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Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Two celebrations at the "bookends of life" lead proceedings in Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday – birthday parties for an 80-year-old and an 18-year-old. 

But while the theatre audience is invited to listen in to these gatherings, rich with the familiar patterns of conversation, speeches, life advice and humour, the actors onstage are hearing something else – each is wearing a set of headphones. 

Director Roslyn Oades calls the unusual performance technique ‘headphone verbatim’ and has been pioneering it in Australia with collaborators from the community. 

“It falls into the genre of creative non-fiction in that, like a documentary filmmaker, I spent two years making field recordings with final year high school students and people over the age of 80,” she says.

“I spent a long time interviewing people from those age groups, as well as going to as many 18th, 80th, 90th and 100th birthday parties as I could. Those audio recordings became my source material.”

Oades then edited the material into a one-hour collection of voices spanning the wide generation gap, and created scenes that would work on stage.

“What they’re hearing in those headphones are the original recordings with real life people. They are repeating those words they’re hearing as precisely as possible. Real human speech.”

The result is “something extremely authentic and familiar,” while recreating naturally poignant moments that might go unnoticed in real life.

Oades was inspired to create Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday after going to an 18th and an 80th in close succession, and began thinking about the ways the two age groups were similar – both often in institutions with people of the same age – but looking at life from widely different vantage points.

To investigate the idea, the senior actors play the voices of the teenagers and the younger actors play the voices of the people in their 80s and 90s.

“I find it a great way of creating empathy of different age groups,” says Oades. “I think it takes great courage to grow profoundly old.”

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