Case Studies Absence of Light | RAF Case Study (2019)


After four years in development, the Regional Arts Fund supported Gabriel Comerford (with MakeShift Dance Collective) to present ‘Absence of Light’ – a contemporary dance work about depression and anxiety – at Launceston’s iconic Earl Theatre.

A Community Grant recipient, via the Regional Arts Fund, as managed by RANT Arts, Tasmania.

Absence of Light is a multi-layered project with the potential to shift common perceptions or stigmas associated with mental health as well as contribute to the over-arching arts culture and landscape in Tasmania. It is a response to lives lived and lost to depression and anxiety, a story shared by countless Australians. Using dance, props and metaphor this dance theatre work starts a dialogue with audiences, evoking the possibility of shifting stigma and amplifying empathy.

MakeShift is committed to contributing to a vibrant independent dance community in Tasmania through production, presentation and advocacy. This project is the culmination of Makeshift’s four years of research into depression and anxiety. MakeShift partnered with Theatre North to present Absence of Light in Launceston’s iconic Earl Theatre in August 2019The season of four shows included a forum and a schools matinee. The forums were delivered with community partner, Headspace Launceston, and gave MakeShift the chance to connect with the audience directly. According to the National Rural Health Alliance(2017): “rates of self-harm and suicide increase with remoteness suggesting that there are very significant mental health issues to be addressed in rural and remote areas”. Absence of Light offered regional audience members the chance to experience high-calibre contemporary dance addressing issues facing their community.

Through previous developments the artists have gained insight into audience perspectives of the work, identifying that in diverse and disparate communities the work has relevance, communicates a clear message, and evokes an emotional and positive response in the audience. The work is for everyone; those living with mental illnesses and those without, it is for people of all ages, from all walks of life. “This work is very relevant …. It’s very powerful to see images of what depression is like rather than to just be told about it” - Research participant

Bringing a conversation about mental illness to Launceston and surrounding suburbs helped normalise and foster understanding of shared experiences. The performance gave the artists a unique opportunity to tackle heavy subject matter in a way that opens dialogue and breaks down isolation. The workshops and forums facilitated education and conversation through interaction and physicalisation, helping to form networks and social connections. Makeshift were very pleased with audience numbers across the season. Contemporary dance is notoriously challenging to sell to un-initiated audiences. The 2019 season of Absence of Light has shown how relevant and compelling this subject matter is and highlights the work's ability to generate new audiences for the art form.

Impact:

  • Immense industry and community support we received for the work.
  • MakeShift's profile and capacity to deliver powerful and professional work has been cemented within the community. We feel confident that we could gain enough support for this work to have a future life.
  • Partnership with Headspace Launceston was very positive and will be ongoing.
  • Connected with 5 schools in Launceston. Some of the schools who attend the matinee participated in a workshop that unpacked the work and its themes and taught movement repertoire.

Applicant location: Launceston, Tas.
Project Location: Launceston, Tas.
Amount of RAF support: $10,000
Total project cost: $16,937

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Absence of Light
Gabriel Comerford and Amelia Stokes in Absence of Light 2019. Photographer: Jacob Collins - LUSY Productions