Doing a show in Canberra after a long time away: what’s that even like?

And this week, the strange but kinda delightful feeling of being back in the Street Theatre in Canberra, presenting a Boho show. The Street Theatre is one of the places where I got my start, doing Boho and Opiate shows there back as far as 2002, and it has a lot of memories for me. It’s also rad to be bringing Best Festival Ever here, the first Australian season after three years of development and performances overseas.

In case you’ve not spoken with me for the past couple of years, Best Festival Ever is the latest production from Boho, the science-theatre ensemble I run along with Jack Lloyd, Mick Bailey and David Shaw. David (well, Muttley) and I have been working on BFE since 2011 with three members of Sydney ensemble Applespiel: Nikki Kennedy, Nathan Harrison and Rachel Roberts, as well as UK director Tassos Stevens and designer Gary Campbell.

Best Festival Ever is an interactive performance that takes place around a table, in which a playing audience of around 30 people program and manage their own music festival. The show draws on a lot of ideas from climate and systems science, and functions as a bit of a primer to some key concepts from complex systems science: ideas such as interconnectivity, feedback loops, the tragedy of the commons, tipping points and resilience.

I had a grand conversation with Richard Watts from Artshub about the work, and he circled in on some of the core ideas and themes of the show – well worth a glance if you’re curious.

Even after three years we haven’t come up with a good, simple way to describe it: ‘part theatre show, part performance lecture and part massive boardgame’ is how we’ve framed it for the Street Theatre season. But as complex as it sounds, it’s actually one of the most intuitive shows I’ve ever worked on – we’ve spent years working out the details, but the broad aesthetic shape we settled on within a few weeks of getting to grips with it during our residency at University College London’s Environment Institute in 2012.

After presenting it in a host of different spaces across London and Stockholm last year (I think 21 performances in 14 venues?), it’s a total luxury to be doing it in the Street Theatre, with lighting and additional design by Gills Schwab and sound design by Nick McCorriston. I feel kinda guilty because everyone this season is working harder than me – Nikki, Nathan and Rachel are performing every night, and Muttley has done a beautiful job fixing heaps of the props. With the script and marketing stuff all out of the way, my only job has been facilitating the post-show conversations with the scientists.

And this has been the loveliest part of this whole season. Being in Canberra, we’ve been able to assemble a lineup of some of our all-time favourite scientists, old collaborators and new, and conclude each show with a conversation / informal Q&A about the science content of the show.

Last week we had Will Steffen (Climate Council), who talked about planetary boundaries and global tipping points, Brian Walker, who discussed resilience and thresholds in systems such as the Goulburn-Broken catchment, rioting crowds and the human body, Nicky Grigg, who talked about modelling human behaviour and the Australia 2050 project, Joanne Daly, who talked about food security and dealing with invasive species, and Ellie Malbon, who talked about Canberra as a system and the issue of health inequality.

This week we’ll be joined by Steve Cork, John Finnigan and Bob Costanza, and Muttley and I are doing a talk of our own on behalf of the company after the Saturday matinee.

pic by the canberra times photographer Jamila Toderas

It’s been a really lovely experience – the audiences have been great, we’ve sold out the season and had to add additional shows, and we’re all really happy with where the show is at. The big question for me is, where do we take this work next? We really haven’t made any huge effort to line up an Australian tour for the show. That hasn’t really bothered me until now, because I’ve been focused on connecting in with some of our international peers, but right now I’m starting to see how lovely it would be to bring the show to more Australian audiences.

If you have any ideas or suggestions on this front, let me know, yo.