It’s the second of four big weeks of new story development as our regional Touring Residencies continue, this week with a combination of local and urban artists!

Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre hosted emerging playwright JoJo Zhou for a development of Sunlit, a new play inspired by the school strikes for climate change that inspired the nation in 2019. Weaving poetry, humour, and science, Sunlit employed three young local performers, under director Bernadette Fam, to bring to life a story set in a future of rising oceans, mystery, and responsibility.

From JoJo…

“When I saw that Critical Stages were offering the opportunity for regional residencies, I knew that I had to come to Bathurst. I lived in Bathurst for six years – I first moved there to study the Bachelor of Communications (Theatre/Media) course that was offered at the CSU campus in town and stayed after graduating in 2016 because I fell in love with the place. It’s a beautiful regional city of around 37,000 sprawled out on the plains on the other side of the Blue Mountains from Sydney, and it’s a robust hub for regional arts – the combination of a hands-on theatre degree, the amazing regional art gallery, and the work of the staff at the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre ensures so. And since I was currently developing a stageplay about climate change, it was necessary for regional voices to inform the work, as regional Australia is feeling the effects of climate change in a very personal way – drought, fire, and now flood.

Bathurst itself was fairly safe from the flash floods that caused so much devastation in NSW over the last few weeks (although it made the commute pretty tough for our director who had to travel from Western Sydney and spent five hours crawling at a snails-pace over the mountains when the trip should have taken a bit over two), but news of the floods came to inform the work – it was fairly serendipitous that way (although it was definitely more devastating than serendipitous for those who had lost homes, and I fully acknowledge that).

To be living through yet another once-in-a-century event, almost exactly a year from the last once-in-a-century event, made the topic of climate change feel more urgent than ever, and it was an urgency that fuelled the week of exploration, content generation and discussion. The river that runs through Bathurst (Wambool to the Wiradjuri, also known as the Macquarie) flooded higher than I had ever seen it, and when I was turning over ideas in my head after a full day of development work, I was able to drive down there and view in awe the raw power of nature – a river that had broken its banks, drowned the bridge, eaten up the car parks and walkways on either side. An experience in sublimity, to be able to stand there and watch.

The young people we worked with, through the local drama classes, the university, and the local emerging artists, offered fresh perspectives, were so generous with their experiences, and shared insights that were in turn both delightful and heartbreaking. BMEC is located right next to Machattie Park, so we were able to have discussions and readings in the rotunda there, sitting in the sunlight and enjoying the greenery.

The residency was an incredibly valuable experience for the development of this work and of myself as an artist, and I thank Critical Stages, BMEC, and CSU for the opportunity.”

The Regional Touring Residencies are one of the ways Critical Stages Touring is contributing to a vibrant, resilient, and exciting independent theatre sector. The productions, each at various stages of development, will undertake a week-long residency at a matched regional or rural location, with four such projects set to complete their projects before April 30.

Each one has been selected for their ingenuity, artistic merit and exploration, and for their potential to connect with and engage regional communities. The program is an exciting new extension of Critical Stages Touring’s commitment to discover and develop outstanding independent theatrical experiences for audiences everywhere. It has been made possible with funding from the NSW Government’s RESTART fund through Create NSW.

For more information about the works in development, or the Regional Touring Residencies program, please contact our Marketing and Engagement Coordinator Robbi James.

Picture below: Images from the development of Sunlit at Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre in Bathurst, NSW.