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December 3, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Sally Spalding [Port Phillip Leader]
Writer's plays circle the globe and land in St Kilda
DANIEL Keene's plays are more familiar to Europeans than Australians.
But his play The Nightwatchman, being performed at St Kilda's Theatre Works for a three-week season, will help turn that around.
Previously staged in France, the play was commissioned by a French theatre group and made its debut there six years ago.
Keene has written more than 50 plays and started writing in 1979.
His plays have been shown in Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium and Germany, and next year will be shown in New York.
The Nightwatchman is on until December 12 and stars Roger Oakley, Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams.
"Anyone who has to move their parents, this play will resonate with them," Keene said.
December 2, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Andrew Fuhrmann [Crikey - Curtain Call]
The first five minutes of Daniel Keene's The Nightwatchman make an interesting prelude movement to what follows, a subtle sort of prologue to the play's poetic treatment of memory and nostalgia. Helen (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) and Michael (Brad Williams) have returned to their childhood home to help their blind and agèd father, Bill (Roger Oakley), sell up and move to an aged-care facility. The play, presented by If Theatre and now on at Theatre Works in St Kilda, opens with Helen and Michael, nearing middle age themselves, looking out over the garden of their youth, bickering about their responsibilities at this difficult time:
—What do you want from me—We were close when we were young—Have I changed that much—Our father needs us—I am who I am—The past is the past—
The air is one of impatience, impatience not so much with one another, but with the empty formulas. Ellerton-Ashley and Williams deliver the words in a detached, probing manner, almost rapidly, as though trying to push through the surface pabulum, the platitudes, to something else, something beyond the words.
And then, there is a chink, a puncture in the façade of familiar phrases:
—I don’t know what I’m saying—I’m talking—I’m just talking—Perhaps we’ve said nothing for too long—
And from the void beneath, the spectral world of things past, a ghostly light shines through. Memories dapple the present: the house, the garden and their parents, as they once were, young and happy. Communication between the siblings gradually becomes more fluent, more meaningful. Then Bill emerges from the house, and the play, again, begins.
It is a finely worked study of the borderland between remembering and forgetting, the strange half-world of nostalgia, which is partly a kind of remembering, and partly a kind of forgetting.
Bill, a widower, refuses to surrender what remains of his life to age or infirmity. But there are lapses. They are lapses in his memory, of course—he forgets where he is, what he is doing—but as such they are also lapses in his awareness of the present, of reality, interrupting his determined self-possession:
—Often the past seems so real—the present seems so far away.
And, for Bill, that is why he must leave now, without regret. It is not only the practical question of caring for himself; there is also the spiritual question. By staying in the family home, where the gulf between things as he remembers them and things as they really are grows ever wider, he agitates a tendency for sentimental reverie, a mingling of memories with fictions that destroy the fierce spirit that is his defining quality.
The action takes place at dusk, everything wreathed in a sort of haze; it is the hour when the present is most haunted by the past, when faces, places, names, sensations and emotions resurface, tantalising with the return of lost realities, but taunting also with their insufficiency and incompleteness. These memories at this hour suggest both the happy notion that the day might be re-lived, and the grim certainty that the night must fall: false hope and fatalistic despair, merged in the halflight.
What is most artfully realised in this play, and in this production, is Bill’s determination, fortified by alcohol, to resist these threshold emotions. He admits the necessity of the nursing home, but does not despair. He knows his memory is bad and getting worse, but does not seek refuge in the twilight of nostalgic dreaming. Perhaps, because of his blindness, because he has already lived for so many years as a kind of nightwatchman, staring into the darkness, he carries a sense of authentic presence, making do with memory’s meagre scraps, if meagre scraps are all that are authentic.
This sense of authenticity manifests in what we see of Bill’s love for his children, which is neither denied nor exaggerated. His off-hand way with the family home is not a rejection of family, but, in part, an attempt to liberate Helen and Michael from its twilight influence. Helen, in particular, overwhelmed by adult responsibilities, feels strongly the lure of the threshold dream, the possibility of re-entering the garden of childhood. The garden, at night, in dreams, tempts her, suggesting the ideal unity and harmony that lacks in her own life.
Michael, a photographer, sees that the garden is no longer beautiful, that it is no longer what it once was. He is free from the twilight hope of eternal summer, but dogged by despair at the impermanence of things. It is a feeling that has chilled his life, discouraging his participation in the world, from connecting with people and places that might produce joy but which must inevitably dissolve. He is free, but freedom in the world has a cold taste.
The cold note is touched elegantly in this production. In Lisa Mibus’s warm lighting design, so evocative of twilight and reminiscence, there is always a blue highlight, a cool edge to everything we see. Similarly, in Ben Keene’s compositions, there are sentimental passages and minor-key moods suggestive of regret, but then there is always the cold note, the mild dissonance, the tendency toward something atonal.
I called the prologue subtle, and I think that subtlety is the true character of this production. It is not a matter of understatement, but more a quiet forcefulness, typified by Roger Oakley’s convincing performance in the lead. There are words and phrases here that could easily have been fraught full of obscuring sentiment, but which, under Matt Scholten’s direction, become transparent, revealing with a cool clarity the intricate structures inspired by different kinds of remembering and different kinds of forgetting. On the other hand, the coldness is not allowed to dominate either. The story is, ultimately, a very tender one.
It is interesting to consider this production against Patricia Cornelius’s Do Not Go Gentle, recently directed by Julian Meyrick at Fortyfivedownstairs. One doubts that Keene’s Bill would be comfortable in Cornelius’s nursing home. Do Not Go Gentle projects an operatic conflict onto the struggle between remembering and forgetting, using the stark imagery of Antarctica, the heroic narrative of Scott’s demise, dramatic lighting and Dylan Thomas’s pyrotechnic rage. In Keene’s drama, the failure of memory has fewer tragic overtones.
For Bill, the failure of memory sharpens his desire to reconnect with the present, with reality. He is sensitive to what he has lost—his wife, his youth, his sight—but recognises that they are utterly lost, that there can be no return. He does not look to nostalgia for consolation. Of course he wants to hold onto such key memories as he does retain, the most prominent stars in the constellation of his personality, but will not do so by reinforcing them with fantasy.
Memories, unmixed with dreams, carry with them the truth of life’s transience. They define who we are in the immediate present, but also distinguish us from previous identities. There is a distinct Zen streak running through this play. The garden itself is scarcely described, except for a prominent cherry tree which we learn has blossomed early. The Chekhovian overtones of this are patent, the past living into the present, but the cherry blossom is also a Zen symbol for the fleetingness of life. This connection is evoked in a wonderful scene where Bill recalls a Japanese folk story, one that Helen had performed in many years ago while still at school. It is an intense and blissful scene, where memories of the past burst with immediacy, affirming the miracle of the present, the family’s reunion and their enduring love for one another.
November 30, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Peter Craven [The Australian]
Blind man's farewell proves a must-see
DANIEL Keene seems to be taking Melbourne by storm. The recent Melbourne Theatre Company production of his Life Without Me left most contemporary playwriting for dead and featured an extraordinary performance by Kerry Walker.
His new play, The Nightwatchman, is a dazzling examination of a family: a son, a daughter and their blind father grope towards the truth of things as the father forsakes his family house and prepares to go into a retirement home.
Roger Oakley's performance should be seen by everyone who cares about the theatre.
The Nightwatchman is an elegiac meditation on a lifetime's memories as they seem to fade, yet recur with maximum intensity.
Oakley's Bill wants to divest himself of his money and give it to his two grown-up children (played by Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams).
The play is a poignant, ruminative search through the images and mementoes of a life shared by three people through their separate enclosures of loneliness and longing.
A dead wife's diary is full of an unforeseen intensity and inwardness. There is the recurrent memory of an attempt at happiness so concerted it might have been real. The father says that only a fool weeps for the past. He remembers, like a lost panorama of poetry, his daughter in a school play.
All these things swirl and slide through the mind of this intensely self-possessed man as he makes his long farewell to the stuff and symbols of the world behind his eyes.
The Nightwatchman has a naturalistic surface but with chasms of lyricism and introspection that never lose emotional reality. Occasionally Keane seems to overreach himself but this is a powerful and impassioned play that could hold any stage in the world.
Oakley, as the father, gives the performance of a lifetime. He is gnarled, courteous, full of gulfs of feeling even as he pulls back from feeling. His blindness - as the actor's eyes stare dark and unseeing into a world of memories - is magnificent. Oakley gives an absolutely compelling familiarity to this impressive old codger, then lets rip with all the doubt and wonderment in the world.
Williams and Ellerton-Ashley are both foot-sure and sympathetic as the son and daughter, and Matt Scholten's production has a superb command of Keene's subtle shifts of rhythm and tempo.
This production presents Keene's vision with a musical precision. It is a formidable realisation of a formidable play.
November 30, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Kate Herbert [Herald Sun]
Theatre: Family dynamic resonates
RATING: 2.5 stars
DANIEL Keene's plays can vary from introspective, poetic stories to crazy, colloquial black comedies and The Nightwatchman is one of the former.
Mat Scholten's production moves slowly, almost painfully so, at a pace commensurate with the sense of loss experienced by the characters.
Bill (Roger Oakley), an elderly, blind man, with his two adult children, Helen (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) and Michael (Brad Williams), prepares to leave his family's home. We witness their final days before departure.
Oakley finds a quirky, bemused quality as Bill.
Ellerton-Ashley plays Helen as a bossy, nervy and intermittently resentful daughter who resists any change and loss of her childhood home.
Though this production lacks dramatic tension, audiences will relate to the loss of childhood, family dynamics and shared memory.
November 29, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Cameron Woodhead [The Age]
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
DANIEL Keene's The Nightwatchman is a meditation on grief, memory and moving on with washed eyes. It's fitting that the Melbourne premiere should also be the last production from the talented If Theatre.
The Nightwatchman reminded me of the lines from Plato: "You cannot step into the same river twice. Everything flows; nothing abides." It's a truth that our materialistic culture - determined to scar the earth - seems desperate to deny; and one that theatre, the most evanescent of arts, is uniquely suited to showing .
For Helen and Michael, it is an inescapable fact. Returning to the family home as adults, they know it is not the same house; their father Bill, now elderly and blind, is not the same father. Acknowledging this is difficult, especially for Helen, who cossets childhood memories.
They have grown apart over the years. At their reunion, over a last supper and too much wine, Bill announces that the house has been sold. He plans to divest himself of care and move into a retirement home; a relief to him, and a fraught adjustment for his children.
For Keene, thought and emotion do not fuse easily into a stable dramatic form. The surface texture is ordinary domestic drama, but elusive depths transfigure the play. Mundane, naturalistic dialogue riffs into poetic and philosophical musing, transient memories, and a weird heightening where the unsaid becomes the said.
Director Matt Scholten negotiates Keene with restraint and intelligence. As Bill, Roger Oakley distils stoicism and vulnerability into a moving, utterly credible portrait of a blind man.
Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams continue their compelling onstage rapport. Ellerton-Ashley expressively probes permutations of sadness, anxiety and anger, resolving into serenity as she gives the present its due; Williams is fatigued by life and possessed by the ghost of repressed emotion that must find release.
The design complements the delicate acting: the dim shifts of Lisa Mibus's lighting, Ben Keane's haunting piano composition, and Kat Chan's suggestively abstract background of decomposing wallpaper on vertical panels. The Nightwatchman captures the moment when children must say goodbye to their parents.
