Having heard of ‘Minto Live’ and the Urban Theatre Project’s (UTP) work, I was curious how this whole things works- months of community liaison to create a cultural and experiential street party. After attending their latest project, ‘Bankstown Live’, I can tell you that it’s a vibrant and diverse insight into not only the local area but also the integrity of UTP in finding authentic voices and expressions of the flavor and colour of the community and respecting the stories and benefits they bring. ‘Bankstown Live’ is raw, ragged and real.
Northam St in Bankstown provides our backdrop. Closed off to traffic and filled with beach chairs and seats, you move between people’s yards, footpaths and tree-lined street to engage with any of the nine activities taking place over the four hours. It’s well organized and even though there are glitches, like crackling headphones on the pre-recorded monologues from ‘The Last Word’ or the visuals and/or sound dropping out every now and again, it only adds to the experience of live community theatre and technical issues are soon resolved from the diligent staff on hand. Add to that, the chance to eat local specialties and a sneaky ice cream makes for a great way to further the delights of the area.
It all kicks off with the scaffold of a house carried down the street by some of the night’s performers, lead by an Aboriginal elder, paying tribute to country and those past and present with a smoking ceremony.
When Emma Saunders’ piece began, using local the Vietnamese community dancing on the street, it was endearingly charming and the warmth of support for the challenge of publicly displaying and coordinating their work was both beautiful in its awkwardness and commitment. The live music supplied by Toby Martin and guests was a lovely touch and had a CD been on sale, I would have happily snapped one up.
I also appreciated the 'Family Portraits' section of the night, where local activists or personalities set up their lounge room on the street and you get to converse with them about whatever takes your fancy- family, politics, culture. I had the pleasure of talking to Wafa Ziam (and the privilege of tasting some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, made by Wafa. Apparently the secret is the cardamom). We talked about issues for women in the local area, which seems to be the story for women everywhere, reminding us all that Bankstown is not so different as the suburb each of us have come from to attend the event tonight.
UTP also featured their film, ‘Bre and Back’ directed by Rosie Dennis. Projected in the middle of the street onto its calico backdrop, it was a moving tribute to two families, four women, and the relationships of mother and daughter. There was humour- I still have the line uttered by Noeleen Shearer, “Don’t need a fishing licence, we’re Aboriginal” in the context of the film a terrific reminder that law and culture have such beautiful contradictions. As a piece here, it felt slightly out of place but it's such a good piece of work, it didn't seem to matter.
One of the highlights of the night is Mohammed Ahmed’s performance of his book, ‘The Tribe’, devised by Ahmed and Janice Muller. It is worth joining the long line to enter the backyard of 156 Northam Ave to catch his exemplary storytelling and enter the world of growing up in his family’s tribe. Transformational, rhythmic and at times, non-linear, Ahmed weaves stories of his grandmother and family that echo his unique experiences with our own and we are totally engaged.
'Lullaby Movement' by Sophia Brous and guests was a haunting finish to the night and as quiet descended on the neighbourhood, her singing was joined by the crying of babies, of excited local children in their pyjamas coming to investigate the siren song and all noises blended to create a multi-dimensional soundtrack to the night.
‘Bankstown Live’ is much more than a piece of theatre. It’s a thought-provoking artistic community vision of cultural understanding and experience and should be a must do for the Sydney Festival.