Party like it’s 1999… again

Ciella Williams, Sarah Reuben, and Kyle Walmsley will begin their first stage creative development as part of BUILD UP next month at Brown’s Mart. This new site-specific, interactive work will bring 1999 New Year’s Eve in Darwin back to life. Ciella spoke to us about audience participation, the development process, and where shows come from.

Ciella Williams in Dog Dog by Sarah Hope

The idea for this show comes from my experience growing up here, and of getting nits from Dylan Balaam at the 1999 New Year’s Eve party in the Nightcliff Scout Hall.

This is a big messy collaboration. Sarah, Kyle and I knew we wanted to work together before we knew what it would be. Sarah was an actor on a development of Hush, a play I wrote about childbirth and motherhood that premieres this year. We really liked working together during that development, and Sarah also has a strong working relationship with Kyle Walmsley where they do crazy weird interactive comedy together. We all like parties, and sillyness, and juxtaposing those feelings. That’s where it all came from.

“We all remember the music, and what it felt like to live in the pre high-speed internet world.”

The idea is that the audience get to feel like they’re a part of the story. It’s drawing on the power of nostalgia and the fact that we can all remember where we were that night. We all remember the music, and what it felt like to live in the pre high-speed internet world. There was a sense of uncertainty too with fears of Y2K and the end of the millenium looming. For me they somewhat mirror the uncertainty of Covid and the apocalyptic reality of Climate Change. This work is a New Year’s Eve party, so it’s positive and jubilant – but we’ll be messing with people’s expectations of that too.

Sarah and Kyle performing their work Lower the Bar

I love being a performer. It’s been something I’ve missed recently after having a baby. It’s just impossible to perform regularly when they’re little because they need so much of you. A few years back I was part of performing and making Hillbilly Horror with the Royal National Theatre of Jingili which was a very physical work, so part of the drive for me in this project is to create a fun comedy to really sink my teeth into. In Frankensteined Monologues which I made a few years ago, I started exploring performance that doesn’t follow the rules of the black box theatre and loved how exciting and dangerous that can feel.

“This work is true. It’s not a generic party somewhere, it’s here, it’s about us”

Audience participation allows a work to shift and change, and the performers have to respond anew each time. As the artist, you set up a structure and trust your fellow performers to make it happen with you. It’s a surprising and exciting model – As an audience member you don’t know what’s going to happen! You might be fed weird food and asked to do strange things, but you know that an interesting journey will happen before the end of the night.

Ciella Williams by Helen Orr

All developments are different, and this isn’t a script based work. For Hillbilly Horror we talked about horror movies we liked for a week with a whiteboard – and then Gail went away and came back with a script a few months later. This work isn’t a conventional show with a script, so there’ll be a lot of mapping instead of scripting. It involves creating a story map with all the potential possibilities for where the audiences feed in and where we take back control of the experience.

We’ll probably go on site visits and interview people as well, but ultimately it’s about accountability to each other. At the end of our three weeks we’ll have something tangible to take into a second stage development, and that will be followed by a whole load of Beta testing with test audiences.

“You might be fed weird food and asked to do strange things, but you know that an interesting journey will happen before the end of the night.”

For me, theatre doesn’t have to be realistic, but it has to be true. If you’re tapping into some kind of true experience, that’s going to resonate. This work is not a generic party somewhere, it’s here, it’s about us. Crazy strange things might happen, but the bedrock is truth. Darwin is a weird place, there was a nude 2000 party that happened you might have heard about. Lots of artists were formative in making that party. They were the same age then as I am now. This project is mine and Kyle and Sarah’s (and our audiences) version – and who knows what will happen?

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