ONLINE - Article: [Australian Stage]
Keene to ensure his plays aren't forgotten in Melbourne, Scholten steps up to watch over them.
Presented as part of the Theatre Works 2010 Selected Works Program.
Bill has lived a life amongst the rambling beauty of the old family home. Now he's gone blind, and his children Helen and Michael have returned for a few days to move him away. On the outside Bill is stoic, resigned to his fate, but inside he silently rages against the darkness. Drawn together in a garden full of echoes, the three discover tender memories of a shared past unwilling to release them. A moving, poetic ode to the human spirit and the memories that define us.
It seems that Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Daniel Keene’s Life Without Me is in fact an anomaly. Despite the runaway success of the season, the internationally renowned playwright’s work is hardly produced in his home country, let alone his hometown of Melbourne. If Theatre’s acclaimed Artistic Director Matt Scholten hopes to change this and not let another cultural gem leave Australia, their works forgotten in their hometown.
Other than Scholten’s own productions, there have only been three productions of Keene’s work in Australia in the last five years. The current (commissioned) Melbourne Theatre Company production, Life Without Me; Sydney Theatre Company’s (commissioned) The Serpent’s Teeth (2008) and Griffin Theatre’s The Nightwatchman (2007). His work is never revisited at a professional level. This is in stark contrast to over 60 professional productions (including commissions) in France alone over the same period.
No wonder Daniel sees his main audience is in Europe and not here. "European audiences in particular seem to really take to my work, to my way of seeing the world. The phenomenon has been quite surprising. It feels strange to me, because I see the work as actually really Australian in flavour."
So, are we in danger of losing another Australian cultural statesman to an overseas audience? It seems the work will continue to have a presence in the Australian cultural scene as Keene and Scholten have paired up in a long term artistic collaboration. Both see the benefits of this association. Scholten was eager to have Keene’s work maintain a cultural presence in Australia, thereby ensuring the writer remains part of Australia’s theatre canon. "We can’t afford to lose such a beautiful and elegant writer’s voice to obscurity. I’m proud to ensure he remains a central part of Australia’s -and Melbourne’s -cultural life." Keene is happy to find again an artistic partner that shares his theatrical vision. “It’s rare to find artistic collaborators that share the same understanding of theatre, let alone the same language.”
In If Theatre’s third production of Keene’s work, Scholten wanted to revisit The Nightwatchman as part of Theatre Works Selected Works Season. The work was first commissioned in 2005 by Paris based Compagnie des Docks. It subsequently had its Australian premiere by Belvoir Street in 2007 and finds its natural home – Melbourne -in this production. Scholten was particularly interested in The Nightwatchman because it exemplifies Daniel’s key themes, his concerns and his style:
“Daniel’s work explores those on the margins, on the edges. His work is elegant and delicate, even though the characters experience extreme emotional situations. He writes about the resilience of spirit and the underlying dignity of individuals, all within the simple, day to day trials of living. The Nightwatchman is set on a back verandah surrounded by a beautiful wild garden. What happens to family memories when everyone moves beyond the family home? I wanted to revisit Daniel’s exploration of this very contemporary phenomenon.”
Following The Nightwatchman, Keene and Scholten are already working on a commission by The Big West Festival for 2011. There are also a couple of other projects they’re discussing for the future. But for now how to maintain Keene’s delicate and important work within Australian cultural awareness is the duo’s main concern.
If Theatre is a Melbourne based performance ensemble headed by Matt Scholten. www.iftheatre.blogspot.com
November 26, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Sally Bennett [Herald Sun]
Moving out, moving on: Theatre
THE topic sounds depressing, but the creative talent means you know it's not.
Esteemed Melbourne playwright Daniel Keene brings one of his plays to a home crowd after successful seasons in France and Sydney.
The Nightwatchman is a three-hander about a blind old man, going from his family home to a nursing home, and his two adult children.
Theatre Works director Matt Scholten says it's a dramatic play, beautifully told and with great sensitivity.
"Daniel has a universal understanding of humanity. He understands how the heart operates," Scholten says of Keene's work.
"He's really moved all of the people who are making this piece."
Performed by Roger Oakley, Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams, The Nightwatchman takes the family through their last night together in the house to leaving the next day.
Truths are revealed and emotions are explored as the family members face their new reality and look back at their pasts.
"It's quite poignant," Scholten says.
"It addresses something that we all have to face at some point in our lives -- saying goodbye to loved ones and to places and the past."
November 22, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Paul Andrew [Australian Stage]
Matt Scholten is the Artistic Director of If Theatre. This week in collaboration with Theatre Works 2010 Selected Works, Daniel Keene's 2007 play The Nightwatchman is being restaged for Melbourne audiences, directed by Scholten and performed by Roger Oakley, Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams.
Memory is the mother of all art. Nostalgia and sentimentality are its (deadly) enemies
– Daniel Keene
Director Matt Scholten and Playwright Daniel Keene share a memory or three with Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.
Matt what is your earliest and fondest memory of theatre?
I think if what you're asking me is what was my starting point in my relationship with theatre, then, to be honest, it’s not really about one particular moment. It’s a build up over time of moments, a slow realisation about how important, how intrinsic theatre is to my life, to who I am and how I want to communicate to the world. So it’s hard to discern one particular, solid, vivid memory.
Tell me about playwrights who capture your imagination?
I’m drawn most to writers who aspire to an emotional purity in the way they imagine their worlds. And so their worlds - their characters - have all the internal conflict, internal confusion that we have. And I really value the opportunity to explore this too when I engage with their writing. I think it’s a deceptively difficult place to write about, these worlds. It’s hard to write about characters where to be true to them you have to deeply explore things about yourself that you may not want to explore. Your own weaknesses and demons, for example. I think that takes a lot of emotional courage and strength, things that actually aren’t that easy to act upon.
They range. I’ve obviously been inspired and influenced by my training at VCA and the directors I’ve worked with there. Susanne recently gave me a copy of British director Katie Mitchell’s The Directors’ Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre. We’d been talking about her a lot and I’ve followed her work quite a bit. I really admire her attention to detail to every aspect, every step in making theatre. To the nuances of the work, the fine moments. I think theatre lives; it soars, in these fine moments.
Your directing journey so far?
I came to professional directing later in my life, even though I sort of always had a love of theatre and performing. I did everything I could to procrastinate and distract myself and worked for a long time in teaching and then the corporate world. In retrospect I think it was because I wondered if I was really good enough to get up in front of a bunch of talented, artistic people and lead them towards creating something together. That seemed very daunting. In many ways it still does. But I look at that now as a good thing and that it helps fuel my work.
Tell me about IF Theatre - the vision, the ethos?
It’s a strange question, because it feels quite backward looking. The Nightwatchman is – in many ways sadly - the last show for If Theatre. Next year I start a new company, Appetite, with friend and collaborator Susanne Kean. But I think what’s interesting about the two – If Theatre and Appetite - is where they intersect, where they’re the same.
For me, I guess I’m really interested in a few fundamental things – exploring that emotional undercurrent in really great work, sort of like what I talked about before with writers. And exploring that in a collaborative way. I think they’re the two main things that will travel through from If Theatre to Appetite.
Susanne is interested in these things too; we sort of have the same vision for what theatre can be. What we want theatre to be. I think what Susanne brings as well in terms of her interest in particular kinds of work is a broader interest in how forces beyond our immediate view come to bear down on us in ways that we don’t even realise – you know, those big generational forces, generational changes. Social norms, history. Social change. All the big stuff. Somewhere between the two – between those intimate, virtually internal moments between and within us and those huge forces beyond our control and even our awareness – that’s where we’d like to find a home for Appetite.
How did you first come across upon Keene's work, by chance or by design?
Bit of both – I directed All Souls whilst I was studying at VCA.
We met briefly during All Souls and actually formed a closer working relationship when I directed Half And Half in 2008 which has evolved over time. We sort of have this ongoing conversation that happens whether I’m in rehearsal for one of his works, or not. That underpins the collaboration – that sense of him in the rehearsal room – when I come to directing one of his works. During the rehearsal period he pops in every now and again, but he’s not there the whole time. He’s there first day – for the first read – and comes in intermittently, but not often. We’ll talk almost daily on the phone, so he knows what’s going on. We’re both aware of keeping that fine balance of being true to his writing and creating a piece that is more than just his writing.
What is your own most memorable theatre experience so far?
I don’t think that there is a 'most’ memorable, but I’ve seen quite a few productions that have stayed with me for years, that I still think about. One of the best I’ve seen was The Moscow Art Theatre’s production of The Seagull, which was produced here in Melbourne quite a number of years ago now. It was elegant, truthful, intelligent and deeply felt. Chambermade Opera’s production of The Fall Of The House Of Usher is another work that has stayed with me (it was one of the first productions in what is now known as the Merlyn Theatre at the Merlyn). Amazing design by Trina Parker. A La Mama production of Franz Kroetz’s play Farmyard is another work that I will never forget and that I think about quite often. The performances seemed so utterly truthful. Of course I’ve seen some bloody terrible things a well, which are also hard to forget!
You have been writing since 1979 - tell me about this time in your life what was urgent for you then?
What was 'urgent’ was my desire to work in the theatre; I didn’t really know in what capacity. I’d tried acting, directing, and even a little designing. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) I wasn’t very good at any of these things. I tried my hand at writing. I liked it and it seemed to like me. We’ve been friends ever since.
Tell me something about the artists who inspired you at this time?
As a young man I was very fortunate to collaborate with Lindzee Smith, a director from The Pram Factory. He was my ‘mentor’ you might say. He introduced me to all kinds of writing, to all kinds of possibilities for making theatre. His productions of Phil Motherwell’s Dreamers Of The Absolute, Peter Handke’s My Foot My Tutor and Sam Sheppard’s Cowboy Mouth remain some of the best, most exciting pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. He was a genuine inspiration.
The writers who mattered to me then, still matter to me: Pinter, Beckett, Shakespeare, Handke, Chekhov, Brecht, Buchner, Miller, and Ionesco ... the list goes on. And there are always new writers to discover.
What is most urgent for you now as a playwright?
As always to be a better playwright.
And tell me something about artists who inspire you now?
Again, there are many writers, and directors and actors that I find ‘inspiring’, although I’m not sure that’s the right word. Perhaps ‘stimulating’ would be a better choice. Being in rehearsals with Peter Evans and the cast of Life Without Me was a real joy; working with Matt on The Nightwatchman has been, as usual, a very rewarding experience. What makes working with these people stimulating is the truthfulness of their work, their dedication to the always difficult and consuming process of making a piece of theatre, and their emotional and intellectual generosity.
And are there plays that you perceive as cornerstones of in your artistic life?
Shakespeare’s Lear stands out among others.
Pinter’s The Homecoming; Buchner’s Woyzec; Kroetz’s Through The Leaves; Ibsen’s Brand; Miller’s Death Of A Salesman; Nowra’s Inner Voices; Beckett’s Endgame; O’Neil’s Long Days Journey Into Night; Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis; Hibberd’s A Stretch Of The Imagination; Von Horvath’s Kasimir And Karoline; Koltes’ Roberto Zucco; Barker’s Victory; Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya; Harrower’s Knives In Hens; Mamet’s American Buffalo ... etc. Should I go on?
Do you have a technique or pattern that has emerged over these years of writing?
I begin with a blank page and silence. I wait to see what emerges. I try to decide as little as possible beforehand.
Memory is such a formidable aspect of the human condition - what are some of your thoughts about memory - and thoughts on other authors writing about memory too perhaps - about the role memory plays in living life well, understanding ourselves and each other, relating well?
