The Blue Roo Theatre Company recently staged their show Flood Country at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Unlike your average theatre company, Blue Roo’s mission is to engage people with disabilities to take part in the performing arts, but just like other theatre companies, they also have the power to impress, delight and entertain their audiences.
The Company formed in 2009 when director Clark Crystal was invited to deliver a one-off drama workshop at Centrecare Disability Services in Wilston and was overwhelmed with the passionate response from the community involved. Four years later Flood Country has been their most ambitious project to date.
A set that immediately blasts all notion of the professionalism of community based theatre, greets us; a tide of washed up debris with immediate reminiscences of the floods that are still so fresh in our minds, with a simple yet effective lighting grid that gives the sense of liquidity. It’s simple yet striking and a small ensemble of musicians gathered to one side of the stage play softly while the audience take their seats.
I was surprised at how confronting it was initially; Not having had much first-hand experience of disability in my own life, I had only some loose (and perhaps outdated) conventions gained sometime in the seventies on appropriate behaviour around people with ‘differences’. But the old ‘don’t stare dear’ advice doesn’t really work here. Stare you must. Or rather – giving your attention to the actors before you is a necessity and kind of an essential convention of show business in general. This is where Blue Roo really hit their stride – inclusive theatre isn’t just about the engagement of the actors but also the audience – a re-education if you will. The cast of Flood Country quickly reach out to you and take you on a journey to re-learn all that you know about disability and indeed all you understand about the nature of theatre.
You must, of course, make some exceptions because regardless of the ability of the actors, every one of them has a physical limitation of some kind, be that a wheelchair or difficulty moving and nearly all have impaired speech, but Crystal easily negates this with the use of surtitles (it works for opera) although it could be said from an unattached audience point of view, some of the monologues were perhaps too long given the struggle at times to deal with the text. Considering the process of devised theatre and devising performances around the strengths or in this case challenges of the performer, (some of the more emotional dialogue was actually heightened by the stilted speech of the actor) and I wondered if this could have been used to greater effect. On the whole however the artistic decisions for this production proved that Blue Roo know what they are doing and do it well.
Through the use of movement, song and traditional story-telling, the cast of Flood Country re-tell the tale of the community spirit that was discovered during the wash-out that was the 2011 flood of Brisbane city but I wonder if they realise the other story of community spirit that they also demonstrate as they whispered cues and lightly tapped each other to keep the performance on track – not to mention the quietly communal approach to keeping Carlos in check – there is always one ham in every cast!
Honestly, these productions will not appeal to everyone, especially those who struggle to set aside their judgements and reframe the way they look at the world. But then again, that is the point isn’t it? Blue Roo are about asking the cast member to put aside their disability and discover the freedom of creativity. Judgement is just another common disability and it is rarely set aside.
Find out more about Blue Roo and their next productions by visiting their website .
Next up for this remarkable company is the ‘Commedia Dell’Arte’ Capitano Pretends Again which will play at various locations around Brisbane.