Canberra Youth Theatre returns to the stage this October with a new production of Normal by Katie Pollock.
Normal is an urban detective story in which the investigator is a teenage girl and the body is her own. Inspired by the true story of ‘the town that caught Tourette’s’, this critically acclaimed Australian play raises questions about what it means to fit in, the viral nature of mass hysteria, and the pressures on young women fighting for agency.
“This is an intriguing and complex work that will resonate with young people who may feel like they don’t have control over their own paths, are under pressure by societal demands, or simply struggling to find their place in the world” says director Luke Rogers.
“It’s a beautiful allegory on disenfranchisement, acceptance and fitting in. This is a gripping work that explores acceptance and ostracism amongst teenagers navigating the pressures to conform and succeed, the social hierarchies of school, family breakdowns, and the viral nature of peer influence.”
The journey to the stage for Normal has been anything but. Originally programmed to open in May, the coronavirus crisis turned the production on its head. Rehearsals commenced in person but soon moved online. As an essentially live and in-person medium, theatre has been uniquely impacted by social distancing and this production was no different. Rehearsing over Zoom for nearly five months, the company returned to in-person rehearsal in August.
Normal is an affecting play that examines the tenuous ties that bind a society together until self preservation rips those bonds apart. Rogers programmed the play in 2019 when the idea of a pandemic was just that – an idea. But the eerie relevance of the play is not lost on the cast and crew.
“It’s not just that the play is about viral transmission” says actor McKenzie Battye-Smith. “The play deals with so many of the social anxieties that coronavirus has activated in our communities – fear, vilification, and the othering of those who are seen as a threat.”
Since joining the company in early 2019, Rogers has expanded the company’s programs for emerging professional artists. The cast of Normal are all local artists, aged 19-25, on the cusp of breaking into the industry.
“Working on Normal and exploring the character of Poppy has been a wonderful experience, with some unique challenges” says Holly Ross, who plays Poppy. “Throughout the play, Poppy develops Tourette’s-like tics that become increasingly physically displayed, and there is a challenge to portray those tics while still maintaining the truth and identity of the character. These experiences also have an emotional impact. When Poppy is viewed as a person who is infectious, we get an insight into the physical and emotional impact of being rejected because of something that is ultimately out of your control.”