To answer this question I’d have to write a play
Do you feel that memory, including nostalgia and sentimentality, is an opportunity for contemplation and consolation?
Memory is the mother of all art. Nostalgia and sentimentality are its (deadly) enemies.
Was there a person or a time in your life that directly or indirectly inspired The Nightwatchman?
The play was inspired by the French actors and director that I was writing it for, especially by Maurice Deschamps, a blind actor who had played Albert Speer in my play The Architect’s Walk at the Avignon Festival. He was a marvelous man and a very, very fine actor. He passed away only a year or so ago. The play is dedicated to him.
On a more personal note, I think that the play draws its emotional energy from my own feelings about the death of my father. He died quite a number of years ago, and the play itself doesn’t directly relate to that event. But the sense of loss, of departure, that pervades the play has a lot to do with my own feelings about losing someone that I loved very deeply.
And your character Bill - tell me about him. Is he a mélange of true life characters?
I never base my characters on real people.
When you observe one of your productions being staged locally or overseas, does it help inspire new writing, new themes, and new characters?
Yes, if the production is interesting, if it challenges the text, if it goes beyond what I was able to imagine the production would be like. I also find watching good actors at work very exciting, especially if they are able to take the character that they are playing (and that I have written) into physical and emotional territory that I hadn’t expected. Of course, the actors work must begin with finding a way to be truthful to the text, but they shouldn’t be enslaved by it.
Can you tell me about the two European productions of your plays Scissors, Paper Rock at Théâtre de la Colline, Paris and Dreamers at the Théâtre National de Toulouse?
Scissors, Paper, Rock is still touring France, Dreamers doesn’t open until next year. I saw Scissors in Paris a few months ago. It’s a beautiful production of the play, and quite unforgiving. I think it’s perhaps one of the finest realisations of one of my plays. Carlo Brandt’s performance as the central character is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things. It was a privilege to witness his performance at La Colline. It gave me goosebumps every time I saw it, and I saw it half a dozen times. It’s seems pointless to try to describe the production.
I have been working on Dreamers for about two years. When I was last in Toulouse I spent two weeks with the director (Sebastian Bournac) and my translator (Severine Magois) refining the text. It was a very intense period of close work, going through the play line by line. I met the cast and the designer. The production is now in rehearsal. The rehearsal period is quite long. The play opens at the National Theatre of Toulouse in March 2011, after which it will tour to several cities around France. Commitments here in Australia permitting, I hope to be in Toulouse for the premiere.
There has been a popular interest in your work in Europe, why do you feel this is?
I don’t write plays with ‘Australian settings’. I avoid the vernacular and the parochial. I’ve never been interested in being an ‘Australian Playwright’; I’ve simply wanted to be a playwright. I can’t choose my nationality, but I can choose my profession. In saying that, I should make it clear that I’m quite proud to be an Australian and I think that Melbourne is one of the best places in the world to live; it’s also one of the most exciting places to be at the moment as far as theatre is concerned. The theatre (and dance) that is being made in Melbourne is some of the best you’ll see anywhere on the planet.
And does it help you understand yourself in a deeper way too perhaps?
I gave up trying to understand myself a long time ago. Now I just put up with myself.
What simple wisdom(s) might you offer another writer setting out on a career of writing plays?
Read plays. Write every day. See plays. Keep notes. Read plays. Remember that you are writing for the actor’s voice and that the words you write will be heard. See plays. Read more plays. Dream about plays. See more plays. Talk about plays. Study stagecraft. When you’re writing a play, read it out loud. And read poetry, lots of it. Did I mention that you should read plays?
November 12, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Robin Usher [The Age]
Gift of a writer almost lost to Paris
ROGER Oakley is preparing to forget the discipline learnt during a lifetime of acting when he takes the lead role of an ageing blind man in Daniel Keene's play, The Nightwatchman.
''It means I will be able to look at the audience quite shamelessly as long as I am careful to make it a general stare and not focus on anything,'' he says. He briefly rehearsed the role with his eyes closed but quickly realised it was inappropriate.
''The setting is the family home so he has no problem finding his way around.''
Blindness is just one of the challenges of the role. The main one is the number of lines spoken by his character, Bill. ''He does talk quite a lot,'' Oakley laughs. ''That freaked me out at first.''
He is also wrestling with the poetic qualities of Keene's writing. ''There is a challenge between the way he writes and creating a real and credible character for the audience so it is about more than just language.''
The play is set in Bill's rambling family home with its sprawling garden, where his two children (played by Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Brad Williams) have returned for a few days to discuss moving him into aged care.
''It is about the sort of troubles that most people have to deal with in the course of their lives,'' Oakley says. ''It resonates because it is all about family life where the dead mother is a strong presence.''
The play was commissioned in 2005 by the Paris-based Compagnie des Docks and had its first Australian production in Sydney with the Griffin Theatre Company three years ago.
But director Matt Scholten is eager to ensure that Keene's work continues to be seen in Melbourne, even though the writer's main focus shifted to France in 2002 after the critical acclaim achieved by his work here with director Ariette Taylor from 1997.
Scholten says there have been only three productions of Keene's work in Australia in the past five years, apart from his own collaborations with the writer at Footscray's Dog Theatre. By contrast, there have been more than 60 professional productions in France.
''We can't afford to lose such a beautiful and elegant writer's voice to obscurity,'' Scholten says. The Nightwatchman comes soon after the Melbourne Theatre Company's first production of his work, Life Without Me, which Scholten and Oakley saw together.
The actor says Keene's writing is not particularly Australian. ''It's great strength is that it can sit anywhere.''
He says the characters in the first copy of The Nightwatchman script he saw still had French names that gave it ''quite a French flavour''.
He thinks the play's title is more evocative than anything literal. ''I think (Keene) likes the sound of certain phrases and this appealed to him with the idea of blindness. There is no reason to think that it refers to a job in Bill's past.''
Oakley performed with the MTC twice in the past two years, both hit shows - August: Osage County last year and Richard III last May.
But he says demand for acting work has lessened in most areas, especially for older performers. ''It is worse for women, which is just appalling,'' he says.
''I think that happens everywhere, as older characters become represented by one or two actors. Ruth Cracknell was a good representative of that and now there is Robyn Nevin.''
November 16, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Lin Tan [Broadsheet]
The Nightwatchman will mark the fifth Daniel Keene play director Matt Scholten has worked on in two years. He talks to Broadsheet about their prolific relationship.
Though the storylines differ, the characters of Daniel Keene's plays will always strike a relatable chord in many of us. Keene's knack for breathing a poetic life into the often neglected, lost souls of society offers not only a captivating sincerity mastered by few – the Becketts, the Chekhovs – but a mirror image of everyday lives we often encounter.
The Nightwatchman will mark the fifth Daniel Keene play Melbourne director Matt Scholten has worked on since 2008. Prior to this, Scholten assisted the direction of Keene’s debut Melbourne Theatre Company play, Life Without Me, at this year’s Melbourne Arts Festival, and it seems the partnership between the two is only getting stronger.
Initially written for a French theatre company, The Nightwatchman follows the lives of three people as they proceed into a new chapter in their lives. Bill, the father, has gone blind and his children Helen and Michael return home to move their father to another place. Whilst at home, all three discover shared memories that not only bring them closer together, but also threaten to hold them back.
"In many respects, the characters are in a hurry to move into the next part of their lives," explains Scholten. "Their relationship with the past is a very interesting one and it varies for each of the characters, but they all have to let the past go. The play is really about saying goodbye and moving forward, and for each of those three people in the play, it’s a very different world that they’re heading towards."
A long admirer of Keene’s work, Scholten’s directorial approach has always been about being open to suggestion and listening to his colleagues. Although Keene’s involvement in the production process is minimal insofar as executive decisions are made, Scholten reveals: “I’m the kind of director who really believes in honouring the playwright. I begin with the text and I really want to make the text the centre of the piece, and I want to honour what the playwright wants. I really believe part of my job is to serve their vision.”
Though they officially met during Scholten’s production of Keene’s Half and Half in 2008, the director-playwright partnership really began in 2009 when the two collaborated on The Dog Theatre’s production of The Cove, which featured eight short works by Keene. Their partnership is one based on support and the sharing of ideas with Scholten in the wonderful position of having access to a lot of Keene’s new as well as back-catalogue works. As they continue to work together, Scholten hopes to produce at least one Keene play a year.
“I’m really turned on by language. His [Keene’s] ability to create and fashion stories with beautiful language is just a dream. The rhythms that are contained in that work and the images that he evokes and creates are really incredible. I think that the key thing is that he also writes from the heart.
“I think I’ve found the playwright that is the right one for my directorial style,” he continues. “I think we’ve got a relationship where we both like similar things in terms of theatre, and we both have very similar views of the world politically and socially.”
November 02, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Alison Croggan [Theatrenotes]
For the first time I can remember, Daniel Keene has two productions on at once in his home town. One, the comedy Life Without Me, opened last month at the Melbourne Theatre Company to enthusiastic reviews and sell-out audiences as part of the Melbourne Festival. The other, the delicate generational drama The Nightwatchman, opens later this month at Theatre Works in St Kilda as an independent production.
Since he lives in the same house as I do, I sneakily exploited our proximity to ask him some questions.
And, eventually, he answered them.
AC: To Elizabethans, says the critic Jan Kott, the world was the stage and the stage was the world. What world is your stage? What does it become in the hands of others?
DK: The stage is a frame. I like the frame to be simple and unornamented.
To put it a different way: the stage is a metaphor. It doesn't need any other metaphors added to it.
The theatre is a pragmatic art. When I write a play, the action of the play has to happen somewhere. In a room? On a street corner? Both? I make fundamental delineations.
When I imagine a play, I imagine a bare stage, a source of light, an actor. Depending on the content of the play, I might call what I imagine 'the lobby of a hotel' or 'the kitchen of a suburban house’ or ‘a building site’. In other words, I locate my actor standing lit on a bare stage in the world outside of the theatre. I am suggesting a simple recognition, nothing more or less. Once that recognition has occurred, we can all get on with the play. In other words, we can ask ‘what will happen?’
I write plays for the hands of others; the hands that make them and the hands that applaud (or don't applaud) them. A play is a casting off.
When we speak of poetry in the theatre, what do we mean? You read a lot of poetry, and sometimes write it yourself. What is the difference between a poem and a work for the theatre?
In a very, very basic way, a poem and a work for the theatre share a need for rhythm: the striking arrival of the next line, the feeling of inevitability when the line ends (an inevitability that is created by the line itself).
Perhaps it’s simply that I think every line in a play deserves the same attention as every line in a poem.
Is writing plays another kind of thinking?
Yes. It’s a very delicate, very crude way of thinking.
Who are the writers who matter most to you?
I keep discovering them. But there is no ‘most’.
What do you seek to make? Do you want anything? Do you simply arrive with empty hands?
I don't seek to make anything in particular. When I begin to write a play I never know what I’m going to make. I sometimes surprise myself and actually write a play. I abandon more plays than I finish. I sometimes have, as Beckett once said 'the itch to make but nothing to say'. I thinks it's a kind of pathology. I don't understand it and have avoided trying to.
Empty hands? Yes, always. To want nothing, to know nothing, to bring nothing. And then the making. It’s a kind of magic, as is baking a cake or building a house.
For as long as you have been a playwright, you have worked closely with particular actors. How important is the actor to your imagining of a play?
The art of the theatre is the art of the word made flesh.
