Mt Gambier theatre company immerses audience inside dark and dangerous world

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By Melissa Keogh

A gripping theatre production that uses virtual reality technology to immerse audiences inside the world of ice addiction will premiere in Mt Gambier next month.

The stage of the town’s Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre will host an insight into how lives are destroyed by methamphetamine, a drug considered rife in some regional towns across the country.

Mt Gambier-based Gener8 Theatre will present In The Pines, a fictional, yet confronting performance that involved extensive community consultation and incorporates the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets.

Director and producer Jamie Harding says the use of VR headsets has created a highly immersive and synced experience that’s “never before been attempted in Australian theatre”.

‘In The Pines’ will premiere next month in Mt Gambier.

“In the first half of the performance, the audience sits in a circle on stage to replicate the 360-degree experience,” he says.

“Then in the second half, the audience puts on VR headsets and steps inside the film – they’re like a fly on the wall.

“We take them on a journey they’re not going to expect.”

In The Pines, originally named Cold As Ice, has taken three years to pull together and aims to create open community discussions around the impacts of ice addiction.

The scourge of ice continues to affect communities across the country and is often referred to as an epidemic.

Jamie says he was unaware of how prevalent ice addiction was until he held a week-long community forum in 2015 to discover common themes and stories from locals in his town.

“We discovered that ice was a major issue and from there we started to research and found out that it was a national problem,” he says.

“I thought it was vital to then interview people about it, so we spoke to more than 60 people, including parents of ice addicts, prisoners and police officers, about the drug.

“This show has been a great vehicle to drive discussion about the issue.”

John Crouch, left, and Jamie Harding with the VR gear.

Working alongside fellow accomplished actor and local high school teacher John Crouch, Jamie adopted a creative team to help take the issue to the stage.

He says he was inspired to incorporate VR into the performance after watching a VR production in Adelaide about the 2005 London bombings.

“The audience was taken on a trip on the London Underground, so it put you right there – it was really haunting,” Jamie says.

“There was something about it that really had me. I walked out onto North Terrace and something shifted inside me, it made me look at the streets of Adelaide in a different way.

“I joined the dots and realised that I wanted to immerse the audience inside my (In The Pines) story and get them to the point that I experienced.”

In The Pines features a cast of six actors. The plot centres around a married couple who make decisions that “draw them into a new and dangerous world”.

A scene from ‘In The Pines’.

Jamie describes the production as a “psychological thriller” that also explores how the economy of drugs can affect unsuspecting parts of a community.

In The Pines has already been shown to local audiences in its development stages to gage community feedback.

The show will premiere in Mt Gambier on August 23 with hopes of taking it to Adelaide and on tours of regional South Australia and the rest of the country.

Jamie says it’s his mantra to “turn the gaze to regional works” and to ensure country theatre productions make it to the spotlight.

Born in Naracoorte and growing up in Mt Gambier, Jamie says he was always passionate about the arts, becoming involved in the town’s now defunct Mainstreet Theatre Company after finishing high school.

Above: Audience reactions to development phases of In The Pines.

“I got to see the inner workings of a professional regional theatre company, I was like a sponge,” he says.

“It gave me the confidence to audition for Flinders University’s Drama Centre, so I gave it a go and never looked back.”

Jamie was lured back to Mt Gambier by John Crouch and together they worked on the Ruby Award-winning Colour Darker Than Black.

Jamie is also the artistic director at Ovation Centre of Performing Arts which has a presence in both Mt Gambier and Adelaide.

He wants to ensure young creatives realise that regional towns can also be thriving hubs full of creativity and culture.

“I want to inspire young makers and artists and have them realise they don’t have to move to the big smoke,” he says.

“Their stories can be told on state, national and why not even international stages.

“You can make it in the regions.”

Jamie thanked Arts SA, the Australia Council for the Arts, Country Arts SA, and various other groups that have provided funding and support.

For more information and booking details click here.

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