Oral History NSW
Giving Voice to the Past
Giving Voice to the Past

This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!

by Aviva Sheb’a | September 27, 2016

Aussie, strictly Kosher, recent ballet school graduate, 17-year-young flamenco and jazz dancer Aviva goes to entertain the troops in Vietnam – with a rhythm and blues band. What could possibly go wrong?

I toured (then South) Vietnam for three months, March to June, 1970. The most common exclamation there: this is a war zone, Baby – improvise!

My inability to readjust to life in Australia following my tumultuous tour, as well as my innate lust for adventure and performance led me to travel widely and to live and work in several different countries. My survival and sanity-saving mechanism was – and remains – my art. I developed my own method of using voice and body as a way to express and integrate my deepest emotions, coining the term, Vocal Dance, while working and living in Amsterdam in the 1970s.

In 1996 my two young children and I moved from Dunolly, a small town in Central Victoria, to Adelaide, where I began writing This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!  I intended to write it as a book and as a one-woman show, with each selling the other. I had no idea how to write a book, though had devised and performed two shows before. I thought I’d knock it on the head in 18 months. Bwahahahaha!

Twenty years on, I’ve performed the show in numerous versions; the book is in draft innumerable. Having the book manuscript professionally assessed three years ago showed me how to improve it by putting aside five years’ work – saving it for something else. Lesson: spend a few dollars on a good manuscript assessor and save a fortune in time and effort. (Thanks to Christine Paice, who did a marvellous job swiftly, with enormous compassion and integrity.)

The first season of the show was in the Adelaide Fringe, 2000. The final performance was 30 years to the day after innocent, naïve, over-protected Aviva arrived in the thick of the Vietnam War. I have kept developing the show, performing at in theatres, festivals and conferences. As the title suggests, each show is different. In 2013, This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise! was the first of the Merrigong Theatre Company (Wollongong) Make it@Merrigong Studio Sessions, directed by Anne-Louise Rentell. In 2014, Anne-Louise and I presented together at the International Oral History Congress in Barcelona.  As well as excerpts from the show, we talked about our individual approaches to making performance from oral history, and our collaboration, which started in 2010.

I am currently rehearsing a new version under the direction of University of Wollongong Creative Arts Faculty’s Dr Janys Hayes. We are enjoying the process of discovering what Janys brings out of me. One of the delights of working with a great director is finding new ways of expression. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with Anne-Louise, and now Janys. That they’re friends who have a great respect for each other is a huge bonus.

This time, audiences will laugh and cry as I share some of the stories I’ve not performed before, as well as showing the development of Vocal Dance. Those who wish will also have a chance to join me and experience the joys of Vocal Dance.

Recently, the Phoenix Theatre Company received ownership of the Bridge Street Theatre, and are hosting a season of This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!

October: Friday 21, Saturday 22 at 8pm, Sunday 23 at 3pm. Bridge Street Theatre, 24 Bridge Street, Coniston (Wollongong). Tickets: $15. Bookings http://www.phoenixtheatre.net.au/

See www.avivasheba.com for further insight into Aviva’s work. Contact: aviva@avivasheba.com


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