Bushfires and COVID-19 have dominated the headlines of 2020 across Australia and have also become a focus for the graduating students from Federation University's Arts Academy.
For the first time the groups have presented their final productions online and they are pieces that grab at the heart of Australia's experiences of the year.
Months of rehearsals have been held online as students and teachers adapt to the positives and negatives of the technology - a particular challenge being overcoming the lag in some online platforms.
The 2020 Graduating Actors Company has performed Embers, a verbatim play that performs the real words of people caught up in the North East Victorian bushfires of 2003.
Playwright Campion Decent interviewed scores of bushfire survivors from the region and wrote the play, set at a social barbecue, using their direct words.
"The play was originally written to be performed by eight actors, but my vision was to utilise the full company in our Courthouse Theatre to stage an entire community remembering, reliving, arguing and coming to terms with their experiences in the 2003 bushfires at a survivor's barbecue," said director Associate Professor Kim Durban.
"Then COVID-19 happened, and these plans were dashed.
"This recording is the result of a radical shift in delivery and imagination, as the creative team and actors returned home and the project moved online. This production of Embers has been rehearsed and performed on Zoom in bedrooms, lounge rooms and backyards all over Australia."
The new work Songs from the Other Side, the final production for the Third Year Graduating Music Theatre Company, captures the impact of COVID-19 on young people.
"In Songs from the Other Side they have been looking at the notion of COVID and hos it has isolated us as artists and the fracturing that has gone on in the community as a result of it," said Arts Academy director Associate Professor Rick Chew.
"It's a response to that in how you can be in a sense ultra-connected even without that physical connection.
"These are both very relevant works."
Associate Professor Chew said transitioning online had also provided performing arts students with a range of new skills that would be an advantage in their future careers.
"Because what we do is 90 per cent practical, the notion of doing performance or production online is something we had to adapt to really quickly," he said.
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"We never thought our students would be presenting their productions online, but this year has been full of surprises for us all. Despite the challenges of this new style of delivery, everyone involved in these productions has done an extraordinary job in creating pieces that are extremely timely and relevant."
Associate Professor Chew said COVID-19 would forever change the performing arts sector.
"Performing arts, creative arts are going to have to change as a result of this . What we are trying to explain to students, particularly graduating students, is they are part of the vanguard, part of the dystopia and why not look at the positives ... the evolution of performing arts as a result of this."
The productions are available until October 4 at https://federation.edu.au/arts-academy/whats-on
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