The world is starting to tip on its axis and washed-up jellyfish scatter the sand like stars in the sky. The water tastes a little different and the month of April was cancelled recently. Bees are beginning to disappear, but that’s okay because they’re communist spies. Speaking of spies, have you heard? The birds are watching, and so is the government.

This is the world of Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs, a new play by South Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer being presented by South Australian Youth Arts Theatre Company (SAYarts) at the 2021 DreamBIG Children’s Festival.

Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs is a coming-of-age story set in a world where everything that once felt certain now feels strange. Director Clara Solly-Slade says the play seeks to help teenagers understand that it is okay to not know their place in the world, and also reassure them that they aren’t the only ones who feel that way.

“It’s about where you fit in the world and, as a teenager, you just don’t really know. Like, the universe doesn’t revolve entirely around you!

“It’s coming to terms with your place in the world and realising that your actions are going to have an impact on others and others’ actions will impact you and sometimes that is deliberate and sometimes it’s not – it’s about how you become okay with that.”

SAYarts is a collective of actors, directors, writers and other creatives that runs theatre classes for young people of all ages and each year offers its students the opportunity to audition for roles in major projects for festivals such as DreamBIG and the Adelaide Fringe.

All the 12 performers in Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs are young actors who have been involved with the company for a long time.
 For the production, they get to work with a team of professional experienced creatives, including Kruckemeyer, a prolific playwright who has previously written works for Slingsby and will also premiere a new large-scale work (Hibernation) with State Theatre Company later this year, and Solly-Slade, who is currently working with the State Theatre Company and State Opera as she undertakes an emerging director fellowship.

“It’s a huge age range,” she says of the cast. “My youngest actor is 13 and is still in primary school and I have a couple of actors who are first-year university students aged about 19 and 20.

“They’re amazing; the older students mentor the younger ones and the younger ones have really lifted to come up to their level.”

Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs will be presented at The Lab, the new multi-functional and multi-genre immersive performance space in Light Square.  With the use of The Lab’s 50sqm of LED screens, the SAYarts team is able to create a world that goes beyond what is happening on the stage.

“The Lab has all these big screens so there is one character, Ted Nolan, who just exists in this digital world and the rest of the ensemble is on stage,” Solly-Slade says.

The play seeks to explore serious topics such as climate change, politics and coming of age in a very playful way using conspiracy theories to explore the world and imitate the uncertainty that comes with growing up.

“It’s about being okay to sit in confusion and being okay to sit in multiple truths and the fact that there isn’t really one right and one wrong and one clear answer.

“There are all of these things that can be wrong and right in the same moment. The experience of existence is complex and that’s okay. Sometimes the things we experience within feel like they’re opposites but they’re not, they’re one and the same thing.”

Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs is recommended for audiences aged 11 and up, with high school students invited to view the play as well as public performances.

“I think Finnegan has really beautiful writing and so I think it can be enjoyed by any age,” Solly-Slade says. “There are things that are quite funny and some moments which will speak to the teenagers but will also speak to the adults who were teenagers once.”

Everything They Ever Said with Fingers Crossed Behind Their Backs will premiere at The Lab on May 18, with shows continuing until May 23. DreamBIG Children’s Festival runs from May 19-29.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.