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drive in holiday: stories in the making

gail priest

Gail Priest is the Associate Editor of RealTime.

Hobart’s City Hall has been transformed into a caravan park. Inside the corral of five crusty old caravans, chairs and picnic rugs face a small stage and a screen. We have each been given an esky filled with surprising gourmet products—confit of scallops, sugar and grapefruit cured ocean trout, and smoked wallaby. Not your standard family picnic fare. But then, there is nothing quite standard about Big hART's Drive In Holiday.

One caravan serves as technical hub and radio station from which the actors keep us informed about what we are eating, what to do and where to go. The other vans house installations representing four Tasmanian coastal townships. The Crayfish Creek van is particularly engaging as every surface including the vinyl seat covers and the internal surfaces of the cupboards, is postered with naïve illustrations by Rebecca Lavis. She has even created a photo album to flick through and decorated blocks and a jigsaw to play with. The Tomahawk van has illustrations by cartoonist Reg Lynch glowing on a lightbox above the sink while Euan McLeoud’s acrylic and oil landscapes adorn the Trial Harbour van. For Southport, Christine Kilter has created a haven for kitsch with crocheted cushions, gaudy figurines and a series of snowdomes with pictures and stories from the area. The vans are intriguing and warrant time to absorb but we are instructed to return to our seats, or picnic blankets to watch the show.

While we sample our exotic edibles a duo sings a sweet and melancholy acoustic number and the “movie” begins to roll. We see a woman, Crystal (played by Kerry Walker) through the window of a caravan. Surprised by the appearance of a police officer, she chokes on a piece of food. There is sharp edit, and we realise that the action is now live, being filmed in the Couta Rocks van to our right. We can choose to watch the live action surrounded by a young crew holding boom, camera and lights, or we can view the action on screen. This is a movie in the making.

Pre-recorded footage offers the unhappy back story of divorce, custody loss, and a sea change. In a live scene in the van a gentle friendship between Crystal and Keg (Lex Marinos) unfolds as she helps him write his will. Back to animations and prepared material and the tale of a freak discovery—a human toe in the guts of a fish. Then we switch back to a repeat of the live scene as a policeman delivers Crystal the message of her ex-husband’s unfortunate demise.

And this is just the beginning. It’s a mini-series and the drama continues to develop, using a connection to Keg as the binding agent and taking in the towns we have experienced via the van installations. We meet a young girl, his niece (Dawn Yates), playing a piano in the middle of the bush at Southport, her mother with Alzheimer’s (Kerry Walker) in Tomahawk and eventually there is a love story in Crayfish Creek (or is it Trial Harbour… I’m a bit lost now).

As with all of Big hArt’s work, Drive In Holiday is made as part of a larger community development project, so in addition to appearances in the fictional material, local people are included in brief documentary segments telling stories and recollecting details about their towns. The fictional scenes that follow illustrate how this is incorporated into the narrative.

The shifts between live and set footage gradually break down, the switching between lines of recorded and live dialogue becoming unwieldy. The actors abandon the filming scenario and simply stand on the stage reading from their scripts. Originally I suspected a technical hitch as Marinos receives instructions from the blue-coated floor manager but, as the actors are directed to play the scene as though it were a soap opera, the mock rehearsal reveals another layer of artifice. Again we are reminded that this a story, and a story in the making.

And the story is not finished. As the show progresses the initially tight hold on the narrative begins to unravel. Some of the imposed details and fragments of stories from the community are not completely woven into the plot but rather just hang there, perhaps waiting for the next episode. Why does Crystal take the name of her deaf and dumb sister? And the rapidly developed lesbian love story seems expedient. In the end we are left with another gentle sweet song and an ambiguous kiss.

The scale, complexity, and the integration of interdisciplinary elements in Drive In Holiday is very impressive, and the environment created is completely immersive. However there are are a few elements that niggle. The overwhelming nostalgia of the content—a golden era of baby boomer Australian kitsch—is curious considering the material was developed with a workshop of young mothers and their children. And within this atmosphere, the gourmet food, although thoroughly enjoyable, might more appropriately be replaced by a sausage sizzle. The material does also seem to thin out, as the work progresses, less integration of live elements and more scattered plot devices. Despite this Drive In Holiday is a unique and thoroughly engaging exploration not only of a slice of Tasmanian culture, but of the potential of hybrid performance and expanded storytelling.

Big hART, Drive In Holiday, directors Bronwyn Purvis, Scott Rankin, writer Scott Rankin, perrformers Dawn Yates, Kerry Armstrong, Kerry Walker, Lex Marinos, curator Rebecca Lavis, visual artists Rick Eaves, Robert Hannaford, Kit Hiller, Reg Lynch, Rebecca Lavis and Euan McLeod, composers Jason Bakes, Kim Bush, Paul Corfiatis, Robert Iolini, Damian Mason and Dawn Yates, filmmakers Michelle Burns, Sarah Davies, Bronwyn Purvis and Telen Rodwell; City Hall, Hobart, Ten Days on the Island, March 24-25

Gail Priest is the Associate Editor of RealTime.

RealTime issue #0 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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