For the Ones Who Walked Away

Amelia Swan

St Martins’ production is a piece of collaborative brilliance.
For the Ones Who Walked Away

Image:  For the Ones Who Walked Away. Supplied.

St Martins’ production, For the Ones Who Walked Away, is a piece of collaborative brilliance. Designers, actors, musicians and the director have come together to create a show that speaks of the wonderful things that can happen when many creative people – literally hundreds in this case – are brought together.

This is work based on months of collaboration and deep process initiated by director Nadja Kostich. The provocation was the ethical quandary posed in Le Guin’s short story: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

The piece examines the world we live in, the structural violence that underpins a society and the responsibility of individuals to act. On another level For the Ones Who Walked Away is a rare moment for an adult to be led back in to the particulars of childhood by children themselves. This is a fleeting glimpse of what young people present as regards to hope, creative openness, sheer beauty and their ceaseless challenge of stagnancy and apathy.

As the audience trickles in past the lawns of Siteworks I am told that my group is ‘number six’ and I am greeted warmly by Isabelle Eve Petherick who is holding a large piece of paper with a six on it. She is a charming and gentle fifteen-year old student of St Martins who tells me, as we talk informally, that the show has three parts; an induction, a middle part (in which we are invited to move freely around and explore the two floors of rooms of the building), and lastly a parade.

Isabelle leads us to our induction. We are invited to imagine a place according to our own private vision of paradise. This signals the beginning of an experience which will be an inward one for the audience.

Based on the haunting parable of Ursula Le Guin, the performer tells the terrible hidden truth of this society. Far below the festivals and ‘golden lattes’ of the sunlit world, there is a child imprisoned in the dark. The child sits in a tiny, dirty room, constantly pleading to escape. Shaking, hungry and always in pain, ‘I will be good,’ the child murmurs.

She tells us that the inhabitants of the society are shown this suffering child when they are 12 years old. The majority respond with regretful acceptance but there are some people ‘who walk away’ and where they walk to is not known.

Suddenly I become aware that the performance is repeating and that the induction is over. People murmur and leave the room. What occurs then is a building full of wandering people slipping in and out of rooms, in a slightly trance like state, stunned or stirred by each encounter.

In the corridor outside I sit on one of six chairs placed a metre apart in which other audience members sit themselves tentatively. At each of our feet sits a child between the age of six and 11 looking up at us, smiling and flexing their left hand gently. With an invisible signal they pick up a stone and tell each of us about the last time they cried.

I have to bend forward to catch the words being told to me; each child tells their own story. The young boy in front of me tells me of difficult nights when he cries because he realises he will have to leave all that he loves when he dies. He tells me it’s painful and that the distress makes him reluctant to go to sleep. When I ask a fellow audience member I am told that her child last cried when her older brother beat her at basketball, another child spoke of her tears when her puppy temporarily went missing.

Then the tables are turned. Our wide-eyed subjects reach towards us and gently place the rocks in our hands, and ask, ‘Please tell me the last time that you cried.’ Obliged to speak, there is no escape from this direct one-on-one enquiry. I speak of a moment recently overcome by thoughts of my father’s Alzheimery decline. My companion nods, and comments that the last person he spoke to also cried about their father’s death, and tells me to take my stone to the ‘Stone room.’

Hopping of my chair rather stunned and rather in love, I walk to the end of the corridor. I find a tiny windowless room (maybe originally a cupboard) where two teenage girls sit at small white tables, and a cage of rocks. I am warmly greeted with a big smile and invited to sit down at a table and to show my stone to my interviewer. My interviewer has big brown eyes that look deep into mine and I can feel again I am ‘in deep.’

The penetrating stare and close quarters are here again. Questions and revelations follow.

‘If the stone could tell you one thing about the future what would it be?’ She awaits my answer which I give. ‘Please tell your life story in one minute,’ she says and an egg timer is flipped. More questions follow, ‘How brave do you think you are?’ she creates a stone ideogram, and ‘What are three things we have in common?’ Again I try to answer, she replies to me, ‘We both get sad sometimes.’

Suddenly there is an announcement and we are told to proceed to the long main corridor.

This is the parade, the third part of the piece and we are all together. A teenager leads the slow procession of performers in a line down the long corridor. Six year olds walk along, carefully suppressing the trot of a kid’s walk, some smile wide smiles as they hold their rocks high in their right hands, some performers look deeply into the eyes of their sitting observers sad, detached, others walk as if in a trance.

They are leaving. 


Rating:  5 stars out of 5

For the Ones Who Walked Away

Presented by: St Martins

Created by: Nadja Kostich and the St Martins Ensemble

Concept by: Nadja Kostich


About the author

Melbourne-based art writer and historian.