Caylee's Ukelele, created with kids and for kids

Caylee’s Ukulele, by award winning playwright, Donna Abela, was developed in collaboration with children and the artists. It is a highly interactive piece of theatre for children 6 + with 12 original songs by jazz/cabaret artist, Jacquie Reid and a modular set ingeniously made from recycled pharmaceutical barrels, designed by Mirabelle Wouters.

In April, APE Artistic Director, Sally Sussman was invited to be Artist in Residence at Bundanon Trust. In a unique collaboration, six artists and thirteen children (including local kids from Milton, Bomaderry and Vincentia) were involved in the development of Caylee’s Ukulele at Bundanon. 

Entering the play through the imaginative worlds of the collaborating children from both the Nowra region and Sydney, was an exciting and challenging way of initiating a work for children. Rather than a top down experience for them, in Bundanon, the children showed us how they want to engage with live performance, when increasingly, their creative interactions exist via the screen.

Caylee’s Ukulele uses song, music, clowning and physical comedy to explore the place of creativity in our daily lives. At Bundanon, the children were encouraged to respond to the ideas and actions of the play using their visual, kinetic and musical imaginations. Their language, stories and imaginative worlds directly influenced Donna’s script and the rehearsal process.

Caylee always has a song in her head. A perfect song to meet the big and little challenges of each day.  Based on her” inklings” of what she needs for the day, the songs are composed just for her by Nanna Mackey, who lives with the family. But one day, Nanna Mackey's song goes wrong. A lullaby for a sports carnival? A polka for a maths test? Then, terribly, the songs just stop.

One by one, Caylee is visited by “brain invaders”, eccentric characters, who provoke feelings of pain, anger and sadness as Caylee experiences the loss of her beloved grandmother.  Gradually her external world begins to make demands of her, as Caylee learns that she needs to listen to her heart and find resilience within herself. Faced with her greatest “next big thing”, Caylee finds a way to climb a rock face, enlisting the participation of the audience to help her complete her own song and reach the top.

At various key moments in the play, the performers work with the children as audience to build the show by contributing bird calls, rhythms, words and actions. Each show then is slightly different, responding to the input and energies of each young audience.

Project details

Caylee’s Ukulele premiered at The Studio, Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, Nowra on May 23 2013.


Caylee: Jane Grimley
Nana Mackey/Teacher Voice/ Mum Voice/Crow: Jacquie Reid
The Removalists: Katia Molino & Johnny Nasser
Professor Snelling/Penguin/Dad Voice: Johnny Nasser
New Girl/Zoe: Katia Molino

Playwright: Donna Abela
Songs & Lyrics: Jacquie Reid
Direction: Sally Sussman
Set & Lighting Design/Graphic Design: Mirabelle Wouters
Costume Design/Wardrobe: Heidi Hillier
Music Production: Sam King, I Am Merloc Studios & Phil Downing                  
Sound Design/ Production Management: Phil Downing
Community Liaison: Sara Eastway
Media/ Marketing: Jacqui O'Reilly & Sarah Martin


Particular thanks to Bina Brown, Amanda Leahy, Lis Dunn, Sara Eastway and Laura Ginters for their generous creative, practical and financial contributions to the Bundanon workshop and to Lis for her contributions to flier & programme design and to Amanda for her photography. Thanks also to Regina Heilmann, David Cranswick, Jim Birkett, Mary Preece, Kate Dezarnaulds, Richard Manner, Kirstin Bokor James Winter, Bev Stoch, Imogen Ross, Rose Mastroianni, Jemadeekara Lewardowski-Porter, Bob Mangan & all the staff_at Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, George Bass Motor Inn ( Leanne & Kevin Stuart, Stuart’s Coaches, Nowra (ph. 4421 0332), Paul Daynes, John Rushton, Mariah Beckett, Linda Piper - "Hightide" Ukulele Band.(ph: 4457 1411), Allan Baptist, Kath O’Sullivan, Anne  McGovern, Jacqui O'Reilly, Sarah Martin & Robbie Collins.

Special thanks to the generous support of the Board of Australian Performance Exchange for this project:  Dennis Watkins, Umporn Tantipech, Patrick Chong, Lorraine Phelan, Hilary Armstrong, Rob Jones, Luke Hardy and Michael O’Brien.

Funded by Arts NSW, supported by the Bundanon Trust, University of Sydney Performance Studies and University of Wollongong,  Shoalhaven.