OzAsia Festival. Tutti Arts (Australia) & Stepping Stone (Malaysia). Riverdeck, Adelaide Festival Centre. 22 September – 1 October, 2016

BEASTLY is a truly wonderful ‘free’ event and is perhaps unlike anything else in the current terrific OzAsia Festival. It is an interactive installation art project as well as offering pieces of performance art. I am a big fan of installation art works, especially if they are interactive. It is in these cases that one becomes an active member of the audience rather than passive. From experience, there is always an initial sense of confusion that invariably leads to a form of experiential clarity and insight. BEASTLY is such a piece – a hybrid work of theatre that is actually quite unique, moving and a special little gem in this Oz Asia Festival.

BEASTLY is collaboration between Tutti Arts, which is a South Australian company, and Stepping Stone from Malaysia.  What makes these two companies special and absolutely vital is that they are respectively dedicated to assisting and promoting young artists with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Essentially, BEASTLY is about ‘discovering the beast within you’, and has themed performance pieces that ‘invite deeper reflection about how we as human beings relate to the animal kingdom’. As such, it is completely successful, enchanting and enlightening.

BEASTLY began as a discourse, with the young artists involved encouraged to express themselves about current concerns concerning endangered animals. The subsequent rehearsal process, which was a distillation as well as expressive process, resulted in the current presentation on the Riverdeck next to the Don Dunstan Playhouse.

There are two areas. The first, which most will initially see when arriving at the Riverdeck, is a series of fantastical animal creations by Indonesian artist Andres Busrianto, and they are all marvelous. This area, however, is something you come to after you have experienced the performance pieces that are the central focus of this event.

Under the Sky Bridge leading to the Adelaide Oval there is a little village comprising of three small tents. Each of these tents has within it a special solo performance with a particular theme and focus. The three tents are – ‘The Beast’, ‘The Bowerbird’, and ‘The Collector’. You are then allocated a particular tent and given a particular time in which to see the performance piece inside. Due to the high demand the night I attended the event I was only able to see ‘The Bower Bird’.

First, however, you fill out a short questionnaire. This is connected with the initial discourse that started this collaborative work – what is ‘the beast within you?’ You write down the animal with which you most identify and then answer the remaining questions with this animal in mind. I chose a Tiger, mainly due to being called Tony, the Tiger when I was boy. This connection with a childlike past, a time full of wonder and curiosity, seems in reflection entirely appropriate in regard to this event – rather than awakening a ‘beast’ within me it plunged me back into a sensation of innocence and wonder. As with a number of such like installation/performance pieces it is the unexpected that is so delightful.

After you have finished the questionnaire you wait for your allotted time and then are personally led into one of the tents. Here is where BEASTLY becomes very personal. There is only room for you and the performing artist in these tents. It is a personal one-on-one engagement with the subject chosen by the particular performing artist; in my case it was ‘The Bowerbird’ (Jesse Cahill) with the visual artist being Joel Hartgen. Prior to me entering the tent I was informed by my personal ‘Guide’ about the current plight of Bower Birds, something of which I was completely unaware.

Inside the tent performing artist, Jesse Cahill, dressed up as a bowerbird, was sitting on a nest. I sat on a little stool in front of The Bowerbird. Next to me, on another small stool, were a number of small plastic instruments. During the following short 3-minute performance piece, The Bowerbird pointed at particular plastic objects on the stool and gestured for me to give them one by one to the Bowerbird, who then arranged these instruments around the nest. Significantly perhaps, all the instruments were cooking utensils. Suddenly, the Bowerbird pulled out a frying pan, and then proceeded to go through the motions of laying an egg. That being done I was then handed by the Bowerbird a small piece of folded blue paper. Encouraged (silently) by the Bowerbird I unfolded it, to discover a written question – ‘Is my egg a beginning or an end?’ I gasped, bewildered because I did not know, and was extremely moved by the whole experience. This was particularly because of Jesse Cahill’s absolutely enchanting, committed, and powerfully expressive performance. I wanted to embrace the Bowerbird in thanks and gratitude, but knew I had to respect the distance between performer and audience (me).

I left the tent stunned and enraptured. I was then encouraged by my Guide to write on a board my answer to the Bowerbird’s question. My answer is there for those who are interested; but if you manage to get in to see this and any of the short performances pieces you will have your own answers.

From here one is meant to go back up the stairs to the area with Andres Busrianto fantastical creature and take photos to then post on social media. I declined the personal tour as I had already indulged in taking numerous photographs that I subsequently blasted up on my Facebook page.

In retrospect I realized something that is quite unique in regard to this type of theatrical performance; it is a personal awakening that touches on the child within the cynical adult.

For me, it felt like I had been given a beautiful gift. I would encourage you to be open to the experience. The reward is truly marvelous.

Tony Knight

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