Described by Australian theatre industry leaders as having ‘what it takes to be a professional theatre company’; Bendigo’s CreateAbility Performance Ensemble are continually developing new work.
CreateAbility’s powerful productions are devised and performed collaboratively by the performers who are the company members. Their recent successful touring shows No Hands and DENDRON – The Forest In Us are contemporary theatre productions that draw on the experiences and perceptions of ensemble members who include people living with disability.
“Our work draws in our audience emotionally,” says Creative Producer John Willis. “… when people are invited to experience the world through a different lens they are often deeply moved and new connections between people emerge.
“As a culture quite often we think words convey all the meaning – but there are so many ways to convey meaning – we use our bodies, sound, movement and visual images.
The thriving arts precinct of View Street is the home of the CreateAbility studio, where all of their performing art works are created and rehearsed. Established in Bendigo in 2002 CreateAbility has been creating art that transforms people – taking both performers and their audience ‘out of themselves’, responding to each other and doing things they haven’t done before, often experienced with great delight.
“It’s tough leading up to performances,” says local artist Sarah Goninon. Sarah has been a performer with CreateAbility for fifteen years. “A lot of work goes on before we go on stage.”
“In Dendron I am a prisoner,” says Sarah. DENDRON – The Forest In Us premiered in December as a multi-layered performance about forests, and specifically the Box Ironbark forests surrounding Bendigo. Ulumbarra theatre was transformed into a space shared by both the performers and audience.
“I am a prisoner bound by rope. At night creatures come and untie me, but even when I am free I don’t know how to join in with everyone else who is free.”
The creative team includes Sam Thomas and Kate Stones, who are local skilled and experienced artists, as well as Eliza Hull, musician and composer. The creative team collaborate with ensemble members to draw out their contributions to the performance.
“In DENDRON Sarah’s idea was about a prisoner in the forest. We wanted to come up with ways to share the stories of historical images of our interaction with the land but also personal, internal feelings about connections to the environment,” John explains.
“The forest is a community and in all the things that happen, connections are happening – seen and unseen.”
“I can’t help be moved by the energy of this company,” says David Lloyd Manger of Capital Venues and Events, which provides the theatre that CreateAbility works in. “CreateAbility are coming into themselves and are proving to be the next big thing in theatre coming out of regional Victoria.”
Connecting to land and environment is important to Ben Dubbuc-Timson, a performer who has recently joined the artistic ensemble. In the lead up to the creation of Dendron he spent a lot of time with elders in the forest, because the First Nation’s culture and local Dja Dja Wurrung connections, are important to Ben and his sense of place and community.
“We went out into the bush to see stuff and to learn,” says Ben. “I found out that in the Dja Dja Wurrung language the same word is used for bark on a tree as is for the skin on our body.”
Ben is a performer who uses movement and dance to express his ideas. “When we first come into the studio we move around and warm up. Then we take turns leading movement. Each of us decides, using movement, what the group is going to do.”
“CreateAbility is all about people working together,” says John. The tagline for CreateAbility is still relevant – ‘expressing ourselves and connecting with others’.
“Once you start finding ways to express yourself, you discover connections with people and other ideas and this keeps on building connections,” John smiles. “The more ways you can express yourself, the more ways you can connect.”
Lead investor of CreateAbility is Golden City Support Services, which is a ‘for-purpose’ organisation. Their mission is to support people to live a good life in the community.
Golden City Support Services CEO Ian McLean says, “We value the arts in our organisation. We see impact of the arts experience in people’s lives. We know when people see themselves represented on stage or screen it changes everything about how an artist and how an audience member thinks about diversity and what is possible.”
“Our audience is growing and they are excited by the kind of performance we do,” says John.
CreateAbility has made connections in sharing their work beyond Bendigo, to surrounding regions and into Melbourne. There is a growing recognition that ‘culture’ is not just something exported from metropolitan centres.