September 3 2010

Darwin/Wales Cultural Exchange Project Report

Alyson Evans in the Australian bush

‘Voices from Down Under’

By Alyson Evans

Looking back at her recent sabbatical in Australia, our Drama Development Worker Alyson Evans has written about her experiences, thoughts and feelings upon her return to Wales.

This is the beginning of an exciting new partnership and we look forward to hosting a return visit by one of the Darwin Community Arts team to spend time working and sharing with us in the future:

‘For six weeks in the summer of 2010 I visited the Northern Territory, Australia, with the aim of creating a partnership between Valley and Vale Community Arts and Darwin Community Arts (DCA). DCA are a grass roots development organisation who have been working in Darwin since the 1970s. Their focus is on community-based arts and cultural development.

The visit meant time could be spent getting to know and understand the organisation as well as sharing information and knowledge from Wales. As my art form is theatre, I was particularly interested in their drama work, run under the title of ‘CemeNTworx’. Here I had the opportunity to assist drama worker Sarah Hope with her weekly projects, as well as participate in the daily running of the office and other DCA workshops.

These workshops gave me great insight to Darwin and its people. Many refugees are initially housed in Darwin, and through DCA I assisted with projects focusing on cultural work. These included a multi cultural youth film group who developed a script based on their community of Malak; My Sister’s Kitchen, a cooking and story telling project where each week one person nominates a recipe from their culture and everyone cooks and eats together. Alongside the cooking I facilitated drama activities with the children who all took part with great enthusiasm and produced a small showing of a story they created. I was also involved in a drama project at the Refugee Detention Centre working with under 18 year-old illegal fishermen who, through a translator, enjoyed workshops focusing around pictures, storytelling and exploring how to communicate without words.

As well as assisting in the current work at DCA, I had my own project to facilitate. Here I shared my skills by running some Forum Theatre training for professionals in Darwin. The project began as taster sessions, offering an introduction to Theatre of the Oppressed that ran for three weeks. Following the taster sessions was a two-day ‘Take a Bite’ session aimed at people who wanted to extend their knowledge.

There was an attendance of 18, which, along with facilitators from DCA included lecturers from Charles Darwin University, children’s entertainers from the local hospital, and Health Care professionals from remote Aboriginal communities. Over the two days the group worked on trust and team games and looked at their purpose, used image theatre as a way of expression, created forum theatre and explored the role of the Joker. Some comments from the group were:

‘I have a further understanding of forum theatre. Personally it was beneficial for self-confidence. I will definitely use this work.’

‘Very energising.  I feel part of a community movement in its early stages!’

A challenging workshop took place at a Salvation Army Hostel where I worked with an organisation called ‘Bricks Without Straw’. They are a new performance-based group that work with the homeless and the People of the Long Grass, which is the name for the homeless Indigenous Australians. Here I ran a drama workshop that, after a frosty reception, turned out to be a success with many joining in and enjoying drama games and improvisation.

During the six weeks I also attended many events, including the official opening of the Darwin Festival that runs though the month of August with a collection of theatre, music and dance. Another was World Refugee Day, an event held by the Melaleuca Refugee Centre in partnership with DCA, which celebrated different cultures through dance, drama and food. I saw local theatre that included Darwin Theatre Company’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ held at the Town Hall ruin’s, Corrugated Iron’s (Darwin’s Youth Theatre) performance of ‘Tease’ at Brown’s Mart Theatre, as well as touring companies at Darwin Entertainment Centre, the famous Australian play ‘Cosi’, and a great one-woman show called ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House.

As a result of this project, Valley and Vale Community Arts now has strong links with Arts Organisations in Darwin, and a partnership with Darwin Community Arts. These links enable lots of possibilities of work between our two countries. This also means a forum for sharing knowledge and skill between practitioners, whether through using technology from a distance, or visits where we can share our work.

Personally during my time at DCA I gained experience and confidence working with groups I don’t normally work with in Wales. For example, at DCA I worked with refugees, both in the community in and in a Detention Centre. This was my first experience working with adults with a refugee background, as well as my first workshop where there was a language barrier. Being given this chance was a big learning curve for me as I had to adapt my facilitation as I was learning. This challenge I enjoyed and now feel I am more competent in workshops outside of my comfort zone.

I have always had an interest I working with young people with special needs, using drama as a way of expression and a fun, creative outlet. However, with lack of experience in working with these groups I have not felt confident in doing so. DCA provided me with the opportunity to learn as they currently have drama projects that do this.

Arts Access Darwin, which is an organisation for young adults with special needs, is currently working with DCA’s Sarah Hope, an experienced drama practitioner, to create a professional play to be performed at Brown’s Mart Theatre later in the year. I took part in the script development stage and used image and improvisation to explore the story Romeo and Juliet, which they are adapting to modern day and setting it in Darwin. These workshops I really enjoyed, and through watching Sarah facilitate, and leading exercises and a workshop myself, I now feel eager to create a similar group in Wales.

Our ‘Voices from Down Under’ exchange project provided great experience, lots of new knowledge and exciting future partnership possibilities. It was interesting to see that two organisations from different sides of the world were not far so apart; both with the same idea, aims and a strong belief in the work, Valley and Vale Community Arts and Darwin Community Arts have a exciting future ahead.

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