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Board a shamanic flight in the Spirit of the Phoenix
On entry to Christ Church, St Kilda we were greeted at the door with warm handshakes from Greek women wearing blue headscarves, serving us cakes and espresso coffee in tiny blue and white cups. This hospitality is symbolic of the Greek culture where you are welcomed into the family home, to share The Greek Mythological Boat Show by SPARC Theatre, unfolding in the large and beautiful cathedral.
In the centre of the foyer was a model boat, similar to The Enterprise, lit by fairy lights, photos, suitcases and remnants of the immigration journey from Greece to our southern shores in the hope of a better life. Blue and white laundry decorated the church, symbolic of hard-working Greek immigrants arriving in Australia with very little, and sought jobs in cleaning, factories and labour until they could establish a home for their family.
The Ambassador (Stezzo Gray) and his Assistant (Jaya Narayan)
The Ambassador (Stezzo Gray) opens by narrating a perilous situation in St Kilda, where the cats are vomiting and the place stinks of gas, produced by an evil warlord 'Timmy the Wrestler' who has instituted a 6.00 pm curfew on all residents and shut down all the nightclubs. The narration is accompanied by an animation 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' (Lindsay Cox) based on original artwork and story by former ensemble member Raymond Westwood and SPARC Theatre.
Bully Timmy appears 'live' on screen with his latest 'music video' making threats to the community from a local carpark.
We then hear the Lament of the Immigrant 'My Black and White Swallow' a folk song, performed in a local Greek dialect which accompanies the story of Spiros' mother immigrating from Greece to Melbourne by boat after experiencing World War II, a civil war and an earthquake. Later, Spiros' father arrives and works day shift whilst his mother works night shift in factories so they can make a family home in Australia.
The Ambassador standing under the 'Mati' or evil eye, invites everyone in the community to escape Timmy the Bully and board a shamanic flight of the Phoenix to a better place. This brings joy and song and dancing of the 'Zorba' as each person is crowned with a bird and boards the mythological flight.
SPARC Theatre gathers its actors and performers from the community of Port Phillip, and workshops their real stories and transforms them into performances.
The Greek Mythological Boat Show uses ancient Greek myths, to transport the audience from the mundanity of everyday life to a place where you can leave your burdens behind.
The story of Achilles is used in the show as a metaphor for the migrant experience. Achilles was known for his strength, however, his fatal flaw was his connection to his mother Thetis. Although she dipped Achilles into the river to seal his strength, she held on to his foot so tight that his 'heel' was not immersed. Similarly, in The Greek Mythological Boat Show, those who have left their 'motherland' to migrate to Australia, still feel strong ties to their country of origin, and this does not always assist them to settle or assimilate into a different culture.
The metaphor of flight is used several times in the show from the Greek mythology of the Phoenix, a bird which can combust and die in its own flames, then rebirth and live for hundreds of years. Rising from the ashes and beginning again, is often the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants all over the world who seek safety, employment and a home.
When the Ambassador announces the community will take a shamanic flight each member of the community is crowned with bird – cockatoo, galah, parrots, chicken, rooster – almost like Noah taking animals on to the Arc two by two. The freedom of and weightlessness of flight, surrounded by a friendly flock is surely the best way to travel as you escape to a better place.
Directed by Katie Lockett, the performance was inspired by 'The Birds' by Aristophanes. The theme of flight is also evident through original writing 'Pandora's Box' and 'Nobody Loves a Pigeon' written and performed by ensemble member Mary Grace Levakis.
The paradox is that freedom is often short-lived or reserved for the privileged in our society. To travel overseas is a luxury and many immigrants to Australia, rarely return home to their country of origin, whether for a visit or for reunification with loved ones. Despite this, Melbourne and other Australian cities have benefited from the struggle and hard-working family values of the Greek community and their deeply hospitable and generous culture and continue to benefit from immigration today.
Official image - The Greek Mythological Boat Show
The Greek Mythological Boat Show is art with heart - there is sadness, empathy, joy, comedy, audience participation and celebration with a great rendition of 'Mama Mia' by ABBA. You walk out of this show and feel like your humanity is restored, and the world is a better place. That's the difference theatre with a big 'C' makes to communities by giving voice to their stories, and making us look at ourselves, and evaluate our attitudes and treatment of those who struggle and are different to us.