authentic Indigenous Theatre for the world stage
JILA’S BUSH MEETING
...A visual odyssey
JILA’s BUSH MEETING is a journey to Kimberley Country - an age old land that by comparison to most pockets of Australia is wondrous, surreal and larger than life. The story centres on Ol Boy, Ol Girl and the physical, spiritual and universal journey they undertake within a land and relationship that has been unsettled. Traveling through country, they encounter a series of events that ensure their journey is full of obstacles and challenges. Awakened by this, is the unseen force of JILA, a spirit figure who mediates between all the elements - land, animals and resources - with the driving ambition to restore balance to the environment and harmony to the relationship of the “Ol’s”. This production marks a significant place on the BLAKSTAGE landscape. This IS Australia’s first large-scaled Indigenous work of its kind and this IS the first production from the CLUB SAVAGE movement - an Indigenous art for Indigenous art sake expression.
The inspiration The Kimberley is one of nine regions of Western Australia. It is located in the northern part of the State, bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts and on the East by the Northern Territory. Geographically it covers and area of 424,517 square kilometres (163,907 sq miles), which is about three times the size of England, 15% larger than Japan, comparable to the size of the State of California in the USA, twice the size of the Australian state of Victoria and one sixth the size of Western Australia. The Kimberley has a tropical monsoonal temperature which is marked by two distinct cycles - Wet Season and Dry Season. Around 29 Aboriginal Nations comprise this area, representing Saltwater and Freshwater customs and lifestyle. Each Nation has their unique and distinct culture, innovation and history. Nowadays, around 33% of the total population in this region is Indigenous Australian and just under 50 Indigenous languages are spoken.
Musical Composer David Pye and Jilaâ€™s Bush Meeting Creator Sam Cook tuning in to the Saltwater Environment at Gantheaume Point, Broome Western Australia.
Field work and research At the earliest point of project inception two regional trips were undertaken. The first, undertaken by Derek Nannup, Alan Surgener and Sam Cook, involved a road trip from Perth to Broome, to Derby to Broome, and back to Perth. This 5500km rtn drive was originally intended to be cathartic - a nostalgic revisit to the long haul journey that dotted the timeline of Sam’s younger days. With the ipod full of bawdy country music and six hour stints at the wheel, by the time the troupe made it to Broome, they’d passed countless road-trains, consumed way too many roadhouse specials and had a number of close callings with potential roadkill, on a stretch of road they’d later call “Kangaroo Alley”. With nostalgia well and truly subsided, the second began with a red eye flight of 2:30hours - beating the day and a half by road. This time Sam was accompanied by David Pye, Jon Green and Alan Murphy. This development introduced key artists to the region, immersing them in a macro level of country - the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Kimberley Country. It also was the best way to illustrate Sam’s descriptions of Anthills looking like “cellulite Sallys” or “Cathedral-esque”. These trips also bore witness to amazing starscapes, sunrises and sunsets, bushfires, mirages, “Ol Boys & Ol Girls”, sky for as far as the eye could see - touching the very essence of the land in which JILAs BUSH MEETING was born.
Prototype Development A big production, with big vision requires big dreams to be translated into reality. The development of prototypes which required animatronic considerations and down right lateral thinking was applied. Willy Willys that turn erratically and flitter across stage, stars that fall out of the sky and have to be returned, animatronic lizard body puppet that is required to undertake a vertical climb from the earth to the sky to form part of the constellation, a bush fire that rages across the stage and into the audience, a night sky simulation that blankets the audience, rain falling to cleanse the earth a dancing Anthill that could compact down to look like rock - these were some of the challenges put to the team. What we got back was nothing short of spectacular. Commercial leaf blowers manipulated to form fire simulations, washing machine motors placed into wooden bases to drive an unstable Willy Willy across the room by remote control like an uneven load, velcroed glowing juggling balls thrown into fastners, a lizard hoist which enables it to be pulled into the sky on an illusion. We also produced a large anthill body puppet could be lit both internally and externally. Not only this, it oozed personality and compacted into a rock with one single squat. Lastly, can you say â€œhole punchâ€? on an industrial scale. The technicians did and millions of plastic punched holes rained en masse. We confused many a hardware store in the process and bought out entire rolls of fabric from sewing centres, as ambitions were not only realised but became real.
The Indigenous Dreaming technique Indigenous Dreaming has been around since time immemorial. Whilst the notion of “Dreamtime” is a Western convention, the practise of dreaming has and continues to be a driving force in the continuance of living Culture. It is in this space that new song cycles are devised, stories are created and significant innovations are explored. This dreaming space is not to be found in the heart and mind, which again are Western conventions, but it rests in a koonyjoo [secret] place. There are simple techniques known to Indigenous people which enable you to connect to it. This technique does require significant tuning in and tuning out, but once arrived opens up a world of exploration and possibility.
