Many an actor has confirmed the W C Fields maxim of “never work with animals or children” to be eminently true: both have the absolute ability to steal the scene and are completely unpredictable.
IMAGINE A CLASSROOM more than twice the size of Victoria — where the playground is as vast as the outback and the partnership between home and school is legendary.
That encompasses the ethos of the Longreach School of Distance Education (LSODE) — to provide excellence in education for children in isolated areas of the Queensland who cannot regularly attend a nearby school, and undertake all schoolroom activities via the airwaves.
There are some 200 students of LSODE spread throughout the central-west of Queensland, covering an area of 402,712 square kilometres. It’s a totally different way of schooling.
The school motto says it all — effort conquers distance — yet that terminology is stretched to the extremities when 96 students who have been selected to perform in the end-of-year play in the Longreach Civic Centre are required to travel vast distances for four days of intensive practice.
Three children travelled from Birdsville, yet they weren’t the furthest — one student lives on Durham Downs, a three-hour drive south of the central Australian town and eight hours from Longreach. Travel costs are borne by the parents.
All students apply to participate in the annual production, auditions are held over the airwaves and they choose their own characters.
This year’s production of “Porridge” is a ‘whodunnit’ involving nursery rhyme characters, and involves lumberjacks, waitresses, the dairy gang, the bear family, billy goat brothers, boys in blue, reporters, surgeons and happy valley folk.
Those selected practice their parts over the airwaves each Tuesday, and in early September, all 96 performers — who have rarely met their fellow students — converge on Longreach to combine their parts under the watchful eye of LSODE teacher and choreographer Rachelle Moore (pictured left).
She came to Longreach 21 years ago to do her three years of country service, met a local man, married and has become part of the community.
“This has become my passion,” said Rachelle. “It costs $40,000 to produce the show — and apart from involving teachers and staff, Brisbane actor, Sean Dennehy, travels to Longreach to work with the children to improve their acting skills.”
Dennehy (pictured right) has worked around the globe, is artistic director of his Brisbane-based company, was director of Opera Queensland’s Moving Opera from 2008 to 2012, and has appeared in television shows “Rake,” “Secrets and Lies,” “The Gods of Wheat Street” and the Mabo telemovie on ABC and Home and Away.
He says the children learn their lines well.
Principal of LSODE, Rowena Arthur, said the school production is held every two years.
November 29 is showtime for the LSODE production of “Porridge,” when all children with their parents will again travel vast distances to be in Longreach ready for a full dress rehearsal on the day prior.