7 April 2021

Young Scottish stowaways shape Canberra playwright 150 years on

| Belco Arts
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The 2020 Legacies production team

The 2020 Legacies production team. Photo: Hannah Pengilly.

“Because if I did nothing – changed nothing – then I was alone. I was lost at sea.”

Have you ever thought you could change the world? Catherine McInnes didn’t. The thought hadn’t even entered her mind. But with one choice, in one moment, she changed the world for countless people.

Including me.

Six boys. One ship. 150 years ago. The adventure of a lifetime.

Based on the true story of the Arran stowaways, Legacies – a new and original stage play – follows the journey of six young boys stowed away on a ship from Scotland to Canada. It’s a classic adventure tale, with a deadly, icy twist.

The story begins in 1868, with an eclectic group of Scottish kids desperate to make something of themselves. Stowing away onboard the Arran, they dream of seafaring adventures. But with a bitter and brutal first mate, a cowardly captain and the harsh winter weather, things don’t go according to plan.

Among the themes of friendship and bravery, the play explores the idea of a legacy – what it means to carry on remnants of your family and how your seemingly ordinary actions can shape your own legacy.

Actors in development workshop production of Legacies

The 2019 Legacies workshop production. Photo: Andrew Campbell, Campbell Media Productions.

Shaping your own legacy is the name of the game, and 150 years later the impacts of this story, of these people and their choices, are still being felt. I, for one, wouldn’t exist without them.

When my grandmother first told me the story of the Arran stowaways, and of my ancestor David Brand, something in my heart jumped. Not to be overdramatic or anything, but it was as if some strand from the past had stretched its way into my present and tapped me on the shoulder to say, ‘Pay attention and listen.’

So I did. For two years, I listened to the stories of people from around the world, descendants of these stowaways. I wrote and researched and rewrote. And Legacies was born.

In a way, this isn’t my first rodeo. I began acting as a kid in school musicals and then transitioned to acting professionally in film, television and theatre. As a playwright and director, my first full-length play hit Canberra stages in early 2016 with the creation of theatre company Ribix Productions.

In the time since, I’ve written a few short plays and the book for a musical. But I never could have imagined how Legacies would grow and develop, taking on a life of its own.

Actors in development workshop production of Legacies

The 2019 development workshop production of Legacies. Photo: Andrew Campbell, Campbell Media Productions.

Of course, it didn’t happen overnight.

First onboard was composer extraordinaire Shannon Parnell to start creating an original score for the work. The first development workshop was staged in 2019, with a small but brilliant team of actors and storytellers. We had grand plans for a premiere production in 2020, but just a week before auditions, COVID-19 hit. Like every other creative in the industry, we had to change our plans, grow and adapt.

Enter Belco Arts.

We are so excited to be developing Legacies at Belco Arts. Their support means more than just a space. It’s the conversations and the collaboration – the community of storytellers gathered to make and shape theatre.

Legacies‘ second development begins in April and will be directed by award-winning performer and theatre-maker Christopher Samuel Carroll. The project is produced by Ribix Productions and proudly supported by Belco Arts.

Article by Rachel Pengilly, co-director and artistic director at Ribix Productions.

Rachel Pengilly will be working in the Rehearsal Room at Belconnen Arts Centre during her Belco Arts artist residency from 23 April to 3 May. Learn more at Belco Arts.

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