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New production explores the ‘ghosts’ of Cooma’s past

Laura Peppas

When the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was introduced in 1949, it brought more than 100,000 workers from around 30 countries to Cooma.

Suddenly the sleepy rural town was transformed into a cosmopolitan hub buzzing with 24-hour nightclubs, coffee shops and restaurants.

This period of rich social cohesion and change post-World War Two will be explored in a new theatrical project at the Canberra Theatre Centre in September.

Ghosts in the Scheme‘ is a collaboration between arts and social change company Big hART, cabaret-folk band Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen (who provide the show’s live soundtrack), the Canberra Theatre Centre, South East Arts and the Cooma-Monaro Shire Council.

The show stars Lex Marinos as Greek migrant Tony, Bruce Myles as retired photographer Morgan and Anne Grigg as Morgan’s wife Grace, who are three friends reflecting on the cosmopolitan wave that swept the town when they were teenagers.

Producer Rose Ricketson, of Big hART, says the company crew spent almost two years with the Cooma community as part of “social research” for the production, discovering a richly layered past.

“When we go on stage we’re very much representing the broader Cooma community,” Rose says.

“There’s photos, footage that’s been collected, and a backlog of friendships and stories against the landscape. So even though it’s the work of [writer and director] Scott Rankin, it’s a production that is very much connected to a long heritage and a very real social environment.”

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Scott Rankin from BighART working with the Cooma community for the development stages of Ghosts in the Scheme. Photo: Greer Versteeg

Spending years working with rural, regional, remote and isolated communities is all part of Big hART’s mission since it was established over 20 years ago. The company takes a non-welfare, arts-based approach for their projects over a minimum of 150 weeks; providing a range of activities and mentoring for participants.

“Because this is the work we do we’re very careful and cautious that we don’t just come in, take stories and leave,” Rose says.

“We really do become part of the community.”

Rose says the production, which features five members of the Cooma community, is timely for the town as it goes through “a bit of an identity crisis.”

“Cooma is in a tricky spot in that it suffers a bit from being a drive through town, on the way to the coast or snow,” says Rose.

“Then having that thirty years of cultural shift and young people leaving, it’s suffering a bit of an identity crisis I feel, so I think Cooma needs something to give it a bit of pride, to tell its story, get it out there.”

And while Rose reveals the show has a “dark” edge – the three main characters are nearing the end of their life – she expects audiences to walk away with a mix of emotions.

“It’s going to be exploring some really vital, complex themes that we should all be thinking about; it explores themes of life that are beautiful and illuminated by youth and history and desire, and also illuminated by regret, sadness and loss,” she says.

“It should make for a really powerful story, and it’s going to be a very visual and musical experience as well.”

Big hART has been in residency at the Canberra Theatre Centre since 2011, and as Rose shares, will now be moving to the theatre in a more permanent capacity.

“We’re very excited to be here in Canberra because there’s a wealth of stories here and people to be working with, and we feel very grateful to have a strong Canberra team in this show,” she says.

Ghosts in the Scheme premieres at the Canberra Theatre Centre on September 2 and runs until September 5. Find more information and tickets here: https://canberratheatrecentre.com.au/show/ghosts-scheme/

Photos courtesy of Greer Versteeg

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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