Taking home a Helpmann

Article image - Taking home a Helpmann Having a resident theatre company benefited Bendigo’s Arts scene. Photograph courtesy Arena Theatre Co.

Bendigo’s Arena Theatre has taken home the trophy for its heart warming production Robot Song in the category of Best Presentation for Children and Young People at the 19th annual Helpmann Awards.

Inspired by a true story, Robot Song is a touching original tale of how a father helps his daughter, who is on the Autism Spectrum, make sense of the world.

Robot Song’s writer and director Jolyon James is the parent of a young child on the Autism Spectrum.

“The way my son sees the world is a revelation. He’s so eccentric and wonderful.

“The robot in the show was a project that we did at home together. We built this robot out of hard rubbish and bits and pieces from an opp shop.”

The catalyst for writing Robot Song was a real letter, a petition signed by an entire class, that was given to the child of a friend.

Robot Song is an antidote to the horrible letter, which was signed by every student in the class and contained the phrase:

“No-one wants you at this school. We wish you had never been born.”

“I wondered what would happen if, one day, I received a letter like this, how would I respond? So, I needed to make something that felt optimistic,” Jolyon said.

“Robot Song is a celebration of difference. It turns a negative experience into a beautiful, positive one.

“When anyone sees the show, even though it’s through the window of autism, it’s actually about difference in general. At its core, Robot Song is a conversation about the right to define ourselves on our own terms.”

Arena Theatre Company Executive Director, Sharon Custers said that winning a Helpmann Award helps leverage national and international interest for this creative Bendigo company.

“We believe this is the first time a Bendigo company has ever won a Helpmann Award.

“All our original works are developed and premiered in Bendigo. Our work is in high demand from the Chinese market at the moment, and we expect to tour Robot Song through Asia in 2020 and potentially America the following year.”

City of Greater Bendigo Mayor, Margaret O’Rourke, said, “Arena Theatre Company has developed a strong and productive partnership with the City and it is our community that directly benefits by having access to amazing theatre experiences right on our doorstep.”

Manager of Bendigo’s Capital Venues and Events, David Lloyd said having a resident theatre company producing touring works greatly benefited Bendigo’s Arts scene.

“Bendigo has a strong reputation as being a hub of creativity, innovation and excellence, and Arena is a significant contributor to this.”