No Pain, No Gain? – Rebus Riddles You This…

By Allan Sko

“Rebus is an inclusive company using theatre and other arts to stimulate healing and provoke social and environmental change. We work with people with lived experience of marginalisation to create innovative, powerful performance in diverse contexts.

“A key part of what we aim to do is creating pathways for theatre artists from marginalised backgrounds to progress from community participation through to professional arts practise in mainstream settings.”

So states Ben Drysdale, Creative Producer of Rebus Theatre. 

Group of four actors, male and female, wearing colourful costumes. None are smiling and all are looking at the camera.
Photo of Utopiate cast. Photo credit: Belconnen Arts Centre

The arts is for everyone

The everyone-theatre group has been plying their trade and putting on pristine productions for many years, with their latest upcoming piece – Utopiate, of which Drysdale is also Co-Director – being a humorous and heart-warming odyssey following an intergalactic mission to escape the pain and suffering found on Earth.

The play’s plot is as creative as the team putting it together: With seemingly good  intentions, a group of aliens introduce humans to a pain-free planet.  Is this world without pain as attractive as it sounds? Can we truly experience growth and love without adversity? Through the team Rebus have assembled, we find out.

“The cast of Utopiate is made up of disabled artists and artists with lived experience of mental ill health who are participants in our Flair program,” Drysdale explains. “They have largely all been hand selected from our community programs to progress their artistic development and gain experience in the process of devising and performing a show in a professional mainstream setting. 

“The show is supported by professional production values through costume design by Victoria “Fi” Hopkins, sound design by Marlene Radice, and lighting design by Linda Buck of Belco Arts.”

A flair for theatre

Rebus Theatre’s Flair program invites the diverse cast to take the next step in their professional practice and creatively explore social issues through metaphor. Utopiate explores the experiences, challenges, and voices of the cast through an audio-visual feast amalgamating dialogue with physical theatre, soundscapes (live and recorded), and audio-visual design.

Co-Director Sammy Moynihan is keen to weigh in on the subject.

“This is a particularly ambitious and exciting show for Rebus,” he enthuses. “We like to introduce our cast to new performance vocabularies. This year, we’re exploring more advanced, physical theatre techniques, as well as creating all kinds of soundscapes live on stage.

“The show all began with a discussion around the things that frustrate us, the nature of pain, and the ways we can support each other to overcome the challenges of life. Rebus uses metaphor and theatricality to discuss big social issues and this is no exception. We took these heavy themes and placed it in a sc-ifi context, creating a show that is genuinely funny as well as thought-provoking.”

And it seems, with Utopiate, the team are delving deep into the notion of exploration via metaphor.

Pain is inevitable?

“The cast was interested in Eckhart Tolle’s explorations of the ‘pain body’, and the human instinct to suppress or escape pain rather than be present in it, move through it, and deal with it,” Drysdale explains. 

“This led to questions about what a world without pain would be like. What measures could be taken to achieve such a thing? Would it solve our problems or create new ones? 

“The characters in Utopiate, like all of us, experience a variety of ‘pains’ in their life; from the more obvious such as physical and emotional pain, to the more abstract such as political and environmental pain,” Drysdale continues. 

“They take up an intergalactic opportunity to join a new world with no pain with unexpected results. Through a series of ‘treatments’ administered by a well-intentioned alien race, they are forced to decide if this new world is all it’s cracked up to be.

“Ultimately we want audiences to leave the show with their own answer to the question ‘Would you choose a life without pain?’”

It’s a terrific thought experiment, and one I pose to Ben Drysdale himself.

“You’ll have to come and watch the show to see where we landed on that,” he wryly retorts.

Going from strength to strength

In striving toward such lofty intellectual musings, a superb team of creatives has been assembled to flesh out such a meaty beast. It is typical of Rebus’ inclusive brand of creativity.

“The show has been entirely conceptualised and devised by the cast under the guidance of directors Sammy Moynihan and Ben Drysdale (me), and assistant director Melissa Gryglewksi,” Drysdale explains. 

“They came up with the concept, discussed the storyline and plot points, then improvised scenes to develop the story that were merely tweaked and tightened by the directors.”

“We want our work to challenge expectations of disability-led theatre,” Moynihan adds, “and invite the audience to see the world through new eyes, while also immersing themselves in a high-quality performance experience.

“The show is original, unique, hilarious and, at times, quite thrilling. We want our audiences to go on an adventure with us, through the universe and through a new way of looking at the world.”

The last Flair program show The Beauty Thief contributed to Rebus winning a Canberra Critics Circle Award for Theatre at the 35th Annual ACT Arts Awards. Here’s to another for the next Awards season.

“Rebus is going from strength to strength as a company,” Moynihan states. “With recent awards and successful grant applications, there is a real sense of momentum around the company. We really hope we can reach more audiences so they can share this momentum with us.”

Rebus Theatre and Belco Arts Presents Utopiate, showing at Belconnen Arts Centre on 7pm Friday, 4 November (7pm), and Saturday, November 5 (3pm & 7pm). You can book tickets via the Belco Arts website here.

The Flair program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Utopiate is supported by Belco Arts through the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund – an Australian Government initiative.

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