|HANDSPAN VISUAL THEATRE|
|Premiere||5 April 2000|
|Venue||George Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre|
LIFT ‘EM UP SOCKS opened at the Arts Centre, Melbourne and showcased in Quebec in 2000. In 2001, the production toured Northern Territory, played a return season in Melbourne, and its final season in Vienna.
The play was inspired by a collection of 1950s marionettes made by the Australian puppeteer Bill Nicol,1 which were loaned to Tom E. Lewis for restoration. Most of the puppets were European folk-tale characters but included were three Australian personalities, including a small Aboriginal boy made for the Jim-Vickers Puppet Pantomime2 in 1958. The boy piqued Lewis’ curiosity and led him to approach Handspan Theatre and the development of the play.
LIFT ‘EM UP SOCKS was a semi-autobiographical work, tracing Lewis’ life from growing up in Arnhem land to his sudden fame as a movie star (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith,1978); from the turbulence of alcohol abuse and estrangement from his family and community, to a new journey of self-discovery and reclamation of his life and traditions. Using the events in Lewis’ life as inspiration the work explored themes of personal, cultural and racial unity.
The Aboriginal boy puppet replicated by Rod Primrose as a rod puppet for the play, signified Lewis’ spirit and memory of his childhood. The title of the play recalls the instructions Lewis and his mission school mates received before the inspector's visit: lift 'em up socks, boys. It was an important work for Lewis, a high-profile indigenous artist, a Melbourne Olympic torch bearer during the play's opening season. He was keen to illustrate not only the social malaise in many indigenous communities through the paradigm of his own life, but to explain his culture and its stories and their place in his life.
Lewis performed the work with Rod Primrose who, covered in white make up and wearing a white costume, represented the multiplicity of white people, generally figures of authority, in the stories of Tom’s life. Rod and Tom manipulated the small Aboriginal boy puppet in turn. In Tom's hands, he re-enacted childhood memories. In Rod's, he provoked Tom to a protective nurturing or sometimes, to rage.
The production combined actors and puppets with video and projections. Drawings, writing and graffiti merged with water and rock formations, to create a fusion of contemporary Aboriginal experience and Dreamtime storytelling.
LIFT 'EM UP SOCKS was an innovative work that merged the company's puppetry-based visual performance style with 21st century digital imagery with effective and meaningful fluidity. It addressed contemporary issues, played across all age groups and was widely tourable. It was a new Australian work with flagship potential.
Nevertheless, the play was last Handspan (by now Handspan Visual Theatre) production to tour. Its development and rehearsal were fraught with personal troubles. Lewis' brother died and so did Director, David Bell's father. There were floods in Arnhem Land which stranded Lewis just before opening night. Bell said:
Despite its difficulties, the work toured with considerable success in 2001 - to seasons in Brisbane, to the Northern Territory where it was performed outdoors in 8 community locations and at the Darwin festival, and a return season in Melbourne before the company's final appearances in Vienna, Austria for the Die Macht Des Staunens Festival.
The play may have ushered in a new creative era for Handspan to lift 'em up socks and continue to operate under a new artistic leadership, but it was not the time3. Artists in other places were however, merging genres and mediums in hybrid production styles - some influenced by Handspan's work over its decades - and visual theatre production for mainstage performance has since become a hallmark of much 21st century work across the globe.
Scroll back to Click Tab: The People & The Performances
|Puppetry direction||Heather Monk|
|Lighting designer||Nick Merrylees|
|Executive producer||Fleur Parry|
|Performers||Tom E. Lewis|
|Stage manager||Angela Pamic|
|Puppet maker||Rod Primrose (Aboriginal boy: replica Bill Nichol 1958 (By permission The Actors Agency, Melbourne)).|
|Set builders||Darryl Cordell, David Hope, Nicholas von der Borch|
Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The Performances
|5 April -||George Fairfax Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne VIC|
|25 November - 1 December||CINARS Showcase, Moyse Hall, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec|
|11 – 14 July||Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane|
|18 July - 26 July||Northern Territory Tour: Jabiru; Oenpelli; Manangrida; Beswick; Barunga; Daly River|
|28 & 29 July||Brown's Mart, Darwin Festival Fringe, Northern Territory|
|2 – 7 November||David Williamson Theatre, Prahran, Victoria|
|12 – 14 November||Dietheatre Kunstlerhaus, Die Macht Des Staunens Festival, Vienna, Austria|
Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The People