A creative partnership between a professional theatre company and a UnitingCare-run amateur drama group is the basis of a new documentary premiering at the Astor Theatre in Melbourne on 8 October. The unlikely partnership between Inotrope Productions and the UnitingCare St Kilda Drop In Centre came to fruition last year when the drama group staged a string of sell-out performances of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Filmmaker Sue Thomson, a St Kilda local, was initially invited to film a performance of the play. She went on to orchestrate the production of a full scale feature-length documentary – Tempest at the Drop In.
“I went along and watched one of their workshops and left knowing that I had to make this film – no matter what,” Ms Thomson said.
“It’s amazing to see the Drop In Centre participants, some with serious mental illness, working so hard to perform these dramatic tasks that were being put on them by professionals.
“I immediately felt the work being done was important. I wanted to capture it on film – I really wanted to tell this story.”
The collaboration between professional actors and members of the Drop In Centre’s drama group has been praised as an innovative social support program that empowers participants. Drop In Centre manager Shane Lawlor said the process of putting on the production has helped break down barriers for individuals who are often socially isolated.
“Participants are able to move away from seeing themselves as patients, towards being someone who can contribute and give something back,” Mr Lawlor said.
“Once they get up on stage they’re an actor rather than a person with mental illness.
“I’ve seen people who, when we met, were unable to string a sentence together, go on to being up on stage performing in this professional production.”
For Ms Thomson, making the documentary was not about capturing the performances but rather the personal stories and struggles of those taking part in the production.
“So much of this film is about becoming close to them; really getting to know them and their story,” Ms Thomson said.
“It’s not just that they put on a play but that they actually saw it through and went up on stage in front of sell-out audiences and said their lines and performed.
“It’s about that process – managing their illness – working within a group collaboratively while managing all these issues for something really positive.
“Taking the arts to people with mental health issues is a wonderful way of breaking down some of the terrible walls that are put up by their illnesses – it’s something that can break through, whether it’s drama or painting or singing.”
Tempest at the Drop In, a documentary by Sue Thomson and narrated by Eric Bana, premieres at the Astor Theatre on 8 October at 7pm. To book tickets call UnitingCare St Kilda Drop In Centre on 9525 5478.