Screening at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival to be held in Sydney next month, Kings of Baxter follows the Bell Shakespeare workshop program at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre for Boys.
Since 2010, the Bell Shakespeare Company has run an annual series of workshops at juvenile justice centres, aimed at helping young detainees build self-confidence and find their voice. Recently the company launched their most ambitious undertaking to date: a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre for Boys. This time it was filmed.
James Evans -Bell Shakespeare Associate Director says about the program; “It was designed to provide a creative and positive outlet for the participants’ energy. The boys increased with confidence every day, speaking and performing in front of their peers. They were encouraged to become increasingly articulate in their discussions around the play, particularly on the issue of how our actions affect ourselves and other people.”
Film Director Jack Yabsley recognised the power of Bell Shakespeare’s program and wanted to capture that impact for a wider audience. “I know that having theatre, music and film in my life has shaped the way I see the world. I wanted this film to be an exploration of that, and to observe how relevant a theatre practice like this could be.
“The process of making the documentary ended up being three years of our lives. We started with no funding and limited experience, but a whole lot of passion to tell this story,”
With unprecedented access to the boys and the centre, this film explores life in detention and follows these young men over a 12-week workshop as they rehearse and perform a version of the classic for inmates, staff, friends and family. Through their interpretations of Macbeth, the boys are challenged to consider their place in the world: their choices, circumstances, and future.
Evans initially found the filming process confronting- but the camera’s soon faded from view. “ I found myself second-guessing everything I said, hyper-aware of sounding stupid. But within one session, Jack (the director) and Josh (the DOP) blended into the background, and we almost forgot they were there. It was the same with the boys – in the first session they were playing up to the camera, but by Day 2 they were ignoring them, even when the boys were miked up for a particular moment.”
Over three months, the film team watched a whole range of experiences. “Some boys stumbled, others found it too intense, so they dropped out – most had to combat nerves, and worries about how they would be seen by their wider centre community. But above all, we got to experience a group of teenagers expand their world and try things they never had before. And’ Yabsley says ‘that is captivating.
“Shakespeare is tough. Even for classically trained professional actors, it’s not an easy text to get your head around. But what we found was that once the boys could pull apart the ideas, themes, and characters – and then relate them to their own lives, the words came to life.
Macbeth is such a great play to give to a group of teenage guys because it directly tells a story of actions and consequence. It talks of peer pressure, of ambition, dishonesty, and integrity – all things they deal with in everyday life.”
James Evan’s endorses these sentiments. ‘As a cast of actors, they learnt the value of teamwork and supporting each other. A number of the boys went further, taking on leadership and mentoring roles, encouraging others to rise to the challenge of putting on a show. Most of all, at the end of the performance, there was a great sense of achievement in the group. They had made something they could be proud of, and shared it with their loved ones – family members who were invited to the centre to watch the show.’
Antenna Documentary Film Festival
screening on the 12 October
and will broadcaste on Foxtel Arts 19 October 7:30pm
Kings of Baxter won Best Australian documentary and the Audience Award at the Antenna Documentary Film festival.