Euphoria will be touring South Australia from April 30 through to June as a way to increase opportunities for social connection to improve mental health and wellbeing amongst South Australians.
Playwright Emily Steel developed the piece over several years, making her way through regional and rural South Australia, having cups of tea with residents and engaging in conversations that helped inform the script.
“It was a privilege to meet so many people in so many communities and to hear about their experiences. Euphoria is fictional, but I hope that, thanks to all those who helped with the research, its characters and their stories will feel real,” Steel said.
Directed by Nescha Jelk, the heartwarming play is State Theatre Company South Australia’s 2021 Education show and a product of Country Arts SA’s Arts and Health program.
Euphoria was created with regional communities at the front of mind, with Country Arts SA Arts and Health Creative Producer, Alison Howard wanting to explore the paradox of how life in rural and remote Australia presents challenges that impact health and wellbeing, yet statistics indicate that people in country areas are happy.
“Over two years, Emily and I met with people in regional communities and also spent time in mental health units meeting with clinical staff and clients to talk about the joys and challenges of country life,” Howard said.
“Across the state, conversations turned to water, services and health. Emily has demonstrated the value of deep engagement in regional communities, bringing authenticity, compassion and incredible wit to this fictional tale of country life here in South Australia.”
Euphoria’s lead actors, Ashton Malcolm and James Smith are part of the team that travelled back to the towns to perform parts of the script and get feedback.
“I think doing those tours made it obvious how much research and care Emily has put into the play, so when we performed scenes to people there was so much laughing with recognition,” Malcolm said.
“Emily is a hilarious writer but also she has written these characters that are so recognisable, when we would be performing them you could see townspeople in the audience laughing and nodding and chatting to each other, they were obviously recognising a lot of the characters.”
Malcolm and Smith also tested out some of the heavier scenes that come with the play, asking the audience how they made them feel and if they were relatable.
“This play explores mental health and so there are some scenes that deal with quite sensitive material,” Malcolm said.
“We showed some of those scenes and afterwards we would say ‘How did that feel?’ And ‘Did it feel like too much?’ And ‘Did it feel relatable?’
“Overall the response was: ‘That was hard but it’s a conversation we need to have and it felt real and recognisable’ so the response was really warm and exciting and it felt like Emily had really managed to capture that regional essence incredibly well.”
Because the play touches on the topics of mental health and suicide, Country Arts SA has developed a strategy to support audiences attending performances.
Mental Health Professional Adan Richards will be attached to the tour in a role that will support each post show Q&A, providing a safe platform for audiences to ‘unpick’ the work and in doing so engage in conversation around the themes and issues Euphoria raises about mental health and wellbeing in regional towns.
“It’s a first for me to actually have someone that is a professional in the field to moderate those Q&As, so I hope that gives us an opportunity to go a little bit deeper and safer when playing our characters,” Smith said.
While Euphoria delves into hard topics such as mental illness and grief, it does so with heart and humour. Set in a town-hall style at each venue, Euphoria aims to make its audiences feel safe, welcome, and all set to hear a good story – just like being invited in for a cuppa.
Euphoria will premiere on April 30 in Renmark before touring state wide to 14 regional towns from 6-15 May at Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre. Purchase tickets here.
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