Writer and Director Barbara Albury introduces Rockin’ Robin and the Hoods, a pre Christmas panto presented by the Saturday Magic Theatre Troupe – a group of disabled people and their friends.
How did the Saturday Magic Theatre Troupe begin?
The group got going in 2007 after a break of several years, with the folding of the popular Magic Circle. Luke Holmes (from The Ascent Group) helped by Chris Curcuruto began teaching singing and drama to interested people with disabilities on Saturday afternoons. It was a small group of about six or seven participants. We sang songs, did drama exercises and always had a nice afternoon tea. I came in as a volunteer, and when Luke left, I took over the group. Genny Tavener joined me, and we started doing popular fairy tales and legends. We had great fun with Jack and the Beanstalk and did the first version of Robin Hood. At the end of 2009, we were invited to join in the community pantomime in the Armidale Town Hall, and everybody turned into giant playing card soldiers for Alice – Lost in the Tablelands. The group loved the experience, and I started to think that maybe we could do our own show. This became A Kind of … Cinderella, which turned out to be very successful. This year we set up an organising committee and became The Saturday Magic Theatre Troupe. Following a series of workshops organised by Margaret Kennedy, we began work on Rockin’ Robin and the Hoods.
Describe how you direct these theatre productions.
I have been involved in regular theatre for a long time, but working with disabled people requires some adjustments. Firstly, the script has to be manageable, and we are constantly changing language and basically simplifying everything. Not a bad thing to do anyway! We make sure that everybody gets some kind of a go. Our philosophy is to include everyone who wants to be in it. A very important thing we found was to have what we term ‘shadows’. These are volunteers, usually with theatre experience, who assist the disabled actors by prompting and modelling actions. We are very lucky to have a team of five shadows and about another 15 volunteers who are helping with our current show. Also, we have two narrators (Genny Tavener and Sally Trotman), who keep the story flowing and help the actors with the lines.
Tell us about your very first show.
My own theatre experience began when I played Lily Smalls in a Sydney production of Under Milkwood. I got a mention in the Sydney Morning Herald, so I thought, “Well, maybe there is a chance for me in theatre”. I have been doing theatre ever since – directing, writing, producing, acting. A favourite show was Pygmalion, in which I played Eliza, and the most emotional was Who is Frank Archibald? for the 2008 NAIDOC Week observance.
We hear you are about to put on another play. Tell us about it …
Rockin’ Robin and the Hoods is an adapted version of the traditional Robin Hood legend, but with a 1950s twist. It is set in Sherwood Forest and the town of Nottingham, with Milkshake Girls drinking pink milkshakes, playing the juke box and dancing with the Merry Men and the Hoods. The latter are the baddies in the piece – they’re fleecing the town and taking everyone’s money. They even demand the church takings from Friar Tuck, who then decides to join Robin and his Merry Men to fight the Hoods. Maid Marian and her lady-in-waiting Mistress Jenny visit Robin in the forest and ask him to save Nottingham by participating in three contests – archery, bowling and dancing – and winning three bags of gold to give to the poor. Of course, the Hoods are annoyed by this development. There is bad blood until the mayor solves the problem, and we have a ‘happy ending’ musical number as the finale.
Describe the camaraderie among your troops.
At first everyone was a bit reticent, but we now have a group of actors and volunteers who are mixing very readily, as well as helping each other in many ways. It’s a learning curve for everyone. The actors are thinking of others when they are performing and also when they are waiting in the wings or offering to get a cup of tea for a friend. We, the assistants, are constantly surprised by the emerging creativity of the actors, as they go way beyond what is normally expected of them.
Who have been vital contributors to this cause?
This show would not be happening if there wasn’t a bunch of dedicated performers and volunteers, both on and off the stage. It’s hard to mention everyone, but I would just like to express my gratitude to organising whizzes Margaret Kennedy and Diana Helmrich, who are the producers of Rockin’ Robin; irreplaceable shadows, Howard and Milly Randell, Kayla Brotherson, Alan Wilkinson, Methuen Morgan, Emily Thomas-Moore; choreographer extraordinaire, Mike Gibson; hyper creative musicians, Rob Harpley, Benjamin Thorn and Bernie Cunningham; valued artist, Bernard Kusch; unflappable set manager, Colin Barry; an energetic committee headed by the resourceful Kate Thomas and including the hugely capable Gaye Sheehan and Deb Winter; costume magician, Pat Neild; parents who unfailingly bring afternoon tea, including Jo Trotman, Cath Adams and Julie Scherf (Cath and Julie travel all the way from Glen Innes); new helpers, Tess and Christina Robinson; our fabulous photographers, Jeni McKenzie and Terry Cooke; the carers who come with clients; and of course, the wonderful performers. In 2011 we are being generously supported by The Ascent Group, Armidale Drama and Musical Society, New England Mutual and Northern Links NSW Inc.