La Trobe University’s regional campuses serve as the hub for a wide range of community activities. But only at Shepparton – with its new $9m building – have they culminated in a ‘glam’ opening night and arts project that involved Hollywood celebrity Pamela Anderson.
Following two weeks of intensive preparation on campus for the ‘Shepp Shed’ youth performance in January, the former ‘Baywatch’ actress and social activist was ‘beamed’ in live, via Skype, to speak with the cast of the world-premiere, ‘Ghost Gum High’.
‘Experiencing inclusivity and diversity using theatre and the performing arts,’ said Ms Anderson, ‘means young people have the chance to move confidently into the future.’
La Trobe Equality and Diversity Centre researcher and Shepp Shed project director, Beth Rankin, says Shepp Shed enabled local young people to tell a story about themselves, and Shepparton’s diversity, through musical theatre.
‘It also provided support and a life changing learning experience for a group of disadvantaged young people.’
Ms Rankin engaged two professionals from London’s West End to help with the musical and artistic direction of the performance. They were Warren Wills, a close friend of Pamela Anderson, and Yamin Choudury, who have both been involved in the multicultural youth musical program at London’s Haringey Shed.
She initiated the project to provide a musical theatre experience for teenagers from different backgrounds, and says it was very much a partnership that relied on good will and volunteers from the arts community. ‘All the input came from the students’ own ideas, guided by the directors who aimed for “West End” production standards’.
‘Ghost Gum High’ is inspired by the story of William Cooper, a local member of the Yorta Yorta Nation, who fought injustice faced by peoples of all races and creeds. In preparing the play, students met local Indigenous elder, Alf ‘Uncle Boydie’ Turner, William Cooper’s grandson.
‘The opportunity to meet a relative of the hero who inspired their musical made the story even more real,’ says Ms Rankin.
Speaking to the young performers, Ms Anderson said: ‘Hi guys, I’m so excited to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about what you’re doing. I’m really proud of you; you’re being very brave and this is very exciting!’
Like Ms Anderson, who provided support as a patron, Mr Wills and Mr Choudury believe activities like Shepp Shed give young people the opportunity to come together and create something of which they can be proud.
Ms Rankin says the students involved were wonderful. ‘We’re absolutely thrilled with them on every level. The change in behaviour and commitment we observed in the course of these two weeks has been phenomenal.’
Following its success in Shepparton, the ‘Shed’ concept will be extended to other areas. Darebin, near La Trobe’s Melbourne campus, is next in line.
Major sponsor of the Shepp Shed Project was the Higher Education Participation Partnership Program initiated and supported by La Trobe University. Other sponsors included Greater Shepparton City Council, Riverlinks, Moira Shire Council, Shepparton Theatre Arts Group, Uniting Care Cutting Edge, Tredway Farm and Ivanhoe Grammar School.
Watch the video news release here