APOCALYPSE PERTH: Turning a Stage Disaster into a Stage Drama.
Kimberley Shaw reports ... on a musical flop that gave birth to a hit play.
Early in 2008 a small theatre group in Perth’s Northern Suburbs mounted its first musical, a production called Rock Apocalypse. Shortly after it closed a post appeared on an open forum in popular theatre website Theatre Australia by a contributor calling herself Amelia Forte.
“I was just wondering if anyone saw Rock Apocalypse in Padbury. I wanted to go and see it but couldn’t make it and wanted to know what it was like! Can someone put a review up of it? Thanks! Am.”
A flurry of responses followed, mostly highly critical. ‘Reviewers’ complained about the standard of production including acting, singing performances, set, stage management and direction, as well as the script, and expanded the criticism to include the comfort of the venue and the price of cordial at interval. It inspired unprecedented response, and all this for a short season in a hall seating around sixty.
The director responded to criticism by disavowing some responsibility and blaming the author and copyright holder, labeling the script “a turd.” The emotional discussion called for mercy towards the amateur performers and questioned the validity of anonymous reviews as well as the rights or ethics of reviewing community theatre at all.
Professional playwright Kate Rice watched the debate with interest. As a writer, Kate is always looking for ideas, but as Kate is also an actor, this concept had particular appeal as it questioned the idea of criticism. As a performer how does one listen to criticism, do you listen to it or not, and as a writer how and when is it appropriate to criticise? Kate realised that this was a common experience between community theatre and the professional theatre arena. She developed a verbatim theatre piece based on the forum and interviews with those who contributed to the thread as well as those hurt by it.
When Kate announced online her intention to put on a play based on the fall-out from Rock Apocalypse, she was slammed. Among other concerns, people were worried that she was adding to the misery of those affected or that she was a professional making fun of amateur theatre. The reactions to this thread also became part of the play.
The biggest challenge for writer Kate, and her husband Jeremy Rice, who directed the resulting production, was convincing people to trust them. Outsiders both as “professionals” and relative newcomers to Perth, they had to convince people who were hurt, that they were not trying to hurt them, humiliate them or profit from their pain. Kate says that it was difficult to convince people of their integrity when participants (on both sides of the debate) were feeling so vulnerable.
An important element for Kate was to include in the casting an actor from the company who staged the original production. Kate says that this was to show her intention not to abuse this company and that there was universality in this experience.
The new production called Apocalypse Perth drew very positive reactions and was embraced by the general public and especially by the community theatre population. Staged at Perth venue The Blue Room, known for its production of new work, a special performance was also held in the Padbury Community Centre, site of the Rock Apocalypse Production.
Kate even paid some of the people who posted comments on the website for use of their copyright. While this may have impinged on the commercial success of Apocalypse Perth, it was undeniably a critical success.
And a post appeared on the Theatre Australia website
“I was wondering if anyone has seen Apocalypse Perth …”
* Verbatim Theatre is a type of documentary theatre. Plays are constructed from the exact words spoken or written by people about a particular event or topic.
* Kate Rice has recently been commissioned to work with Deckchair Theatre with three other writers on a collaborative project about Fremantle.