Complete Works Goes Global
Stage Whispers asked Andrew Blackman, founder of Melbourne based theatre company Complete Works, about all things theatre, going digital and surviving the pandemic.
Complete Works has been delivering live incursions to schools around Victoria for 21 years. Challenged by the changing demand and delivery that last year’s lockdown introduced, the company created online resources to support remote learning, allowing it to reach interstate and international schools for the first time.
Stage Whispers: Tell us a bit about Complete Works.
Andrew Blackman: In my later years of high school a team of players from the Queensland Arts Council arrived to perform - three actors, minimal set and props with the audience gathered around on the carpeted space. The storytelling was simple and inventive, it was entertaining and engaging, and we were completely enthralled. It was a transformative experience for me. I realised even then that what was happening in the space between performers and the audience was somehow an integral part of the human experience, that learning through drama was valuable and necessary. Thus began my dream of having my own theatre company, and years later Complete Works was born.
Our first season in 2000 was a compilation of Shakespeare scenes based around the theme of love, but we quickly learnt that schools really wanted performances of texts they were studying. Since then, we have been producing programs that do just that.
SW: What is the appeal for schools to book theatre-in-education incursions?
AB: It’s vital that students get to see a play performed. It’s one thing to read the play in class, but it's a very different experience seeing the action unfold in real time. The dynamic of performers in the space, the interaction between characters, supported by a design aesthetic, can make interrogating a text far more enriching.
Post-show Q&As, with the actors’ reflections, also offer students the opportunity for deeper discovery.
SW: How did you survive the intense restrictions Covid-19 placed on metro Victoria?
AB: The pivot was immediate for us. Coming off tour, we immediately went into one of the darkened theatres to film our shows. JobKeeper provided support to take all our major programs online, create new content and broaden our reach to students in remote and regional areas.
Stage Four restrictions in particular were a great reminder of the importance of art to help us through dark times.
SW: What does Complete Works look like in the digital space?
AB: Going digital means that our programs can now be accessed by remote, regional, interstate and even international schools. A school in East Timor utilised our programs. Students working remotely can access our programs any time of the day, anywhere in the world.
With the goal of being engaging, entertaining and accessible, our programs range from large scale theatre productions with full design elements to shortened versions focusing on the ideas, themes and issues being studied. In addition to our recorded live performances, we’ve also developed a series of filmed resources with a specific focus on education, including interviews, mini workshops and podcasts with the actors.
SW: Do you have any advice for teachers who are tackling plays in their classes?
AB: It can greatly help students’ understanding of the action if they have a go at putting the text into their own words, or even acting it out in class. Although there really is no substitute for experiencing the play, whether that’s live, recorded or even a film version, it is so useful to lift the words from the page.
SW: How can schools go about booking an incursion with you?
AB: Our 2021 season is available online at www.completeworkstheatre.com.au. Full productions of The Women of Troy and Medea are available exclusively online, as well as Much Ado About Nothing. Live and Online programs include Extinction by Hannie Rayson, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet and an Australian Poetry Program. Our comparative series for VCE includes Photograph 51 & The Penelopiad, The Crucible & The Dressmaker, The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory. Head to the website for more information, or phone Sarah directly on (03) 9417 6166.
Click here to read the 2021 School Performing Arts Resource Kit - SPARK - a free on-line magazine with a guide to putting on a show and attending school oriented productions.
SPARK now also features new Digital Learning opportunities in the Performing Arts.
SPARK Includes articles on
• Theatre productions for schools
• Sound, lighting and special effects
* Staging productions safely
• Finding a musical or play for your school to stage
• Teaching resources
You can find SPARK at www.stagewhispers.com.au/spark