I am always aware that I am writing for the voice. I think that perhaps poets might have the same awareness. But where for a poet the voice is their own firstly (familiar), and secondly that of the reader (unknown), the voice(s) I am writing for belongs to a known other: it is not my voice, but it is a voice that I know, that I can hear as I write, the voice of the actor. I can hear what I imagine are the possibilities of that voice. I am not talking about the interpretation of the lines, but their music, their rhythm and cadence, their tone and volume. You could say that the voice is an instrument that I am writing for. The more familiar I am with that instrument, the more freedom I have. I can write lines that I myself could never say, lines whose expression is beyond my capacity even to imagine uttering them.
The voice comes from the actor’s body. When I write for the actor’s voice I am writing for his/her body. Generally, I don’t write many stage directions. I want the language itself to (literally) move the actor, for the voice and the body of the actor to become one energy, one dynamic expression of the language, without the ‘prompting’ of prescriptive directions. In other words, I want the act of speaking the lines that I write to propel the actor’s body, I want the act of speaking to bring the actor’s body to life.
Is the actor, alone and vulnerable on a stage, caught in the light before the eyes of an audience, the secret of the humanity of your theatre?
There is no secret. The actor, alone and vulnerable on a stage, caught in the light before the eyes of an audience is the beginning and the end of the theatre that I want to make.
In its exploration of the possibilities of absurdist comedy, Life Without Me strikes me as a play with a close relationship to Half and Half (2002), a two hander which you also wrote specifically for, among others, Robert Menzies. Comedy has always been an important part of the dramas you write, as far back as Silent Partner (1991). How important is it to laugh?
People often forget that in almost everything I have written there are moments of comedy (I call them ‘the funny bits’). Perhaps they forget because this comedy rarely lasts until the end of the play. In my plays laughter is usually the prologue to its opposite. Comedy makes the audience more open to what is occurring on stage (makes them more vulnerable to it). I try to create that openness by offering the possibility of laughter. Comedy is an invitation that I extend.
How important is it to grieve?
To grieve is to openly acknowledge our mortality. I think grief should be embraced. The acknowledgment of our mortality may be all that can save the human race from itself.
The theatre can be a place that opens a space for grieving. To put it another way: I take it that a metaphor can be understood as a displacement of reality that allows that reality to be more clearly perceived. The theatre is a place where metaphors are literally made in front of our eyes, where they exist only at a particular time and in a particular place. When the performance is over, nothing remains except our memory of it. It is as if the performance shares the mortality of its audience. This fact is in itself a metaphor (which may in fact lead us back to ‘all the world’s a stage’). If to grieve is to acknowledge our mortality, then the theatre can be the place where that acknowledgment is made manifest, where we can, literally, experience that acknowledgment as an emotional, intellectual and physical event in time and space.
That’s at least the beginning of an answer to your question.
Life Without Me, directed by Peter Evans, is playing at the Sumner Theatre, MTC Theatre, until November 27. The Nightwatchman, directed by Matt Scholten, opens at Theatre Works, St Kilda, on November 24 and runs until December 11.
Check out the video of Something Blew
November 15th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Tony Reck
A particular demographic exists south of the Yarra river, one that finds artistic expression at Theatre Works. Minus the hip bohemianism of the inner city, this demographic nevertheless extends as far as the Bellarine peninsula. The title Something Blew has about it the benevolent aspect of a pleasant, off-shore breeze. But a rising swell prevails in the reconfigured Theatre Works space as a stunned bride stands petrified before an opening night full house. Absolutely perfect, consorting behind this bride is an eager line of performers partially concealed by a curtain.
Something Blew begins with one female performer gracefully wrapping the foregrounded bride in cling-wrap. Meanwhile, her fellow performers congeal throughout a space lit with consideration and care, and begin to explore the metrosexual relationship as it manifests in 2010. There is male upon female, female upon male, female upon female, and male upon male embrace and sexual innuendo. While in-between each copulating couple there staggers a hairy man cross-dressed in a second bride's gown. Overall, the dance is pretty, slick, and evenly choreographed. Allowing the stage picture and an interpolation into the language of theatre to communicate meaning, each dancer is free to tantalise the audience with modern dance and its assumption that it must be abstract, and beautiful. But when Something Blew systematically explores the turning points within a permanent relationship, it resembles an eisteddfod. Simply expressing romantic love, marriage, childbirth, disenchantment, and seperation is a worthy strategy, but it must be developed beyond an exercise designed to express the complexity of intimate human relationships. For example, why do some women express love for a partner who is systematically abusive ? Alternatively, what compels a father to murder his children as an act of revenge against their mother ? Insane love is the common term describing such inexplicable acts. When Something Blew delves into this area, the underworld it explores is precisely expressed by the shrinking physical stature of each dancer, combined with a cavernous line of low lying ultra-violet light. Sent insane by not knowing how to love, the confusion that characterises metrosexuality is accurately represented.
An enthusiastic company with more self-belief than life experience, 2nd Toe Dance Collective and their production of Something Blew leaves quite an impression on its audience, and this augurs well for their future.
November 3rd, 2010
PRINT - Review: Chris Boyd [Herald Sun]
Stars: 4 out of 5.
Something Blew — a revised version of a piece first seen last year — is 2ndToe at its best. There's a real sophistication in the staging, and evidence of an instinctive and exciting theatrical imagination. It's an hourlong physical theatre piece about hooking up, making out and breaking up; about love, sex, commitment and its death...
A barefoot bride (Emily Raeford) is standing in an elaborate white dress, complete with veil and train. The elegant bridal party stands in a line against the wall behind her. Over the next few minutes the bride is cling-wrapped. Mummified. Turned into a cocoon. It's an often-seen gimmick of late, but it works miraculously well here.
First, the gentle movement of the bride's fingertips is restricted then, eventually, everything except her breathing is stopped. The piece then fractures into spin-off stories — from past and future —perfect shards in a magnificently-lit kaleidoscopic whole. The metaphors are well calculated, evocative and provocative. Something Blew is an extraordinary achievement: do see it.
Go to The Morning After for Chris' full review.
November 3, 2010
PRINT - Review: Paul Andrew [Front Row Arts. Impress - Issue 1147]
A perfect bride, standing perfectly still, in a perfect dress with a gracious smile and perfect veil is ceremoniously cocooned in plastic, like a caterpillar before a metamorphosis takes place. Set against our current political backdrop where gender is fluid and where equal rights to same-sex marriage is as hotly contested as it is hotly obfuscated, this opening scene and its clever use of everyday domestic props provides us with a vivid metaphor.
Towards the ending of this telling opening sequence, several of the dancers – a sensuous bridal party perhaps comprising friends and ex-lovers – are busily weaving and winding about the stage tending to and preserving the bride. Thereby preserving the traditions for which she is also the emblem. As the party turn away from her, trailing into the distance they leave behind them long silvery trails and tendrils of plastic food wrap, the traces of the tradition, entangled, glinting in the light. It's a difficult image that seizes us; the stillness and containment signified by marriage becomes instead an open web, one that can trap strangers like flies.
Something Blew offers us some enduring images and it poses some difficult questions, too. Blew is after all, a deeply inflected word conjuring different meanings to the more traditional 'something blew' signifying fidelity and true love in the old bridal rhyme. Blew is conflicted and ironic suggestive of slang, porn, forces of nature, poetry, even hubris.
The first act of the work has the dancers stay and play together en masse. The second act splintering into sublime partnering and some mesmerising duets. At times rapturous choreograophy evoling the prism of emotions encountered during 'young love'.
Ironically, in the closing scene the bride is a 'he', swathed in blue light, dressed in a garment fashioned from silvery trails and tendrils reminiscent of the perfect bride at the outset. Unlike her, he is not still, he has adapted into the dervish of en pointe, demi pointe, jettes, plies, street style and somersaults able to negoltiate any obstacle or fury or saint or sleight with the grace of ballet and the stillness is contained within.
November 3, 2010
PRINT - Article: Paul Andrew [Front Row Arts. Impress - Issue 1147]
KIND OF BLEW
Paul Andrews talks to 2ndToe Artistic Director Adam Wheeler about the Dance collective's new Production 'Something Blew'
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. It’s one of the western world’s most familiar phrases when it comes to weddings and commitment ceremonies, however when an ancient saying like this gets stuck down the pants of a dance collective like 2ndToe, anything is possible.
'It’s a great rhyme isn’t it?’ company Artistic Director Adam Wheeler says. ‘Old’ is the link to the ancestors, to forebears; ‘something new’ is a no brainer; ‘something borrowed’ represents the ties to others, to friendship, to kin. Yes, we got the first three concepts all okay, but had absolutely no idea about the fourth: blue. So we decided to start investigating. It seems that blue on a wedding dress represents modesty, fidelity and purity. Things which we pretty much don’t have anymore.
‘Today we are all sexually free, we have all done something we are not particularly proud of, and most of the time, whatever we want, we want it now and we know how to get it.
"Yes, it’s true, this work doesn’t paint a pretty picture and in devising this peice we looked at desire at its most basic and primal function, we looked at the complexity of desire and the rigmarole of love, the tumult of love, we have examined what feels like the compete lack of importance of tradition."
Wheeler is not simply hinting at the most candid and messy experiences of dance professionals in his midst, he is touching on the feelings of emerging artists everywhere now, "and to be honest I think we all need a big hug. We hope that this work will make punters ask themselves questions like, ‘What is it you really want from a relationship in 2010’. "
When it comes to sketching in the backdrop for relationships today, Wheeler is adamant. “Baggage and free porn on the internet is the killer,” he says. “As 20 – somethings, we can no longer meet innocent people who have not been marked by previous relationships. We have to play the game, say the right things at the right time and hope love finds a way.”
It was Wheeler’s own 26th birthday party that provided five strangers with the opportunity to become friends.
“I had recently met five new people, recent graduates from VCA who showed a real flare for dancing, art and a good time. I had the idea for producing a birthday event featureing a night of solos and duets about things I always wanted at a birthday party but never had.
“Together, we put on a show at The Laundry, North Fitzroy, dancers in superhero costumes, leaping out of cakes, fighting in jumping castles, dressed up as giant pin the tail on the donkeys, and so on. The show was a huge success and 2ndToe Dance Collective was born.”
This recollection reminds him of another. “And the name 2ndToe is kinda strange, just like the collective,I guess it came from the idea that we align our body to the earth in a parallel position, it’s sort of a link between the hips, the knees and the way we hold the second toe. This anatomical stuff is also the foundation of our genre and we quite like that people generally find anything about the toes weird or a bit gross. I would like to think this is also a way to describe our work.
“And, coincidentally, we run a popular youth program called Toe Jam. Get the idea?”
“Dance is the universal language no matter what your up bringing is, your past, your future. You can watch dance and get something from it and whatever you see is alright, is okay, and no one can tell you differently. The human body the way it can move, distort, bendfly and fall can provoke so many emotions within us. Life is complex; take what you can, read whatever you want.”
ONLINE - Interview: James Lachlan [Marble House]
Last night Samuel [Nicolausson] and I [James Lachlan] were fortunate enough to be invited to attend Something Blew, a new contemporary dance piece from 2ndToe Dance Collective which is part of Theatre Works Selected Dance Program. The event was catered by Claypots Seafood Restaurant
The show is a dark exploration of relationships, sexual confusion and love.
