The making of Railway Wonderland

NORPA's 'Railway Wonderland' including Katja Molino, Neridah Waters & Jo Turner. Photo: Grant MacIntyre

NORPA’s ‘Railway Wonderland’ including Katja Molino, Neridah Waters & Jo Turner. Photo: Grant MacIntyre

Take your seat under the stars as Northern Rivers Performing Arts Railway Wonderland brings Lismore train station back to life.

Julian Louis, Artistic Director of NORPA and director/devisor of the site-specific theatre work speaks about the magical ride that is Railway Wonderland.

Tell us a little about NORPA’s Generator program for creating original works

Through our Generator program we are helping shape contemporary performance from regional Australia. Railway Wonderland is the centerpiece work for us. It holds all of the style and the spirit of the kind of theatre we want to create. It is equal parts adventurous, where the audience is taken to a wonderful location outside the theatre, entertaining, moving and has deep community engagement – these are locally inspired stories, with universal themes, that are being told and re-told to it’s community.

What gave you the initial idea for Railway Wonderland?

It was the dis-used railway stations throughout the region that were the inspiration from the start. As well as working with a range of short stories submitted by writers in the community, we started with an exploration of the boredom and mundanity of a waiting room, when your train or bus is late. But within that same space there are these epic stories of hello’s and goodbye’s, the romance of the railway station and using it as a metaphor for life’s big moments. So there’s a wonderful play between the boredom of waiting, melodrama and realism.

Tell us what you enjoyed most about creating Railway Wonderland?

One of the things I have enjoyed most is the license to move between the different styles. There are very naturalistic scenes between characters, then we have very heightened scenes where we use slapstick or silent film style acting, or melodrama, but done in a way that’s really funny. We draw on all these great styles of performance and put them together in one show, and it works.

What are the challenges / benefits of producing site-specific works?

There are lots of challenges with creating site-specific work and it does cost a lot more because you have to bring infrastructure to these sites but what you get is the natural ambience and the nostalgia of these places. The railway station is already imbued with stories and the audiences bring their own memories of the place as well.

At NORPA we love taking our work outdoors, and we’ve grown new audiences this way. People think ‘what are they doing down there at the railway station? I better check this out’ and that’s what’s really exciting.

Why do you think it is important to tell our Regional stories?

Australia is a big place and, in theatre particularly, there is so much attention on the seasons of the major city companies. But there are so many rich and amazing stories and characters in regional areas that should be part of our story telling. There can be an attitude that art should be toured to regional areas. What we want to do is focus on our stories, share them nationally and take them to the cities. I really think that needs continued support by state and federal funding bodies to create an exciting theatre ecology.

What can we expect next from Generator?

More works that engage the community, that look to take theatre outdoors and are devised by a really skillful team of local and national talent, and tell regional stories that the community are proud of. We are also working towards touring our work nationally and internationally.

Arts NSW provided $55,000 in funding to NORPA in 2012 for the creative development and presentation of Railway Wonderland and then $250,000 in annual program funding in 2014. For further information about Arts NSW’s Arts and Cultural Development Program please click here

Railway Wonderland is playing at Lismore’s dis-used train station 22 October – 7 November. For more information about Railway Wonderland and NORPA click here


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Published: 12 October 2015