Small Odysseys, the title of the upcoming production by Melbourne performance collective Rawcus, is something of an oxymoron. Since the Homeric epic, an odyssey has always suggested a voyage of mythic proportions – they are, by definition, never a small undertaking.
Yet this playful paradox is very apt in describing what Rawcus do. You won’t find any superhuman Greek heroes in their cast, nor do their shows spotlight the journey of any one individual. For now over 10 years, Rawcus have been creating ensemble works that showcase the kinds of real people too seldom seen on stage, featuring performers with and without disabilities.
Small Odysseys will open at the Arts House, Meat Market on July 14, but the show has been nearly two years in the making. Like all Rawcus’ work, it was devised through a lengthy process of collaboration between the performers and a core team of designers within the rehearsal room. These exploratory collaborations have engendered the company’s unique, multi-disciplinary style of performance, combining elements of theatre, movement, music and visual art.
“Our work's often been described as a series of ‘moving pictures’,” says Artistic Director Kate Sulan, “and I love that definition… It's more like a collation of moments, and it's about the accumulation of those moments or images. Only really at the end do you get to see what the story is or might be”.
In 2000, Sulan was commissioned to make a work for Cerebral Palsy Australia’s national conference and put out a call for performing artists with disabilities. That first piece, however small, was such a success that Rawcus came into being organically. “There was such an incredible energy,” recalls Sulan. “We really had a pretty amazing time and we just thought, ‘Well, we have to do another project together’. And then another. And then another”.
But while providing an outlet for performers with disabilities is a crucial part of Rawcus’ ethos, what unites the group primarily is their shared creative vision. “I think the most important thing for us is that we're a group of artists that collaborate together,” says Sulan. “The performers love performing. The work is their work. They are makers of the work. They're communicating their ideas, and I think that's a really exciting thing”.
Small Odysseys has taken inspiration from the work of visual artist Ron Mueck, after the group attended his retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria early last year. While Mueck’s uncannily lifelike sculptures experiment with extremities of scale in the human body, these ideas have been employed both literally and metaphorically within Rawcus’ show.
"The work began with a discussion about moments in your life when you feel really large and powerful and strong…but also moments in your life when you feel really big and awkward and you want to shrink to nothing… So we were talking about how your sense of yourself can shift, and sometimes can shift quite quickly”.
Rawcus have enlisted the help of sculptor and industrial designer Shaun Patten to work on set design – perhaps best known for his work on Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max (2009). But as opposed to the painstakingly tiny models created for that claymation, Patten will be working within the cavernous spaces of the Arts House, Meat Market.
According to Sulan, however, a surprisingly similar approach to scale has been employed in the set. Playing with ideas of proportion and depth, Patten will be transforming the Meat Market into a series of miniature worlds that Rawcus’ cast will inhabit over the course of their voyage.
And if past shows are anything to go by, Small Odysseys will be a journey for audience and performers alike. “I think a lot of people find it really emotional watching a Rawcus show,” says Sulan. “We don't get the pleasure of seeing large ensemble work very often, and we especially don't get the chance to see diverse people and bodies very often. People really respond to that”.
Small Odysseys will be staged at the Arts House, Meat Market from July 14 – July 23. Tickets are $30 full price or $15 concession. For further information and bookings, visit artshouse.com.au.