Interview: Open Cage Ensemble

There’s one room at Waratah Public School that stands out from the rest. It’s a rehearsal room, a music room and a games room. As part of meeting with Open Cage Ensemble I’m told that my involvement in one of their games is required. The game is to have one person sit at a bus stop and another has to come and scare that person away. Everyone has different interpretations of what is and what isn’t appropriate behaviour, the game gives them the chance to express themselves. The room is full of happy faces, some giggling as they watch how their friends will scare the others off their seat.

Erika originally set up Open Cage Ensemble because her sister, Meredith, was unable to access mainstream drama group for adults.  Originally Open Cage Ensemble was focused on drama but has expanded to be a mixture of multi-disciplinary creatives, ranging from music, drama and art. The group started with Tantrum theatre with a strong focus on arts,

We did a multi arts workshop because I felt music was an important part of any process and I wanted to give people a chance to explore their creativity, which meant exploring all different areas of the arts.”

Erika is passionate about the Open Cage Ensemble, so when they needed to move after a year of being with Tantrum Erika couldn’t let the idea go. It’s no wonder either, inside the classroom there is a relaxed energy. Everyone is excited to be there and enjoys what they are doing. Rather than give in Erika took her business to Waratah Public School,

“I took Open Cage, and running a business is not what I like to do, and I’m not very good at it but it’s the only way the program can exist. There are three different programs, one is creating the self, it is for people over 18 and they have a variety of abilities and experience. It’s just going along facilitating their creative journey.”

Last year the ensemble recreated Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was during the process that Erika found herself in a psychiatric hospital for 38 days. This caused a shift in the play, changing the essence entirely. Erika talks about the shape the play took,

“It became a mixture of Shakespeare verbatim techniques and just the experience that I had and how it affected the people around me who were relying on me to come to rehearsals but I wasn’t really functional. It’s a comment on the system and how it wasn’t working for me with the onset of the NDIS. So we did that but wanted to take it further, so at the start of the year five members applied for grant and each was successful. So those grants are helping to take the ensemble to Sydney so we’re volunteering our time and equipment to make it happen. It basically optimises what Open Cage is and what we do.”

Being a part of Open Cage Ensemble is a retreat for some. They are able to vent out their frustrations and act inappropriately without social stigma. It’s refreshing for everyone. During the bus stop game I felt at a loss for how I could scare someone off their seat. I felt too shy to go up and shout or scare someone so instead I sat on a girl. It’s not a regular thing for me to sit on someone but that’s what I found myself doing.

And she refused to move.

So I nudged her off the seat with my butt until she was off the seat. And do you know what? It felt strange, unusual and liberating. It was a step out of my comfort zone. After apologising for butt-hustling we both laughed and so did everyone else in the room. It was okay that I inappropriately stole someone’s seat with my butt. Testing out different behaviours, what is and what isn’t acceptable, is also a big part of what Open Cage Ensemble is about.

“For a lot of us we have to be on our best behaviour to work with our supports. And I know that some of the people who come to Open Cage are seen as difficult or challenging because of behaviours but here we don’t have a problem with anybody’s behaviour. It’s also that thing of making people feel safe enough that if any of those behaviours did arise that it’s okay. We’re not going to shut them down or kick them out; it’s tricky.”

The next project will see Open Cage Ensemble working with Octapod and taking their creative journey to Nobbys and Newcastle Beach over summer. Titled “The Storm”, this feature will be an ongoing performance piece with pop up performances, interactive art installations and workshops. What can you expect from the Storm? Anything.

“We’re all triple threats”, Meredith tells me with a big smile.

Like a Midsummer Nightmare, the Storm will also be focused around mental health issues. There are many Shakespeare titles to choose from but there is a specific reason why Erika chose the Tempest,

“Like how a Midsummers Night Dream became a Midsummers Nightmare the Tempest has become the Storm. We’re finding all these things in the Tempest that really relate to our lives at the moment. I guess the whole thing with storms is there is the anticipation before the storm and whatever your reaction is, then what’s after the storm. A lot of us are going through a lot of chaos with the NDIS and other changes. My life has been in chaos for 2 years and I still haven’t come out of the storm.”

Open Cage Ensemble is inviting the public to join and share their stories. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet a great group of individuals who are looking to make the best of their abilities. From Jan who plays the digeridoo, James who does drumming workshops and Nell and Sarah who are avid Shakespeare fans. There’s a lot of talent in the ensemble and you can be a part of it too.

“We’ve all been broadening our skills but we’re hoping also that the local community and broader community get involved. Part of Open Cage is having a voice and telling stories, so we’re hoping that people can share stories with us and all of that is going to shape and fashion our project.”

The Open Cage Ensemble will take over Nobbys Beach and surrounds from January 6th – February 4th. You can view the full program on the Octapod website and be kept up to date via the facebook event page. You can also contact Christina on 0415 699 227 or via if you would like more information or would prefer not to use the online Eventbrite registration form. All events are free, but some require registration.

Interview by Jodie Millard on behalf of Culture Hunter.

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Category: News
Region: Newcastle
Artform: Theatre,

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