Step back in time with Astroman

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Step back in time with Astroman

It’s the 80s. Gary Ablett has just signed with Geelong. Cyndi Lauper blares through the stereo. And for gifted young teenager, Jiembra Djalu, the local video arcade is the place to be over summer. His mum knows better than anyone that Jiembra is a special kid with the world at his feet, but will he ever find the courage to reach for the stars?
Directed by Helpmann award winning director Sarah Goodes (from The Children, A Doll’s House, Part 2) with the help of Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) as Associate Director, Astroman is playwright Albert Belz’s irresistibly funny and heart-warming tale of family and friendship and is set to please crowds when it hits Arts Centre Melbourne stage later this month, bringing this essential coming-of-age story to life.
“I’m super excited,” exclaims Perth-based actor Calen Tassone who plays the role of Sonny Djalu, Jiembra’s brother. “I’m still excited as I was the first day of rehearsals; you see it taking shape and it’s coming together really well.”
Known for his roles in Bassendream (2018), Black Comedy (2014), Red Dog (2016) and The Heights (2018), Calen’s first role in theatre stems back to primary school where he played Little Red Riding Hood in a musical. It was only after his time at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) studying Aboriginal Theatre years later that he found his passion for the stage.
“It’s corny, but I think I found my true calling. I fell in love with it. And not only that, but it was about choosing a career path that means something to me,” he explains. “With the current renaissance going on in Aboriginal Screen and Theatre, I feel proud to be a part of it. Just to pick up the baton of where a lot of amazing artists have come before me.”
Now Astroman marks Calen’s debut with the Melbourne Theatre Company, who landed the role after sending off a quick self-tape while preparing the baby room for his son.
“I feel like it’s a big deal for myself,” he beams. “Just going through drama school you’re told about the big theatre companies in Australia. It’s a massive goal for everybody to be able to perform for these theatre companies and perform on these big stages. Finally making it is a real ‘ah’ moment. It’s definitely a goal I can tick off.”
As for the play itself, this one will please anyone from the 80s, specifically those who grew up in Geelong at the time. Within the play, Albert Belz has captured the beginning of our love affair with gaming technology and the young adult culture that fuelled the ’80s with films like The Karate Kid and breakdancing.
“Luckily, throughout the play there’s a of references so it’s easy to go back and look at a YouTube or Google something and just learn about the 80s,” Calen says, referring to the research involved in preparing for the play. “The directors, the 80s was their time when they were young so it’s good to go back to them, and even some of the cast, and ask them what it was like.
“One of the big parts of the show is actually the hip-hop culture; breakdancing which is something that I’m very passionate about. It was easy to have that as a place to start and then branch out from there.”
Against a backdrop of BMX bikes, Michael Jackson, Gary Ablett, Donkey Kong and Friday night Kentucky Fried Chicken, the play simultaneously tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an older Greek man (and owner of the local arcade) and a young indigenous boy, who together give each other the courage to face the outside world.
“I’m just looking forward to the audience being able to come and watch the show; I just want to see their reaction now,” he says of the coming-of-age story. “We’ve been doing runs of this play for a couple of weeks now and we all love it; we’re constantly laughing so I’m really excited to have the audience come in and just see their reactions to the story and the characters.
“I really hope some of the older audience members get that sense of nostalgia, and that we can take them back to this world. It was a completely different world, for me anyway. Looking back at these photos and videos, it was so bizarre. It was such a cool and scary time, depending on where you came from. I hope the audience can get lost in it a little bit – and of course enjoy the show.”
A delightfully charming play, Astroman explores the highs and lows of growing up in Geelong, the exhilaration of learning and what it means to be truly courageous.
Astroman runs from October 27 to December 8 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Tickets via
03 8688 0800 or