Being asked to perform a Shakespeare play is enough to make anyone break into a heap of sweaty hives.
In the “Kings of Baxter” one of Shakespeare’s most famous works “Macbeth” is brought inside the walls of Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre in New South Wales where two members of Australia’s Bell Shakespeare theatre company teach the tragedy to a group of young detainees over three months with the hope of putting on a live performance in front of fellow inmates, family, and friends.
Directed by Jack Yabsley, the “Kings of Baxter” is an engrossing hour-long documentary highlighting how artistic expression can be used to empower and transform. Following the detained boys over the 12-week course taught by Bell educators, James and Huw, they develop their acting skills and reflect on their time in the facility, as well as their own decisions and identities through their interpretations of the play.
It’s a privilege to watch James and Huw teach on-screen and witness the young men, who otherwise are living a very regimented existence, begin to slowly branch from their shells. As the boys gradually become more comfortable with the educators, and the presence of the camera, you can feel the energy of the film shift as they go from being tense and reserved to being in-tune with the experience and willing to step out of their comfort zones.
And that’s the thing—stepping beyond their comfort zones.
The boys don’t necessarily do so because they recognize the personal benefits they’re gaining from the experience at the time, such as confidence or voice, but they step out of their comfort zones for the sake of each other and putting on the performance. The boys feel valued in the class and thus they find value in the experience.
And that is what makes the juvenile justice program run by Bell Shakespeare so extraordinary and the “Kings of Baxter” such a touching film to watch. The sense of value that is instilled. The boys in the film may never read Shakespeare again or take part in another play, but they’ll remember feeling important during a time in their lives when they were shut away.
They’ll remember the pride they felt after performing. And they’ll remember the teachers who believed they could do it. And that in itself, that spark of belief, may very well be the flame that ignites a greater fire of positivity within.
An intrinsic watch on the humanities within the justice system, “Kings of Baxter” screens July 13th & 14th at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Check out mdff.org.au for more information and visit kingsofbaxter.com to learn more about the film.