Have you ever wondered how it feels to be at the very start or the very end of life’s journey? Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday is a production that celebrates two milestone birthdays – eighteen and eighty – major transition points of adult life. One represents untold potential; the other, the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences.
For Melbourne based theatre maker Roslyn Oades, the multi award-winning production was inspired after attending two birthday parties really close together – one an 18th and one an 80th and being witness to these significant milestones.
“There’s something quite similar about them both in that they felt like this real sense of achievement. With the 18 year old, she was officially an adult and can legally drink and drive and all those things, and with the 80 year old, it’s such an achievement to reach 80. You’ve seen so much; you’ve seen people born, leaders come and go, and lived through wars,” Oades explains.
“So both have these sense of achievement, but also this terror. Hearing the 18th birthday girl give her speech, I had this real sense of ‘she’s so full of hope and dreams, I hope the world doesn’t let her down’. Everything seems so possible at 18, all those doors are open, and with 80, I just remember feeling very sad. It’s a really significant age when you’re older, there’s a lot of healthy 80 year olds, but I feel like after 80 you would lose so many of your friends and colleagues, it’s a real wake up age.
“In making the show I wanted to emulate that feeling of what it’s like to be at those two thresholds of stepping over that line – from child into adult, and at the other end a lot of people over the age of 80, including people well into their 90s, who are looking at going into age-care support. Often you can make assumptions about both groups, and this is asking us to listen differently to people who are finishing off school and who are in age care because often you don’t hear those voices,” she says.
The production is scripted from intimate real-life conversations with real people on either side of these milestones, giving audiences a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversations of those grappling with how to say goodbye; and where to begin. Oades’ spent two years interviewing and collecting audio from young people in high schools, older people in nursing homes and crashing as many parties as she could.
The edited documentary audio is fed to the actors through headphones, and is performed complete with all the coughs, stutters, laughs, pauses and turns of phrase that make real people so interesting. The technique is called headphone verbatim and it creates extraordinary immediate and vivid performances allowing the audience to feel as if they were involved in the real-life conversations happening at the time.
“I’m really interested in drawing from real life, it’s the style I use and I’m also really interested in the power of miss-match. On stage, a fun element of this show is that half the cast are young actors and half are old actors, and the older actors play the 18 year olds and the young actors play the 80+ year olds,” Oades says, “But because of the technique we use, the performances are super naturalistic, they’re copying the voices of real people the whole time, so when a senior male is playing an 18 year old girl giving her birthday speech, you are really hearing her words and saying it exactly as she says it so it’s quite magical.”
As a creative all-rounder – a voice artist (Tracey McBean), performer, award-winning playwright, director and occasional muppet operator – Oades’ work is all about recreating voices.
“I think that is partly why I’m making this work because it’s exactly the type of work a voice artist would make. Recreating voices, which is what I do for a job, I’m playing with skills I’ve developed as a performer to make a show – I love the voice. I think it’s the best job in the world,” she says.
“When I’m performing, I don’t have to think about anything except my character and that’s quite nice because it’s so simple. It’s one pure in the moment thing, whereas when I’m creating this I really have to think about the whole structure and the whole shape and writing – the creative challenge is different, but it means I get to be the artist of the whole thing rather than just one bit.”
When & Where: Geelong Performing Arts Centre – July 13-15. Tickets via gpac.org.au.
Written by Talia Rinaldo