Today I caught up with James Andrews, collaborator and dancer in the piece to chat more about the themes and inspiration behind this rivetting artwork…
Marble House: Hmmm….I'm not quite sure what to ask. I suppose, first off and most obviously, can you tell me a little bit about the piece? the inspiration, the intention etc
James Andrews: Okay, well the initial idea for the work came from the old English proverb "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue" - we found that in the proverb blue represented modesty, fidelity and purity. The intention was to explore these concepts and compare them to modern relationships. In the end we decided to try and make a piece based on our own personal relationships rather than trying to make a social commentary - the subject matter, "what is marriage?" - was too broad for a 1 hour work.And plus we're all way too young to make informed comments on marriage.
I see. So I take it the entire process was very collaborative?
Yeah, everyone involved had input into how the work was shaped.We did a series of “hot seat” interviews towards the beginning of the process where we asked specific questions about our own relationships and also our views on marriage. We all have very different points of view - which was a goldmine for developing material.
How was it you first became involved?
During my time at VCA I became really close friends with <dancers> Frankie, Maddy, Ben and Tyler, I guess mainly due to my pre-existing friendship with Tyler from NSW. They were already working with Adam <Wheeler, director and choreographer> and I just kept hanging out haha. Then last year they were preparing to present a development showing of the work and needed an understudy for Adam because he was unavailable to perform so they asked me to step in. And the rest is history! After that I was a member of the collective. But we’re all friends first and foremost. What I think really works about us is that we live in each others pockets. We’re quite a close knit urban family.And I think that really shows on stage - we know each other quite well!
Absolutely. It takes a lot of trust to let a group of people coccoon you in gladwrap. Speaking of, that was an incredibly effective image, can you tell me a bit about the symbollism of it and the inspiration?
Well the work ended up being structured in 3 sections - tradition, love and desire. The glad wrap came from the idea of preservation. You put it in glad wrap, put it in the fridge and hope it doesn’t go moldy! haha But in this case we’re talking about a beautiful girl in a Disney style wedding dress being preserved. It’s about tradition. Why do we continue traditions? Are they still relevant to us today?
Haha, I interpreted it completely differently
what was it for you?
I saw it as a more criticism of marriage, I saw this beautiful girl being entombed, restricted and inhibited
Well I guess some of us don’t necessarily have the most optomistic view on marriage haha. With such high divorce rate there was a lot of questions raised about the value of marriage today. The work is very dark I guess. But for me the glad wrap at the beginning of the work has a strong connection to my solo in the wedding dress made of glad wrap at the end.
mmm that wasn’t lost on me, I picked up on the symmetry. In fact I originally thought you were wearing the coccoon
Well yeah the dress is made out of cocoons we’ve collected throughout the rehearsal period.
How about the part where you all started creeping towards the audience, choosing some poor soul in the front row and flirting with them? I actually found that part incredibly unnerving, which I’m imagining is the idea and I didn’t even have anyone come up to me
hahaha It’s one of my favorite bits too! It’s this love boot camp sort of thing we were playing with - I mean in the end we can never choose the person we fall in love with. And its great to see different peoples reactions to it! It’s fun to play with!
Thank you so much, James for taking the time today. Before we wrap up is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I guess the thing I’d like to say about the work is that even though it’s dark there’s still a ray of hope in there. It’s not always doom and gloom! I hope audiences can find that too… but it’s an abstract work so we’re not trying to spoon feed
October 28th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Paul Andrew [Australian Stage]
Adam Wheeler is Artistic Associate with Tasmanian based dance company Stompin', as well as Artistic Director of the 2ndToe Dance Collective - a contemporary dance company based in Melbourne. 2ndToe seeks to "provide young and emerging artists the opportunity to make dance work with professional artists," and opens tonight with their latest production, Something Blew.
Adam Wheeler spoke with Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.
You started your dance career with Stompin. Tell us about that and how 2ndToe began?
Yes, that's true. Since I began dancing at the age of eighteen with Stompin, a youth dance company in Tasmania, I have been interested in choreography ever since.
A group of us formed a little group called Phulcrum and made a piece called I Don't Do Mornings, a work about nightlife and living 5-9 instead of 9-5, which in hindsight is quite funny because as an eighteen year old kid living in Tasmania I had no idea what it meant to party all night. Nevertheless we put on a season to a sellout audience and sparked an interest in making and producing my own work.
When I arrived in Melbourne in 2002 to study at the VCA I had a job that allowed me to run a dance program at St Michael's Grammar, St Kilda. This opportunity helped me to continue my investigation into making dance work and also a growing passion for working with young people. Youth have so much energy and fantastic raw ideas!
This program developed and after four years it was becoming time for me to move on but I wanted to hand it over to someone I could trust. I had recently met a group of hot young first year dancers from the VCA at a bar who showed a real flare for dancing, art and a good time so I said 'Heya, come and make some work with me'.
Together the five of us made two works at St Michael's before moving on. Around this time I had been playing with a few different ensembles, developing ideas and toying with the name 2ndToe Dance Collective but nothing really was taking off until the idea of doing a birthday show for my 26th meant the five us began to make one ourselves. We presented a night of solos and duets about things I always wanted at a birthday party. We put the show on at The Laundry, North Fitzroy and had dancers in superhero costumes, jumping out of cakes, fighting in jumping castles, dressed up as giant pin the tail on the donkeys and a whole bunch of cheeky and awkward party scenarios. The show was a huge success and 2ndToe Dance Collective was born.
Where do you feel that your collective fits into the contemporary dance milieu?
We are still very young have only began to create our label and identity but my vision for the Collective is to be at the forefront of contemporary dance practice for young and emerging artists. A platform where emerging dancers, designers, technicians, managers can make work and be showcased and to kick start their careers.
Describe your passion?
Someone asked me recently what it was I loved about being a dancer or director and I said quite quickly the people I get to work with. As we have just finished our last week of rehearsal before bumping into the theatre, although sometimes bloody hard, watching a group of a dozen artists battle it out all for the same purpose of making shit hot dance work is very exciting for me. Sometimes I feel more like a facilitator then a director and know that the skills they are learning now are going to truly help them develop to be important contemporary artists in Australia. All members of 2ndToe Dance Collective have a strong voice and are very talented artists. I love watching people get passionate about expressing themselves.
Who do you count as mentors, heroes in dance?
My prime hero would my first Artistic Director, Jerril Retcher. Jerril was the one who planted the idea of becoming a professional dancer in my head and said, 'Adam if you really want this, we will get you into a ballet class, off to the VCA and to Chunky Move in no time.' At the first opening night for Chunky Move she sent me flowers with a card saying, 'I told you so!'
Gideon Obarzanek is another. Gideon’s ability to continually challenge how we view dance, be part of dance and connect with dance has changed the Australian landscape of contemporary dance and being part of the company and seeing his work has inspired me since the beginning.
Other mentors in my life are Becky Hilton, Brett Daffy, Luke George and my first ballet teacher Maryann Peacock.
Currently I really love Hofesh Shechter's work but really truly, I get a lot of inspiration from all the young dancers I get to work with.
Tell me something about the 2ndToe collective members?
Frankie Snowdon, Tyler Hawkins, Ben Hancock and Madeleine Krenek are the original four dancers that began the collective with me and work as Artistic Associates. James Andrews, Rebecca Jensen and Emily Ranford are all new to the collective and bring fresh and unique ideas to the collective. And Jorjin Vreisendorp from Amsterdam too. We like to call Jorjin our ghost member as she is very busy working with some great companies but remains very connected to the collective.
Tell me about some of the work these individual members have performed recently with the major companies, like Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine?
Jorjin is currently touring Mortal Engine with Chunky Move. Bec and Maddy or working with Jo Lloyd at the moment on a new work and Ben is collaborating with Sue Healy. Tyler and Jorjin performed with Chunky Move on So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year and I myself have been fortunate to have worked with Chunky Move for over the last five years, touring around the country and the U.S. It is very important to me that the collective provides opportunities for these dancers to be showcased and get work.
Tell me about the 2ndToe vision?
My vision for the collective is to have two main streams. The 2ndToe Collective, comprising of the hottest young and emerging talent to be coming out of the tertiary institutions who are working with the hottest young and emerging designers out there. Secondly the youth collective which is at the forefront of youth development, creating the next generation of contemporary dance artists. We want to make work that is really about who, how and what we are seeing the world today. Having an honest, raw opinion and presenting this is the format of dance. For example, Something Blew is our new show and it examines the modern relationship from our view as twenty somethings. Other projects in the development are works about the modern family. What we share is a deep connection and ability to solely open out to each other to find real emotion to inspire dance work.
And your five year plan?
Wow. five year plan, ok. Other than the holiday home and Harley, to be running a centre for youth dance which includes 2ndToe Dance Collective as its 'centerpiece’ making works annually by a range of different choreographers and tours internationally. The centre offers full time training courses, the youth collective company and courses for teachers and practitioners to further their own personal development in dance training.
2ndToe is based at Theatre Works in St Kilda?
Yes. I have lived in Melbourne for a decade now and the whole time in St Kilda. I love the St Kilda community, bars, cafes and artists. A majority of the collective also live in St Kilda and we want to make work at home. Theatre Works is a great little theatre with an amazing history that has been very supportive of each of us. We want to inject a fresh breath of contemporary art into an already rich community of talented artists. Something Blew is part of the Selected Works program that Theatre Works offers. Theatre Works is seeing more and more dance on their stage and I am happy we are one part of the diverse and exciting work that is presented there.
October 25th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Emma Woodall [BEAT]
Dance is one of those expressive art forms that can unite, divide and move audiences everywhere. There is something so transcendent and incendiary about powerful and fluid movement that ruptures language, culture, age and gender barriers to communicate something incredibly potent, beautiful and poignant.
Adam Wheeler is the Artistic Director of 2ndToe Dance Collective, a group that nourishes and hones the skills of recent dance graduates and puts on some pretty damn amazing shows. We had a chat to him about the company and the collective's latest and incredibly exciting project, Something Blew.
"2ndToe Dance Collective is a collective that I started about four years ago with a group of young VCA dance students. Every year we have about 100 graduates come from all our dance training institutions into the industry, and it's very hard for them to showcase [their talent] or to find jobs and get work. So I wanted to set up a collective that would work with recent graduates and designers and dancers to make work, and to be able to showcase them in front of the industry and artistic directors from around Australia."
Something Blew is The Collective’s latest offering, a collaborative dance performance that focuses on the concept of marriage and the dynamics of relationships in 2010. “Originally the idea was to create a four-part project based on the old English proverb of “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue." We looked into what “something blue" meant in that proverb. We found it quite intriguing that the blue in a wedding dress represents the idea of purity, modesty and fidelity. We then started thinking about current relationships and thought, “Wow, we don’t live by those morals anymore.” We’re all kind of sexually free and marriages are kind of in and out; we have multiple marriages now. While we look at that concept, we also deter a little bit away from weddings all together and start looking at what it means to be in a 2010 relationship. We at the company are all in our twenties, so what does it mean for us. We look at the relationship between love, desire and the tradition of marriage.”
The group has created a project that is collaborative in more ways than one, with 2ndToe Dance Collective supporting and encouraging the physical and verbal contribution of all its students. “A few of us have been in relationships within the company, within The Collective. And now we’re together as colleagues and friends. And we were discussing how much baggage can already come into a relationship just on initial greetings. A lot of the work has come from personal experience. We would literally put one of us on the stage, in a chair, and the rest of the collective would just throw questions at them about their first love, their first sexual experiences, their relationships, their parents... All of the work has come from a very personal and private place.
