GAME: Tara Gallop-Brennan, Belinda Hodgson and James Chapman in Knife.OPERA and acrobatics would seem to be an unlikely mixture. Two Hunter TAFE acting students, however, have brought them together in a comedy that will have audiences laughing at one moment, then in awed silence the next.
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The 20-minute play, appropriately called Acro-Opera, is one of 12 that have been written by second-year students at Hunter TAFE’s Regional Institute of Performing Arts for the annual Mr Clegg’s Creative Industries Festival.

The festival, which will be staged at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from July 9 to 21, will include three programs of short plays, a late-night musical and a children’s matinee show.

In previous years, the Clegg Festival programs have included a mix of established plays and student-devised works.

This year, all the works have been written and directed by the actors who will graduate with an Advanced Diploma in Arts (Acting) at year’s end.

The plays, which range in length from 15 to 50 minutes, arose from the actors’ observations of people they knew or encountered and from issues they wanted to explore.

Acro-Opera, for example, is by Tayla Choice, an award-winning classical singer, and Tara Gallop-Brennan, who is a circus performer and trainer with Circus Avalon.

It grew from a conversation between them.

“Tayla has a beautiful voice and I said to her ‘You should sing for us’ when we were discussing plays for the festival,” Gallop-Brennan said.

This led to a decision to jointly put together a work that would use their skills, as well as taking a light-hearted look at show-business stereotypes.

It has been a challenge for both, with Choice humorously exploring the stereotype of an opera diva while having to do acrobatics at the same time.

The pair share the stage with guest performer Romesh Wickramasekera, another Circus Avalon acrobat who developed the diva’s athletic routines with Gallop-Brennan.

Acro-Opera is one of three plays in a program appropriately called Body Parts, given that movement is an aspect of each work.

The program also includes The Period Project and What Brings Us Together.

The Period Project was developed by six women students who carried out a survey via Facebook of women’s reactions to their periods.

It grew out of the cranky behaviour of one of the students during a lunch break while she was having her period.

More than 100 women took part in the survey and, because it was anonymous, made frank comments.

Their remarks – touching, funny, and occasionally bizarre – are used verbatim in the stage presentation.

Tina Cornac, the writer of What Brings Us Together, developed its members of a middle-class, slightly dysfunctional family by observing the behaviour of her fellow students. Weird things happen when son Nick brings something unusual home and the family members have to decide what to do with it.

The other programs of short plays also have a unifying element.

In Spare Parts, the emphasis is decidedly on comedy, while the Moving Parts bill has a dramatic focus.

Spare Parts gets off to a lively start with Out With a Bang – a cabaret-style piece by Hannah Buck and a 2012 graduate from the course, Anna Lambert. It has two 1920s female vaudeville performers talking about the men in their lives – one a gangster – and uses a recurring song from the era, I Wanna Be Loved By You, performed in different styles, to show the mood changes of one of the women.

The Rose, by James Chapman and Stephanie Cunliffe-Jones, is an absurdist-influenced comedy in which two men are seen sitting and talking about seemingly random things.

In James Chapman’s The Problem with Writing an Erotic Novel, the characters from a work-in-progress by a novelist in need of a hit emerge from his pages to tell him they don’t like what he is writing – and he falls for one of the females.

The three dramatic pieces in Moving Parts hold promise of moving audience emotions in different ways. In S- -t My Sister Says, Stephanie McDonald shows the relationship between a woman and her mentally unstable younger sister in the years the sister ages from 14 to 18 and her condition deteriorates.

Jack Gow, in Knife, looks at a group of downtrodden people playing a game in which a knife is used as they try to work out how to improve their lives. The game changes when an unexpected visitor arrives.

In James Chapman’s Life After Kyle, the critically ill title character seeks help from his sister and childhood best friend to brighten his final days.

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