BANJO was created with the specific intention of giving new life to the
poetry of one of Australiaís greatest literary treasures, Andrew Barton
Paterson. This new life refers to creating a "dramatic" context
in-which the poems are not "recited" but rather
"performed". In this way, people who know the works will be excited
about them in a fresh way (particularly school teachers) while those who come
to them fresh (the students) will be drawn into the unfamiliar world of the
poet. Through the use of contemporary techniques such as music and often using
film like transitions the audience are carried on a theatrical journey. By
structuring the poems into a narrative that represents an "every
man" type journey of Patersonís life, the audience receive a
Shakespearean experience of poetry, although it be a very Australian one, as
they see the characters, the places and the drama reflected in a theatrical
As his Curriculum Vitae indicates, Karm (Craig) Gilespie has an impressive history
with regard to entertainment and education for young people. Qualified as a
Drama/Dance and English teacher with a B. Ed from Rusden, Gilespie has worked
extensively in a multitude of the performance and education fields available.
After graduating in 1990 he worked as an entertainer and performer , including
writing many plays for young people and touring with Polyglot Puppet Theatre.
Added to this are the many teaching workshops for primary and secondary
schools as well as holiday programs.
BANJO, as a culmination of these experiences, provides an in-depth
examination of one of Australiaís literary giants, A. B .Paterson. BANJO
services a broad cross section of the school curriculum.
Through analyses and expression of poetry, its form and structure, the
performance is an ideal vehicle servicing the English and Literature
curriculum while at the same time offering opportunities in exploring
Australian History and the Social Sciences. The important issue of identifying
the contemporary "Australian Character" is a prime target for
discussion as the play clearly represents many of the stereotypical images of
the "Aussie" character such as portrayed in the "Man From Iron
Bark", "Mulga Billís Bicycle" and the ANZAC war hero. The
issue of Australia becoming a Republic is offered a new angle with direct
comparisons available with Patersonís beliefs regarding Federation as shown
in "Our Own Flag".
Comparisons of City and Country life are obvious elements within Patersonís
works, indeed it was an issue he possibly never came to terms with on a
personal level as indicated when he wrote "And I sometimes rather fancy
that Iíd like to change with Clancy". Such questions can be explored in
a contemporary as well as a historical context with teachers able to choose to
discuss bush and city life of one hundred years ago or of today. This
comparison is ideally found with the poem "A Ballad of Ducks" which
is about a grasshopper plague which destroys a farmers ability to make ends
meet. Whilst on one hand it is a "tall story" on the other it
describes the hardships of the "men and women on the land";
hardships that are equally prevalent today as they were a hundred years ago.
Finally, the performance is ideally suited to students in the Performing
Arts. The performance is uniquely structured in terms of placing a series of
monologues together to create an entire play. The use of costume and props is
vital to the plays success with the design of the play being part of its
foundation. At times a prop is used to link one dramatic section with the next
while on another occasion it is the music that drives one moment into the
next. At all times, however, it is the literary and dramatic links that hold
the key to transposing the individual poems into a dramatic play. Put simply,
the play works as a theatrical whole and each of its elements are vital to the
other; and in this way it forms a valuable work for the theatre studentís
keen observation and analysis.
BANJO is more than a series of poems with journalistic text integrated into
a theatrical context. It is profoundly and proudly Australian. And largely
because Paterson himself was a journalist at heart, it is a vital and
important documentation of our history in both a social and literary sense.