In 2015, Black Swan launched the World Premiere of Shadowboxing by Perth theatre-maker Ella Hetherington. The development process started two years prior, when Black Swan invited Perth independent artists to express interest in collaborating for a new education and community production. Ella’s pitch was an exploration of narratives between young people and the online world, and the ways in which they shift identity. With Black Swan’s commitment to engaging youth, the idea was well suited to present to the target audience of 12-17 year olds.
Ella was interested in exploring the many masks a young person wears when they engage in the online world. Her background in youth theatre and education provided a depth of understanding and a clarity in approach to the subject and her target audience. This helped her cultivate poignant themes that were relevant to current issues, including; using online platforms; exploring implications and consequences of cyber bullying; and challenging notions of self and identity.
The creative development of Shadowboxing also involved Black Swan’s Associate Director Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Literary Manager Polly Low. Jeffrey was appointed as Director of the work, while Ella continued to prepare for the tour in another capacity as a main character, alongside fellow actor Brendan Ewing for the performance. Meanwhile Black Swan began to rethink the touring potential of the work. The intent was to continue the commitment to schools and with the assistance from the Department of Culture and the Arts (DCA), to expand the focus of showcasing theatre to the wider community in regional WA.
The collaboration with DCA reaffirmed Black Swan’s focus on audience building and the importance of involving the broader community wherever possible. As a state theatre company, cause for inclusion and developing new audiences is vital. Black Swan’s tour mission evolved to provide children, families and community members of all ages the opportunity to engage in an accessible cultural experience. Shadowboxing premiered at the Koorliny Arts Centre in the southern Perth suburb of Kwinana in June 2015.
From there the tour took off across the regions, from Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, the (entire) Esperance Anglican Community School and greater South Coast regions. For the first tour run, Shadowboxing was performed in ten schools and one university, activating an audience of over 1800. The success of the original tour encouraged partners at Chevron to generously support a second run in 2016. The second tour spanned seventeen metropolitan schools and regional community centres, with additional artist run workshops in Mandurah, Bunbury, Margaret River, Eaton, Merredin and Boulder. By utilising both regional performing arts venues and schools, the tour was a cross-generational opportunity for diverse audiences to attend. It also became an important ‘ice breaker’ through which people could openly to engage in discussion around online identity and behaviour.
Shadowboxing was particularly powerful piece of theatre as is evident in the feedback received at post show Q&A sessions and workshops, where discussion moved freely between students, parents, educators and older members of the community.
“Fantastic representation of social media, moving, real, exciting.” Female, aged 18-24
“Excellent production, well written play, well-acted.” Male, aged 55-64
“Black Swan’s Shadowboxing demonstrated how important the consideration of the target audience is to developing and producing new works of theatre for young people. The actors in the production revealed a depth of empathy and understanding of young people through their sensitive and finely crafted performances that resonated for the audience and drew them into the world of the play with curiosity and enthusiasm.” Head of the Arts & Creativity, St Mark’s Anglican School
Overall, Shadowboxing affirmed that theatre facilitated a safe forum for public discussion on social issues. By rethinking the touring model’s focus and encouraging all members of the community to access Shadowboxing, Black Swan highlighted art as being highly accessible and valuable. The company aims to continue deepening relationships throughout regional Western Australia and providing impactful cultural experiences for all communities. Stay tuned for Black Swan’s 2017 education and regional touring activity Fitter, Faster, Better.