1 November 2022

Rebus Theatre's mixed-ability cast presents an audiovisual feast that's out of this world

| Katrina Condie
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Theatre cast

Rebus Theatre’s Utopiate cast members ready to hit the stage. Photo: Belconnen Arts Centre.

Rebus Theatre’s bold new work is an audiovisual feast that explores the experiences, challenges and voices of its mixed-ability cast.

Devised and performed by members of Rebus’s Flair community theatre program, Utopiate is an intergalactic odyssey to a planet without pain and is set to challenge the audience’s perception of disability-led theatre.

The cast explores the spiritual teachings of Eckhart Tolle and his description of the ”pain body” – the human instinct to suppress or escape pain rather than be present in it.

The characters in Utopiate, like all of us, experience a variety of pains in their life. They take up an intergalactic opportunity to join a new world with no pain, with unexpected results.

Through a series of treatments administered by a well-intentioned alien race, they are forced to decide whether this new world is all it’s cracked up to be.

Co-directed by Rebus’s associate artist Sammy Moynihan and creative producer Ben Drysdale, with assistant direction from Melissa Gryglewski and sound design by Marlene Radice, Utopiate will hit the stage at the Belconnen Arts Centre on 4, 5 and 12 November.

Sammy said Utopiate was a “particularly bold and ambitious” show for Rebus.

“The experiences and perspectives of the cast have been beautifully woven into this intergalactic metaphor,” Sammy said.

“People with disabilities and lived experience of mental ill health are experts on resilience and overcoming difficult times so they are the best kind of storytellers for this work.

“It’s so exciting for our cast to be able to provide an entertaining experience for the audience, while simultaneously inviting them to see the world as they do.”

In the lead-up to opening night, Ben said the show featured some “fantastic physical theatre” and the ensemble was “really excelling to a level well beyond their theatrical experience”.

He said, as well as gaining new theatre and performance skills, and experience in the process of devising and performing a show in a professional venue, the mixed-ability cast was benefiting in many other ways.

“Through the devising process personal stories are shared, personal and social connections are forged, individual voices are joined to create a collective message to the audience,” Ben said.

“Through performance, these voices and messages are being heard and seen by audiences that might otherwise have lived their lives unaware and ignorant of them.”

Ben said it was important to offer these kinds of opportunities to individuals who have experienced “marginalisation from a disabling society that often lets these voices and messages go unheard”.

Audiences can expect an audiovisual feast supporting a great original script that will challenge their perceptions and make them think. The performances will make them laugh, maybe squirm a little, and perhaps even shed a tear.

Utopiate is Rebus Theatre’s first sci-fi production but, like many of Rebus’s shows, it has been created by the cast and features people’s personal experiences – even when framed in a sci-fi space odyssey.

For many of the cast, this will be their first stage performance in a professional theatre and Ben says they are “pumped”.

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Cast member Leanne Shutt says being part of the show is therapeutic and integral for her health and wellbeing.

“This is the first time I have been part of writing a play, and there is a bit of all of us in it,” she said.

“It’s a team effort, everyone’s input is valuable. We support and encourage our diversity and quirkiness.

“It is a safe and inclusive space allowing us to explore ourselves, our feelings and how we engage in life on this planet.

“It has helped me find myself, my voice, communicate, and explore my creativity. It helps open and expand my mind to new ways and possibilities.

“It is an empowering, fascinating journey.”

The one-hour shows will be held at The Theatre, Belconnen Arts Centre, at 7 pm Friday, 4 November; 3 pm Saturday, 5 November; and 3 pm Saturday, 12 November. Tickets are available here.

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