ICE LAND: A HIP H’OPERA Meet the producer

Unless you’ve been hiding out under a rock, you’ll know that WA’s own Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera
by the folks at Yirra Yaakin is in full swing at The Subiaco Arts Centre with four shows to go ending this Saturday, October 26. Don’t miss out. MELISSA KRUGER talked to producer Elinor King about the nuts and bolts of how this unique piece of homegrown theatre with its important message for the community came together.

Where did the idea for Ice Land come from? 

Our former Artistic Director, Kyle J Morrison, has been having conversations around meth use in the local community with several artists over the years, including Ryan Samuels (Trooth) and Scott Griffiths (Optamus). Through these conversations, the idea of writing a show using hip hop as the artistic form came about. All of the key artists involved in the project have experienced the impact of meth – whether it is through friends or family members who have been users, or through audiences at gigs – which is why they decided now is the right time to create this show.

I am very interested in hearing about the process of the making of Ice Land. How did you start putting the story together?

So the process began with just getting everyone into the room together back in 2017. Kyle identified that there needed to be someone who was a strong storyteller to be involved in the early stages, so he asked Andrew Bovell, one of Australia’s premier playwrights and dramaturgs to join for that initial development (he has written Lantana and the theatre adaptation of The Season, amongst other works). Andrew was keen, partially because the idea of writing using hip hop as the key artistic device intrigued him.

A need to collect stories from various members of the community was quickly identified as being very important in order to ensure the honesty of the work, so I was brought on board as project manager initially. Former journalist Rania Ghandour and I then approached various members of the community, collecting their stories.

We ended up with so much interview material that we identified that someone was going to be needed to write the libretto (an opera term which basically means ‘the text of the work’, or the story). Zac James, one of Yirra Yaakin’s core artists and an excellent emerging playwright, was brought on board for this purpose.  It’s a topic that’s close to Zac’s heart, so we knew he was the right person for the job, and he has risen to the occasion!

It had been noticed early on that womens voices were missing, so Layla Hanbury, a local hip hop artist and Daz’s partner, was brought on board. Moana Mayatrix was also introduced to us via our lighting designer, Joe Paradise Lui – she brought a rock element and introduced new sounds and concepts to the story. The last piece of the puzzle was Beni B’Jah, another member of Downsyde. When he came on board we knew that the team was complete and the story we wanted to tell could be done so properly.

Interesting! How did you go about reaching out to the community for their real-life meth stories?

I started by reaching out to health organisations. I didn’t expect to get much response, but within a few days, I received an email from a nurse who specialises in helping people affected by drugs from one of our major public hospitals, very keen to be interviewed. His interview was brilliant – he was so generous with his time and patient with me – and it opened a floodgate for other people. So many people have stories about meth, and they want to talk about them. Kyle brought on board a friend of his, ex-journalist Rania Ghandour, to help. She was fantastic, and we were able to bounce ideas off each other and go to interviews together, as we found that in some cases we both felt safer if we went as a pair. She also had contacts that I didn’t, which was great.

I’d love to hear more about Andrew Bovell’s involvement as mentor/dramaturg. What has he brought to the project?

I know that Zac, Kyle and the team have loved having him in the room – he has been able to bring so much wisdom about story structure into the room. I know that he has also gotten a lot out of the process, particularly working with the hip hop artists!

 Why did you want to make this show?

Kyle sold me when he told me the original title – Meth – a Hip h’Opera. I’ve witnessed what the drug can do, so was completely on board with this being a story that we needed to tell. And the concept of using hip hop as the storytelling element for me was very thrilling. Plus I wanted to work with Kyle, and Yirra Yaakin.

What are you hoping that people will get out of coming to see Ice Land?

That meth affects everyone, and it affects them in different ways. Also, the homegrown music talent we have here in WA is second to none, and that hip hop is a very accessible music genre if you give it a chance.

What have been some of the challenges of the project?

We can’t let it be preachy, but at the same time, we can’t glamourise meth. That was a fine line that we’ve had to walk. We are also very aware that this show will be triggering for some users, so we’ve been working on strategies to mitigate that, whilst also making sure that it’s an honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a user.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about Ice Land?

It’s funny. I used to be pretty neutral on drug use, but after everything I’ve learned on this project, if I ever see positive portrayals of meth (which I weirdly have recently) I get very frustrated. From what I have learned, very, very occasionally you may have someone for whom the drug does nothing, but that is rare and not worth the risk. More likely the drug will ruin your life – maybe not the first time or fifth time that you try it, but it’s definitely one that’s going to get you in the end. And it will harm everyone around you in the process.

Finally, even if you’re not a hip hop lover, you will like the music in this show. Daz Reutens is one of Australia’s best contemporary composers and together with the lyricists has written an incredible album of music. All of the Subiaco Arts Centre staff and resident companies has been bopping along during rehearsals! You’re also not going to see anything else like it in WA at the moment – we’re the only professional theatre company in the state that has completely self produced a musical in some time, and certainly not using hip hop!

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