St Martins Artistic Director Nadja Kostich talks 40/40

2020 marks 40 years since St Martins Youth Arts Centre opened their doors. Their impact since is almost inconceivable.

A true centre for nurturing the youth of today, St Martins allows young people to collaborate, write, create, storytell, and explore. Their workshops are a true triumph for young people, run by a diverse staff utilising Auslan, visual mapping, and tactile exercises, and trained to understand neurodiversity and challenging behaviour. 40/40 is a culmination of the 40 years, a beautiful homage to the history of the centre, the people at its heart, and the stories that have been shared since its inception.

Nadja Kostich

Nadja Kostich is an intidisciplinary director/creative producer, and the Artistic Director and Co-CEO of St Martins. A graduate of VCA, she has an impressive list of directorial credits, including InsideOut, The Grand Feeling (also co-wrote), Test Pattern, Tenderness: Ugly and Slut, and the critically acclaimed production of Bare Witness, which saw a season at Fourtyfivedownstairs and a subsequent national tour. She directed For The Ones Who Walk Away for St Martins, a large scale, site-specific work featuring 10 associate artists, 5 designers, and 60 youth performers. She gained a Green Room Award nomination (Design) and won a Melbourne Fringe Award (Best Live Art) for the work. She often collaborates with culturally diverse and Indigenous artists and communities, and utilises the experience of her participants to shape her work, exploring political and social justice issues.

I believe St Martins have still been running through the lockdown?

We are so busy. Obviously, I talk in terms of ‘terms’ since we are working with young people, so in Term 2 when the first lockdown started, we were extremely busy shifting into digital workshops. We pretty much made the decision easily and quickly to do that. We had some colleagues in different states who said they aren’t going to do anything like that since it’s too much effort, and instead use the time to clean up the backlog, but we really wanted to stay connected to our young people. We also wanted to employ our artists. We’re very conscious that we have the 20 artists we work with. All together, we created our suite of digital workshops which took a lot of energy, but in some ways, it kept everyone focused, positive, and creative while the world was falling down around us.

Hatched (2019) | Photo by Laura Du Ve

How did you guys take the COVID lockdown news?

It was a shock, wasn’t it? The shock of our lives. As we’ve heard since then, [the Theatre industry] were the first to go and probably the last to roll in. It was devastating, plus around the time of the first lockdown starting, that was Australian Council time, and we didn’t get our 4 year funding renewed. Loss of that income, loss of income from closing St Martins doors… We normally receive some income from hiring our spaces out, and basically that’s gone too. So you know, there was a lot of difficult psychological and emotional terrain to navigate to make sure that the team is okay, to make sure everyone is handing their personal situations okay. Because suddenly these boundaries are blurred. I’m really proud of the team in the way we’ve come through that. We had good news through that, with the Green Room Awards, but overall it’s heartbreaking. I feel like in our abilities to absorb what is happening, I don’t know how much is hitting home. We’ve been hit so hard on so many levels: personal, work wise, the restriction fall out… One of the things we had going was completing some informal trauma workshops, working inside of trauma, learning how to self regulate, but that’s ultimately because we are working with young people who are also in these traumatic landscapes so we can best work with them. That’s been a really fantastic way to articulate and name things, and realise how this is impacting our world at the hardest level. We have such deep respect for our young people, and have had a lot of concern about them in lockdown.. We really have wanted to be a place where they can come and find some solace through creativity.

Has it been hard adjusting to online/remote learning?

The young people were so disappointed to not see each other in term 3. We’d just sorted everything out and were so excited – this was before even mask time. I know the young people will want to see each other sooner rather than later. And if there’s any way known for us to create something for them before the end of the year, so they can see each other, we’ll look into that. But pivoting.. it’s such a funny word, isn’t it. We’re pivoting, we’re spinning, we’re pirouetting, we’re dancing [laughs].

A snapshot from Julia Zemiro’s 40/40 interview

What can audiences expect from 40/40?

There are two aspects to it – at first it was called 40/40 Online, which is current in the sense that we are gathering and posting 40 stories that have ‘shaped’ us. So the way we have approached it is that St Martins has been shaped by so many people in its 40 years of existence, and they have been the Alumni as well as the directors, various stakeholders, artists who have worked with the Alumni… they’ve shaped us over this time and we were curious to inviting 40 stories, a mix of those younger generations and the past stakeholders to speak about what has shaped them, what has majorly shaped their lives, a moment, a person, something that has happened, someone pivotal. So that isn’t necessarily a St Martins story. Some of these are written, some filmed, some have been kids interviewing the person. So that’s the planned part of 40/40, it had a bit of a slow start since we had planned for it in March but everything started to crumble…

The second part we want to make into a beautiful live activation of the entire St Martins headquarters, which is the street, the car park, the hall around the corner, as well as the inside theatre spaces and rehearsals. What we have planned for the 12th of December is a big afternoon where the young people make performances, and people move around, experience and interact with these performances, and just celebrate St Martins. That was the vision that we were walking towards, and look, it’s only been in the last week or so that we’ve gone “we don’t see how it can be live…” At this present time, it’s because of what it takes to make it. Because no plan has been forthcoming, we need more time to plan our workshops being on site again. So if we can’t have our young people on site to rehearse, how do we prepare? It’ll be extremely challenging, but we’ve had to plan for it being an online event – we’re talking about the potentials of some live streams of young people on site, if we can work with restrictions. Because we’re unable to plan for those audiences we’ve had to look to making it the best online celebration we can.

Check out 40/40 online by clicking here.

For more information on St Martins Youth Arts Centre, visit their website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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