Australian theatre is dominated by predictable crowdpleasers, of internationally renowned world class musicals. That's great, but the power and full potential of Australian theatre in my opinion isn't being fully harnessed to explore the rich diversity of stories that exist right here in our backyard, but rather, a recycling of name actors in the dozen or so major productions that seem to rotate every few years. It's one thing to use the fancy costumery, state of the art staging and feelgood melodies of Broadway and the West End to escape the problems in our community, but maybe through Independent and boutique theatre houses we might have a chance to actually solve them.
New stories. Original theatre. That's the premise, that's the promise of Company of Rogues' productions. At the end of the month they open up the latest production in-development, 'Sam I Am' which they describe as “equal parts humour, honesty and hope”. LGBTQ+ youths had difficulty with during the 2017 plebiscite with many reports of abuse, suicide and negative affect in mental health. Sam Martin is the playwright of this new work, deaf and at that time trying to reconcile his identity during the height of one of the country's most difficult periods of social progress.
“One of the complexities with ‘Sam I Am’ as the writer and performer is bringing the world as I experience it to the stage” he says, “my experience is just as auditory as it is visual and so creating that balance has been a challenge. Through collaboration with my team, I have been able to create a sensory experience for everyone. The script focuses on the intersectionality of my identities and by exploring the experiences that have led to me realising who I am today. I hope 'Sam I Am' will bring a different perspective to the LGBTQ+ community – the experience of being a minority within a minority.”
The script sheds new light on a sub-section of our community we rarely hear from, if at all. Dan Graham is a neurodiverse theatre director. If you're not familiar with the term, essentially Dan specialises in navigating the rich tapestry of communication, self-expression, and interactions and harnessing that on stage. From autism, asperger's syndrome, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspaxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and tics – there's a true art in directing this great untapped talent of creatives who might often be overlooked.
“As Sam is Deaf and will tell his story orally there was a need to consider access for all is important. We now have Auslan and live captioning, and the access is great both on and backstage” said Graham. I feel the team on this have a great mutual respect as well as a respect for access – the kind we hope to see across the industry”.
“Our targeted audience requires technical adjustments to make the experience as inclusive as possible. So the way we think in our workflow and in our technical execution, we must always keep this in mind, which is not a challenge but more an exciting opportunity to innovate for a new kind of show, while also creating new audiences for theatre for now and the future” added Director, Andrew Lee.
This groundbreaking play will open people to a world where loneliness and depression is more prevalent, raising awareness to issues many in the workplace, businesses and in the community at large may not have considered.
“Loneliness and isolation is experienced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing people because of the communication barrier with mainstream communities.” continues Martin. “We have often been forced to assimilate with the hearing world – for instance medical professionals often encourage us to wear hearing devices such as Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants, and go to speech pathology without alternatives being explored positively.”
While Auslan services have given many in the deaf and hard of hearing community an opportunity to experience a full conversation for the first time like Sam Martin describes, “One big issue with accessing support is having Auslan Interpreters who may not be aware of LGBTQ+ sexual health vocabulary and [community specific] signs, as well as asking clients for their pronouns and making sure that clients feel trusted and safe to work with them. So within the community at the moment there is a push to educate.”
The hope of this project is to ignite more awareness and diversity within the LGBTQ+ Community and the community at large.
Sam I Am will be presented to the public for the first time this November 29 and 30 in a staged reading at The Flying Nun by Brand X in Darlinghurst, Sydney.