Articles of Interest

Impressions from the Road

What it's like to be an actor in an in-school touring company.


By Daniel Hickie (above), Australia Playhouse

I’m touring with Australia Playhouse. We’re doing two shows. #TheFairestOfThemAll in primary schools and Shakespeare: As You Write It in secondary schools. But sometimes, its seems like we’re doing other tours as well.

A national tour of high fives, for example. A national tour of extravagant in-show countdowns. A national tour of waving, of laughing, of learning names, writing down names, remembering names, only to forget the names learnt with the sunrise of a new week.

(Full touring cast, image below)


We’re doing a national tour of coastline. We’re doing a national tour of bridges over rivers. We’re meeting birds. And mechanics. And are on a first name basis with a hot glue gun. We yearn for family. We co-opt small plants in portable pots into our adventure. We sing songs from Frozen even when we’re not performing. We enter communities. We leave communities. And we try try try as much as possible to make this into a national tour of learning and laughing. 

Because that’s what it is for us. We offer up a performance. A story told with excitement and jumping and trolls and bridges (one of the other performers loves to emphasise in our show introduction that we have bridges). And in return, we are given brief glimpses into communities we don’t know. Sideways glances into friend groups who love to dance. Friend groups that have lunch orders on Thursdays. Friend groups who encourage each other not to participate as audience members. And friend groups who cackle at the first sign of a shaking bum.

Just this week, I was reminded of something I’ve been exposed to since the tour began in February. And which I’m still learning so much about. And speaks so accurately to this being a national tour of learning and laughing. We were performing at a school in North-Eastern Tasmania, with an audience ranging from 5 year olds right up to 12 year olds. Before our show begins, we like to jump into the audience and meet as many people as possible. Dungarees pulled tight and hair-a-waving, we let Thriller by Michael Jackson spur us on. And we try and start, what can sometimes be a long process, of overcoming group inertia.

At this school in North-Eastern Tasmania, I scuttled my Thriller legs over to where the older kids were sitting, and immediately they piped up. One person yelped their name right in my direction. And the next-door neighbour friend of this person was similarly wide-eyed. And then another person demanded that we play a game of scissors, paper, rock. And suddenly, we were all playing scissors, paper, rock. I love this kind of beginning. Where the audience realises that this is a chance for us to all make noisy fun together. And off we go on a train journey to joyville. It happens fairly regularly. And its always a good way to let the excitement flow. 

But, in this particular group of approximately 15 older audience members, there were definitely people less inclined to yell out. They were just as attentive as the noise makers. Just as involved in scissors, paper, rock. Just as curious about what was to come. And the story that we had. And how they could be involved. But not willing or ready or maybe even able to demand attention. And in these situations, I start to learn about how diverse an audience is. How the needs of different people in the audience are completely separate. And how warming up a crowd has, in some ways, nothing to do with talking to them as a whole - but has everything to do with trying to find out about the different humans who are present. What does that person who doesn’t yell out their name, want from this show?

Something else I’m learning a lot about at the moment is how to encourage/promote reciprocal gestures of performance/expression with an audience. What’s so so so lovely about our tour is that we get the chance to connect with so many different school groups, school dynamics, canteens and water bubblers. But, at the same time, this means that we often meet people for a moment, and then they are gone. At a high school in Northern Tasmania a little while ago, this moment of departure was held off for slightly longer, when a teenaged audience member (perhaps between 13 and 15, I’m not quite sure), came floating over to us after the show. They talked about how much they had enjoyed our Shakespearean version of Mean Girls and how they had been inspired to draw as we performed. Palms up, hands out, they gave to us a scrap piece of paper. Sketched across it in black and red pen were little puppet-like drawings of the three performers during the show. Arranged on the page like figurines. Or root vegetables with eyes. It was such an incredible gesture because here was a person giving to us something that they had created while we were creating. Something they had seen in front of them and felt energised to bounce off. Something that they could give in a moment of thanks. And this was a moment where I felt like the relationship between performer and audience was strong – where we not only had something to offer, but something just as special could be offered in return.

To that person - I want to say the biggest thank you. THANK YOU. Thank you for waiting just a moment longer before we had to say - goodbye.

While this tour clearly has a logistical side to it - moving from place to place, learning where the closest supermarket is, where the heating is, where the sun will rise, how much avocados are right here right now wow they're so cheap, do I need 3 avocados, oh who cares just BUY BUY BUY - there is a much more patterned, shrouded, soon to be investigated curiosity to the tour as well. And those patterns and shapes and shades and intricacies reveal themselves to us when we walk in the door of a school hall we’ve never been in before, present a performance for an audience, and ask (under our breath) with hope - what can we learn and laugh about today?

by Daniel Hickie, Australia Playhouse.


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