“It’s really important for me in The Collective that they all have a voice and again, when we come back to the idea of 100 students coming out and wanting professional work, they can all dance, they can all move, they’re all great performers, but it’s actually the ones that can get into a choreographic situation and process and make work are going to be the ones who will get a gig. So, if we can create a platform for these young graduating students to develop those skills and collaborate further, then we’re doing the right thing.”
So if you’re not already rushing out to book your seat at what promises to be an astounding and unmissable performance, Adam tells us exactly why you should hit the web and get yourself some tickets: “We’ve got a hot team of young and emerging designers working on the project, and a group of young and emerging dancers who are very sexy, and very talented. There are some really bold and striking scenes and some kick ass contemporary dancing.”
October 22nd, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Caroline Clements [Broadsheet]
We talk to Adam Wheeler, teacher at Chunky Move and Youth Australian Ballet, about his new show with dance collective, 2ndToe.
In relation to its classical cousin ballet, contemporary dance is younger, faster and more agile. It is often less structured, more jarring, the costumes sharper, the lighting dim, and the movement more free. For this reason it appeals to a broader and certainly younger audience. Perhaps it is the association it has to contemporary culture, but these days modern/contemporary dance is becoming a popular art form in its own right.
Adam Wheeler is a teacher at Chunky Move and also Youth Australian Ballet, so is very familiar with this. "I teach contemporary to both groups [and] what changes is the pace of the class. The Chunky Move dancers rock, so we can get down and dirty. The ballet kids don't get to see too much and work very hard on their genre but I still get them into the ground and give them a real taste of what I think the industry is doing right now."
Wheeler's most recent project, however, is a dance collective called 2ndToe, a group that is providing a platform to work with young and emerging dancers. The group is based in Melbourne, though none of its members are locals; rather they came from all over the country to study at the VCA, and when they graduated, decided to stay in Melbourne to base themselves in St Kilda.
"The name 2ndToe comes from the idea that we find parallel through our second toe, making it the foundation of our genre. And people generally find toes are quirky or left field, which I think represents us and our work," says Wheeler.
The group began in 2006, when Wheeler met a bunch of first years at the VCA and began collaborating with them. There are now eight in the collective, and the main focus is to get these dancers working with the bigger dance companies such as Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc. and Future Perfect. "One big dream at the moment is to work with Hofesh Schechter in London," he notes.
But in one of their most exciting projects to date, 2ndToe debut their first major production, Something Blew, a contemporary dance work with some hard-hitting images, tight ensemble work and raw human emotion. "The work brings together some of Melbourne's freshest emerging artists [as they] tackle a work about love, desire and relationships," says Wheeler.
Something Blew runs from October 27 to November 6 at Theatre Works.
October 25, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Rain Francis [Dance Informa]
Three out of four works I've seen by Paul Malek this year feature death as an element or central theme. If I didn't know him personally as a charming young man, I think I’d be wondering about what kind of person was behind these hyper-emotive, frankly dark productions.
What Malek does best is jazz contemporary with a rich narrative, and Climax sees him further his exploration of this genre. It has less of the philosophical depth of June’s Collection of Forgotten Treasures (which justly cleaned up this year’s Short + Sweet in Melbourne) and is more akin to the series finale in a top notch American television drama. Let’s liken it, to say, an X-rated Desperate Housewives doing a 'seven deadly sins’ special. This is the kind of show you would bring a culture-phobic acquaintance to in an attempt to initiate him or her. It appeals to the mainstream appetite for show-stopping entertainment without compromising itself artistically. These themes are nothing new, but they work; murder, adultery, revenge, drugs, rape, suicide and hate crimes. How else do we explain the dizzying number of crime shows on TV?
The music, lighting, and choreography in Climax are bold and confronting from the get-go, with inter-connected storylines to match. Call me nearly 30, but I would have enjoyed more respite from the thumping electro-pop break beat, though it definitely serves the purpose of creating tension, suspense and that 'in-your-face’ vibe.
Performances are first-rate all around, delivered by a cast of some of Melbourne’s finest, and quite possibly sexiest, contemporary and commercial dancers. The question arises as to whether or not there is an end to Ashleigh Perrie’s skill. I suspect probably not. The woman is fearless. In Climax she performs lightning quick, acrobatic moves, in heels and a pencil skirt, atop a small desk without so much as a shiver of instability. I got the feeling that we could have decorated the desk with olive oil and marbles and she’d still have pulled it off with rock solid perfection. Did I mention she was in heels?
Someone (possibly Calvin Coolidge, but even Google doesn’t know everything) once said something along the lines of ‘there’s nothing more uncommon than an unsuccessful person with talent’. What I admire most about Collaboration The Project is the fact that it exists. It is prolific, and continues to strengthen with each output. There’ll never be enough work for the amount of talented artists in Australia (and indeed, the world), so when it comes down to it you sometimes just have to go out and make your own. These guys are proof that it can be done. Bravo to them!
October 22nd, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Robbie Carmellotti [Theatre People]
Climax is an action packed & non stop dance-athon featuring a cast of 11 dancers, all of whom are of extreme talent and ability. The story focuses predominantly on 7 lead characters, all of which are searching for their own individual climax-The climax of life. All of the characters start the show at one point in their life and throughout the show we see how all of the characters are connected. We are shown the secrets they are hiding, the double lives they are living and the aspects of themselves they are ashamed of. Clearly written as an ensemble piece, every cast member was of high calibre and gave complete dedication to the story being told. I give special mention to Ashleigh Perrie, who played the part of The Assistant.
Ashleigh's flawless dancing was unique and stunning to watch. She was in great company though, with Trent Harlow as The Tradesman & Alexandra Gray as the Wealthy Adulterer who both excelled in their respective lead roles. An aspect that all must be congratulated on is the acting. Often dance shows can lend themselves to including very strong panto style acting, but this entire cast kept their characters pure and direct. In a small space quite often subtlety works the best, and in this instance that statement is true. So many elements of the production were positive and for the most part culminated together seamlessly. Lighting was an overall highlight, the seemingly small rig added great effects to the well laid out set with clever light placement through the set with perfectly pin pointed spots from above. There was a lack of front lighting, and an overload of haze which made it difficult to see a lot of the finer details and pivotal moments in the story, but this is forgivable given the great visuals the lighting provided.
The opening 10 minutes of the show was the highlight for me, as I did not expect such an action packed and cleverly choreographed storyline to be presented to me. With so much going on it could have easily become a mashed up mess, but the performers were tight, strong and evidently very focused. It was very apparent that I was going to be sitting though a well rehearsed and thought through production. I was not let down as the entire show lived up to expectation. I send great kudos to Paul Malek for bringing to life a clever and stylish production that was extremely original and enjoyable to watch. It's pleasing and refreshing to know that such talented and inspiring people are growing within our industry and starting to get the recognition they deserve. I highly recommend everyone visit Collaborations website www.collaboration-project.com and keep a close eye on all their upcoming productions.
ONLINE - Review: Tony Reck
In St. Kilda, Angela Pamic and Theatre Works do a fine job of promoting contemporary dance, both mainstream and 'off-the-wall'. The She Sessions is comprised of three short performances that are consistent in there attempt to amplify the language of dance via interdisciplinary strategies.
Undone is engaging performer Trudy Radburn as the ageing Hollywood diva mentally decentralised by too much dope and an absence of idolatry. During stylised efforts to rise from a debauched sofa, Radburn articulates the destructive effect of substance abuse and its subsequent melancholia, while alluding to a similar malaise as it applies to the external world.
The Pane of a Filthy Window is also characterised by an inability to overcome a prevailing impediment prompted by an oppressive domesticity. Andrew O'Grady's smooth double bass accompanies Tirese Ballard's attempt to rise from a bed that is attached to her back. Once again, the external world looms throughout, via the monstrous rear projection of a sequence of dirty windows. But too much is made of this show's one-liner; that of Ballard and her attempt to disengage herself from her bed. Clinical depression can be contextualised as humorous, but its evidenced complexities also require a thorough expose' of its debilitating pathos.
The Dawning-A Retrospective, similarly grapples with a desire to rise above life and its tedious inconsistencies. Less literal and more figurative, Sally Smith sparkles as the loopy dance teacher we all love to hate. Her introductory ballet is an entertaining but scathing attack upon the potentially dangerous desire among some performing arts teachers to 'hear the colours, and see the music'. Later, when Smith is joined by a billowing black sheet, an opportunity is lost. Her face momentarily concealed by the dark material, the archetype implicit within a quest for the transcendental is alluded to, but never explored. The singular emotional dimension evoked by a sustained attention to satire can become a seductive influence easily mistaken for an excess of hubris. But Smith has much to work with here, particularly in relation to her black sheet and what it reveals, once it conceals.
October 2nd, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Chloe Smethhurst [The Age]
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
IT'S A relief to see a show created by women who bring some experience to the stage in this solid triple bill.
Trudy Radburn confines herself literally and thematically to a small square of domesticity in her dance theatre solo Undone. In a white wedding dress, she hints at a range of neuroses and emotional states, expressed through the ambiguities of movement.
Tirese Ballard combines inventive costuming with poetic song in her piece, ably accompanied by double-bassist Andrew O'Grady. With her honeyed voice and sincere delivery, it's a pleasure to observe Ballard as she struggles to break free of her sticky situation.
Sally Smith's alter ego is The Diva, an hilariously over-exaggerated character prone to breaking into original lieder and modern dance parodies. While her performance will resonate most with those who recognise historical modern dance techniques, it's also a potential YouTube hit, in the Evolution of Dance vein.
October 1st, 2010
PRINT - Review: Chris Boyd [The Herald Sun]
SHORT shows (20-45 minutes) are the rage at Fringe this year. Some are embryonic pieces. Others are fully fledged, rich and satisfying.
Emiline Foster's highly original multi-media dance solo Dust (Dancehouse, ends tonight) is about the effects of coal-mining on local communities, believe it or not. It's as sophisticated and complex and satisfying as a good evening-length work.
Rochelle Carmichael's work is Fringe in budget only. If she had one-tenth of the time and money that Philippe + Genty has to create a work, she'd be bigger than (Lion King director) Julie Taymor. Carmichael has a pair of short works — PaPer Man and The 499th Day — on at Theatre Works in St Kilda until Sunday.
Opening this weekend is Intimate Exposures. Off the plan, this looks like a must-see and its running time is only slightly longer than it will take for you to get there.
Sally Smith in The Dawning: A Retrospective
September 30th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Simonne Michelle-Wells [Australian Stage]
A Fringe Festival performance is like a chocolate sampler; you never know what you're going to get. You turn up with an open mind and hope you get Strawberry Creams. In the case of The She Sessions, you turn up and find yourself part of an interpretive dance piece in the foyer with the rest of an unsuspecting audience.
The She Sessions is, obviously, all about women – women under construction. Three separate dance pieces dip in and out of constructing and deconstructing archetypes. Sometimes the themes are obvious, some you have to work for to comprehend, and some moments are more like Turkish Delight – you just enjoy them without really knowing why.
The She Sessions sees dancers Trudy Radburn, Sally Smith, and Tirese Ballard teaming up to bring us a mixed bag of dance and textual based work that, for the most part, is highly entertaining. I became an instant fan of Radburn and Smith when I saw Poupée, choreographed by Radburn, at 45 Downstairs in early 2009. It's still one of the most beautiful dance shows I've ever seen, and Radburn and Smith don't disappoint this time with their respective pieces Undone and The Dawning: A Retrospective.
