Gippsland Youth Theatre takes message to the UK

Guest blogger Keturah Phelps, member of Groundwork Youth Theatre, Sale, Victoria. Originally published as letter to Editor, Gippsland Times, May 2016. 

Groundworks youth theatre

When I was in year 11, I wrote a speech for my English class about domestic violence, a topic that had rising concern following the death of Luke Batty. I was saddened and disgusted by the statistics surrounding family violence and violence against women. Over the following year more statistics surfaced about women who had lived without a voice finally being able to reach out for help.  But, at the same time, there was an increase in the number of stories of women in the media dying at the hands of men.

When I was in year 12 last year I joined the local youth theatre company, Groundwork Youth Theatre. In preparation for the 2015 Stratford Shakespeare Festival, our small cast, after a small setback, decided to perform The Taming of the Shrew. However, the amount of pure violence and aggression from Shakespeare’s character Petruchio towards not only his humble servant, but the woman he claimed to love, spoke to the cast on quite a deep level.

We collectively knew that we would not be able to perform this play in its original form. So we adapted it into Shakespeare’s Shrew and Other Lies to express the tale of a man with no conscience or mercy, or respect for women. Our show ended up producing more seasons that we had expected.

We returned to the Courthouse Theatre in Stratford, supported the #16 days of Activism and White Ribbon Campaign at the Wellington Entertainment Centre, and a final Australian performance at Duart Homestead in Maffra as part of our local fundraising efforts to get us to the United Kingdom to perform. The Groundwork cast and crew are a bunch of hardworking legends who never stopped wanting to spread the message that preventing violence against women begins with our attitude.

Our small cast, alongside our wonderful director and technician, absolutely astounded an international audience while commemorating the 400 years since the passing of The Bard, William Shakespeare in at Stratford Upon Avon, Britain. Delegates from the Stratford’s of the World from Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom stood in awe at the remarkable quality of the message our young thespians communicated. We demonstrated that this message is universal, something that touches the lives of everyone, something that we should collectively be concerned about, something that united we should prevent. Each and every member of that international audience took away something special from this our young group of Aussies whom I couldn’t be prouder of.

This entire experience demonstrates the things that can be achieved when young people are supported to speak out in favour of what they believe in, with the absolute fire in their souls to make a difference. The generosity of our community has proven that without supporting our youth in the arts, in sports, in academia, and every other means that enables a message of respect, kindness, belonging, and improvement for not just those individuals but for the entire community, then surely our progression as forward-thinking beings will surely be compromised.

After the entire journey that has been Groundwork Youth Theatre taking on the UK, I can hereby pledge that more people need to experience the surrealness and fulfilment of doing something like we have done. I hope that more parents, families, friends and communities can support each other in the way that ours have been able to for us.

We need more people not only to feel free to ask for help when they are in situations of domestic/family violence, but more people demonstrating that they are there to encourage and support them. We need more people to step out into the world and change the way we see issues such as this.

Our generation has proven that when enough pressure is applied, and when enough passion is dedicated to a cause, you can make a difference for the better.

We have given the children that will come after us the chance to live their lives as free men and women, who will grow up with the natural acceptance to never raise a hand to their partner, to respect everyone regardless of their identities, to love unconditionally and irrevocably, and to live and work for peace.

This is the message we wanted to promote, so what will yours be?

If you are experiencing family violence or have experienced sexual assault, seek support, call 1800 RESPECT (188 737 732)