IMAGINE, if you will, a small theatre in a historic rural building, heartfelt letters hanging from the roof and an enthusiastic, local audience gathering abuzz with anticipation.
Two actors sit in a spotlight, headphones over their ears, as they tell your story - it's their voices, but your words, just as you delivered them.
The experience is being delivered by Perth-based theatre company Whiskey & Boots, which is taking its evocative and emotive shows around regional WA.
As they go, the company gathers the stories of some of the people in the communities they visit.
"It has been the biggest privilege to work with such an incredible team and work with such an incredible show, that is so true to our people and our community,'' said well-connected Ravensthorpe local and Euphorium instigator of play, Gab Major, who was engaged as a community liaison to track down and round up 13 participants for performances in Ravensthorpe in the past two weekends.
"The performance is customised to your area and that feels really special," she said.
"All the people who have participated in the show are people we live, work and play with but you have no idea about the stuff that they have been through."
Ms Major works closely with local arts collective Rave About Arts, which is presenting the show Mama Stitch, by Perth-based theatre company Whiskey & Boots, as part of its program in the Great Southern.
Whiskey & Boots is a small, independent company created about eight years ago by Perth actors, writers, directors and teachers Mark Storen and Georgia King.
The duo has long toured original shows into the regions, but as it meant picking up and moving to a new town every day or two, they started looking for a new performance model.
Added to that, most of the shows they were performing were made in Perth, which didn't always resonate so well with country audiences.
"We were just plonking them into different venues,'' Ms King said.
"And a lot of the feedback we were getting from regional communities was that they wanted shows that were more meaningful to regional people."
So the duo got involved in a performance style called Headphone Verbatim - which tells a story, set to music, of real people, sharing their histories, fears, hopes and dreams.
"We thought it might be a really helpful way to tell regional audiences' stories back to them, to hold a mirror up and set those stories free,'' Ms King said.
Whiskey & Boots now spends about 22 weeks a year on the road, with resident band Kettlefish, featuring musicians Holly Garvey and Luke Dux, performing their main touring shows, Mama Stich and Bystander.
They will be at each location for three to five weeks, setting up the installations and performing.
This year, the company took Bystander to Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and Collie and was in Ravensthorpe, performing Mama Stitch, this October, 2023.
It has been invited back to Kalgoorlie to perform Mama Stitch in November this year, and next year will return to Collie with Bystander, and then go onto Narrogin with Mama Stitch.
It hopes to also tour a newer show, The Quadrangle, in 2025.
The Quadrangle involves six to 16-year-old participants and debuted at the Midland Junction Arts Centre in 2022.
For each show, Whiskey & Boots interviews every participant, the interviews are edited and then they are delivered on stage by Mr Storen and Ms King.
Each story is accompanied by a song, written in response to it.
There's also an installation component - including handwritten letters for Mama Stitch and photographic portraits of each participant for Bystander taken by Ms Garvey, who is also the company's photographer.
The photographs are left for the community to experience and revisit in the weeks that follow, with listening stations telling each participant's story.
The performers deliver the text live as they hear it, via headphones, with all the vocal ticks that make us human.
"For each performance, we can hear that person's voice in our headphones and we say the words that they say, as we hear them,'' Ms King said.
"It is word-for-word, with no embellishments, so with all of their sighs, ticks and coughs and self-corrections.
"Everything we hear, we then voice, so it is a very authentic way of doing verbatim theatre.''
Mr Storen said for the past three years, Mama Stitch has been their mainstay production, though they had mostly been performing Bystander this year.
Mama Stitch is an intimate storytelling experience that celebrates mums "in all their glory".
Bystander has a bigger staging and offers the reflections of people responding to a question: What is it like to be a bystander in your world?
"Mama Stitch is about people's relationships with their mums, Bystander is about people's relationships with their communities,'' Ms King said.
The Quadrangle, meanwhile, will give young people an opportunity to "tell us about what they think, feel and wonder about their town and the world they live in,'' Mr Storen said.
Musical scores are created to directly respond to each individual story.
"For the score, we compose a song for each of the participants which we then record and give back to them, as a thank you and as something to share with their families and friends,'' Mr Storen said.
The tours are generally invited into a region by the local arts organisation or council and the work is largely paid for through State government arts grants, though the presenter may also contribute to the costs.
"We generally try to source as much of the funding as we can, so the ask for the presenter is minimal,'' Mr Storen said.
Bystander and Mama Stitch comprise six to eight storytelling slots, with the participants (or pairs of participants) chosen to represent a cross-section of their local communities and with a range of backgrounds, ages and experiences.
"It depends on each community, we make sure we reflect who they are,'' Ms King said.
The Ravensthorpe production of Mama Stitch has run two sets of stories over the past two weekends - with a total of 13 locals featured.
Karrina Smallman was among them.
Going into her interview with Whiskey & Boots co-creator and performer Georgia King, Ms Smallman said she really didn't know what to expect.
"I had no idea what I had signed up for,'' Ms Smallwood said.
"But I loved it.
"It was a really nice experience.''
Ms Smallwood is a well-known Hopetoun local who has managed the Ravenswood Community Resource Centre for the past 11 years.
