Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company presents Shakara Walley’s Songbird at Subiaco Arts Centre

Tanya MacNaughtonPerthNow - Western Suburbs
Songbird cast Kira Feeney and Tyren (Tre) Maclou.
Camera IconSongbird cast Kira Feeney and Tyren (Tre) Maclou. Credit: Tori Lill

Shakara Walley may have started the Aboriginal Theatre course at WA Academy of Performing Arts as a dancer, and graduated as an actor, but coming from a family of musos music has always been close to her heart too.

“I’ve always been interested in arts,” Girrawheen resident Walley, who comes from the Bunuba and Jaru (Kimberley) from her mother’s side and Bindjareb (Nyoongar) from her Mandurah-raised father’s side, says.

“Long story short, my mum (Rosemary Walley) gave me like two years to get my life together after high school and then she said to me ‘you need to go to uni’.

“I still had no clue what I wanted to do, so she enrolled me in the Aboriginal Theatre course at WAAPA . . . I attribute it a lot to my mum for enrolling me in a creative arts course.”

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Walley has since added producer and writer to her creative credits, working as the Indigenous producer for Perth Festival opening events The Giants in 2015 and Home in 2016, adding to her skills on feature film Jasper Jones, NITV documentary series Nyoongar Footy Magic and as the WA co-producer on TV series Mystery Road.

Playwright Shakara Walley.
Camera IconPlaywright Shakara Walley. Credit: Supplied

With writing credits on ABC web series Aussie Rangers and Return to Country, Walley’s play Songbird, written almost a decade ago during Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s playwrighting program Yirra Yaarnz, will open the theatre company’s 2024 season at Subiaco Arts Centre from April 19.

First performed at The Blue Room Theatre in 2015, Songbird features live music and original songs composed by Walley in a story examining the battle between forgiveness and sorrow, after young couple Brooke and Leon’s separation following the untimely death of Brooke’s brother, Michael.

When Leon returns five years later looking to reconnect, it becomes an exploration of reconciliation, where only one person seeks it.

“I just wanted it to be a realistic hour-long conversation,” 36-year-old Walley says.

“It’s a sad tale but there’s elements of comedy in it and there’s singing.

“Music is such an important part of my life and other Indigenous theatre plays like The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae kind of inspired me to have music. While they’re more musical theatre based, Songbird is set at a pub where a girl’s in the middle of a gig. She’s kind of trapped where this guy wants to come and reconcile with her.”

Kira Feeney in Songbird.
Camera IconKira Feeney in Songbird. Credit: Dana Weeks

Directed by Cezera Critti-Schnaars, this latest season of Songbird features a cast and creative team all aged 26 years or younger, showcasing the next emerging generation of Aboriginal talent.

“They’re all around the same age I was when I wrote it . . . It’s like passing the baton,” Walley says.

“I was very nervous about Maitland (Yirra Yaakin artistic director Maitland Schnaars) getting Songbird. My first thought was that I needed to workshop it, I needed to go back and rewrite a whole bunch of stuff. Then when I heard the cast read it, I thought ‘actually, that’s pretty good’, not to blow my own trumpet.

“I didn’t change anything. Maitland and I had discussed it quite a few times where I’d been ‘bro, just let me change it’ and he’d say ‘no, it’s perfect the way it is’. I didn’t quite believe him until that first cast read.”

Songbird is at Subiaco Arts Centre, April 19 to May 4. Tickets at yirrayaakin.com.au.

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