By James Ong and Rosie Niven
Harness Ensemble, a collective of Sydney-based artists that features a group of artists unified by a shared sense of otherness and a drive to share their stories. The deep pool of talent that Harness has accumulated over its near 50 year history is quite formidable and all singularly focused on spotlighting honest, introspective voices from emerging artists. The newest instalment in their stellar line of self-devised works is Where Shall We Meet?, a celebration of that otherness and the waves of loneliness and community that seem to come in navigating an increasingly complex world. The one-hour self-devised piece comes from nine unique, self-described ‘others’ that range in gender, body-type, diagnosis and oddball status - all coming together in a show of astounding creativity and community. The coming together of isolated souls is a particularly poignant message in this era of isolation. For many of us, the past two years of has somewhat stunted our social skills and forced us into a box of introversion, which makes many of the segments strike closer to home than expected. Oversharing our personal lives, misreading certain cues and struggling with the repetitive actions of meeting new people are explored in exciting and often non-verbal ways, which is a huge testament to the extremely talented writer/performers. The offering is definitely not all glib though - we are consistently shown the beauty in our oddities and reminded to take joy in what might make us different in the eyes of the world. On top of all the exceptional onstage work, the design elements are very well-crafted. Co-composers Jack Prest and Frank Dwyer have crafted a mosaic of synths and drums, tailored to fit the intricate emotions onstage and elevating them pitch perfect atmosphere. It’s clear that a huge amount of effort went into aligning the physical performance with the musical backing in such a subtle manner and the team here achieved a remarkable feat. Also stunning was the lighting and haze coordination, lead by Lighting Designer and Production Manager Tyler Fitzpatrick who’s work helped us transition between scenes and tones so very smoothly. Lead by co-directors Natalie Rose and Jane Phegan, the creative team has compiled a series of remarkable solo and group pieces that flow seamlessly into one another, filling the Shopfront Arts Co-op stage with colour and positivity. Oddities and imperfects have never seemed so delightful, with Where Shall We Meet? acting as a showcase not only of the top-notch artistic capabilities of the theatre-makers involved, but also as an empathy machine. All performers brought singular stories and bore personalities distinct to them, but all throughout the work we can directly relate to the emotional context and heed the jubilant call for self love. Harness Ensemble’s newest outing is a warm hug of a production and a wonderful sign of the gifts these emerging artists hold.