Can Do Ensemble

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The Can Do Performance Ensemble was recently awarded the Accessible Arts Award. Vicki Smyth, Team Leader of Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options, tells us about their success.

Tell us about the Accessible Arts Award?

The annual awards are organised by the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW and promote exemplary cultural activities and projects developed by Councils. 

The Accessible Arts award is offered to a group that demonstrates excellence in access at all levels of the project.

> How did you become involved with the ensemble, ‘Can-Do Performance’?

Can-Do Performance Group evolved from a social support program in 2007 at Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options, a HACC funded service auspiced by Great Lakes Council. 

At this point in time, I was the coordinator of the Social Support program. Each year we hold a planning day with all the clients to ascertain the interests and coordinate service provision to meet the needs of the people. 

In 2007 I invited along a local drama teacher by the name of Melanie Harris to break up our planning meeting with some fun drama exercises, to give an experience and gauge interest.

One of my goals in life would be to break down myths and barriers between mainstream and marginalised groups – to provide a forum which empowers the marginalised group. 

My goal and vision with the drama group was for the performers to have a great time and be part of an inclusive group where each performer directed the outcomes. The other part of this goal and vision was to provide the audience with entertainment and where their perception of the performance was one of inspiration from the abilities of each actor. 

> Who are your group members?

The core group is made up of adult clients of Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options (LARO) who have a mix of abilities, a couple of very committed volunteers who support the program and usually a paid staff member. Initially this was myself and more recently, Sandra McKillop-Davies has taken on the role of coordinating the social support program. 

The group also extends further afield as we get closer to our annual production, which is held in December to celebrate International Day of People with disABILITY. 

We then draw on the talents of people within the Great Lakes community who assist with costumes, hair, makeup, lighting, sound, venue provision, props, special effects and recording of the show. 

Those who have generously donated their time include: Matt Watters from Imagine Films to record the final dress rehearsal and show to produce a DVD; Great Lakes College student Grant Melzer, who was the Lighting and Sound technician and put up and pulled down 800 chairs; Great Lakes College Forster Campus for the use of their venue; Peter Craig and Jenny Macdonald for the amazing props; Taree Arts Council and Great Lakes Amateur Dramatic Society for assistance with costumes and also Bunnings Forster for assistance with props.

> The Can Do’s Peregrine won the Accessible Arts awards. Was this an unexpected success? 

Councillor Leigh Vaughan, who has watched both shows and been touched and entertained, suggested a proposal be submitted for the Local Government Cultural Awards 2009, which recognise that Local Government arts projects can change lives. 

I agreed with the suggestion, and together with Andrew Braybrook, Manager of Community Services we completed the submission. After many hours of having to condense our lengthy words, finally, with fingers crossed, we submitted our application.

The Awards ceremony was held on May 1, 2009 at Parliament House, Sydney and their lips were sealed regarding any results of who would receive an award. 

Can Do - receiving their award

Can Do - receiving their award

The decision to attend was made: Sandra McKillop-Davies; Client Services Officer for LARO, Melanie Harris; Writer and Director, Kristin Hancock; Can-Do Performer and myself ventured to these very prestigious awards, frocked-up with much excitement and anticipation. 

The Accessible Arts Award is the grand finale, announced at the end of the evening. There were 89 entries and finally the announcement came … we were absolutely full of pride as we walked up to receive the award, surrounded by a crowd who acknowledged our achievement. 

Immediately following, we all turned to each other and said, “If only the other 18 performers could be here.”

The Local Government and Shire Associations partner with Accessible Arts NSW to produce the Accessible Arts Cultural Award. Accessible Arts CEO Sancha Donald said, “Can-Do had all the elements the judges were looking for. This group has developed a genuine and lasting mixed abilities theatre group.”

> Where did the idea of Peregrine come from?

The title Peregrine was suggested by Melanie and agreed to by the Can-Do Performance Group. Peregrine means i) Coming from abroad, ii) Travelling or migratory; wandering, beyond one’s own land. 

The ideas behind the performance evolves through a process by which Melanie engages each of the performers – utilising a myriad of tools to bring to the fore, the message which each performer would like to convey to the audience. 

Some of the tools utilised to engage the performers to convey their message included photographs to evoke feelings and memories, different sounds, drawings, movement and dramatic exercises. 

These processes by-pass the intellect and engage the individual’s creativity and core being. Some of the questions posed to the group included: what if you had to leave to go to another place? What if you can only take one suitcase with you? How do you decide what to pack? 

Peregrine was a contemporary piece of theatre exploring notions of individuality, group mentality and personal treasures. Set in a 1946 train station, this non-narrative play tightly follows a sounds score consisting of a mix of 1940s and contemporary music with the sound effects of steam trains. 

Not one word is spoken through the entire show, as station crowds come and go and individuals privately reveal to the audience the contents of their precious suitcases: the thing they treasure most. 

> What are the future plans for the Can Do Ensemble?

Continue … after performing in December each year, the group breaks until the following April, where the group reforms and gets together fortnightly until around September. From September, rehearsals step up a pace and become weekly until performance day. 

International Day of People with disABILITY is an international celebration which takes place on December 3rd. The Can-Do Performance Group holds their performance during this week. 

In 2007, Can-Do Performance brought Mr Zarbouvray Dreams of a Flying Machine to the community – an original play written and directed by Melanie Harris which was based on a universal story of love and dreams. 

This performance reached in excess of 380 people. Last year, Peregrine was performed to two audiences in excess of 1,200 people in total. The audience journey took them through tears and laughter to a standing ovation.

> Are there any local performances on the horizon?

The next local performance is due again in December to celebrate International Day of People with disABILITY, and at this point is scheduled for Friday December 4, 2009. 

> Thank you Vicki.

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