Festival of Australian Student Theatre
La Boite Theatre/ QUT Creative Industries
September 30 – October 2
The 2016 Festival of Australian Student Theatre was, as promised, a big one, with a range of performances, development showings and forums featuring in its three-day line-up. The works, from some of the country’s leading student and early career artists, this year featured many new artists and companies, all with passion for sharing their talent and exploring and engaging audiences in contemplation of their works’ themes.
Social issues featured strongly amongst the content, from the moving, honest, autobiographical work “16 Days on a Sterile Hospital Floor” from QUT’s own Vena Cava Productions, tell of a student’s personal demons and entry into the Royal Brisbane’s Mental Health Ward under an Involuntary Treatment Order, to the “Time____Lines” presented by Digi Youth Arts, a work simple but poignant in both its realisation and important messages regarding the construction of identity. Told through initial scenes of child’s play and a school spelling bee, divided by audio from days past, initially paternalistic in tone then increasingly confronting in its language, the work takes place around a line of sand across the stage, along which its two performers walk atop and beside. Although it becomes broken through the duo’s childhood play, it is ultimately re-joined in realisation that through legacy, ancestry is not lost, serving as representation of protagonist Sam’s personal journey of connection to the one thing that he has previously pushed away.
At the other end of the scale, “10 to 3” (featuring students from Griffith University, University of Queensland, University of Southern Queensland & Queensland University of Technology [QLD]) saw a crowded cast of pre-teen characters journeying through their awkward years to early adulthood through a series of vignettes and often moving monologues related to social issues, particularly regarding gender. Thanks to some entertaining performances, the hyper-reality of condensing five years of secondary school into just over an hour works well in its whirlwind, leading to many hilarious moments thanks to the physical comedy and perfect comic timing of its performers.
Victoria’s La Trobe University, meanwhile, presented a non-original work in the form of “Bombshells”, more than doing Joanna Murray-Smith’s work justice in its interesting use of space, performing around and sometimes behind the audience to present the monologues of six different women at six different stages of their lives, each trying to balance it all. From a diva cabaret singer to wannabe talent-show performer in trouble when a rival steals her performance number thunder, each character and performer is memorable.
There is a naïve bride with heartfelt determination to beat the odds (and wear that dress… it’s all about the dress) and a to a certain-degree clichéd mother in a whirlwind of world of bills, babies, barbies (blonde and brunette) and an ongoing quest for coffee and sanity, where wearing lipstick can at least give impression of having it somewhat together in life. In each instance the characters are brought to life through the commendable talents of the performers, but the funniest of the sections are those of a ‘cactophile’ delivering a lecture on succulents that soon becomes a rant against Harry who did her wrong and the story of a widow that begins from a place of poignancy in reflection of the different type of loneliness that her situation brings, but takes audiences to a hilarious place when she recounts her reading of erotic fiction to a blind man
From the comic to the contemplative, FAST shows represent the requisite festival range, allowing audiences to see a stack of different works all for the cost of an average show ticket. The festival is growing fast in size and ambition, and as it does, hopefully so will its general public audience, in shared celebration of the creative connections that represent the future of the performing arts in this country.