At the drive-in-420x0

In my car- my much loved mustard yellow 1980 Toyota Corona, affectionately known as “Golden Oldie”- I headed down the Princes Highway at a respectable speed- White Zombie crackling through the stereo. The streetlights flick past. The dashboard display glows pale green our faces. We are on our way to Shopfront Theatre’s major project at Hazelhurst Gallery in Gymea- At the Drive In.

When we arrive- I fear that the carpark is full- there is an orange vested vigilante, waving a glowing traffic wand- ushering in the cars. We park around the corner and hot foot it to the car park… once we arrive we are told to go to the registration tent- where we are issued with a lanyard with a pale printed “A” on a tag and offered a car to huddle in.

We climb into the four wheel drive parked infront of a huge screen. Playing in the car – a special radio station run by the participants. In the car park, there are white clothed adolescents, staggering, lurching and limping, occasionally drooling.

Over a loud speaker we are told that we need to make our way to the provision tent to get out supplies. We are issued with a plastic bag with blue surgical booties in it. Before long we are handed full body suits and ushered into a dressing area. In the room we are ushered we are asked to put on the suits and to put all our important belongings in the plastic bag- for safety reasons we are told- to keep our things safe from contaminations.

The world of the Harmony Centre (aka Hazelhurst Gallery) is explained by Professor Jeremy Tuckwell, who’s heading the research on the post- living. The concerns of the post-dead are explained in a film played in the theatrette. We are being taught about the post living- and there are some interesting points to be made- about the threat of the post-living on employment and way of life… the focus is on harmonization between the living and the post living.

After the lecture we walk through a collection of lit dioramas- with four sentences speaking of alienation or awkwardness… they are domestic dioramas. Before long we are ushered out in the external café area and asked to write on our paper tag marked with “A,” something about ourselves we would like to change… I find a pen and write a wish about getting rid of my phobia. We continue on and the next site is a misted curtain in a large chain-link fenced area- the mist is beautiful and the lights shine on and through it and create a soft glow. I run onto the grass and feel the mist fall on my face- the breeze is slight and I feel fresh. Before long- a face is projected on a screen- a song sung by a woman- who snarls at the children that crowd her trying to get in the shot of the camera. We are taught a zombie dance- we watch zombie couples and they dance in a slow embrace. We are released into another area. Industrial music- projections- a woman who is feasted upon by a swarm of child zombies.- there is gore and gut thrown out and about. At the end of it all, she seems to be ok as we move on. We find ourselves in another tress fringed grove where we her stories from the costumed ghost zombies- large faces projected. Finally we are lead to a forest of zombie bodies- hanging like scarecrows in the garden and asked to hang our lanyard tags on the bodies. The bodies are soon covered with tags and they flap and spin in the breeze. Self doubt and wishes surrendered to the moonlit night.

It’s a big show- full of sounds and sites and art and interactivity – child lead. It’s tricky stuff for some to see- children lurching like the undead. But what Shopfront does, is unlike any other youth theatre in Sydney- this is a contemporary arts centre for Under 25s which loudly has the slogan “Create Yourself”. This is art for and by the participants and there is a mass of them, Alyssa Lee, Natasha McGarrell, Massaria, Alhassan Sankoh, Tasha Dal Bianco, Debby Liman, Alana Wesley, Clara Macdermot, Aslam Abdus-Samad, Sybella Stevens, Alice Cooper, Sime Knezevic, Steven Christie, Alexander Hopkins, Molly Kyriakidis- Costello, Holly Auciello, Soliel Auciello, Samuel Hagan and Jeanette Zizovski- lead by artistic Director of Shopfront Theatre, TJ Eckleberg, Outreach Director Sarah Emery and Writer Tim Spencer. This is their take on the world living and the post living.

It’s not easy being a young artist. It can be lonely and confusing terrain. It feels sometimes as thought everything you do is unseen, unheard or derivative… Sometimes it feels like you need to be legitimized by some external force or person- to be granted the freedom and resources to create is amazing- and yet so easy to be taken for granted. It takes a huge amount of bravery for anyone, let alone a young person to stand in front of a group of people and to declare what they believe to be true- to express themselves in an honest and authentic way- to share their fears and their hopes and their hopes and expectations. I find it remarkable- refreshing. I hope that all these participants always, make sure they feel free to share- to have their voices and their self expression heard. And that is why I am a supporter, fan and board member at Shopfront.

In the car on the way home I recall being frightened by Zombie movies when I was young… and the fact that these young people- showed a complete fearlessness in this was a hopeful realization- perhaps this fearlessness will ensure a robust and hearty expression in the trajectory of Australian Arts Culture.