The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy | Slingsby Andy Packer, artistic director of Slingsby, has dreamt of being in a band – a band of theatre practitioners that is. Now he’s exactly where he wants to be with the company having formed in March last year. This week he is in Mt Gambier immersed in creative development for Slingsby’s second production, Wolf, and next week the company’s inaugural show, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy opens as part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Summer Family Fun program (Jan 21-25 2008).

Of course this busy schedule involves the rest of Slingsby’s “band” members, including Finegan Kruckemeyer  (playwright), Quentin Grant (composer) and Geoff Cobham (designer) along with Jodi Glass (executive producer), all highly skilled practitioners in their own right.

So, what is Slingsby and how did it all come about? The company’s mission is “To captivate people 10 years and up, far and wide, with world-of-theatre experiences of empathy and wonder.” Slingsby members gather around this unifying vision having already collaborated over the years on various arts projects. But, to trace Slingsby’s beginnings to the sparkle in Packer’s eye, we must go back even further.... 

Packer, as performer and creator with Ricochet Theatre (regional touring company 1994-2001), was already observing primary school audience responses to theatre rich in empathy and wonder, and content that was emotionally complex. Adult theatre wasn’t right for the mid to upper primary school students and fairy tales were also missing the mark. As Packer says, “at 10 or 12 years, they start seeing themselves as an individual and are up for being taken more seriously.” This observation planted the seed of an idea that he was keen to pursue. At a similar time he saw the ‘Little Match Girl’ by Gruppe 38 (Aarhus, Denmark) which was in line with the style of work he had been dreaming about.
{xtypo_quote_left} at 10 or 12 years, [children] start seeing themselves as an individual and are up for being taken more seriously
- Andy Packer{/xtypo_quote_left}
Following a research lead, Packer discovered Edward Lear’s stories, “Four little people who went around the world”, written for and based on four real children, one of whom was called Slingsby. In adulthood, inspired by the childhood stories, Slingsby travelled around the world (in the late 1800’s), bringing back stories from different cultures he encountered. Besides the research uncovering the company’s name so early in the piece, it also gave a rich source of stories to inspire work in coming years.

Slingsby’s appearance, if not on stage, commenced as early as 2001 with funding support given to the concept development of The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy. In 2002 a second creative development took place, this time for The Third Dave and three years later there was the creative development of Ode to Nonsense; all of which are contributing to the company’s work to date.

Dreams for Slingsby are on a grand scale compared to its lean operation which runs from a home office and hired rehearsal space when needed. As one of Adelaide’s three new professional theatre companies to gain triennial support in March 2007 through Arts SA’s Theatre Development Strategy, it has meant extensive planning for the next three years and beyond. Even in Slingsby’s short history as a company, they are well on the way to realising their plan, amongst other things, to produce one new work each year.

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy premiered late in 2007 and is a timeless tale of growing up. In 2008 the show has a hefty performance schedule including the upcoming Adelaide Festival Centre season, the 16th ASSITEJ World Congress and Performing Arts Festival celebrating theatre for children and young people (Adelaide May 9-18) and regional schools touring in June and July. Wolf, a physical theatre piece, is well into its creative development and late in October is set to premier in Mt Gambier. Man Covets Bird is a theatre and sound extravaganza looking at how to deal with the evolution of one’s opinions, while Ode to Nonsense, an opera, looks at how we need to grow up to be successful. Last in the list to date is “V”, an outdoor installation piece based on Voyager 1 and the question, ‘are we alone in the universe?’ The company’s content covers a broad range of topics with huge challenges set in style changes; a key point for company members to maintain their sense of possibility and inspiration.

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy | Slingsby Straddling these shifts in style and content is Slingsby’s desire to explore a sense of wonder and possibility, where theatre can create an opening in a world that is portrayed as black and white. Packer’s interest is in theatre that has a sense of timelessness and where the exploration of internal struggle as well as optimism is possible. He sees theatre as having a “soothing role”, or quoting his partner Jane, theatre provides “ointment for the human condition.”

At long last, a “band” making and delivering “ointment for the human condition.” May Slingsby live long and prosper, allowing it’s ensemble of artists to present entertaining, challenging, engaging and soothing work for anyone 10 years and up; and anywhere from the South Australian outback to Aarhus and New York.

For further information on The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy click here»

Top - Cheeseboy Illustration
Bottom - Stephen Sheehan and Sam McMahon in The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy

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