Challenging attitudes to domestic violence through innovative creative work

By Dan Lander

Geoff Gillham’s play Bone Cage

UniSA researchers are integrating live theatre, multimedia and gaming to deliver a new production that confronts the complex challenges and choices faced by people experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV).

Informed by UniSA DFV researchers, and led by UniSA theatre academic and director, Dr Corinna Di Niro, a multidisciplinary team encompassing gaming, digital media, sound design and film, has developed a new adaptation of Geoff Gillham’s play Bone Cage, which delivers a stark, surreal depiction of the challenges facing a woman trapped in an abusive relationship.

“Often, people experiencing domestic violence find themselves cut off from the outside world,” Dr Di Niro says.

“There are usually no simple answers, no safe alternative or ‘way out’, but this can be very difficult for outside observers to understand.

“This production is a way to help audiences experience that complexity, to see the situation from the inside, and in doing so, hopefully develop a more supportive perspective on the situation.”

Supported by UniSA Creative, the production will feature as part of the 2022 Adelaide Fringe Festival, with eight shows at the Hartley Playhouse in February.

The production integrates complex video and audio components and also features interactive elements, where the audience is invited to provide input through a specially developed app, with their comments displayed as part of the performance. The shows then conclude with workshop sessions, allowing audience members to discuss the issues raised and creative techniques employed.

“We want this to go way beyond conventional theatre and we’re really pushing the boundaries of creative performance to achieve that, so audiences not only bear witness to the confronting situation before them, but feel imprisoned by the live and video action surrounding them,” Dr Di Niro says.

“We want to bring the audience into the story, immerse them in the experience, so they can see the situation from the point of view of the characters involved, and really live through the difficult emotions and choices involved.”

As part of the development process for Bone Cage, Dr Di Niro’s team performed a show at Adelaide multimedia venue, The Lab, earlier this year, and also held a research workshop at which UniSA DFV researchers viewed the production and provided expert feedback on the way it approached the subject.

“The response to the show at The Lab and the experimental, multimedia elements we included was overwhelmingly positive, which gave us great motivation to move forward with the production,” Dr Di Niro says.

“Probably more importantly, though, was the feedback we received from DFV researchers at the workshop, which has helped us to refine the way we are engaging with these complex, difficult issues.

“With the help and advice of DFV experts, we have refined key aspects of the show, including the ‘backstory’ of the DFV perpetrator character, as well as introducing new elements that show the difference between their behaviour in public and behind closed doors.”

The Fringe shows of Bone Cage have already received strong bookings, including large numbers from school groups, and Dr Di Niro says it is very positive to see a growing appetite to change attitudes and assumptions around DFV.

“There is a lot of awareness around this issue at the moment, though we still need to see a significant shift away from victim blaming to really question the values and attitudes that lead to DFV. Bone Cage aims to start the conversation on how we might do that,” Dr Di Niro says. 

“Everyone involved with this production, from the actors to the creative team and researchers, is committed to creating awareness around this issue.

“There is lots of evidence demonstrating the arts as a powerful medium to activate social change and raise awareness on social issues, and this show aims to capture the lived experiences of those who have experienced DFV first-hand, as ultimately, that’s where the resources to end domestic violence are.”

The full creative team for Bone Cage is Dr Corinna Di Niro (theatre, UniSA), Susannah Emery (gaming, UniSA), Andrei Gostin (film, UniSA), Dr Phil van Hout (sound, UniSA), industry partner Jonathan Kovarch (digital media/photography) and actors Robert Donnarumma, Suzanne Bleeze, and Georgia Laity.

The Fringe season of Bone Cage will also support four UniSA internships in the areas gaming (helping to build the interactive component for the audience), virtual production, assistant directing and social media/communications.