Arriving at The Butiner Studio in Coolum at dusk, we were greeted by a lustrous sunset lake-view. The curated projections were just starting to bathe the tree line in light. The mood was set: warm, splendid and inviting.
Moving in and through the studio, past intricate works of analog collage art created by curator Peta O’Hara, we came upon a welcoming bar (yes, the venue is licensed!) then spilled out into the open performance space. Here, boy band video clips played, and raised the level of excitement! Red Chair Productions, the local master-crafters of arts, cultural events and management, advised us that this was an immersive experience. It was evident from the velvet couch and the lighting that the show would be intimate. We were attentive and, given the glimpse of music videos featuring the gyrating form of Take That!’s Gary Barlow’, we were suitably stimulated.
What followed was a tender conversation with Dara Donnelly, facilitated ever-so-cleverly by theatre-maker and academic Dr. Gail Crimmins. They sat and sipped tea, drawing on Dara’s experience of being an avid boy band fan and their becoming enamoured with their own non-binary finery. The conversation was an invitation for the audience to experience and engage with delightfully devised humour and humility, that moved along a heroic story arc and carried the audience with them.
The narrative thread began when with Dara’s exuberance in expressing themselves as a youth unfettered by gender. We followed their deep teenage devotion to their beloved boy bands. If the show was an LP Vinyl recording, we went from cover to sleeve, from side A to side B. The way in which the conversation revered music as a method of transcendence and transformation provided us with a relevant point of reference; as who among us hasn’t escaped into the aural realm when experiencing difficulty or, in some cases, dysphoria. Music and the love of it opened up the unscripted conversation from the personal to the particular; it made the show all the more endearing because of its relevance and significance. At one point, our audience was asked to say the names of the idols we had postered on our walls as a teenagers. It was a unique and unifying theatre moment. We honoured our own band-obsessed selves and delighted in Dara’s ability to draw deeply on their personal wells of experience and realisation. Their careful excavation of the relationship between fan and band revealed their strengths and vulnerabilities.
This show was interspersed with sweet humour, loving connection and song. For Dara, the answer to everything had always been ‘boy bands’. This evening, the question glistened; it echoed through heart chambers and embodied truths, carefully gleaned through a series of deep reflections. If at the heart of a conversation is an invitation, we were allowed in to sit at the centre of a story that was previously kept in the margins.
There’s Something About Dara signalled the first of a series of Shed Talks, carefully and creatively devised by Peta from The Butiner and Red Chair. Consider this an open invitation to take part in them.