Will a renaissance of Australian theatre post-covid be led from regional Australia? NORPA, the theatre company based on Bundjalung country in Northern NSW, has been at the forefront of creating new works from regional Australia and this year will premiere three original works that give voice to regional stories.
The company has also significantly expanded its creative team, announcing arts leader Rhoda Roberts will take on a new role as Creative Director First Nations for NORPA. Actor and teacher Scott Johnson will join NORPA as Director of the company’s new Youth Theatre arm and Jenna Mathie has relocated from Perth to join the company as Executive Producer.
Rhoda Roberts will lead in the development of new First Nations works, contribute to NORPA’s programming and assist with NORPA’s ongoing engagement with the community. Rhoda is a Widjabul Wiyebal woman from the Bundjalung nation who grew up in Lismore, where NORPA is based. She has a long association with NORPA both as a creative associate and as a board member.
“My new appointment is an exciting one with NORPA. We are proud of our regional base, that enables exploration and new approaches to creating national work that is relevant, thought provoking and that will shift the gaze,” says Rhoda.
“I’m excited that in my own country of the Widjabul we have an acclaimed theatre company that encourages difficult dialogue and has recognised the hunger and vision that diversity brings. Surprising too, how many millennials are moving to the region!”
“It’s early days as Creative Director First Nations but I envisage our program will grow new audiences and provide a platform that addresses the challenging conversations. We will hear the mother tongues and embrace language and truth telling.”
“It will be relevant, non-static, creative and sustainable work that has an economic, social and cultural impact, strengthening the ties in our ever-growing community,” says Rhoda.
“We have a deep curiosity and respect for the communities that we live in and these are the stories we are interested in,” said NORPA’s Artistic Director Julian Louis. “By the very nature of how we work, creating theatre from the ground up where we live, we put the spotlight in places often overlooked or haven’t been given a voice, particularly in the context of performing arts in regional Australia.”
“This year’s NORPA works are all built from the fabric of this place and all experiment with theatre as a form,” says Julian. “Flow uses movement, storytelling and hip hop to share a powerful story written and performed by Yaegl Bundjalung man Mitch King about the rivers that run through our region and the first Native Title claim on a body of water in Yamba.”
“Into The Forest is a contemporary Australian twist on the role of the forest in classic fairytales which I’m directing. Performed and devised with Alice Misty Boscheinen and writer/performer Kate McDowell, ‘Into the Forest’ offers a window into the experience of people living with disability and the deep and complex relationship they have with their support staff. This is a story very close to the community of Lismore which is a regional hub for disability support services.”
“The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories is an interactive and immersive work for primary school children written by Caleb Lewis and directed by Valley Lipcer. This year it is being performed in schools throughout the region, with plans to tour throughout NSW. It responds directly to the school syllabus but in a way that completely engages and inspires children, they become part of the performance and influence its outcomes.”
Into the Forest will premiere at NORPA 10 & 11 June, Flow will premiere 1- 3 July. The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories is being performed in schools from March onwards. These original NORPA works sit alongside a diverse, curated program of national touring works in NORPA’s 2021 Season. For more information, visit: www.norpa.org.au for details.
Image: Rhoda Roberts (NORPA Creative Director First Nations) and Julian Louis (NORPA Artistic Director and CEO) at the launch of NORPA’s 2021 Season – photo by Kurt Petersen