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Welcome to Wollongong’s Home of the Performing Arts

Memories of Merrigong – Alicia Battestini

In 2000, Alicia Battestini, in her role as Artistic Director of the recently settled Circus Monoxide, was invited by Wollongong Council to set up a circus training space in Bellambi. It was around this time that Alicia connected with Merrigong Theatre Company’s Anne-Louise Rentell, who was the Artistic-Community Facilitator at the time.

“Meeting Merrigong was meeting Anne-Louise for the very first time,” said Alicia.

“I met Anne-Louise in a café just on Crown Street and I remember thinking that Merrigong was clearly a company that wanted to engage with community.”

From that humble beginning, a decades-long relationship grew and evolved, with Alicia working on numerous projects with Merrigong across a variety of disciplines and styles. From creating and performing solo and group circus and physical theatre works, to tutoring young people and performing in Merrigong mainstage productions Dead Man Brake (2017) and The Man Who Dreamt the Stars (2014).

Alicia describes her involvement in The Man Who Dreamt the Stars (2014) as one of her major highlights. Devised with a mixed-abilities cast, this work was the first Mainstage theatre work that grew from Merrigong’s long-term partnership with The Disability Trust, and was a major milestone in the development of the now permanent acting company, The Strangeways Ensemble.

“As a devising process it was joyously, creatively free and open,” she said.

“We created a language together as a cast that belonged to us. It came from how we communicated together and how we shared stories.”

This experience also informed Alicia’s current work with Relationships Australia, where she works as team leader of the Ability Groupwork program for people living with disability and their carers.

“I jumped at the position because of my experience on the production The Man Who Dreamt The Stars,” she said.

Of all the memories Alicia shared about Merrigong, the most emotionally powerful was performing on the Bruce Gordon stage in 2019 with so many of a the region’s circus community to honour the beloved local circus artist, Vestri Mendum.

“It was such a powerful moment farewelling with community a beautiful friend who took his life,” she said.

“The audience was full, the stage was full and everyone was crying together; laughing and crying through the beautiful art made that afternoon. It was nuts and gorgeous. Vestri would have loved it.”

Alicia continues her artistic work, collaborating on a new project with video artist Mic Gruchy titled Elsie for Vestri, which she described as an outlandish and tender exploration of grief and loss.
Having the space to develop solo work has been key for Alicia.

“I feel that Merrigong doesn’t just say they’re here for independent artists, they are actually here for us,” she said.

“How else are you going to make new work as a solo creative? You need a space. And you need support.”

At the centre of Alicia’s memories and feelings about Merrigong is the emphasis on community in practical terms.

“Merrigong continue to keep the door open to local artists and to community, which is so important to the artistic life blood of a regional city,” she said.

Alicia’s advice for young performers who want to get involved in the circus realm of performing is to bring “all of you” to every practice.

“Find one or two core skills that resonate with you and show up for them every day. Read lots. Learn an instrument. See tonnes of work – all kinds of theatre, music and dance. Keep a journal of what you see. Bring new ideas, all kinds of media, music, and text to what you are making with your body. Collaborate with people who inspire you.”

“Be endlessly patient and kind with your body so you can keep performing when you’re fabulously old.”


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