8 July 2023

Nostalgia guaranteed in experimental theatre production about closing of Thirroul's last video store

| Dione David
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Steve Wilson-Alexander holds Leading Edge Video sign

When Thirroul’s Leading Edge Video closed down, Steve Wilson-Alexander was allowed to keep the sign. It’s now part of the set for an experimental theatre that taps into the nostalgia, love and loss people feel about video shops. Photo: re:group performance collective.

For Steve Wilson-Alexander, Leading Edge Video in Thirroul was more than a video store – it was an institution inextricably linked to cherished and visceral boyhood memories.

As a young lad, he’d frequent the store with his family to rent three “weeklies” for $10.

“I’d always choose the first two movies really quickly, then take an hour to pick the third,” he laughs.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t get around to watching them all in a week, and I’d have to re-rent them. Other times I’d forget to return them on time.

“John, Marian and Ben, the owners, were always really cool about it, though. Sometimes they’d waive the late fees altogether.”

Steve Wilson-Alexander wearing a leading Edge Video tshirt

When Steve found out his local video shop was closing, it became the heart of an innovative theatre concept. Photo: re:group performance collective.

If part of your youth fell anywhere between the 1980s and early 2000s in Australia, there’s a good chance you had your own rituals set in one of the thousands of video stores that were so popular at the time.

The anticipation between the cinema experience and when titles would hit the rental shelves as expensive “Overnights”, waiting what felt like forever for a VHS to rewind so you could dodge the penalties, or even the act of travelling to a place to rent or return a physical thing, only became inconvenient in hindsight.

For many of us, in the days of streaming and instant gratification, these memories elicit pangs of nostalgia. And for anyone who experienced it at Leading Edge Video, that nostalgia reaches new heights in Coil.

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Co-created by Steve and fellow Wollongong-based members of the re:group performance collective Mark Rogers, Solomon Thomas and Carly Young, this unique theatre experience is billed as “gobsmackingly ingenious in its execution, whilst being funny, warm-hearted and deeply resonant”.

Steve says the collective had been playing with the idea for the 2019 Next Wave Festival, of producing a live cinema on-stage experience whereby a single performer playing every character was filmed out of sequence and, using camera trickery, a film was made and played then and there.

“We thought it would be a comment on technology replacing jobs … but it didn’t seem to have much heart,” Steve says.

“Then COVID hit, the festival was cancelled and while I was at home in isolation, I learned that my local video store, the one I grew up with, was closing down.”

Steve had found the beating heart of the production and Coil came to life.

The experimental theatre is set at Leading Edge Video as it faces shutdown – but in this reality, Steve is the store clerk.

“He’s a bit sad, he’s 30 and still working in a video shop, it’s probably the last video store, he probably should’ve gotten another job at some point but he thinks this makes him more romantic or bohemian or artistic or interesting or … something,” Steve says.

As the story unravels, video designer Solomon Thomas films short clips live, which at some point he uses cutting-edge technology to almost instantly splice and reorder into a short film that the audience watches Steve interact with live on stage.

“It’s fast-paced, complicated, there’s a lot of running around on stage, changing of costumes and constructing this movie in real-time,” Steve says.

“We worked really hard on it, we work really hard in it. It’s a tricky show to do but easy and fun to watch.”

Steve Wilson-Alexander at leading Edge Video

Steve says locals will get a kick out of Coil when it stops in its hometown of Wollongong. Photo: re:group performance collective.

For Steve, who went on to study film and video at school, and then studied performance in Wollongong, it speaks to the end of a formative era.

When a friend of his described seeing the gutted former Leading Edge site being prepped for construction, he called the new building owner and asked if he could have the old store sign for the show.

“He so kindly cut it down for me, and that sign is a part of the set at Coil,” Steve says.

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Though the show has toured in venues around Australia including at the Sydney Opera House, its appearance at Merrigong Theatre later this month will be its homecoming.

“If you’re a local, you will walk in and see a video shop on stage, and it will be your video shop. You’ll be transported immediately,” Steve says.

“But it’s more than that. In a way, the story we tell is about my mate Jackson who grew up in Coledale. It’s about going to Bulli High School and the University in Wollongong. It’s about Top Video in Coledale and Leading Edge in Thirroul. It’s about this place we grew up in, and how much everything has changed even in just the 30 years I’ve lived here. I think a lot of locals will relate, and I really hope they’ll come along and get a kick out of it.”

Coil shows from Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 July at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, 32 Burelli St, Wollongong. Tickets are premium $59, adults $49, pension/student/groups 8+ $44, under 30s $39, school groups 8+ $23 and family of four $156 – book here.

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