After the pandemic tribulations of the last few years, Luke Kerridge, Artistic Director of Perth’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company, is looking forward to – touch wood – a return to ‘regular programming’.
“Do we even dare say it’s a normal year coming?” he laughs. “I think that 2022, although it seemed easier in some ways outwardly, was actually the most difficult year. Particularly that first six months when the borders finally opened here and COVID was circulating through the community, right when we had two back-to-back shows. So the goings-on behind the scenes and the challenges that presented were immense.
“It’s absolutely a huge relief to dare to think of things going to plan for the first time in years and for us to be out in the world. That’s the spirit of the 2023 season – stretching our wings again and big adventures out in the world.”
The centrepiece of Barking Gecko’s 2023 program is The Snow, a work by Australian playwright Finegan Kruckenmeyer, one of the country’s most beloved writers of theatre for young people.
When an epic snowfall imprisons the residents of the tiny village of Kishka, a young girl emerges with a timely solution…
“A Doing Something Council is formed,” Kerridge explains, “and out of that a very small child named Theodora steps forward and suggests that a band of the village’s bravest and boldest are assembled and put onto a giant catapult and flung over the mountain to work out why it’s snowing so much.
“It’s a really fun, storytelling piece. It’s sort of a mix of a Grimms fairytale meets Monty Python and is a really beautiful adventure story for children but also really meaningful for adults.
“It’s about looking out to the world again. The feeling that epic adventures await us, that we can step outside of our known world and travel again. It is a story too, about rifts in community and communities that have been cut off from each other, about what unites us and forging bonds again. It’s a really rich tale for the whole family.”
Prior to launching its centrepiece mid-year, Barking Gecko will tour regionally in March with the return of Cicada, adapted from Shaun Tan’s acclaimed work which won the Children’s Book Council Award for Best Picture Book in 2019.
The story of a dutiful cicada who works away in a grey office day after day/year after year, Artshub.com.au called this puppetry and visual storytelling experience ‘a tale of endurance and freedom the entire family will enjoy’.
“Cicada was part of our 2022 season,” Kerridge says. “It had a sold-out season in Perth that was extended and then sold out again.
“So now it’s taking off on a regional tour to seven different towns across Western Australia between March and June.”
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The company has also announced Grace Chow and Adriano Cappalletta as new 2023 Associate Artists working alongside Kerridge on a suite of projects and new programs that will form Barking Gecko’s seasons and shows in the coming years.
“Grace and Adriano are no strangers to Barking Gecko audiences,” Kerridge notes. “In fact, both of them were in our 2022 show, The Great Unwondering of Wilbur Whitaker. They’re both fabulous multi-skilled artists that act, write and create work and, most importantly, have a real passion for theatre for young people.”
The year 2023 will also see renewed focus on opportunities for youth and more remote communities to enjoy theatrical experiences both as audiences and workshop participants.
“We’ll return to a regular rhythm with our Gecko Ensembles, which are our weekly drama workshops that happen across Perth as well as the Inspire program we have to offer subsidised ticket and transport to schools to attend our school season performances. So thousands of children will attend The Snow and Cicada fully subsidised. Which means we can reach more young people than we’d otherwise be able to.
“And then we’re launching a new program called the Barking Gecko Road Co., that will be sending artists out to the regions to do short, sharp intensive workshops in communities.”
In a new development for the company, Barking Gecko is also working on an adaptation of its 2021 Perth Festival production HOUSE into a book.
“It’s a story about a flying house that rescues the loneliest child in the world that we put a lot of heart and soul into,” Kerridge says. “What we’ve been thinking about at the company is, ‘after these works have been fully realised into theatre productions, can that story live on in another form?’
“With HOUSE, one of the most common things audiences said about the show is that it felt like a living picture book. So inspired by that we’ve invited the playwright Dan Giovannoni to adapt the text into a picture book and it will be illustrated by the original designer of the production, Charlotte Lane, and I’m working on it too. It’s all going to coalesce into a picture book called The Rescue House which we will publish late this year.”
2023 also sees the introduction of The Coddiwomple, an annual workshop that takes its raison d’etre from an English online slang word meaning, ‘to travel purposefully toward an as-yet unknown destination’.
“We’ll be inviting artists from different disciplines into the company,” Kerridge explains, “and we’ll explore, maybe not necessarily knowing yet what show it’s for or what story we’re telling, but actually finding in the moment interesting ways to tell stories and letting that lead us.”
Overall, Kerridge views Barking Gecko’s centrepiece production, The Snow, as encapsulating the whole year ahead for the company – connecting to the world, exploring and feeling, once again, a sense of belonging.
“The Snow is a really hilarious play,” he says, “and it’s got a lot of deep and beautiful messages inside of it. But at its heart it’s a comedy, and that sense of play and creativity and exploration is also at the centre of all our programs, whether that’s workshops we’re offering or shows that we’re presenting.
“Hopefully for young people, it’s a good time to be integrating that kind of play and exploration into their lives as a way of counteracting all the heaviness that has been in the world these past few years.”
For full details head to www.barkinggecko.com.au