THE title might suggest that this is a reenactment of Parliamentary sessions, and in fact, this play by Inner West Youth Theatre is only a few degrees removed.
Writer and director, Felicity Nicol compiled extracts from Hansard Parliamentary transcripts, newspaper clippings and comments from social media to create Political Children, a verbatim play based around the Safe Schools agenda.
It features five young actors, aged from 14 to 21, who each identify in some way with the LGBTI community, either through their own orientation or allegiance. They also contributed ideas and experiences through written responses to various materials presented to them by Nicol.
“People don’t realise, kids are actually really aware, kids actually have a huge amount of opinions and in some respects their opinions can be a lot more refreshing… they don’t hold back,” Nicol says, in response to whether she thinks kids should be political.
In fact, as part of the project, she has put out a general call to students asking them to record their thoughts and any encounters they have had around the question: “What is it like to be young and queer and out or not out, what is the atmosphere like in the schoolyard at the moment in terms of homophobia?”
Of course, the uninhibited honesty of youth can be a double-edged sword and kids can be unbridled in their insensitivity and cruelty.
But Nicol says “let them be heard” because the more they speak out, the more their views can be discussed and challenged. One of the devices used in the play is for the cast to single out one of the actors and continue to scorn and isolate them throughout. She hopes it will give audience members a taste of what it’s like to be marginalised and bullied.
Nicol knows of a 13-year-old girl associated with the theatre who is going through gender identity issues. That in itself is enough to deal with, without also being bullied at school and suffering public rebuke.
“She was yelled at on the bus the other day by a woman she didn’t know, and spat on by a friend when she confided in them,” Nicol says.
It brings into sharp focus the entire discussion around the Safe Schools program and the real implications its repeal will have for those most vulnerable. One of the most controversial resources of the program, the All Of Us material, has been given special treatment by the actors in the production: they’ve used quotes to create a soap opera.
Political Children was first performed last December in Ashfield Council Chambers – a suitably stuffy, conservative setting. This time around it is being performed at Australian Theatre for Young People’s (ATYP) Walsh Bay premises and has been included in the Mardi Gras Festival. It means better production elements including lighting, sets, and sound; a larger room and more publicity which equals bigger potential audience.
Nicol would like to stage the show as part of Sydney Fringe this year and then tour it around schools, especially in remote areas or schools where this sort of material might not normally be seen. The future of the Safe Schools program may determine whether that happens or not.
The message in Political Children is not for a selective crowd, but relevant to everyone.
“It’s important to remember there’s a lot of love and a lot of joy that comes from being able to embrace your sexuality or your gender,” Nicol says.
See Political Children from March 1 to 3 at the Australian Theatre for Young People at Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay. For more information, visit ATYP’s official website.