The Climbing Tree at Riverside Theatres

Back in Parramatta and Riverside is preparing to host yet another interesting new work, The Climbing Tree, a work born out of a collaboration between the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre and ATYP (Australian Theatre for Young People). The Climbing Tree examines what lies beneath the surface in  a regional town. It is about the ‘authority’ teenagers are always answerable to and have been for centuries. Rosie spoke with director, Stephen Champion this week about why it is important to work with the up and coming talent of ATYP, what it is like to work directly with the playwright and why this piece is so important. Have a read (and a look at some sneaky production shots) below:

As a veteran of the performing arts scene in NSW, how does it feel to work with the up and coming talent of the ATYP to forge this new work?

It is really important to us that the cast is a mixture of young artists from the Central West and young artists sourced through ATYP’s network. Connecting those two worlds has been central to the project. Working with these young people has impressed me enormously. We managed to cast an incredibly talented, intelligent and sensitive group of actors who have made the final stage of the development of the work extremely collaborative. To tell you the truth I haven’t felt a major age difference in the rehearsal room just a commitment to do these stories justice.

A key feature of The Climbing Tree is how it focuses on the history of Bathurst with a sense of the paranormal. What sort of challenges did you face in balancing these themes?

The challenge was to make sure the research was thorough and the immersion in the region was deep for the writer Rachael Coopes and Composer Guy Webster. This is why the project has taken four years since its inception and three years since Rachael and Guy’s first visit to Bathurst. Many visits and many connections followed. Having an outside perspective from the writer has helped us to be objective and Rachael felt the presence of the “ghosts” of Bathurst early in the process so we knew the spirits of the past would be very evident. The main challenge was doing those spirits justice and that meant a lot of consultation and research as mentioned.

As the manager of the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, you obviously have deep ties and a passion for this community. What is it like translating something so personal from your life to the stage?

That has been a beautiful and touching experience and it is very heartening to see how it has affected people in the community. It is also heartening to see how people from outside the region are affected by the universality that emerges from telling specifically place based stories. It feels like Bathurst becomes a richer and more empathetic place when we bring into the light some of the more difficult and less acknowledged parts of our history. Naming these things makes discussion and therefore action and changed attitudes more possible. It is a slow and cumulative process and this play is just one part of a broader journey this community is on.

The play is described as a variety of genres, from musical to ghost story, combined to create something wholly theatrical. What can audiences expect from such an abstract combination?

Despite this eclecticism the characters are very real and easily related to. Rachael has done a great job of getting the voice of the contemporary young people spot on so audiences have responded that the characters are very authentic. This seems to make it easy for audiences to immerse themselves in the world of the play without any jarring when time or location changes.

As a director, you don’t always get to have access to the playwright of the piece. How did working with Rachael Coopes (a vet in her own right) help shape this production?

It was such a blessing as a director to work with Rachael from the very start of the process through to performance. It has meant we have been on the same page from the start, that the play has seeped into me over the past three tears and become part of me. I needed to connect Rachael to local and historical contacts and needed to see how she reacted to them. With Fraser as Dramaturg and Guy as Composer it has been a very close and collaborative process resulting in a very collaborative final outcome.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite production you have ever seen?

Apocalypsis Cum Figuris – Theater Laboratorium (Grotowski)

 

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Oman

 

Dream show to direct?

A new group devised work

 

Plays or musicals?

Plays

 

What’s next for you after this show?

I am the Executive Producer of the Inland Sea of Sound festival on Wahluu – Mount Panorama on Friday 30 November and Saturday 1 December

 

The Climbing Tree opens on November 22nd at The Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. Tickets are available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Champion - Director - The Climbing Tree

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

The Climbing Tree - Photo Credit: Phil Blatch

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