Summer Rowland Smith and Josie Crocker keynote speakers at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Education Launch for 2024

Summer: Hey everyone, I am Summer and this is Josie and we are Year 10 Drama students from Brigidine College in St Ives. In May this year, we were fortunate enough to participate in one of the STC’S  Schools Days, seeing the critically acclaimed one-woman show, Julia, as well as attending a pre and post-show discussion.

Josie: For the pre-show discussion, we heard of the mammoth task of creating Julia from Charley Sanders, the assistant director of the production. It was incredibly inspiring that every single move, every set piece, every prop was a calculated choice. And as I was watching the play I could just see these elements all weave together to create this beautiful tapestry of a play. More than anything you could get in a classroom, this talk allowed us to not just view Julia as a fantastic story but also unadulterated art.

Summer: We are of the age where we never really knew Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. I don’t know what we were doing in between the ages of 3 and 6 – eating sand and whatnot. But what we have been exposed to is a sort of retrospective labelling of who Julia is, and while this play is definitely a retrospective on the mythmaking surrounding Julia, as Charley had told us, what really stuck out to me was not only the humanity in the script but also Justine’s groundbreaking performance.

Josie: And while we might not be of the age to remember Julia Gillard, we are definitely of the age to remember Justine Clarke, and let me tell you I was just starstruck. For the post-show discussion, we were invited to ask questions of the cast and creatives and I asked Charley how she thinks the meaning of the production will change as it is hopefully performed far into the future. The answer I was given is that while social conditions change, remembering and appreciating the moment in time of Julia Gillard, and the mythology surrounding her will always be resonant.

Summer: I was able to ask Justine about the preparation that was undertaken for a role as iconic and recognisable as Julia Gillard, and the challenges faced trying to make the role her own, whilst also trying to accurately portray an iconic figure. From an actor’s perspective, how do you play a person who is still alive? How do you relive those experiences, when they were never yours to begin with? And I was not disappointed with her answer, telling us about all the experimentation, research, and trial and error involved in bringing her character to life. And as someone who is aspiring to make acting a career herself, it was so inspiring to hear all the hard work and all the successes of someone you idolise.

Josie: And while we not only loved the play, Summer and I think that just taking students to the theatre, having a discussion, making it relevant to us is just the most important part of the School’s Days. We both found that being able to ask questions directly, dig deeper into not just the play but the conventions of theatre incredibly impactful. Because theatre has an undeserved image problem among the youth as something for nannies with pacemakers. But I don’t know how anyone could come out of this day and still believe that.

Summer: Being exposed to the weird construct of stepping into a dark hushed theatre, sitting in a chair, and feeling the tingles as the lights go down as you sit in silence and anticipation, it’s just an otherworldly experience. And more than that it’s a shared experience. A temporary kind of community and we dont have enough of that in everyday life, particularly as adolescents.

Josie: To all the teachers in the room,we know being on a bus with a bunch of teenagers is intense at the best of times, but I  feel that I was exactly the right person to see this production, and I am sure your students will feel the same way. We aren’t all raised in families of thespians, and we might not all be actresses and actors- and that’s ok. But giving the opportunity for a young person to empathise with others, enter another reality when the world is so divided, it really is a gift.

Summer: As for us, we will be starting our HSC next year and we’re both excited to continue our studies in Drama, so if you have any tips let us know. We want to thank everyone who made this happen, and if the STC will please have Brigidine back, I am so excited for the new program and we will be the first ones off the bus.

Thank you so much

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