Dropout @ Tandanya, Adelaide 27/5/2019

There is some really good youth theatre happening in the True North of Adelaide and I urge you to try and get out and see one of their shows. Founder of this wonderful youth theatre ensemble, True North, is the multi award winning actor Alirio Zavarace who has been a regular with Adelaide’s favourite Windmill Theatre. Fresh from his London appearance in Rumpelstiltskin, Zavarace has devised Dropout for its world premiere at the Dream Big Festival in Tandanya.

Devised after a meeting with the Commissioner for Youth, Dropout challenges the audience to have a fresh look at disaffected youth. “It’s like the Greek God Sisyphus”, says one of the actors, “you push the rock up the hill, then it comes tumbling down, and then you push it back up, then it tumbles down and so on.” The Ancient Greeks knew all about the tedium of everyday life, Camus even based his concept of existentialism on the ‘myth of Sisyphus’. But its not all doom and gloom as True North are committed to social change and offer answers. The answer at True North is real student voice and providing meaningful creative outlets. True North work collaboratively and the young cast write, choreograph and devise with the clever and creative Zavarace on hand to guide.

The cast share their own stories as well as those that they have researched. There are some heart-tugging moments as they poignantly talk about struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome and endometriosis. Especially sobering was the moment when Joseph Russell, a young man who spoke passionately about his mother’s struggle with cancer.

This is a very large cast, in one scene I counted close to forty actors on stage and they are tightly choreographed and staged. Zavarace pulls out some really nice tricks to please the eye with the shapes and patterns that he creates while exploring some big ideas about teenage angst. He dips into Brecht with his alienation and signposting and flips straight into cabaret and musical with a campy, cheeezy take on “Beauty School Dropout”. The clever projections by Mitre Khammash does so much more than signpost, and enhances Rachel Thomson’s minimalist set, with the audience being brought right into the action as the auditorium camera projects their interactions. There is no fourth wall here with the audience as much a part of the problem and solution as are the actors on stage. Brad Thomson applies a sublime lighting design to give the play a very fresh and modern feel.

Early in the play we are told that, “young people are waging a war against institutions” and that they are looking for alternatives. This is a plea for relevancy, and the adults in the audience would do well to listen to these eloquent young people as they not only say a lot about what is wrong but are also happy to tell us what is right with the world. The young Russian violinist makes a passionate case for the place of creativity and not being streamlined into a pre-determined future. These young people are telling us that “there must be another way” and this catch cry becomes one of the defining moments as these words are sung at first as a minor ballad which then becomes a major power ballad with the stamping of feet and a multi-layered chorus. It all comes together with clever staging using multiple height levels fluorescent lights and you have to agree with this enthusiastic cast as you find yourself tapping out the beat with them as they sing the chorus, “there must be another way.”

This is one of those shows that leaves you feeling very optimistic about the state of the arts in South Australia. We have a very clever mentor in Alirio Zavarace passing on a fresh approach to theatre, a really good technical team and some truly talented musicians. Tyson Olson, Tahlia Weaver and Aidan Smith perform live throughout the show and do more than just create a soundscape. There is some really clever playing and composing here. Bravo.

Dream Big is such a good festival. It is really important to see theatre for young people which tackles big issues being created so well by young people. Adelaide, I think it’s time to make DreamBig an annual event.

DreamBig Show Review By Bob Becker