Performing back to back

Thomas Banks
Back to Back has made successful theatre shows for over 20 years. The actors in their shows are people with a disability. Back to Back won a $25,000 award for brave writing. They used the money to work on another bold new show. The actors say they enjoy working on new ideas for shows and performing for other people. The company's aim is to make the best art they can.
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Thomas Banks on 06/05/2011
Two young women sit on a bench looking bored in the play Food Court.
Two young women sit on a bench looking bored in the play Food Court.

Food Court, starring Nicki Holland and Rita Halabarec. Photo: Jeff Busby

For over 20 years, Back to Back Theatre has thrilled audiences around the world with powerful, moving and inspirational performances. Now one of Australia’s leading contemporary theatre companies, Back to Back has developed an original and distinctive voice and showcases the talents of its actors with intellectual disabilities.

Back to Back’s work was recently acknowledged by the $25,000 Kit Denton Fellowship, an award that recognises courageous, bold and challenging ideas.

Writer, comedian and television producer Andrew Denton says we were looking for writers with courage, to think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable. I think we can proudly say that in Back to Back Theatre, we found it.

The fellowship allowed the company to develop their project Ganesh Vs the Third Reich into a marketable script. The story explores themes of cultural appropriation and follows the journey of the Hindu God as he travels to Nazi Germany to reclaim the swastika symbol from Adolf Hitler.

Back to Back artistic director Bruce Gladwin says the play is a very rich and robust piece of work. For us, it's going to have to answer a lot of questions, he says.

More employment and recreational opportunities

Mr Gladwin says that Back to Back was formed in Geelong in 1987, a time when many institutions for people with a disability were closing and there was a need for more employment and recreational opportunities.

There was a group of artists in Geelong that worked in visual arts, theatre and music, explains Mr Gladwin. They started running workshops (which) led to a performance called the Big Bag Show. The show began touring and become a successful model for an ensemble of actors with disabilities.

Back to Back's cast consists of seven professional young actors whose passion and dedication to their craft is obvious.

Develop the performance

Actor Scott Price says his inspiration comes from many different sources. We just do improvisations and then work with those storylines to develop the performance, he says.

Another member of the ensemble, Sarah Mainwaring, says she really enjoys the opportunity to contribute to the development of new shows and the chance to tour. I love being able to show other audiences the work, she says. I believe getting their opinions is really valuable.

Bryan Tilley adds that the experience gained at Back to Back Theatre will be really valuable. I need practice for my future career, and believe me, I'm getting good at it. I'm not letting anything get in my way.

Bruce Gladwin attributes the success of the theatre company to being bold and having high standards. I think if you're at the forefront of a particular artistic form and if you're a pioneer, then it actually supports your journey, he says, adding that it is also important that the actors are recognised as professionals.

We try not so much not to focus on the social dynamic of people with disabilities or the political situation of those people. We just try to make the best art.


Back to Back has announced the world premiere season of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich.  It will be performed at The Malthouse in Melbourne from September 29 to October 9, 2011.

More information can be found at the Back to Back Theatre website (opens new window).

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