JILAs BUSH MEETING was solely devised using the Dreaming technique. It came through this process to be translated into a visual storyboard and rough sketches. Its inspiration covers a journey of around 220kms, a stretch of Kimberley country where two tribal areas meet Yawuru, marked by the town of Broome and surrounds and Nyikina marked by the town of Derby and surrounds. Creator Sam Cook is a Nyikina and knows this journey well. She’s traveled this stretch for funerals, family, fishing, sports, shopping and no reason at all. For Sam, this journey is measured by hours, and within those hours comes time to explore and dream, that is of course, when she’s not driving.
The evolution of the dreaming process. From storyboard, to illustrations, maquettes and beyond.
Costume Designer Cherie Hewson, Animatronic Specialist Alan Murphy and actor Kylie Morrison “Frock up” in the Ol’ Girl prototype. Opposite page: Images from the creative development July 2006.
Ol GIRL Ol Girl stakes a claim as the boss of all things, always right, even when she’s wrong. She’s had a Mission upbringing just outside of Broome, but also managed contact later in life with her traditional family. Always meticulous in presentation Ol Girl would dust a dry river bed or rake sand to make sure its up to her standard. She is a hard task master but deep down there is a loveable, gentle and caring matriach. Key decisions were made to maintain the authenticity and accuracy in the costume design. This was to ensure Ol’ Girl truly represented the distinguished Mission Ladies from the Kimberley. Some of these decisions were - length of dress [always below the knees], applicature on frock [bright dresses are essential], scoop of neckline [not too low], cut of dress around the arms [enough to tuck in a cloth and contoured enough to not show brassieres] and drop of Nanyas - breasts [to reflect where they “should’ be at that age!!!].
Creative Development The Creative Development workshops played a critical role in bringing all the key characters to life. Their animated gestures and the various ways in which they communicated had to be explored. Equally they had to be tested for durability, capability and restrictions. Behind the scenes tidbit: The mould used for the head of Ol
Boy and Ol Girl is one and the same. Their difference lay in the artistry behind skin tones, eye pupils, Ol Girl’s shock of hair, as well as Ol Boy’s beard and oversized Akubra hat. The actors inside see through both nostrils, which prohibits any periphery vision. With sight limited, they rely on the blocking of the show and prompts embedded into the musical score to know where it is they should be. Ol Boy and Ol Girl deliberately have no mouth. This is a connection to a good spirit from the Kimberley who has no mouth, so it can’t pass judgement. However, it doesn’t stop these two expressing their sentiments toward one another without a single word said between them.
Ol BOY Ol Boy is a Kimberley Countrymen. Heâ€™s defined by his beard, belt-buckle and oversized akubra. A hapless character dominated by his wife or so he leads you to believe, Ol Boy walks like heâ€™s been mustering cattle.
JILA JILA - [Gee-Lah] Rain-making JILA JILA [Gee-Lah Gee-Lah] Hot ground [In the language of the Nyikina People]
Jila is the mediator. An unseen spirit who negotiates between the earthly elements and animals in an attempt to restore balance to an unsettled land and relationship. Its no mean feat, especially when thereâ€™s a never ending test of his resolve, from a flurry of brazen animals, natural disasters and catastrophes. The evolution of JILA. Costumes by Alan Murphy, Cherie Hewson based on original drawings by Sam Cook. Jila performed by Lee West.
YIRRA YAAKIN is Australia’s leading Indigenous theatre company and a proud member of the BLAKSTAGEalliance. We are based in the heart of the Noongar Nation, in Perth Western Australia.
Projecting a positive image of Australia globally - For US By US - to share with the world. Yirra Yaakin has a strong presence within an international Indigenous performing arts network, steering the development of an Indigenous touring circuit with a three year initiative of a tri-nation agreement to foster and support a triple bill tour of Indigenous theatre Companies, touring Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We are an interenationally experienced company, and our reach extends from Canada to India, The UK to Europe - highlighting Indigenous best practise to the world and earning respect amongst our global arts community.
Values and activities of the organisation • Our vision is to enable Aboriginal Communities to continue to perform their own stories. • We are contributing to an industry of authentic Aboriginal theatre that is hailed internationally, cemented nationally & nurtured throughout the regions • We nurture emerging artists to fully realise their potential and have an outstanding track record with our performing and writing initiatives.
Geographic and market reach within Australia With four core areas of operation our work reaches an estimate of 30,000 individuals annually in Aboriginal communities, education & corporate sector and general theatre going audiences. We tour extensively and operate within a process of protocol as we travel through Indigenous Nations across Australia.
Value to the community Yirra Yaakin has a commitment to improving the social and cultural quality of local and regional life. This is achieved through a passionate commitment to the development of our Aboriginal arts sector and growing the pool of our Indigenous arts practitioners whilst servicing a broad geography with self determined Indigenous theatre. In doing so we sustain ongoing initiatives and develop new Indigenous work from creative expressions to issue based social change mechansims within the model of living culture, living arts. Our reach in the Aboriginal and wider community is award winning and acclaimed. Unequalled in excellence and innovation, we understand the significance of our contribution to the creative fabric of our society, providing the tools for communities to intersect with Indigenous cultural values. Yirra Yaakin productions are a gateway for the international marketplace and interested people into the history, diversity and many cultures of Indigenous Australia.
Published on Nov 26, 2008
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