In God We TrustAustralian Stage was invited to the world premiere of QACI’s In God We Trust and found out that it’s anything but another high-school musical.

Think back (way, way back) to what you were doing when you were 16. Studying diligently? Going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon? Perhaps occasionally sneaking a drink of something sickly sweet with your giggling friends?

If you were a drama kid, then also think about the shows you did at your school: musicals of the “West Side Story” variety probably featured heavily, perhaps a Shakespeare or two, maybe an original work now and then if your drama teacher was the brave sort. 

This year students from the Queensland Academy for Creative Industries (QACI) - a secondary school that specialises in the arts - are experiencing theatre, and maybe even life, in a way that most of us could not claim at 16.  

QACI theatre students have just ended their premiere season of In God We Trust, an original work written by playwright Chris Beckey, directed by the internationally acclaimed Steven Mitchell Wright and featuring a professional technical crew comprised of Ben Hughes (lighting), Luke Illet and Rowan Cottingham (sound).  

The play, specially commissioned for QACI, charts the fall of Troy through the eyes of Cassandra, a priestess of Apollo and a prophetess to Troy, who foresees the event and then, after her prophecies are ignored, must torturously watch her visions come true.  

Weaving the past, present and future, it’s an emotionally charged work in which director Wright asked his actors to take on a myriad of challenges including opera, physical theatre and elements of traditional Greek theatre, such as the use of a chorus (where multiple actors speak in perfect unison.) 

Needless to say, such an intense and intensive process would have been a challenge for even the most experienced of adult actors. To see teenagers do it is, frankly, awe-inspiring. But that’s sort of the point.  

"I want Brisbane and the world to know that incredible, challenging (for both artists and audiences), mind-blowing art can be done by young people and that it is as valid as any art work done by adults - professional or otherwise," says Simon Tate, Theatre Teacher at QACI.  

“It's criminally patronising to simplify work for young artists or believe that their experiences and understandings are no less complex, rich, deep or interesting simply because of their age - they're just different.” 
{xtypo_quote_right}I want Brisbane and the world to know that incredible, challenging (for both artists and audiences), mind-blowing art can be done by young people and that it is as valid as any art work done by adults - professional or otherwise [Simon Tate]{/xtypo_quote_right}
Audience response to In God We Trust showed that this difference, the freshness of this sort of work, was welcome. The show played to packed audiences every night, and the seats weren’t filled with just proud parents and grandparents. 

The caliber of the show meant that the age of the performers, or the fact that it was performed in their high-school theatre, was irrelevant. Instead, audiences witnessed a highly professional, sophisticated and innovative show that was produced and performed in Brisbane and that we can hold up as an example of the kind of work that is coming out of our city at the moment.

Director Steven Mitchell Wright, who has toured nationally and internationally with his own company The Danger Ensemble and with cabaret-punk performer Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, brought his instantly recognisable style to the production and created a revelation and a revolution in theatre by young performers.

He says: "The reason I work in theatre is to engage with our future and expand out existing culture. I have found the most direct way of doing that is by working with young artists and encouraging the vigilance needed for excellence and bravery required to take risk."

His work, and their own talent, allowed his ensemble of actors to rise up and meet that risk head on, to go from being students of a passionate teacher and an accomplished director and become actors in their own rite, an experience that will shape their careers and their art for the rest of their lives. 

It was powerful, unyielding, provocative and highly charged, and it's a exciting example of everything that the young actors and artists of Brisbane are capable of.