Dickens Street: The Other

"Opening nights are dramatic, but this one takes the cake. It’s the premiere of a Latvian classic, Princess Gundega and King Bushybeard, and the star of the show goes missing. Join the immersive production of DICKENS STREET - THE OTHER and follow the trail through the Melbourne Latvian House as the ensemble struggles to make the show go on." --- from the press release

Work on this bilingual show began in early 2022, when the applied theatre company INITIUM (Riga) invited me to devise a show based on interviews with the Latvian community in Australia in order to showcase the Melbourne Latvian House. This precious building has housed an extraordinary community theatre ensemble, which has been going strong for 70 years, ever since the first Latvian refugees arrived. The co-producer was Melbourne's Theatre Works, a company of some renown based in vibrant St. Kilda. 

The building was full of stories and I instantly envisaged a production in which audiences had to follow one of three characters: the Boyfriend, the Standin, or the Old Timer. Each group followed a different narrative, but all of them got to tour through the whole building, and all of them were invited to learn a song and perform in a tableau at the culmination of the show. I couldn't have made this show without the tremendous trust placed in me by the producer Ieva Niedre and her assistant, ethnographer Ilga Vālodze-Ābele; without the initial idea from Brigita Stroda. It was thrilling to work with artists from Latvia like designer Katrīne Neiburga and composer Jēkabs Nīmanis. A scene protesting the war in Ukraine was based on a poem I love by Ivars Šteinbergs and brought legendary punk singer Sam Sevajak of Dogs in Space renown back to the stage. Most of the twenty-some performers were not professionals, however; many came to rehearsals on their day off, or after work. A handful were Ukrainians.  Some community actors were extremely experienced; for others it was the first time on stage. The ages of the actors ranged from 8 to 97.

I haven't directed my own writing in a long time, and it's always exciting to hear your own words being spoken and getting the laugh when you want it. But I was especially pleased by the more challenging scenes, the non-narrative ones which demanded a different relationship with the audience. I'm thinking specifically of what happened when the audience climbed upstairs, into what we called 'the living museum.' In a dusty library, two sisters, both in their eighties, re-create a conversation they had while leafing through a photo album of shows, productions they'd been in as well as a beloved sister who had already died. In the room next door, a choir sang this conversation in a musical setting that bordered on incantation. While they sang, the audience was invited to study the field of thick photo albums set out on a long table. For many, this scene became the highlight of the show. 

The production ran from January 16-20, 2024. 

The photo from the library includes the sisters Māra Kaziņa and Valda Rubis; Natalija Neiburgs; Mara Piksons.

Photos marked AD are by @AmeliaDucker

https://www.theatreworks.org.au/2024/dickens-street

The Folk Dancers -Leader Daila Piksons

The audience moves upstairs (AD)

Singing a conversation Dmitry Volcon, Gvīdo Zundurs, Alison Richards (AD)

Still Life Daniel Hillman, Reneka Hart

Latvian School Karina Jaunalksne (AD)

School exam (AD)

Latvian Pep Talk Viktors Brenners, Paula Bloma (AD)

A scene from the original Play by Anna Brigadere Sandra Karlsberga, Ludvigs Eglītis Neiburgs

Anti-play Poet Sam Sevajak (AD)

Anti-Play Protest Jēkabs Nīmanis, Sandra Karlsberga, Uldis Zīverts, Sam Sevajak (AD)

Dressing Room Argument Eriks Stepanuks, Pēteris Saulītis

Runaway Princess Jess Ciancio, Viktors Brenners

Audience WWII tableau including Reneka Hart, Eriks Stepanuks

Audience Refugees on a Ship tableau

Audience with Crowns preparing for Dance tableau (AD)