September 3, 2014


By S. Shakthidharan

All images are stills from the raw footage of the show’s visuals.

Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party is inspired by a true story.

In the true story, a group of young boys from Western Sydney form a shared friendship stronger than family. Mates from different refugee and working class backgrounds, they come together to protect each other – to find strength as a group that has each other’s backs during a tough set of high school years.

One of these friends was a little different. He was the most helpful and compassionate, the one everyone looked up to and respected the most. He seemed special, destined for great things. But shortly after finishing school, he betrayed them all.

In reality, that friend who betrayed the others has never been seen again. He has never confessed to his betrayal, and his friends have never forgiven him.

Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party however is very much work of fiction, and we have drifted somewhat from the true story that inspired it.



Most starkly, our task in this fictional story was to figure out how forgiveness could happen. This imperative came from discussions with my film co-director, Guido Gonzalez (it is from his past this story hails). Guido felt that perhaps there was a way they could have all reconciled. If only they have found a way to confess, to forgive, they could all still be friends. In hindsight, he felt, it was clear how friendship was more important than pride. That was the story he wanted to tell.

This investigation raised a number of fascinating questions during script and concept development that continued into the shoot and then post-production. The questions continued because – as became clear – people find forgiveness hard. Damned hard. It comes easily to few.

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about – and leave with you to ponder. You’ll see our take on them if you come along to the show.

Is it fair to make a leader out of someone who never asked for the role? Do we punish this person’s betrayals all the more harshly for the gap between their actions and our hopes for them?

Why is it that the strongest of friendships can quickly crumble with betrayal? Is the present tyrannical? Is an error of the moment stronger than all the hope and loyalty engendered by the past?

Can we choose to relinquish opportunity because it takes us away from our sense of home – and choose instead loyalty, stability, place, community? Or must we become what we are capable of, no matter where it takes us? As if it is our fate to always change, grow and become what we best can be – even if we dearly want something else?



In terms of aesthetics, this was to us the perfect coming of age story. We wanted to show the kind of dream like stability that comes with being young – big groups of friends, moving in packs, drifting through forgotten sections of urban landscapes, celebrating endless long, drunken nights… and how that transforms into uncertainty as we navigate our way into adulthood; how individuals, groups, communities – what seems like whole worlds – start to come apart at the seams, and long held assumptions start to unravel.



We were inspired by classical Hollywood coming of age stories, but of course we wanted to do it our own way – Western Sydney style.




The form of the work also represents an interest in popular culture. Some of the most transcendent experiences I had as a teenager were live music concerts and long nights sharing music, film and other art with friends. These were times one could be alone with a story or song, yet part of a group, all of us pitched at the same emotional intensity.

Similarly, the staging and form of Rizzy combines the concert and cinematic experiences, but places them within a familiarly immersive, almost lounge room like environment. There is a live band, multiple projections, audience on all sides. This firmly situates the work at the intersection of popular and contemporary art, a long-term interest of mine.

I can’t wait to share this work with you – please do join us, and journey along the streets of Western Sydney.

Book tickets to Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party


S. Shakthidharan is the inaugural Carriageworks Associate Artist. Carriageworks will support and collaborate with Shakthidharan over the next three years to undertake a diverse program of professional development and mentorship that will underpin the development of a series of new Australian works. Shakthidharan’s practice focuses on collaboration with some of Australia’s most marginalised communities and the telling of Australian stories from ancient to contemporary migration from South and South East Asia to Australia.