A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

Head of Drama - Edition 18 - 2020

This year marks the 155th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s much read tale, Alice in Wonderland, of the girl who, having chased a White Rabbit with a pocket watch and slipped into a rabbit hole, finds herself in a dream world full of fantastical, whimsical and mysterious characters.

Loosely based on that classic tale, Alice: Alive in Wonderland is a wild and abstract exploration of what goes on inside someone's mind when they're growing up.

Alice, a first year Uni student, is studying Psychology. Her lecturer, Dr Stewart, a throwback to the 1970s, presents a lecture about Self-Concept leaving Alice wondering who she is in relation to her friends. Later encounters with classic characters modernized to reflect present day people impact on her journey through adolescence.

Alice: A Contemporary Journey by John Doherty, from which this play was developed, was workshopped by and written for Adelaide youth theatre company Blitz Youth Arts in 1997, and reflected the concerns and observations of 13 – 16 year olds at the time. While the means of communicating, social media, has changed the expression and communication of some of these issues, the core concerns around identity do not appear to have altered a great deal - “I’m a million different people from one day to the next”.

A ‘coming of age’ story with four Alices, each symbolising a different side to the girl’s personality, the show was very entertaining, provoking some thoughts about “growing up”.

The play, like this year, is also quite bizarre. An extraordinary year, such as 2020 has been, requires an extraordinary close, and the 2020 Year 8 to 10 Junior Play, Alice: Alive in Wonderland provided just that!

After a year that saw a range of learning programs flip between in-class and online modes, sporting fixtures cancelled, postponed and modified, and the necessity to create a combined Stage 1 and 2 Drama performance, and brilliantly executed socially distanced Dance performances, students were looking forward to being able to stage a show relatively “normally”. The “JP”, as it is affectionately known, was to go ahead with a socially distanced audience.

After three weeks of carefully scheduled rehearsals, our customary Rehearsal Retreat at Nunyara Conference Centre was able to proceed as South Australia basked in its status as the “safest place in the world.”

A workshop led by “Crazy” Craig McArdle of McArts worked its magic on the ensemble. Our Year 11s, Morgan Bramble (’12), a range of other Old Scholars, both recent and not so recent, along with Miss Whitney Goldsmith, assisted to mould the cast into a close knit ensemble of fifty-one dynamic performers. With eighteen days to go, we were almost ready.

Stage 1 Drama students worked furiously to ensure all the backstage elements of production would be in place. Given the COVID-19 restrictions in place, it was decided to stage the show over four nights instead of three to ensure maximum audience attendance. There was some talk of live-streaming the show, too.

Then the 'Parafield Cluster' emerged, resulting in a sudden state lock down, albeit for a few days. It looked like Alice: Alive in Wonderland would be cancelled. As fast as it happened, a few days later we were then facing the prospect of a return to something resembling “COVID-19 normal”. However, the lock down impacted the play hard, resulting in the ensemble losing over twenty hours of rehearsal time, the show reduced to two performances, and audiences being restricted to socially distanced immediate school community only. But, overwhelmingly, we were all grateful we could still perform!

The need to live stream became a reality. A first for a Westminster School Drama performance, the combination of live stream and diminished live audience proved a resounding success. Darren McLachlan, Curriculum Leader of Design & Technology gathered a team of students to operate the cameras to create an extraordinary live stream of this chaotic show.

The level of enthusiasm, commitment and skill the students brought to this production is inspiring and serves to remind us all of what young people are capable of when afforded the opportunity. The young cast and crew of this remarkable production epitomised optimism, resilience and determination, whilst managing to have an enormous amount of fun in bringing Alice: Alive in Wonderland to stage and, unexpectedly, screen. This was an experience I am sure they will recall for many years to come.

I would like to particularly thank Old Scholars, Amy Bower (’15) and Dana Cropley (’15) for their great work and support during the two productions we have been fortunate to stage this year. Without them, these productions would not have attained the high standard they did.

The students, Old Scholars and staff of the Westminster School Drama Department wish you all safe holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and look forward to a brilliant 2021!

John Doherty
Head of Drama