I never did Physics, Chemistry or any other sort of advanced science while at High School. I did Drama, Art, Music, English…though I kept Science For Life because I thought it could come in handy to know a thing or two about the world around me. Practical things such as, ‘What’s really going on when I wash my hair?’
I mention this because, if there’d been a school year book when I graduated High School, it’s almost certain I’d have been voted ‘Least Likely to Become an Astronaut’. Yet, here I am, approaching the last legs of an 8-week ‘Satellite Tour’ across the state of Victoria.
The Satellite touring model has been developed to ensure smaller and less equipped venues in remote communities are granted access to theatre. Often presented in conjunction with a larger performing arts venue, a Satellite tour involves setting up camp in a regional centre and taking the production out to surrounding communities before returning to base each evening to sleep.
This week our ‘Satellite’ (aka my play, The Weather and Your Health) orbits the bustling metropolis of Bendigo, VIC, stopping at Heathcote, Elmore, Castlemaine and Pyramid Hill.
On Monday night, we performed in the big smoke itself at Bendigo’s Old Fire Station – a lovely, intimate black box theatre located in the heart of town. Our audience was a mixture of local regular attendees and those who had travelled from Melbourne, Charlton and even Wagga Wagga to see the show. After the performance, sponge cakes were served on the flat floor stage area. While I made my way around the room, I was humbled to hear groups of people talking about their experiences of country life and what the play had meant to them.
The next day we drove from our base to the town of Heathcote – a small community about 40mins South East of Bendigo. Following a smooth bump in at the RSL auditorium, we had some difficulty finding a place to eat along the main drag. Spent half an hour ‘lapping the main’ in our 4-wheel drive trying to find a pub that served hot meals at 5.30pm. No such luck. (Mental note: BYO dinner.)
The audience were just lovely in Heathcote. They laughed and chatted throughout the show. The male character, played by Andrew Dodds, is very softly spoken, so much so that, when he delivered the final line of the play (his only line), a lady in the second row called out, ‘It talks!’ Participation – it’s to be encouraged.
On that note, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about the final performance in our tour of the Wangaratta region a couple of weeks back. The Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre lined up a show for us at the St John’s Aged Care Facility in town. It was a new experience sharing our bump in time with so many other people. We were performing on a portable stage with lighting trees in the centre’s multi-purpose room. Residents shuffled through unapologetically, with some even settling down to watch television or read the paper while we checked audio levels on the radio mic. (Me: ‘Testing one, two… ‘Elderly Resident: ‘I can hear you!’) The show itself was a riot. The audience clapped as I approached the stage, and when they liked a line in the show, or anytime really. One lady in the front row was particularly vocal. I had to imagine that she was a commentator just to stop myself from giggling mid-performance. She was so engaged with the stories on stage that her remarks often echoed my character’s inner-monologue – uncanny.
The St John’s performance, though a huge test of focus and concentration on my part – what, with people falling asleep, mobile phones going off, coughing fits, conversations bubbling away, running commentary from the front row – was incredibly rewarding. As we mingled with the crowd after the show, it struck me that the era we represent in the play is the time that these folk remember best. Not all of them are able to remember what they did last week, but, by George, they remember the war, local dances, going to the pictures and falling in love…
If you’ll allow me to snap you back to the here and now, we will continue our Satellite tour of the Bendigo region by driving North East to Elmore – the setting for our 30th performance on this extensive regional tour. I could almost ‘hear’ the audience listening as I told stories from the raked little stage of their Memorial Hall.
Over supper after the show, I mingled with a number of the gorgeous locals including Ernie, a town legend. At 96 years of age, Ernie still gets around in his ‘motor car’ and volunteers for various groups in the area. Towns like Elmore run on community spirit and good will. No fuss, just people working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the place they call home has a chance of maintaining its vibrancy, warmth and charm.
Watching them do their thing, I can’t help but smile as I sneak another piece of lemon coconut slice.
The Weather and Your Health is moving into the final legs of its tour across regional Victoria. Visit bethanysimons.com to view the full tour itinerary. See you after the show!