When I sneak into the Bega Showground Pavillion, light is streaming through the high windows and the fLiNG crew are sitting on the floor, listening attentively to creative director Kate Denborough, who is taking them through a play-by-play of their new production, My Black Dog.
The production is part of a two-year project by the Bega-based physical theatre company which tackles mental health, particularly depression, in teenagers.
Kate has been travelling back and forth from her hometown of Melbourne to work with fLiNG and as well as benefitting from her expertise, her presence has allowed the company’s co-directors, Gabrielle Rose [Gabby] and Rob McCredie, to be performers in a fLiNG show for the first time.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to perform alongside the kids,” Rob says with a smile “and I think especially considering the subject matter, it’s important to show how depression and mental illness affect all generations and to show some of the struggles of parents and teachers as well.”While Kate was head of Melbourne dance company, Kage, from 1997-2017 and brings a wealth of experience as a director, she says she has never before worked on a show like My Black Dog.
“The best thing about this show and the most unique thing is that the students have devised the show themselves,” she says.
While some of the students are diligently taking notes as Kate goes over their cues in different scenes, 18-year-old Rory Warne clearly just wants to dance, moving his arms gracefully over his head while Kate speaks.
Rory is in his seventh year with fLiNG and is also completing year 12 at Eden Marine High School and says that the content of this year’s show is relatable.
“Lots of my friends are on anti-depressants,” he says with a shrug.
The fact that the material is so relatable, yet still taboo, means reactions will likely be mixed, according to Rory.
“Some of my friends will go: what?!” he says, adding with a smile “one of my friends will definitely sob through it.”
While they were brainstorming ideas for the show, discussions with the students revealed two main points, according to Kate.
“All the kids said they would never call a helpline,” she shares “at the end of the day, what they said helped when they were down was the connection between friends.”
With that in mind, Kate, Rob and Gabby have helped the students create the world where connection happens in rural teenage lives, going as far as to use a crane to winch a car body into the pavilion to use a prop.
“We have some amazing parent helpers,” Gabby explains “one of our students, Becky Robbers, helped her dad operate the crane to lift the car in and another parent provided the vehicle and took the time to strip it to make it safe to dance on.”
The power of their volunteer crew will also be harnessed to blackout the high windows of the Pavillion – no small task.
“We really want to give people the full theatre experience,” Gabby explains “because of the nature of the set, you have to come to us but we’ll make sure it’s a show to remember!”