This is Going to Be Big

Get the tissues. A heartwarming new ABC doco centres around teens living with disabilities and neurodiversity staging their very own John Farnham musical.

Since Love on the Spectrum, and a handful of titles before it, television has embraced documentaries which centre around people on the autism spectrum.

Dramas too, such as The Good Doctor, Atypical, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Heartbreak High help create awareness of the nuances of neurodiversity.

Doco film This is Going to Be Big, which screens as a two part special on ABC, is the latest to focus on teenagers living with disabilities and neurodiversity as they prepare for their high school musical.

The students at Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Special School (there are two campuses) bravely allow cameras, under director Thomas Charles Hyland, into their world ahead of the project dirven by drama teacher, Lori.

It’s the first production in 3 years, set to involve 40 students, in an original presentation around the music career of the legendary John Farnham.

For this task, it’s decided to share the lead role across 4 students in a ’60s / ’70s / ’80s and ’90s Farnsy, encountered by three ‘time travelling students.’ With You’re the Voice as the big showstopper, everybody wants to be the ’80s Farnham.

Hyland profiles several charismatic students including 16 year old Chelsea, who became disabled following a road accident at the age of just 5.

“My dreams are being a motivational speaker or a business woman,” Chelsea reveals.

There’s Josh, a gentle giant of a kid who wants to become a pilot one day.

“I want to challenge myself to do something new… get my confidence up,” he says of the upcoming musical.

Halle would love the ’80s Farnham role as You’re the Voice was her late aunt’s favourite song, and she feels it might bring closure to the way their relationship sadly ended.

“Do I have to sing or do the script?” she asks at auditions. “Both” she is told.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll nail this one,” she will declare.

Elyse, who spends a lot of her time looking for bugs in the school yard, has generalised anxiety disorder, but being able to go to high school has been a blessing after years of isolation at primary school.

And self-taught DJ Andre, just wants to me able to say “get on the beers” when he is cast.

Drama teacher Lori, joined by music teacher Darcy and facilities manager Tony, are supportive of the audition process, which can be nerve-wracking, excitable and painfully shy experiences. But this is show business, it still requires students to step up and to learn that not everybody will get the role they are hoping for.

Rehearsals are another challenge yet again. “It’s like herding wild cats that don’t want to be anywhere near you,” Lori reveals.

Not every student copes well with the pressure of lines, attention and time required, but teammwork is constantly reiterated in a supportive atmosphere, whilst allowing students to shine and monitoring anxiety levels.

Cameras also follow our featured students home where parents share insights into home life and progress levels that the musical is abetting. For some, it is a godsend, with breakthroughs in confidence levels that might otherwise take years of struggles. Arts as an expression of self breaks down barriers that is a revelation for some…

The two part doco is a little on the long side at 2×60 mins (the doco feature is 20 mins shorter) and I was eager to get to the big night. I’m glad I stayed the distance because it’s a tearjerker performance, full of emotional achievements. And if possible, it will only leave you loving John Farnham even more…

This is a heartwarming, amusing, enlightening doco series (a shame Goggleboxers won’t get to review yet) full of expressive and optimistic characters. It reminds us we are all winners when we strive to be our best.

As Lori reminds us, “People don’t think they can be the centre of the story and they absolutely can.”

This Is Going to be Big screens 8pm Tuesday April 30 & May 7 on ABC.

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