On Friday 27 May at 6.30pm the Deakin Edge Theatre at Federation Square will host a unique performance by Melbourne Playback Theatre, SticksnStones. Jan Chandler had the pleasure of speaking with the Creative Director Lenka Vanderboom, a Yawaru (Broome) woman, about her project and what audiences may expect of the event.

SticksnStonesLenka Vanderboom joined Playback Theatre three years ago as their first Indigienous performing member. A Yawaru woman with Dutch, Aboriginal and Chinese ancestry, Lenka grew up in Broome surrounded by story-tellers who instilled in her the importance of community and of making a difference. As a shy teenager she watched actors rehearsing Bran Nue Dae and Corrugation Road and her 'heart begged that she could be involved in something so rich and so reflective of a community'. After completing High School in Perth Lenka enrolled in the Certificate of Indigenous Theatre at WAAPA and became fascinated by the way in which theatre may be used to take dry, academic concepts and, by incorporating them into a story, encourage people to discover deeper meanings.

An actor, puppeteer, singer and creative director, Lenka now describes herself as 'an ensemble member of Melbourne Playback Theatre Company with a focus on health and community development', particularly for Indigenous Australians. Last year she and Indigenous actor, dancer, choreographer Sermsah Bin Saad (Suri) were both involved in MPT's production of Down Under, a project developed around the theme of Reconciliation. Lenka was excited by the way the project gave Victoria's First Nations people the opportunity to tell their stories and was inspired to create her first production for Playback Theatre.

SticksnStones grew out of Lenka's fascination with the fact that the wider Australian community knows little about the sedentary living practices of First Nations Peoples. Also, given that she is now living and working on Woiworung/Boonwurrung country, she wanted to acknowledge the traditional landowners and give them an opportunity to share their stories so that others might hear them and learn from them.

As with all Playback Theatre public shows the event will consist of a panel who will talk around the theme from their personal knowledge and experience of Aboriginal culture in Victoria, followed by a Q&A session. After a break, a facilitiator will encourage audience members to share their thoughts and reactions with the actors and musicians who will then improvise a piece that brings to life the essence of what has been shared.

Lenka carefully selected the four panelists: Reuben Berg is a Gunditjmara man, an architect and a founder and director of Indigenous Architecture Victoria; Bruce Pascoe is a Bunurong man, an award winning author, a teacher, farmer, fisherman, barman, farm fence contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archeological site worker, and editor; Monica Macdonald is a Gunai Kurnai woman, a performing artist and member of SEED Mob, Australia's first Indigenous youth climate network; and Jill Gallagher AO, is a Gundijmara woman who is CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Along with the panelists and audience, the actors and musicians are an integral part of the show. Having been blown away by the improvisational skills of the performers when I attended their show The F Word: Celebrating International Women's Day, I was curious to find out how they prepare themselves for the unexpected. Every ensemble member is committed to rehearse once a week. They call on a variety of warm up techniques before using their own stories as a basis for improvisational work. The warm up may include work on a given theme, song workshops, or a series on authenticity. Sometimes asociates with a particular skill in cultural education, or maybe Shakespearean Theatre come to work with them. Lenka and Suri, as the only Aboriginal members, were obvious choices as performers in SticksnStones; the remaining members were selected with the aim of ensuring diversity and gender balance.

Lenka is particularly excited to be presenting SticksnStones on 'such significant country, on the banks of the Yarra … tapping into those age-old stories where communities come together to tell stories … [as] Aboriginal people have been doing for aeons. It develops and strengthens our resiliance, supports our community by strengthening our connection … who we are and the presence of where we are.' She hopes the show will attract people from all over Victoria to share their stories and that the audience will take away with them a sense of joy at having experienced community, being a part of something bigger than themselves.

So come along to Birrarung Marr (the river of mists, northern bank) and experience Melbourne Playback Theatre's SticksnStones on the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

As the saying goes, 'Aboriginal history is not just stones and bones'; don't miss an opportunity to come together in celebration of Victoria's Indigenous cultures and history. Lenka and Playback Theatre are sure to have created a safe place in which we may share our stories without judgement, in an atmosphere of empathy and respect. As Lenka tells me this is an opportunity to develop as a community, to look at our foundations knowing that we can work toegether to recalibrate the policies and structures that no longer work for us and create a community based on knowledge and mutual respect.

Melbourne Playback Theatre's production SticksnStones will play the BMW Deakin Edge Theatre at Federation Square, Friday 27 May at 6.30pm. Further details» 

Image credit:–
Top right: Lenka Vanderboom and Andrew Gray. Photo – Sarah Walker

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