Kids Can Get Lost: A Live Instructional Guide on Safe Family Roadtrips. Devised by Spilt Second. Producer/artistic director: Matthew Kneale. Director: Dan Koerner. Costume designer: Esther Hayes. Sound designer: Rob Stewart. Performers: Paul Bongiorno, Reuben Brown, Josh Cassidy, Shelly Lauman, Ellen Steele, Wazzadeeno Wharton-Thomas. Narration: Simon Godfrey. Season ended.
It is a remarkable testament to the Melbourne grassroots theatre culture that Kids Can Get Lost sold out most of its season. A part of the Next Wave festival, set out of the theatre way in an absolute sense, demanding comfortable footwear and wearing of unfashionable clothing; and yet. In a sense, Florida was right and wrong about Creative Cities. Any place can set up an event, but only in Melbourne will people attend, commit. It is this base of mutual support that all our great theatre is growing from.
Kids Can Get Lost is a good example of this poor theatre, put together with not much more than love and ingenuity. The core of the show is a sort of mime on dangers of family travel – dangers as wild and imaginative as any danger Australians are warned of in real life: kangaroos on the road, homicidal teenage hitch-hikers, tidal waves, wrestlers in full costume. It features a killer soundtrack, subtitles, and commercial breaks. Audience interation, and dancing! It's utterly enjoyable. However, quirkily, the venue is under, over and behind City Link – the audience is equipped with stools, guided from Flemington Community Centre in tidy rows of hand-holding twos, repeatedly briefed on safety procedures, in case of cyclist encounter, or road collapse. (Apparently these were genuine concerns raised by CityLink, safety procedures genuinely needed to be put in place, only adding to the overall merriness.) None of this creates ground-breaking theatre, of course, but it does result in intelligent entertainment of very high standard.
Site-specific theatre of this kind tends towards psychological flatness. Probably due to the lack of intimacy in vaguely defined space of performance, it gets closer to light entertainment, spectacle. It parallels the way mass spectacles (opera, festivals, summer open-air performances) are primarily an experience of a place (the stadium, the festival town, the castle) and the socially-placing genuis loci (upper-class, exclusive, opulent). While attending some such spectacle invariably bonds the spectator with the upper-class city, walking through the meandering underpasses of City Link we are learning to love a neglected part of Melbourne, one populated by public housing, lone skaters, western-suburbanites stuck in traffic jams. When the car headlights go off (the only source of light for the show), and we are left in the warm, moody silence of a show packed-up, its bittersweet, somewhat retro, somewhat ironic, mood lingering in the air, in the dim lights of the infamous phallic accessories to road construction (cheese sticks for youse from elsewhere), the hum of the road in the distance, it is hard not to feel proud, and full of love for this little city that does quirky so well.
We walk back, some of us still holding hands, and it was worth it.