By Ebony Campbell
Rocking a cap that was reminiscent of Ron Howard’s caricature in ‘The Simpsons’, Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s Artistic Director John Sheedy entered his office with a relaxed walk and grin that confirmed rehearsals for ‘One Five Zero Seven’ were going ‘really well, thanks!’ Part two in a trilogy written by Suzie Miller, the production tackles themes of racism, consumerism, parenting and the ever-growing online presence of today’s youth.
‘Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and we’re going to have to embrace it. Even my seven year old niece has an iPad, it’s compulsory for school.’ Gone are the days of the old fashioned pen to paper structure of education, but Sheedy isn’t too worried that we’ll lose the art of writing. When asked how many Facebook friends he himself keeps (‘about 1060ish’), Sheedy is quick to dismiss the idea he may be an avid user. ‘I’m not one to post pictures of my food or check in at a bus stop’, instead using it as ‘more of an address book if anything’. Allowing Instagram to sate his social networking needs, he describes himself as ‘more of a visual person.’
The first installment in this series ‘Running Into Walls,’ was based on real information, collected statewide from teenagers and solidified Barking Gecko’s place at the forefront of Perth’s current youth theatre. They have now gone and raised the bar, canvassing teenagers from the entire country for ‘One Five Zero Seven.’
When the team was scouting for information on teenage life, the young adults were asked ‘If you could change one thing about Australia, what would it be?’ The staggering majority of them named our Prime Minister Tony Abbott. ‘80% of them answered with his name and they weren’t even prompted…They want equality, they want equal rights for women [and] equal pay.’ One questions whether this is something that will arise under Liberal leadership. Sheedy was not restrained when sharing his opinion on our current leader. ‘His policies are a joke. He’s actually an embarrassment [and] he’s very transparent. It’s obvious he is in it for Tony Abbott and Tony alone.’
In it for the youth, Sheedy handpicked the cast, which resulted in a mix of graduates from The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and those that happened to stand out ‘at local dance studios.’ ‘Because the show is about the youth I wanted youth as the cast. I didn’t want grown ups playing kids. [We were looking for] fresh ingredients, fresh ideas. We ended up with a lot of real kids, kids off the street.’
When it comes to homeless street kids, Sheedy’s stance is clear. ‘The Government needs to put more funding into programs and start up centres. Real centres. A lot of places can actually do something because you’re sheltered and have a bowl of soup.’ As someone who lives in the heart of Northbridge, he has witnessed just what the kids on our streets often get up to. ‘I don’t believe any teenager would choose a life like that! There must be some trauma or event that leads people down that path. Where are the role models?’
For Sheedy growing up, his English teacher, Lynette Peterson, was a pivotal role model. She quickly recognised the young man’s passion in the arts. ‘She used to send me to productions and have me write essays on them.’ ‘I think everyone has that one teacher that can change everything.’
Barking Gecko tries to provoke thought in young people, but ‘a lot of schools last year dropped out of seeing the [first] show after discovering the themes.’ ‘Most of them Catholic’ Sheedy quickly adds, going on to say that a large majority of the students bought their own tickets and made the effort to attend the theatre regardless.
The real question is whether the shows are accessible to the audience that could use the inspiration most, and they’ve thought of that too. ‘We have a program set up where 10% of the proceeds go into free tickets. We go down to youth centres and drop off a bunch of them… we also donate tickets to lower socio-economic areas where the parent’s can’t afford to bring their children to the theatre.’
‘1507 is the medium number of things owned by an Australian Teenager, the average number of breaths a teenager takes each hour and the average number of emotional moments a teenager has in a day.’ With that in mind, the stage has even been designed with 1507 objects on set and is bound to be as intricate and emotional as the teenagers involved in creating it. Running from the 22nd February – 1st March 2014, this show is sure to evoke stimulating conversation between adults and teenagers alike. Watch out Internet!