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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

8 March 2022

Full throttle for theatre

With his journey from stage to school to study and back paved with dramatic theatre, JCU Honours Student Todd Barty is taking a creative look at Australian Gothic and Magical Realism in theatre.

For Todd, drama has been the passion that has stuck with him throughout his life. “I studied theatre here in Townsville at JCU some years ago and specialised in acting. Drama really was the passion that stayed with me, and after completing my theatre degree, I studied education.”

By day, Todd is a drama teacher at St Anthony’s Catholic College in Townsville and at any other given time Todd is directing, writing and acting in theatre productions around North Queensland.

“I was one of the founding cast members of Props Youth Theatre in 2001, which then became a part of Full Throttle Theatre Company in Townsville in 2021,” Todd says.

He has continued to direct a range of theatre productions around North Queensland, including work in the Ravenswood community, where he presented a series of short works – one of which referenced the people and history of the town. “I’ve recently worked with a group of actors to do a series of performances at Ravenswood for Halloween,” Todd says. “Prior to that I was the artistic director of Cloudstreet for Full Throttle Theatre Company’s 35th Anniversary.”

While Todd wears many hats — teacher, director and playwright — he continues to play an important role in the life of theatre throughout North Queensland. He has brought plays such as Pygmalion, The Secret Garden, and King Ubu to Townsville, and often reimagines beloved fairytales for the stage. “My most recent project with Props Youth Theatre is Sleeping Beauty of Camelot, which I wrote and directed for Christmas,” Todd says.

The historic Ravenswood church in the far background with stormy clouds in the sky.
Large historic headstones in a cemetery with sand and dried grass around and bright blue skies and clouds in the background.
Todd used a number of historic locations in Ravenswood as part of his theatre productions. Left: Ravenswood Community Church. Right: Ravenswood cemetery.

The spooky side of Australian theatre

It was Todd’s combined interest in theatre and teaching that led him to begin his Honours research.

“I have always been curious about further study,” Todd says. “So, when JCU advertised that they were looking for people to do research in the area of fairytale and the Australian Gothic — which are two areas that I’ve worked in a lot both as a teacher and as a director and playwright — I jumped at the chance to put forward an idea for a creative research project,” he says.

Todd’s Honours research is creatively exploring the overlapping modes of expression of Magical Realism and the Australian Gothic in theatre, which sometimes contain tropes of fairytales and folklore. “The appropriation of fairy tale motifs or folkloric practices in storytelling is something that often pops up in Australian Gothic and Magical Realist theatre,” Todd says. “So, I wanted to write a series of short plays that are told as fairy tales to utilise the conventions I see emerging in these genres.”

But what does the Australian Gothic and Magical Realism look like in theatre? Todd says they are more than just spooky stories with an Australian setting. “There is a fascinating task in defining the Australian Gothic in theatre, with it represented in both performance conventions and written aesthetics,” Todd says.

The staging and the characters are important parts of the Australian Gothic and Magical Realism. “Often the stage is imagined as quite a liminal space, where the storytelling and narration has a type of magical quality,” Todd explains. “Often there are also characters and narrators who can slide between the world of the audience and the world of the story itself.”

High school drama

Todd’s research involves creative-led practice, which means he also has a creative output for his Honours thesis. For Todd, this involves writing an anthology of short plays that will hopefully be used to teach students about the Australian Gothic and Magical Realism within the Queensland Drama Senior Syllabus.

It was this real-world application that gave Todd the push to start his research. “I’m trying to create an accessible resource for use in schools by writing an anthology of short Australian Gothic or Magical Realist fairytales,” he says.

Todd’s research will contribute to a growing style of theatre studied in senior high school drama. “Australian Gothic and Magical Realism are a style of theatre that have increasingly become a part of the Australia’s theatre landscape over the last few decades,” he says.

“They’re now part of the Australian senior syllabus for Drama, but there is significantly less research into these areas compared to something like Shakespeare or ancient Greek theatre, for example. So, I was interested in contributing to the scholarship on Australian Gothic and Magical Realism.

“The senior syllabus has this terminology around the two genres which seems to conflate the two styles together, which is why they are planned to be studied in the same unit at school,” Todd says. “Although there are some similarities in terms of how these theatre genres are performed, my research will investigate original and practical ways for high school students to understand them as a movement in Australian theatre.”

Want to take part in research that explores the world of theatre or literature? Find out what you could do with JCU’s Bachelor of Arts (Honours).

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