After a successful run in Brisbane, 'I've Been Meaning To Ask You', the theatre production created by The Good Room and put on by Australian Theatre For Young People, is one full of questions, asked by kids and answered by adults – and it’s coming to Sydney.
One of the show’s Key Creatives, Nathan Sibthorpe, explains this unique production’s structure. “There’s a bit of openness in the structure of the work, it changes every night,” he says. “Some of it is young people playing games on stage but a lot of it is about this exchange of knowledge and wisdom that has come as a result of our question-and-answer process.”
“The idea was that we wanted to work with a group of young people and generate some of the questions they’re intrigued about,” Key Creative Amy Ingram adds. “Some of them are really trivial, about what boys’ and girls’ bathrooms look like, and others are really quite in depth investigations into like why people are depressed, death and divorce, things like that."
Since 2018, a big bank of questions has been generated online by kids, things they think adults know the answers to that adults haven’t been telling them. But the questions will work both ways. “Most of the work is about this reporting back of the young people sharing what wisdom and knowledge they’ve gained using this process but in some way offering their own thoughts in turn,” Nathan says.
Or like how playing Pokémon cards works? Laughing, Nathan says, “Yes, some of those things! But there are also some very big questions adults have asked and our young people have answered.
“One we had in Brisbane that an adult asked which has always stayed with me was ‘Should I abandon my family to live the life I always dreamed of?’ and we had that question very intelligently and articulately unpacked on stage.
“Moments like that, being scripted, they’re still going to be the words of the performers. It’s genuine answers and their genuine thoughts on the matter.”
There have been instances, Amy says as a Co-Creator of the original piece, where the kids have surprised the adults involved in the production. “Our original cast was incredibly environmentally aware. That really surprised me about how much they care about how much we were messing up the world!”
“There was a lot of discoveries, that if they trust you enough, were really amazing to witness.”
With the cast of talented kids, it’s never going to be the same show twice. “There’s a bit of room for them to be themselves, a lot of that is quite playful in the way it translates on stage.
“There’s a moment they show adults their own lives on stage and try and rewrite the narratives they have offered, using the show to give back to the adults who’ve tried to exchange wisdom.
“There’s a question the young people asked the adults – ‘What’s your favourite song?’ – and the adults have asked young people, ‘What’s your go-to dance move?’, and let’s just say we answer both of those questions all at once in a very big, very loud sequence.”
So what kind of questions are these kids asking in the Sydney show? Chuckling, Nathan says, “We put them into a lot of different categories, depending on whether it’s something easy to answer or whether it’s something unique to them, or whether it’s the questions of life.”
“Some of my favourites this time around were ‘What do you think of the word 'boomer'?’ I really like that as a provocative question between young people and adults. But then some of the harder ones are ‘What happens when we die? Why do we have feelings? What is depression?’
“The young people have big questions and it’s not all easy to answer.”
As Creative Directors, Nathan’s hope for the takeaway for the kids performing and interacting with these adults is a sense of connection between generations they wouldn’t normally receive – and that goes for the adults, too. “This whole process is to come together in a safe construct and say, ‘Let’s exchange worldviews, let’s talk about how we understand what it is to be human, what it is to be young, what it is to be old’.”
'I've Been Meaning To Ask You' plays Riverside Theatre (Parramatta) 17-20 March. Book tickets at the Australian Theatre For Young People website.