Undone was the Turkish Delight of the evening for me. I had little idea of what anything meant, but that only slightly detracted from Radburn's beautiful, technical style. Radburn has a remarkable relationship with the floor. She has an uncanny ability to render it almost a part of herself, and to great effect.
The Pane Of A Filthy Window has one of the best premises for a dance piece I think I've ever seen. I won't give it away; see it for yourself. That said, it is a case of a great idea that doesn't quite fulfil its potential. There are too many self-indulgent moments, namely at the beginning and the end of the piece, and Ballards's voice, although lovely, fails to carry well. But there are also some fabulous, fun moments and Ballard's executes some crazy moves seemingly without effort. The concept of being so down that you're stuck to your bed is taken to quite an amazing level in The Pane Of A Filthy Window. It’s a very clever idea.
As good as these two pieces were, they were outdone by Smith’s highly entertaining piece The Dawning: A Retrospective, which is like a montage of every bad theatre class you’ve ever attended or imagined. Having done a Theatre degree myself nearly twenty years ago, seeing Smith’s pantomime faces coupled with every clichéd dance move you’ve ever seen, as well as her interpretive dance with a giant piece of material, is a delight of the highest order. (I don’t think there’s a theatre student alive who hasn’t at some stage done a piece of work without a giant piece of material in it. I certainly did.)
The video projection of her 'Head Bag Series’ – her first one woman show, inspired by her idea of wearing a paper bag on her head to avoid having to speak and hence confess to fellow thespians you have no work - is very funny, and was well received by the small but appreciative audience. Smith’s vocal work is strong, too. As she emphatically announced before the show in the foyer and as her own piece began and ended, "the power of the dance is here!".
And so it was. The She Sessions won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I can assure you that, as in every good box of chocolates, you’re bound to sample something that will delight your senses.
September 28th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australian Stage]
PaPer Man is a sweet piece where you're drawn into the world of two characters, a man and a woman, and he is challenged in a very charming way. The physicality of dancer Taurus Ashley is expressive and refined; he plays out fully the intention of his movements; I was less convinced by partner Kelly Way. Her dancing is too gymnastic, too athletic, somehow, as though in a way she is still in transition from being a performer in training. The problem isn't in her strength, which is a treat, rather in some lack of grace and of follow-through with her movements. The use of props in this piece is amusing, thoughtful and eloquent, producing some delightful tableaux. The siren’s playful tricks with balloons and papers nearly tempt the staid man but in the end produce in him a destructive defensiveness.
The 499th Day offers a choreography adhering very closely to the (truly lovely) musical score, but almost subsumed by it. Some of the more interesting moments were where one performer danced to the melody and her partner to the pulse of the music. The two dancers (Kelly Way and Anna Simm) were freed once they discarded their flimsy wings and visibly warmed to the choreography. The choreography, though, was often pedestrian and repetitive, and not enough was made of the fact of there being two bodies on stage. Some nice touches but again, still a little too gymnastic in style, not quite varied or refined enough to plumb the sort of depths it hoped to, reminding me at times of mat routines by gymnasts. It ended on a poignant, lingering note.
September 28th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australian Stage]
'Documentary theatre' it may be but the 'theatre' bit must still come first. The bum-numbing tedium of being bashed about the head by the heaviest of message sticks makes this one hard going. I Could Be You lacks stage-worthiness and is nearly all ‘tell’, not ‘show’. Characters are left on stage for great stretches of time with little to do, there are fewer scenes of interactions between them than there are monologues, and the scenes that do exist where characters have an effect on each other lack dynamism and suffer from amateur acting. The best performer, Shane Lee, has the smallest part. With some development this might work as an audio piece but in its current form it is much closer to a short story than theatre.
So often, when theme or issue drives a piece, a sense of engagement with an individual and their story is sacrificed. There is the germ of an interesting narrative with the Indian detainee who may or may not be paranoid and delusional, or with the migrant rights lawyer struggling with the limits of what she can achieve. If real, idiosyncratic characters can be extrapolated from these mouthpieces and their deeper stories developed, this piece might move towards being a play rather than a sermon. Then, too, the play’s presentation of the impact of prolonged incarceration on asylum seekers and their supporters (and our society at large) would become all the more powerful.
September 28th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australian Stage]
Everyone asks performer Isabel Hertaeg about the spelling of La Petite Mort. Rest assured, that's how the French spell it, ungrammatical as it appears; contrary mongrels that they are. I would like the delectable and dimpled Isabel herself to be more contrary – La Petite Mort is in its sixth season and Hertaeg is a little too comfortable in her role.
Performance-wise (not in song, where she is sublime), she is almost, but not really, going through the motions. The girl has a voice to die for and relishes each number of her eclectic repertoire but her actual in-between bits veer somewhere between the persona of Meow Meow (in the opening especially) and a saucy drag show where she isn't quite saucy enough. The spoken material, although a bit much for three matrons the night I was there, is neither new nor shocking and I couldn't help but feel Hertaeg is holding back for fear of offence. The ridiculousness of the snippets, curiosities and medical oddities she shares are ripe for some real (and vicious) deconstruction. Honestly, the girl could just sing and you would be transported but her real cabaret/comedy voice is ahead of her. There are some utter and unusual treats in this show – wild and funny songs like Birth Control and Beer, Did I Shave My Legs For This, and the opening number, Sex With the Devil.
Go further, Isabel, meet the songs, break some rules – you know you want to!!!
September 27th, 2010
PRINT - Review: Jordan Beth Vincent [The Age]
A pleasant change of pace
*** (Three Stars)
Choreographed and directed by Rochelle Carmichael, this double bill is elegant in performance, whimsical in style, and demonstrates some of the simple joys of contemporary dance.
In PaPer Man, Taurus Ashley's structured world is shaken by the arrival of a red balloon skirt, and a woman (Kelly Way) to wear it.
Way is joined by Anna Simm in The 499th Day, a work about the moment before a fire starts.
Carmichael's work veers towards emotional, rather than abstract, a pleasant change of pace.
Performances by all three dancers are sophisticated and refined, enhanced by the inclusion of familiar classical music.
September 25th, 2010
PRINT - Article: Darren Levin [The Age]
Regular orgasms can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Intercourse can cure hiccups. Being in love is just like having obsessive compulsive disorder. These are some of the theories that will be probed (for lack of a better word) in La Petite Mort – The Orgasm, a saucy cabaret show by Isabel Hertaeg. The Melbourne performer takes pride in making audience members blush, and she has already taken this show to the Adelaide and Edinburgh fringe festivals, where it enjoyed critical acclaim. It will return to Melbourne Fringe tonight at 10, as part of Girls at Work, which celebrates the diversity of female performers. The program includes shows PaPer Man & The 499th Day (7pm), a pairing of physical theatre and contemporary dance, and Hoa Pham's policially charged I Could Be You (8:30pm), loosely based on stories from the maribynong detention centre, pictured.
Hoa Pham wants people to see the plight
of asylum seekers as a front-page issue.
PICTURE: SIMON SCHLUTER
September 21st, 2010
PRINT - Article: Robin Usher [The Age]
A new work deals with the harsh world of immigrant detention centres.
PLAYWRIGHTHoa Pham is also a psychologist who volunteered to work with inmates at the Maribyrnong detention centre soon after the Rudd government came to power three years ago. But conditions were so depressing she could not continue.
''I burnt out and became so angry after just a few months that I had to stop,'' she says. She has regained her composure but her anger at the treatment of asylum seekers only grew as the government increased the restrictions they faced.
She acknowledges that detainees in Maribyrnong are not usually asylum seekers but she says the general treatment of newcomers to the country is a disgrace. ‘‘People have taken terrible risks just to survive and then when they get here they discover they have no rights.’’
Typical Maribyrnong detainees are people who have overstayed their visas, others who are appealing decisions to deport them and illegal workers like the recent case of Chinese men found in rural meatworks. ‘‘Asylum seekers who want to overturn the decision rejecting their application can spend years in detention because there is no limit to the length of their cases,’’ she says.
She wrote a 10-minute play about her experiences in 2008 and hoped it would become out of date so she could forget about it. Instead, the federal opposition increased its fear campaign about asylum seekers and the government froze the processing of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seeker applications. The ban on Sri Lankans was recently lifted but it remains for those from Afghanistan.
Detention facilities have recently been increased in remote centres because existing centre swere full, with about 5000 people being held in Australia. The Rudd government abolished temporary protection visas but many of the current restrictions are the same as those in place under the Howard government, which sparked widespread protests.
Pham says treatment of asylum seekers is now seen as an old issue, so it is not at the forefront of people’s concerns. ‘‘But there are 150 teenagers held in detention in Darwin,’’ she says. ‘‘This means that we are once again imprisoning children.’’ She would prefer it if people were detained in the community. ‘‘It is more humane and costs less,’’ she says. She knows the conditions lead to outbreaks of paranoid delusions and psychosis among the detainees. ‘‘That is a result of the government acting in a paranoid way,’’ she says. ‘‘When the system acts in a mentally ill way, it is obvious that in turn will make people mentally ill.’’
Pham is a first-generation Australian whose parents came to Australia under the Colombo Plan in the 1960s. After the Vietnam War, her relatives migrated under the family reunion scheme, some via refugee camps in south-east Asia. ‘‘The Fraser government was supported by the ALP when it allowed the Vietnamese boat people into Australia in the 1970s,’’ she says. ‘‘I cannot understand why the Labor Party is now further to the right than Fraser was 30 years ago.’’
Her short play has been expanded into the hour-long I Could Be You, that Pham is also directing with a cast of four. It is about an international student (played by Shalini Akhil) detained in Maribyrnong because her visa has expired. She meets a fellow detainee (Shane Lee) who is being deported to Greece at the end of a prison sentence even though he has not been in the country since he was two. But he lost his permanent residency permit when he was jailed. The student is represented by a lawyer (Diana Nguyen), who is the only character who leaves the stage. This is to illustrate the restrictions faced by the prisoners. ‘‘The conditions at Maribyrnong are truly shocking. Prisoners are strip-searched on their way in and out of the visitors’ area.’’
Ghosts are a regular part of Vietnamese beliefs and there is a ghost in the play (Susan Doel), representing migrants from post-World War II when they were welcomed to Australia.
I Could Be You is part of Girls at Work!, an extended program at St Kilda’s Theatre Works in the Fringe Festival that celebrates the diverse talents of women from Melbourne’s independent scene. It includes works by dance physical theatre companies Liquid Skin (PaPerMan and The 499thDay) and Sally Smith, Trudy Radburn & Tirese Ballard (The She Sessions); cabaret sensation Isabel Hertaeg (La Petite Mort), and cross-disciplinary artist Alison Richards (Instability Strip).
It is part of Theatre Works’s 30th birthday celebrations and is designed to highlight the significant role women played in its history.
ONLINE - Review: Chloe Walker [Rabbit Hole Urban Music]
4 / 5 Stars
After breaching her student visa, bewildered international student Shireen finds herself locked away in a detention centre. At first she expects a quick resolution to her dilemma but her hopes are dashed by her lawyer Huong, a Vietnamese-Australian woman who was once a refugee herself. Huong's sense of optimism is being ground away by the horrors she deals with in the pro bono work that she feels compelled to do, but that also gives her nightmares. Con, another of Huong's cases, considers himself Australian but is facing deportation to Greece, which he left as a baby. Then there is Ania, a strange, shoeless blonde woman invisible to everyone but Shireen.
