All creative pursuits come with an element of risk. It takes years of persistent work to be recognised, with a few gambles in between – and often those gambles don’t pay off. But Townsville’s next generation of performers has never been in safer hands: Theatre iNQ’s The Bridge Project has been ensuring its graduating classes walk out with everything they need to make a career of theatre: thick skin, broad shoulders, solid training, big ideas and a never-say-die attitude.
The current cohort of ‘Bridgees’ will be given their own chance to shine at the start of May, with Theatre iNQ’s next production, DNA, made entirely of Bridge Project students. Director Terri Brabon said, while the Bridgees are showcased alongside Theatre iNQ’s experienced actors in a number of shows each season, DNA would place them firmly in the spotlight. (That spotlight, of course, will also be operated by a Bridgee.)
“Our Bridgees are involved in every show in some way – they were the leads in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2017), and in cases like that they don’t need their own show. But this year, it felt like the third years in particular needed an opportunity to take on that level of responsibility,” Terri said.
“As part of our training sessions for second- and third-year students we do scene studies, so unbeknown to them we’d been doing scenes from DNA for a while, without them realising they were being auditioned in a way.
“I wasn’t going to tell them for ages but when we came back to training after the floods, I wanted to give them some good news. It was really fun to be able to tell them they were getting their own show.”
DNA, written by Dennis Kelly, centres around a group of teenagers intent on hiding one big secret.
“I’ve loved this play for a long time and have loved Dennis Kelly for ages too. He worked on Matilda with Tim Minchin, but this is not Matilda – this is anything but Matilda. This is the worst-case scenario of what those kids might grow into!”
Terri explains the plot: “A bunch of school friends have done something really bad but try to cover it up. Once they’ve covered it up, there’s this sense that they’ve united in adversity, and they pat themselves on the back for it, before it starts unravelling and lies just keep piling up.
“One of the great things about DNA is that it’s scripted so that every role can be gender fluid and you can cast it however you like. Even though a character may be named ‘Richard’ in the script, he could just as easily be ‘Rachel’. The dynamics between characters are also really interesting: it’s about young people, but also has a bigger picture element: it’s about so much more than what’s on the page.”
Terri said The Bridge Project provided its students with more than just stage experience. They begin to develop a sense of what their lives might look like, if they were to seriously pursue a career in the performing arts.
“Being in theatre is a hard life and it’s very admirable for anyone to be attempting it. We make sure that we’re supporting every member of The Project: for every kid succeeding and doing well, there’s another one finding it really tough to get any work at all – but we still believe in them just as much.
“It’s a really tough industry, and getting more work in it doesn’t mean you’re any more talented. Talent schmalent! It’s a really tough game, and every one of these kids trying to make it in the industry needs our support until they do make it.
“The whole way through The Bridge Project, we’re preparing them so that when they do graduate, if they go to another town, they have the skills to put on their own shows and not be reliant on other people deeming them worthy of performing. They can make their own work – or their own company – and that’s really important to us, it’s what Brendan [O’Connor] and I did.
“The Bridge Project itself is quite a hard experience for the students; it really sorts out whether they want to do this for a living or not. They’re expected to put in nonstop effort, so you know they’re very committed to keeping this as a lifestyle.”
The skills of The Bridge Project students are testament not only to the knowledge handed down from Theatre iNQ, but Townsville’s wider creative community. Past students have gone on to further training at institutes such as NIDA and WAAPA; to perform with the Australian Shakespeare Company; to secure recurring roles on major Australian television series; and more.
“The Bridgees have had a long journey to get where they are already, and it’s not thanks to us at all: I always say we’re a small town, big ville,” Terri said. “I was nurtured by a lot of people in my time training so I think it’s important to remember that the whole town should be proud of these kids because this whole town, at some point, has invested in them; whether it’s through council programs, drama classes, schools, or as audience members.
“There are kids who have graduated from The Bridge Project who I know feel in their heart they will come back to Townsville one day: all of them know they’ll always have a home in Townsville and with Theatre iNQ.
“They also all know I’m looking for someone to take over, and it will take two like myself and [creative partner] Brendan. It’s really a team job and it isn’t even just the two: it’s not about replacing the old guard. These Bridgees all know how to run this place already, we’re always helping them learn everything about not just what’s on stage but how to run the business behind it as well.”
While DNA is an all-Bridge Project show, it will be held to the same high standard as any other Theatre iNQ offering.
“Because we are charging people to come and see this, I make it very clear that I expect it to be the same Theatre iNQ standard. I think the kids carry that expectation for themselves as well. Knowing we’re putting the company brand behind them, makes them feel good but also work hard because they know how much that means to me.
“In rehearsals, it’s all about failure. Fail gloriously, because then you’re learning something. But in performance it’s about making sure you work hard to succeed because the audience deserves that.”
Catch The Bridge Project’s DNA at the Theatre iNQ space on Allen Street from 8-18 May, with tickets and information at theatreinq.com