Dreamland: A theatrical adventure in Byron Bay’s hinterland

Dreamland brings mystery and history to life with site-specific work in Bangalow

If our local country halls could talk – or sing and dance – what stories would they tell us? Acclaimed regional theatre company NORPA is giving its own answer to that question when they stage their site-specific work ‘Dreamland’ this May.

When NORPA first staged ‘Dreamland’ at Eureka Hall in 2016, more than 1800 people flocked to see it during its extended run, making it one the theatre company’s most loved original productions. Now, NORPA has revived the project, this time in in Bangalow’s historic A&I Hall.

“When the shows sold out in 2016, we had people rocking up with their own chairs to try and sneak in,” explains show creator and director, and NORPA Artistic Director Julian Louis. “Unfortunately we had to kick them out of course, [laughs] but really, this is back by seriously popular demand.”

The production has been tweaked, with some character changes at the forefront.

“We were really happy with the original, but we’ve had a chance to improve a few areas,” Julian says.

“There’s an Indigenous character in the piece knowns as The Showman, and we wanted to deepen his story a bit. You know these halls were not welcoming to Indigenous people across history. They were exclusive spaces for white people to gather and play their music and have their celebrations, and we thought it was important to have more commentary around how it reflects Australia’s racist past and the fact that were moving to build a better future for Australia that’s welcoming and accessible to everyone.”

Dreamland is a world where time overlaps, where the ghosts of country halls come to life to tell a joyous and powerful story of community, change and renewal across generations. The stories themselves were based on research done by the NORPA team, who talked to many locals about their relationship with the halls.

“You can hear those people that we spoke with in those stories,” Julian tells us. “It’s based on real people and real events. A scene about a returning soldier coming back into the community, a story of a woman who’s grown past the death of her husband and the kids leaving and now she’s living on 100 acres on her own, those things are real and they happen to people now today.”

The Northern Rivers are a fantasy destination for many, with city dwellers aplenty dreaming of a simpler life among the trees and the stars. However the reality of such a change can be anything but simple, as ‘Dreamland’s protagonist Jason discovers in the piece.

“He has come here for a dream life,” says Julian. “People come here to escape and start a new life growing their own veggies but it’s not always that simple because life isn’t like that, so Jason’s journey throughout the piece is about discovering community and finding the way in which he can surrender to his new regional lifestyle.”

We don’t need to look too far for the real-life inspiration for Jason. Having moved to the Northern Rivers more than twelve years ago from the bustle and anonymity of Sydney, Julian’s own path to surrender was not always a smooth one.

“It was massive, it was daunting and difficult and it was a bit isolating at first,” he admits. “I’ve had my own big journey needing to work out how to have a community and what community is so I think there’s a definite personal edge.”

Much more than just a show, Dreamland is a celebration of community. Pre-show dinner will be available at venues throughout the town, and a pop-up bar will be open before and after each performance. Dreamland reflects the stories of the Northern Rivers region in a spectacular and surprising way – it may even get you dancing.

Dreamland by NORPA is at Bangalow A&I Hall 15-25 May. Tickets are available now at norpa.org.au

IMAGE (c) Kate Holmes

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