Yirra Yaakin changed the game by performing the first entirely Noongar speaking adaption of Macbeth for the 2020 Perth Festival.
Yirra Yaakin, meaning “Stand Tall” in Noongar, is one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal performing arts organisations, producing award-winning and world-class theatre. Since 1993, the theatre company has been sharing Aboriginal stories, and in 2020 they teamed up with Bell Shakespeare to bring Hecate to Perth Festival, performing at the iconic Subiaco Arts Centre.
Performing at Shakespeare’s Globe
Yirra Yaakin aims to provide the Aboriginal Community with an artistic outlet for positive self-determination. They have grown to be so widely respected that in 2012, the Globe Theatre invited them to translate some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and perform them in conjunction with the London Olympic Games.
The sonnets’ themes were of love and longing, and in an Aboriginal context, this translated to a longing for equality, freedom and the spirit of the country. In a big win for Australian and Aboriginal culture, this was the first time Shakespeare’s work was translated into Noongar, and the first time Aboriginal actors performed on the Globe stage!
Evolution into the Noongar Shakespeare Project
The series of performances at London’s Globe Theatre kickstarted Perth’s Noongar Shakespeare Project, a long-term creative endeavour celebrating Noongar culture and language. The following year, Yirra Yaakin opened the Perth International Arts Festival with a Shakespearean sonnet translated into Noongar, a huge pay-off for the project.
In recent years, the project has proved to be an ever-growing success, with the implementation of a language workshop, ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Noongar’ in local high schools.
Running alongside this project is the Junior Sonneteers program, introduced to give students the opportunity to work with directors and other senior theatre artists in a professional setting in an effort to keep the Noongar language alive. The two-month program finishes up with a performance showcasing a new idea of contemporary Australian culture.