ASPIRE is an audition-based drama, dance, music and creative and performing arts program which was launched by the Catholic Schools Office in 2011 to provide opportunities for students from Years 5-11 in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Led by Artistic Director, Anna Kerrigan, and five Ensemble Directors, ASPIRE invites talented students from across the diocese to audition to develop and enhance their skills through vocal, instrumental, drama and dance performances. Anna encourages the community to come along to this year's performance, "There's something strange about Marvin McRae", and gives Aurora readers a glimpse of what we can expect from the production.
We are fewer than two months away from the world premiere of ASPIRE’s annual production, this year titled, There’s Something Strange about Marvin McRae. The cast of 125 dedicated young performers, representing 26 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, is enthusiastically working towards performance week at the Civic Theatre, Newcastle. So what makes this year special? Maybe it’s because ASPIRE is in its fifth year, maybe it’s because the program continues to go from strength to strength, but most likely because this year is the first time the entire story and script are completely original.
The story centres on Marvin, a young boy who is going to high school next year. Marvin is obsessed with the fact that he’s weird and discusses it at length with the school counsellor. He just doesn’t know how to be ‘normal’ like everyone else. His mum is too busy to talk about it, his dad keeps making lame jokes and his sister is obsessed with all things wheeled. He wonders if his imaginary friend Gus might be part of the problem. If he could only do something really heroic, then everyone would accept him…wouldn’t they?
The inspiration for the story came from our students. “I’m weird!” is something I hear all the time from young people I work with. Students are often ready and comfortable to share what it is that makes them different. I guess it takes one to know one; I’ve always considered myself uniquely weird. Many students wear it as a badge of honour, “Yeah, I’m weird and what of it?” Many embrace their quirks, which is fabulous. However there are many students who try to hide their idiosyncrasies for fear of ridicule.
The quest to be normal is something I think many of us have experienced during our growing up years. I remember desperately trying to keep up with what was ‘cool’ at school and was generally a week behind. But just what is ‘normal’ anyway? And what do you have to do to be normal? Ultimately do we really aspire to being ‘normal’, whatever that might be? This rather existential question is at the heart of the script and with it the overarching theme of acceptance of both each other and of ourselves.
Anyone who has worked with me knows I am an advocate for making your own theatre. It empowers those who are involved in the writing and gives us an opportunity to comment on the world around us. I believe it is a very important tool, particularly for young people to decipher the world around them. There are so many students who have contributed to this year’s production, directly and indirectly, and that makes it so special. Add to this that the script is punctuated by a host of popular tracks ranging from Pat Benatar’s classic anthem, “Love is a Battlefield” to Coldplay’s beautifully haunting “Shiver”, all performed by our band and vocal ensemble comprised solely of young musicians. All this while we transport the audience from the classroom to the bush, under the water and back in time. It’s a rollercoaster not to be missed! And there’s a giant chicken involved…that’s surely worth a look?
There’s Something Strange about Marvin McRae will be performed at the Civic Theatre from 4-6 August. Bookings can be made through Ticketek.