Christian Leavesley and Alexandra Macalister-Bills: A familiar distance: converged theatre making in regional Victorian secondary schools

Does distance from major cultural centres necessarily imply a dearth of theatre experiences for regional and rural young people?

Does distance from major cultural centres necessarily imply a dearth of theatre experiences for regional and rural young people? This paper will explore Arena Theatre Company’s long-term commitment to visiting three schools in regional Victoria, more than five hours drive from Melbourne, Australia. We present an account of Arena’s artistic methodology of theatre making – ‘creative convergence’ – the name of a large ARC Linkage research project investigating the convergence of live theatre and digital media.

This paper presents a case study of one secondary college, its students and staff. We examine how the students became co-creators of Arena’s latest production, Trapper. In addition, we discuss their involvement in a laboratory-style project called AI, Artificial
Intelligence. We propose that Arena’s approach creates a sense of familiarity for the young people they work with and who work with them, and an ownership of theatre that is constructed through time and distance.

Christian Leavesley:
Artistic Director of Arena Theatre Company. He studied theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, Monash University and the University of Missouri-Columbia. Leavesley’s works have been programmed in major festivals and venues in Australia, Asia, Europe and North America. He is a Partner Investigator on the ARC Linkage project Creative Convergence: Enhancing Impact in Regional Theatre for Young People (2016-20).

Alexandra Macalister-Bills:
Education and Programs Manager for Arena Theatre Company. Her work with Arena has seen her initiate and develop their Schools Workshop program, now a part of the ARC Linkage project Creative Convergence as well as managing multiple schools residencies. She has produced Arena productions including Trapper and Marlin. Alexandra holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and is currently studying her Masters in Teaching (Secondary) at La Trobe University.

An Applied Theatre Practitioner with experience in international Drama Education, Community Theatre and Theatre for Development, Chris’ ongoing research interests centre around the documentation of Community Performance practice for the purposes of monitoring & evaluation, advocacy and training. Recent projects include facilitating participatory documentation of Community Circus, Dance, Theatre and Storytelling practice in Ethiopia, South Africa and Zambia, documenting large conferences around the world, as well as conducting Impact Assessment studies for organisations in the UK and USA. His other work includes Arts-based Curriculum Development consultancy, as well as authoring other Evaluative Research projects.