The old adage that says you should only write about the things that you know has been enlivened by the senior theatre makers at Aspire this December.
In a play that has been authored collaboratively by the students and directed by Anna Kerrigan, the Catholic Schools Performing Arts Group have set their story in a place that is not only familiar to its authors but one that has become synonymous with our everyday, suburban lives – the local coffee shop.
It is this familiarity, says Kerrigan, that most distinguishes Affirmation Cafeas a novel piece of playwriting. Rather than choosing to revive a better known work of drama or musical theatre, this play sources its originality from a place that relates to the current and everyday interests of the actors performing in it.
“The students are really into their hipster cafes,” Kerrigan says.
“So we came up with this idea of a cafe where people add to a wall of post-it notes. They leave affirmations which people can take when they feel like they need one.”
Although the cast and production team are performing only one show – tomorrow night at the Civic Playhouse – the size of the wall planned for that stage has grown to unexpected dimensions.
In the process the project has become emblematic, by the posting of each and every affirmation, of the generosity and optimism that first inspired it.
At a time when the building of walls has come to denote the politicisation of fear and suspicion of strangers, the opposite message is represented in this construction.
“It’s all getting quite big, which often happens with stage productions,” Kerrigan says. “But the students have written this play themselves. They have come up with all the characters.
“We have even involved Angie Diaz, a physical theatre artist, which adds another important element as well.”
But as much as this play is about sizable and physical proportions, it is really a story about the power of small things; the weight of tiny words on squares of paper, the intimacy of our little rituals and our connections with the familiar faces that serve our morning cups of coffee.
In this space the doses won’t be poured in double shots in a rush.
As in any espresso bar these days, it is the barista in the Affirmation Cafe that most regularly inhabits the space and welcomes in whomever it is that needs their daily dose. In this space, however, the doses won’t be poured in double shots in a rush.
If these baristas (played by Liam Leschnik and Jasmine Brown) are a little more patient and magnanimous than your average cafe employee, it can be attributed to the message they share with his regular customers.
But like the baristas are themselves, the clientele and their sometimes entitled, egocentric inclinations are easy targets for a gentle satire.
“There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek material with characters who come in every day and order their coffee,” Kerrigan says. “There is also, though, a real story about love and romance.”
“The actors and writers really like the idea that the journey is more important than the destination.
“So one of the baristas, Rufus, is a bit of a stereotypical hippy who just wants everybody to be good to each other,” she says.
It is a message, Kerrigan says, that will hopefully extend all the way from the cafe counter on the stage to the seats in the Playhouse.
“Rufus will also invite people to contribute their own message,” she says.
“At the beginning and the end of the play he will welcome the audience to add to the wall.
“It might be a bit confronting, but we hope they will want to.”
While It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas play and one that reflects on what is most important to us in the festive season, it nonetheless explores some of the darker sides of our own selves. For generations it has been a story that asks important questions; about the nature of happiness, of our hopes, and the roles that those around us play to help and hinder our journey toward fulfilment.
This staging of the 1947 radio play, originally written and directed by Frank Capra, was made all the more poignant by several individual performances. Each of these were made memorable for their breadth but also their their subtleties.
Voicing an impressive spectrum of characters, from the seductive Violet Bick to the utterly irritating and charmless Impatient Neighbour, Rachael Cook displayed an outstanding versatility throughout.
Helen Comber was similarly convincing, especially as the shrill and disapproving Ma Bailey.
So too was Peter Murray as her son, George Bailey. The tension central to this play – a story that for so long has been a symbolic, Christmas-time fable for American audiences – surrounds Bailey and his thwarted ambition. Murray captured the seething frustration of a family man with every to lose but a nagging desire to abandon it all anyway.
Bailey is a man chasing the tail of his own discontent. Giving life to the futility of this task would not have been easy but Murray, particularly towards the end of the show, effortlessly made it seem otherwise.
The stage and set was an evocative recreation of a folksy, bygone age. Costume and lighting were also notable strengths to this production but the same cannot be said for the sound, which occasionally faltered in its effects.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.