilemma of dropping out of high school. This student-led production is not a typical play with a clear-cut plot, but rather a dramatic presentation that presents well-balanced research and relatable anecdotal experiences.

Entering the theatre, I follow behind a class of high-schoolers who immediately fill up the back rows. I am one of the only ones who takes a seat near the front – no surprises there. Award-winning theatre maker, and director of True North, Alirio Zavarce welcomes us all to Dropout, and asks that everyone fill up the front rows. The students all shuffle down and the show begins.

A film projects onto the digital backdrop, as snippets of interviews are played between students and Zavarce, discussing their mixed attitudes towards school. The faces from the film then walk on stage, and they jump straight into a Greek chorus-inspired reaction of what it is like to wake up for school each day. The cast surprises me with their energetic physicality and sonorous voice projection, especially when they yell in unison to recreate the sound of dreaded alarm bells.

The rhythmic and layered delivery of lines, shown in the first scene, carries through in other parts of the production, adding a beautiful musicality to dialogue. This is supported by the live band, where the bass guitar, drums and piano accent tense moments and build the emotional soundscape.

The production loosely follows a conversation between friends on the merits and shortcomings of dropping out. The youngest members of the cast play the older generation: dressed as teachers, doctors, and academics. It is a playful, yet sobering, juxtaposition: there is an element of visual humour with ill-fitting moustaches and glasses, but also there is the saddening realisation of lost childhood dreams.

Zavarce must be commended for his diversity in casting. The cast represents a range of ages, abilities and ethnicities, where children from early primary all the way through to university make an appearance on stage. This is hugely important because the cast forms yet another point of connection through which a young person can really begin to engage with the content. This is further emphasised with the costuming, as they are all dressed in their school uniforms. It is clear that these are not idealised older actors trying to ‘send a message’, but rather, these are kids starting a conversation with their peers about an issue that deeply affects them.

Dropout’s greatest strength lies in the vulnerability of the performers, who were so admirably willing to share parts of their own experience in order to connect with their audience. The production does not offer a clear solution or pathway through the decision-making process, although, it does not try to. Instead, Dropout sparks discussion: after the show, the audience was able to ask questions and talk about their feelings. The comments from teachers, students and creatives alike make it clear that the current system is failing our youth. Perhaps the collaborative approach taken by Zavarce could be taken as inspiration for policy makers in dealing with this complex issue?

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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