For Mama Stitch, she shared her stories of her mother Loxley Fedec, who has only just sold up and moved from the family farm at Porongurup to retire in Albany.
She recalled her mother making her clothes and all her school dresses.
While it may have been from financial necessity, Ms Smallwood remembers having the bespoke garments in her wardrobe made her feel very special.
"When I was sick she used to make me a 'mum special' secret drink,'' she said.
"It was only later that I found out it was just egg nog.''
Ms Smallwood said she was grateful to have had the opportunity to share her mother's story with her community and that her mum was thrilled to have been able to share seeing the performance with her.
"Mum means everything to me,'' she said.
"She has always been there for me and it has been nice to be able to reflect on her life and our relationship.''
"And I also loved hearing everyone else's stories."
As a community consultant working in the region's arts scene, Ms Major said sought out a diversity of personalities for the Ravensthorpe slots - looking at a range of ages, how long they had lived in the region and in what part of the region, either coastal or regional agricultural.
Most importantly, she sought a diversity of good storytellers.
Though she knew all the participants who took part, including her brother-in-law who was featured in last Saturday's performance - she said she "certainly didn't know about their relationships with their mothers - they can be tricky''.
"It was a great opportunity for people to learn more about each other,'' Ms Major said.
"Mark and Georgia said when they conceived the show they didn't intend for it to be a very emotional and cathartic experience, but people can go very deep in their storytelling.
"It just reveals how much people do want their stories told."
Ms King said all the shows offered a very emotional experience for the performers, interviewees and audiences alike.
"I have never done a show in my whole career with so much laughter and tears,'' said Ms King of Mama Stitch.
"You look out to the audience and people are either laughing or crying all the way through the show.
"Afterwards, they and you feel like you really know each other.
"People will be hugging you and they will hang around for one or two hours after the show because they really want to tell you their stories.
"For us as performers, it is so deep and meaningful.''
The interviewees tell them a huge gamut of stories - for Mama Stitch, it might be about a childhood trauma they may not have spoken much about to anyone before.
Though often their story is about simpler things, a favourite dish their mother made, Christmases and birthdays or special treats they got from mum when they were sick.
"Sometimes it is very sad things, a lot of people have lost their mum or they are sharing a grief for their mum,'' Ms King said.
"It can be emotional, but sometimes it's also very funny."
Mr Storen said participants often came to the table believing they had very little to share.
"But an hour and a half later, they are still talking,'' he said.
For Mr Storen, the verbatim performance style is about being a conduit to the participant's story.
"There is no impersonation, we are not acting but through the magic of this art form, the rhythm, the cadence, the pitch and timbre of the voice seeps into us,'' he said.
It is also accumulative - over the five years of performing Mama Stitch, they have amassed 700-1000 letters.
"At the end of each performance we ask our audience to write an anonymous letter to their mother,'' Mr Storen said.
"We have collected them all over the past five years and they travel with us and we display them in each performance space.
"We display all the photos of past participants taken with their mum.
"And we all bring our family history and photos, which we display in the space as well."
Ms King said as performers, they enjoyed experiencing how very community and family-orientated close-knit country people were.
"That comes through very strongly in the stories,'' she said.
"Because they are in small communities, they often know each other and that gives them a real thrill as well.
"They often see a different side of someone they kind of know from down the street, or the bank or whatever, but maybe they don't know their backstory.
"In Ravensthorpe, people were getting quite emotional at the shows because there were people who were involved who were, perhaps, a bit misunderstood.''
Performing in regional towns also adds its own poignant element.
"We are often in these amazing buildings, like in Ravensthorpe now, that have a lot of history and we get to reside in that for about three weeks putting in the installation,'' Mt Storen said.
"That envelopes our audience, they are surrounded by that.
"They are coming into a space they are already familiar with, but there is an additional component."
In every place, there is a story that stands out - though they feel that picking one is akin to choosing a favourite child.
"Though one that stands out for me particularly, is that I interviewed a fella who is no longer on this earth,'' Mr Storen said.
"I felt very privileged that I was able to do that.
"When he spoke with me, he was aware that he didn't have very long to go.
"I recorded the story of his mum... when I think back to that time, it fills me with strong feelings."
Though they have spent most of their lives in Perth, the duo has country roots.
The performers have developed a familiarity with the bush through their childhoods and young adulthood, which meant it wasn't such a great leap to form a business based on touring in the country.
Ms King lived in Cowaramup until she was 11, and then taught at Moora's high school for three years when she was in her early 20s.
Mr Storen grew up in Roleystone, in the Perth Hills, and for some time lived in Albany.
Other members of the team have a similar story - musician/ photographer Holly Garvey grew up in Harvey.
It means they all feel like they have an extended family throughout WA to return to, as the nature of their work builds up relationships very quickly.
It's a given, when participants put their hearts and souls on show.
"It is such a gift as a human and a performer, and it has made Georgia and me better listeners too and deeply, deeply empathetic to other people's differences and struggles,'' Mr Storen said.
"It gives us an insight into how resilient and amazing people are.''
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