Thornton Wilder's ‘Our Town’ is being performed as you’ve never seen it before: Under the stars at the State Theatre Courtyard as part of Perth Festival.
Artistic Director of Black Swan Theatre, Clare Watson, is directing this iteration and took time to speak with us as rehearsals ramped up.
The production will feature the talents of three professional actors performing together with close to 100 members of the local community including real life doctors, teachers, police officers and Deliveroo drivers along with a local Perth choir.
One of Clare's favourite auditions with a community member was a doctor, who revealed that he'd had experience doing balloon animals at children's parties.
“So many of us are born performers. And it’s really joyful to re-engage the playfulness in the company of other people,” the seasoned theatre director explains.
The three professional actors taking on multiple lead roles are Ian Michael, Abbie-Lee Lewis and Shari Sebbens with Clare noting, “We’ve got three First Nations actors who are engaging in a process of storytelling on Whadjuk Country land and taking a well-known American story and placing it firmly on our land.
“It becomes part of a culture of storytelling that is multi-millennia old and that will be really exciting for audiences.”
With the original being set in small town American in the early years of the 20th century, Clare is eager to make it relevant for local Perth audiences today but observes, “I think the more specific you can be about your storytelling the more your storytelling can speak across time and a range of different people.”
For a play that is known for minimal props and scenery, a lot of thought has gone into holding the production outside... Including the projection of the sounds of the town and music composed by the talented Russell Goldsmith.
Clare has faith that the stage will add an exciting element to the performance.
“It’s designed by Tyler Hill, it’s got a dimpled silver slightly reflective surface, and so it will pick up the colour of the night sky. Perth February sunsets are just so beautiful and they take a long time, and so we ought to be able to see the colours of the sky reflected in the surface!
“We’re enhancing the natural environment, to give us a sense of colour and place.”
‘Our Town’ is one of Clare’s favourite plays and you can hear her passion for it when discussing the themes it represents.
“It gives us an opportunity to look at the beauty of the ordinariness of life. In a world where we’re plagued by status anxiety and a need to constantly self-improve, this play is a moment of acknowledging the beauty of being part of a community, and acknowledging the profound beauty of the simple everyday moments and connections.”
“In a number of [Thornton's] writings, what he’s saying is that we could be a lot better at living in the here and now, and he’s writing this in 1938,” Clare says.
“I would say this message has become even more powerful now.”