Deckchair Cinema is opening its 2017 season with a screening of the incredible documentary The Baulkam Hills African Ladies Troupe.
Four African women escaping violence and abuse find a safe haven in Australia, but as they start their new lives they continue to hold their pain silently within – until they say yes to joining a theatre group. The film charts the course of the women as they allow their life stories to be transformed into an extraordinary theatrical experience, whilst the Troupe’s show moves from a stage in western Sydney to sell out audiences around the world. Off The Leash caught up with celebrated theatre and now film director Ros Horin about this amazing story.
What inspired you to create the theatre piece?
I wanted to make a work that drew attention to the situation of violence against women, to get people to focus on and talk about it. I have to say where I began and where I ended up are two very different places. It ended up more exploring questions like how do women survive these things, is it possible to put your life back together and what helps someone move from being a victim to a survivor.
How did you go about the process of making the show?
Initially I thought it was just going to be professional actors in the show. I’d started doing workshops with the women and actors together exploring themes, issues and points of difference between their stories. It was two years before we put anything on stage, so it was all very, very slow and very gradual, which is the only way it really could have happened. It was very confronting for the women at times but step-by-step they grew in strength from unburdening themselves of these deep secrets they’d held for so long. I saw their grace and resilience and I thought gosh it would be so powerful to have them on stage in some combination with the actors. So that’s what we did.
Did you anticipate the process of making theatre would be so profound for the women?
I really do believe in the power of great art to create an epiphany in the person experiencing it, so I did want this to happen to the audience. But I hadn’t really thought about it as being that kind of experience for those on the stage. It very much became a journey towards healing for the women. Not that one would say you’re ever fully healed or those things ever go away. But the film shows their journey over the five years or so and you really do see an incredible transformation.
Why did you decide to make the film?
There were extraordinary things happening in the workshops and rehearsals, which a theatre audience was never going to see – amazing things said, moments in improvisation, jokes and pain shared – all incredibly interesting and moving. I was recording from the start just to document it for its own sake but once we’d opened the play and saw the profound effect on audiences we knew we needed a film to keep the ball rolling, as while theatre is transitory, a film can go on forever.
The Baulkam Hills African Ladies Troupe | Wed 19 Apr | 7.30pm | Deckchair Cinema