Troupe of thespians turns beloved books into award-winning podcasts

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Lockdowns have dropped the curtain on live performances, but savvy thespians at the Ballarat National Theatre have found novel ways to keep their productions going.

Unable to have live audiences or even gather a cast together to film a performance, the organisation moved into audio production, turning Jane Austen’s beloved tome, Pride and Prejudice, into a podcast.

The results were a hit and won the not-for-profit theatre company an award earlier this year from leading international digital arts organisation, the Webby Awards.

The success has spurred them on, with the group following their version of Pride and Prejudice with a production of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, which features more than 20 voice actors from all corners of the country, contributing via Zoom.

A view toward the stage from the audience inside a historic theatre.
Her Majesty’s Theatre in Ballarat has sat idle during the pandemic, but a local theatre group has found a new level of success off-stage.(

Supplied: Her Majesty’s Theatre

)

Forget the pandemic, we’re off to Neverland

Led by first-time directors Marli Van Der Bilj, Elizabeth Bradford and Olivia French, the recent adaptation of the children’s classic has proven to be another success.

“The response we have received shows that there is considerable interest and increasing demand for projects of this kind,” the directors said.

a mid shot of a man with long hair speaking into a microphone
Actor Jono Lukins as Mullins in the Ballarat National Theatre production of Peter Pan, recording from his bedroom.(

Supplied: Ballarat National Theatre

)

The audio play has been listened to more than 8,000 times via various podcasting platforms since April, the equivalent of about 70 full-capacity shows at Ballarat’s Courthouse Theatre on the Federation University campus in the heart of the city.

“Barrie’s language is beautiful and the connection to text through narration in our production is as much thought-provoking as it is a means for escapism,” the Peter Pan directors told ABC Ballarat.

The directors said that while the effects of lockdown on their line of work were at times demoralising, the production of this audiobook proved that performing artists could continue to create engaging work.

Online theatre ‘bulletproof’

Ballarat National Theatre president Liana Skewes said attempting to stage live theatre during the pandemic meant performance plans were often accompanied by an asterisk.

Skewes said the feedback from audiences was that the podcasts made them feel “less lonely” during tough times, which was one of the aims of the productions.

“Pride and Prejudice broke a lot of ground here and after Peter Pan, we have three more works lined up to do in this format,” she said.

Federation University senior lecturer in performing arts Dr Kim Durban explained that the “democratic participation” of an online, audio production meant that these types of productions could pave a way forward for the industry.

“Many companies and artists have turned to online and virtual resources in order to keep their art alive, producing readings,” Dr Durban said.

Although conceding that nothing could replace live theatre performance, she said “the whole area of customising the work for a broader audience needs attention and investment”.

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