Fitzroy High School tackles a classic: Dr Faustus

A small public school in the inner north of Melbourne, Fitzroy High School is known for it’s eclectic and diverse student body, as well as providing this body with a range of different arts opportunities. From student led live radio programs to the creation of a nationally accredited subject on gender equality, the Feminist Collective, it is a unique learning environment that nurtures and encourages creativity.

According WAAPA graduate and Theatre Studies teacher, Katie Allison, student driven Theatre Studies VCE classes and school productions foster deep critical thinking as well as a deeper understanding of text and dramaturgy.

This year, the students were charged with rewriting the classic text Faustus for a modern audience and to produce a show, re-contextualising it throughout the pre-production and design, production and performance stages.

Year 12 student Stella Bridie is one of the writers of the re-imagined production. As a testament to the deep critical thinking required by the students in Fitzroy High School’s Theatre Studies classes, she discusses the complexities and intricacies required to make this theatre production come alive.

In this increasingly dystopian world, we have to make difficult choices every day. We have to confront the darker aspects of life, compromise our political leanings, and ask complex questions of ourselves and our peers. Is morality a spectrum or a binary? Do we face the judgement of a higher power? Are human beings intrinsically good or bad? Is immorality ever excusable? And what are the true consequences of evil or immoral behaviour?

Centuries ahead of his time, Christopher Marlowe attempted to explore these and other questions in his seminal work, Doctor Faustus, first performed in 1592. Now, four hundred years later, the students of Fitzroy High School have adapted his plays script for their bi-annual school production – with a few key changes intended to highlight ongoing issues within modern society.

Traditionally, Faustus tells the story of a man who makes a literal deal with the devil and sells his soul in exchange for access to the magic and powers of the occult. Fitzroy’s production, set in New York in the 1920s, centres around a female Faustus and her desperate attempts to escape the horrific and dangerous life she leads as a showgirl in a seedy speakeasy. The power Faustus desires is eventually overshadowed by the love she develops for the very woman who granted her that power, the alluring and beautiful, Mephistopheles.

The creative team behind this production – the Year 12 Theatre Studies class – sought to draw on the original themes and motifs of this incredible text, whilst simultaneously addressing the issues facing our contemporary audience. We wanted to re-contextualise the moral and thematic questions raised in Faustus, and confront our audience’s ideas of politics, morality, and their own aspirations and desires. We wanted to provoke self-analysis and critical thought within their minds, and compel them to ask themselves: How far would I go for freedom? For power? Is Faustus a criminal? Is Mephistopheles?

Furthermore, we wanted the audience to apply the situations and themes of Faustus to real life: How does morality change according to circumstance and situation? Is a crime still a crime if it is done out of desperation? What are the circumstances that lead real human beings to break laws, hurt others, hurt themselves? And in considering this, how do we approach the concept of ethics and morality? How do we go about promoting understanding and empathy in times of fear and uncertainty?

Using the production to portray a love story between two women, each with their own set of complex and difficult circumstances, was integral to this reinterpretation. Following Faustus and Mephistopheles through their triumphs, passions, desires, and flaws is Fitzroy’s attempt to make sense of life and politics in the 21st century. Every day we are inundated with more and more blatant displays of hatred, misogyny, classism, homophobia, and prejudice, so much so that sometimes 2017 doesn’t feel so far away from the 1920s.

Art cannot necessarily solve these problems, but it can and does serve an equally important purpose; it provides hope, joy, and laughter to its audience, and gives a voice to the voiceless. Dr Faustus is Fitzroy High School’s humble attempt to contribute to this phenomenon. This production is bold, passionate, thought-provoking, humorous, and above all, unmissable.

Stella Bridie, Year 12 Fitzroy High School.

Playing at Collingwood College Theatre
Thursday 20, Friday 21, Saturday 22 July 2017

To book tickets head to the website:

Matt Edwards

Matt is a past owner of AussieTheatre, working as digital director from 2011 to 2019. He is also a performer, most recently appeared in the Australian tour of Mamma Mia! and previously in the Australian/NZ tour of CATS and Enda Markey's acclaimed production of Blood Brothers. As well as performing Matt keeps himself busy in the digital side of the arts working with web design agency Emptyhead Digital

Matt Edwards

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