Canberra Youth Theatre is returning to the stage in a big way this October with Normal by Katie Pollock in The Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre from 22 – 24 October.
Poppy has developed a tic. A twitch. A spasm. It spreads through her body, then her group of school friends and before long, the whole town. Nobody can explain it, but as the ‘disease’ spreads, the community begins to fall apart. Who or what is to blame? And how are they going to fix it?
Normal is an urban detective story in which the investigator is a teenage girl and the body is her own. Written by Katie Pollock and inspired by the true story of ‘the town that caught Tourette’s’, this provocative and critically acclaimed Australian play raises questions about what it means to fit in, the viral nature of mass hysteria, and the pressures on young women fighting for agency.
This is an intriguing and complex work that will resonate with young people who may feel like they don’t have control over their own paths, are under pressure by societal demands, or simply struggling to find their place in the world” says director Luke Rogers. “It’s a beautiful allegory on disenfranchisement, acceptance and fitting in. This is a gripping work that explores acceptance and ostracism amongst teenagers navigating the pressures to conform and succeed, the social hierarchies of school, family breakdowns, and the viral nature of peer influence. We are thrilled to be bringing this acclaimed Australian drama to the Playhouse
Starring a cast of emerging Canberra actors, the show is the first to be programmed and directed by Artistic Director Luke Rogers and celebrates the company’s renewed focus on contemporary Australian plays that place the experiences of young people at their core.
But the journey to the stage for Normal has been anything but. Originally programmed to open in May, the coronavirus crisis turned the production on its head. Rehearsals commenced in person but soon moved online. As an essentially live and in-person medium, theatre has been uniquely impacted by social distancing and this production was no different. Rehearsing over Zoom for nearly five months, the company returned to in-person rehearsal in August.
Normal is an affecting and emotional play that examines the tenuous ties that bind a society together until self preservation rips those bonds apart. Rogers programmed the play in 2019 when the idea of a pandemic was just that – an idea, but the eerie relevance of the play is not lost on the cast and crew.
“It’s not just that the play is about viral transmission” says actor McKenzie Battye-Smith. “The play deals with so many of the social anxieties that coronavirus has activated in our communities – fear, vilification, and the othering of those who are seen as a threat.”
Theatre has also been a precious safe haven for young people living through a traumatic year. Playwright Katie Pollock knows this all too well:
Doing youth theatre pretty much saved me when I was a teenager so it’s especially meaningful to have Canberra Youth Theatre bring the play to life now” She reflects. “Of course I had no idea when I wrote the play that the idea of things going viral would be quite so relevant right now. It really does speak to how connected we all are, and how much we rely on each other as we move through the world. With this play I wanted to create strong roles for young women to perform, so I love that the cast now has the opportunity to explore these characters under Luke Rogers’ expert direction.
Since joining the company in early 2019, Rogers has expanded the company’s programs for emerging professional artists. The cast of Normal are all local artists, aged 19-25, on the cusp of breaking into the industry.
“Working on Normal and exploring the character of Poppy has been a wonderful experience, with some unique challenges” says Holly Ross, who plays Poppy. “Throughout the play, Poppy develops Tourette’s-like tics that become increasingly physically displayed, and there is a challenge to portray those tics while still maintaining the truth and identity of the character. These experiences also have an emotional impact. When Poppy is viewed as a person who is infectious, we get an insight into the physical and emotional impact of being rejected because of something that is ultimately out of your control.”
Ross joins McKenzie Battye-Smith, Jemma Collins, and Elektra Spencer in a powerful all female ensemble. Complex, empowering roles like these don’t come along often for young women, and the entire cast is embracing the challenge. All four actors express a relish at the opportunity to perform a work that examines the creeping loss of youth agency and the way that societal pressures can impose themselves upon the bodies of the young women.
With this production, Canberra Youth Theatre continues to challenge audiences expectations of what youth theatre is capable of.
Canberra Youth Theatre presents
by Katie Pollock
22 – 24 October 2020
TIMES: Thursday–Saturday 7:30pm
VENUE: The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, London Circuit
TICKETS: Full $25 Concession $22, $5.95 transaction fee applies
Suitable for ages 15+
Years 9–12 for schools
Approx 90 minutes, no interval
Cast: McKenzie Battye-Smith, Jemma Collins, Holly Ross, Elektra Spencer
Directed by Luke Rogers
Set & Lighting Design by Gillian Schwab
Sound Design by Kimmo Vennonen