Thursday, 6 August 1998

Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb, Aug 6, 1998

Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb by Stefo Nantsou
A Brunswick Mechanics' Institute until August 23, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review Aug 6

Our sense of Community is becoming a distant memory. We can bank by phone, shop on the Web, work from home. We change addresses, fear strangers, feel insecure in the workplace and are expected to be computer literate rather than simply literate.

Schools, at least, remained a community - until the State government hacked budgets, closed schools, sold sites, increased class sizes and reduced teachers. Free education is a thing of the past.

A thing of the very near future in 2004, postulates Stefo Nantsou in his community theatre play, Mechtron: Education from Womb to Tomb, is the nightmare of Educard. Educard is a hypothetical, computerised, centralised education system by which children, from birth, accrue points to pay for their future education. The poor suffer, the rich win.

Children work alone with a virtual reality program and a digitally recorded "Education Navigator": a teacher in old-speak. Learning is depersonalised. The only teacher who succeeds in Mechtron, is the cool, competent, detached Miss "T" (Nadja Kostich) who values technology more than human contact.

In the early time period of this story, '92-94, a primary school is threatened with closure, as were many schools in the 90's. (My local schools are now townhouses) Some teachers and families occupy the buildings and resist the authorities. Remember the violence at the occupation of Richmond High and the battle to keep Northland Tech. open to cater for the Koori population? People care about children's education.

Nantsou, with co-ordinator Steve Payne, developed this project with assistance from organisations including The Brotherhood of St. Laurence and The Victorian Council of School Organisations.. This team was responsible for The Essentials, the controversial play about a state politician/wife-beater.

Mechtron is a community effort. The cast has some professional actors including Kostich and Anne Phelan as the Headmistress but, in the tradition of the Community Theatre of the last two decades, most of the 26 performers are non-professionals. Nine or ten are children.

It may be didactic in its approach and message, but Mechtron is entertaining and challenging political theatre. We need more of it. When theatre stops questioning the status quo, it is dying. If artists continue to be militant and raise awareness, perhaps we can regain our sense of community and counter these impersonal modes of being.
By Kate Herbert

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