Writer and director Hoa Pham's I Could Be You is a study in the madness that breeds amongst those with no freedom and no certainty in their future. Drawing on the history of the Maribyrnong Detention Centre for material, Pham's depiction is unrelentingly depressing. Con's barely contained frustration results in occasional violent outbursts, and he complains, 'At least in prison I knew when I was getting out.' Shireen slides into despair over the uncertainty of her future and the systematic invasions of privacy in the facility, until her sanity is questioned by her imprisoners. Huong tells us the horrific story of her family's own immigration experience, and asks, 'How can I tell my mother that there are worse things than what she went through?'
Heavily political shows like this one run the risk of being too preachy. I Could Be You mostly avoids that trap, even though the narrative is wholly and deafeningly negative. There is not a single moment of hope or humour in the show and the experience is as draining for the audience as it is for the characters. Still, one audience member remarked afterwards that 'every Australian should be forced to watch this', while wiping tears from her eyes. Unfortunately this powerful piece of theatre will likely only reach an already sympathetic audience.
September 24th, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Richard Watts [ArtsHub]
A hub of activity
Originally known as the Melbourne Fringe Network, the Melbourne Fringe Festival was founded in 1982, and operated for many years out of the then-bohemian inner city enclave of Fitzroy.
Over the years, gentrification of the suburb drove the organisation's artists further afield, and the Fringe Festival itself was forced to follow suit. Today, Melbourne Fringe operates out of an Art Deco building in the CBD, sharing its City Village premises with numerous other arts and cultural organisations, including the gay and lesbian community radio station JOY 94.9 FM, and the Melbourne International Film Festival. But since 2002, the beating heart of the Melbourne Fringe Festival has been based in neighbouring North Melbourne, in and around the former Town Hall, a classical Victorian building designed by architect George Raymond Johnson and registered by the National Trust.
Together with several nearly buildings, including the Lithuanian Club and the Meat Market, this district is known as the Fringe Hub, and houses the Festival Club, offering free entertainment nightly, as well as 54 individual productions, including theatre, dance, comedy and circus.
Independent Program Producer Beau McCafferty, who is responsible for programming the Fringe Club and Hub, says that the Hub model is an excellent way for the festival to meet its key goal of supporting Melbourne's independent arts community.
"The Fringe Hub allows us a platform to support new work, allows us to build a home for artists during the festival, and provides an easy way for audiences to engage with what is a very large program," McCafferty tells Arts Hub.
"It also allows us to support the kind of work we think is important to Melbourne's independent arts scene; and we think of it as being a statement as much about future Fringe Festivals as it is about the current Fringe Festival. Having everyone in that one particular geographic space is something that Fringe Festivals around the world strive to do; and it's very difficult to do in Melbourne because of our geography and our year-round arts scene. It's tough to get noticed in Melbourne; there's always so much going on that it’s very tough to stand out. So putting everyone in that one geographical location at once is a very straight forward and easy way to do that."
The North Melbourne Fringe Hub is not the only focus of artistic activity during the Melbourne Fringe Festival. From Footscray to St Kilda, and Northcote to Newport, a range of individual venues and organisations across the city are also developing satellite hub status, each with their own unique approach to programming.
At South Yarra’s Red Bennies, music and circus are the order of the day, while across town, in Footscray, The Dog Theatre – which first opened its doors during the 2008 Melbourne Fringe Festival – is presenting a carefully selected program of physical and visual theatre.
"Venues are taking more care with what they have on, and the kind of artists that they’re choosing," explains The Dog Theatre’s Peta Hanrahan when asked to comment on the increasing popularity of hub-style programming in the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Hub venues build audiences, she says, which is of immense valuable to the artists at each hub venue.
"Hubbing, or curating a collection as I call it, means that each individual show can feed off each other’s audiences but in a really constructive and artistic way, as opposed to just 'here, come and see my show at random’. The audiences are actually coming to see these collections of works that all have maybe just one common denominator, hopefully an artistic one."
In St Kilda, Theatre Works – which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year – has curated Girls At Work, a season of works celebrating the diversity of female theatre artists across a range of artforms, including cabaret, dance, physical theatre and cross-disciplinary work.
"The Girls At Work Program came about as a result of our research into the history of Theatre Works for our 30th anniversary," says Theatre Works [Operations] Manager Angela Pamic.
"We did a lot of research into the early company members, and what the company stood for back in the 1980s; and in doing that reading we actually found that Theatre Works has had an incredibly strong female presence throughout its 30 years … It’s been a great place for women to work, and that’s what we wanted to celebrate as part of our 30th birthday; to put a season of shows that are created by women."
The resulting program includes the Liquid Skin Peninsula Performing Arts Company’s double bill of physical theatre and contemporary dance, PaPer Man and The 499th Day, cabaret artist Isabel Hertaeg’s comic romp, La Petite Mort – The Orgasm, a study of sex and science through story and song; and I Could Be You, a new play by award winning author Hoa Pham about an Indian international student incarcerated in the Maribyrnong Detention Centre.
“We’re celebrating all women across the board, regardless of what their artistic backgrounds or cultural backgrounds are,” Pamic says.
The season also includes a series of forums and masterclasses designed to encourage new ways of working, and presented by some of the best women artists currently working in Melbourne.
As Beau McCafferty says: “A hub is as much about community as it is about presenting new work; and to see different communities standing together – whether it’s in the West at The Dog Theatre or on the Southside at Red Bennies – and to see these venues putting together such a rigorously curated selection of work is really exciting.”
September 23rd, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Sam Wilson [Beat Magazine]
Theatre Works in St. Kilda have taken their opportunity at the Fringe festival this year to showcase the wild and wonderful women of Melbourne theatre, covering straight performance to Cabaret, from serious subjects to do with immigration and feminism, to the dissection of the female orgasm. Entitled Girls At Work, and encompassing five separate performances, as well as five workshop-based events working with women in the business, it's a large and diverse undertaking for the venue. I spoke to Angela Pamic.
"We're celebrating our thirtieth anniversary and were going through the archives for the venue. It became apparent that the company itself had a strong female presence right throughout its history. The founding company members had some really strong women amongst them, one woman in particular, Caz Howard who has since passed away. She was, by all accounts, an amazingly fiery, energetic, charismatic, woman who kind of pulled the company together and created these amazing works and an ensemble... And so when we realised that we thought it would be nice to celebrate our thirtieth birthday about women and actually to celebrate the artists in the industry today, to give them a platform to show their work."
Of the five works being shown, two are physical/dance pieces (PaPer Man & The 499th Day, The She Sessions), two are straight theatre (I Could Be You, Instability Strip), and one is cabaret (Le Petit Mort - The Orgasm). All of the shows are on most nights, which means that if you go, you might not end up seeing just one type of live theatre.
"We wanted a broad cross range of performances, not just theatre or dance. An audience member could come to the venue and see three different things in one night, broadening their arts experience. This way they get to see things they might not normally see."
September 22nd, 2010
RADIO - Interview: [ABC Radio Australia]
The plight of asylum seekers in Australian detention centres is the subject of a new play being performed in Melbourne.
Listen to the podcast of Hoa Pham and Shalini Akhil speak about I Could Be You on ABC Radio.
Victoria Healy (front) and Rik Brown
will take part in Theatre Sports.
PIC: JASON SAMMON
September 21st, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Sally Spalding [Port Phillip Leader]
Comedy hit in St Kilda
IT'S hard to believe that Theatre Sports has been around for 25 years.
The timeless appeal of mixing comedy and competitive sport, demonstrated here by actors Victoria Healy and Rik Brown, has become a popular theatre staple in Melbourne.
Returning to its old venue at Theatre Works on Acland St, Theatre Sports will be on stage for a spring season.
Trudy Radburn, Tirese Ballard and
Sally Smith are part of The She Sessions.
Picture: MATT MURPHY N12ME101
September 15th, 2010
ONLINE - Interview: Saeed Saeed [Melbourne Leader]
Melbourne women centre stage at Fringe Festival
A TRIO of Melbourne performers are celebrating womanhood on the stage as part of this month's Fringe Festival.
The She Sessions is a suite of three short performance pieces delving into issues such as relationships, traditions and depression through song, dance and spoken word.
Choreographer Trudy Radburn said The She Sessions was conceived after St Kilda theatre company Theatre Works invited her, Sally Smith and Tirese Ballard to establish a base there.
"They wanted a program focusing on females including plays, dance and cabaret," Radburn said.
Smith's performance opens the proceedings with the cabaret inspired The Dawning: A Retrospective. Her performance as a melodramatic diva satirises those in the dance community who take themselves too seriously. "It does poke a little bit of fun at how dance can take itself as an art form," Smith said. "I think it comes from a defensiveness and protection of an artform that is often at the bottom rung when it comes to funding."
Next up is Radburn's Undone, which through contemporary dance tackles the awkwardness of relationships. "It's a comment about love and all its forms, its disappointment, expectations unrequited," she said. "The set (a loungeroom and a guitar player) is about familiarity and the dance within the set is where the tension comes from."
Ballard rounds off the show with The Pane of a Filthy Window. She awakens in bed to realise that hope is hard fought for and seldom realised. As well as spoken word, Ballard's songs are accompanied by musician Andrew O'Grady on double bass. "The double bass is not often used as an accompanying instrument to just voice," Ballard said. "The double bass acts as the characters internal thoughts and the voice she can't speak out loud."
With a cheeky soundtrack including Helen Reddy's l Am Woman and the Wonderwoman television theme playing during the performance intermissions, Ballard said the show did have its tongue firmly in its cheek.
"Although the performances are separate we are all aware what each other is doing," she said. "Despite Sally (Smith) singing and Trudy's (Radburn) physical theatre, we all share a similar aesthetic in us pulling back the layers to show the awkward or absurd side to a situation."
September 15th, 2010
PRINT - Interview: Henrietta Cook [Melbourne Weekly - Port Phillip]
Girl power ~ A series of shows explores the state of feminism today.
Girls at Work is contemporary society's answer to feminism. Although the days of radical feminism are behind us, there is still reason to draw attention to the importance of creative women in our society, according to Alison Richards.
Being one of Melbourne's biggest names in theatre, it is no surprise that Richards is the creative genius behind one of the shows in the Girls at Work series being presented by Theatre Works. Next month, Richards will be doing what she does best: ensuring that the female voice is heard in Melbourne theatre.
"The irony is that here we are years after the women’s movement, realising that women in theatre are still fi nding it hard to get jobs and move forward in their career," she said. "We have to ask the question, 'How far have things moved really?’ “So it seemed like a good time to raise the question again and to celebrate women’s creativity."
To draw attention to the diverse talents of female theatre artists Theatre Works is hosting a collection of shows and events, including works by Richards, dance/physical theatre companies Liquid Skin (Rochelle Carmichael and Jenny Robinson) and The She Sessions (Sally Smith, Trudy Radburn & Tirese Ballard), award-winning author Hoa Pham and cabaret sensation Isabel Hertaeg.
Richards’ performance, titled Instability Strip, is sure to surprise audiences. She names diverse infl uences, from astronomy to the tango, saying that they work as metaphors to support the themes of the show. “I’m interested in exploring in theatre the idea of how do I know what you see is what I
see? And the idea of stability of perception,” she said. “There is a saying that tango is a dance between people who should never have met. It’s a metaphor for how we are all pushing in different directions and how tango really grabs you and pushes you. “Also, Instability Strip is an astronomical
term for when old stars may suddenly get a new burst of energy and act like a young star, which I thought was a good metaphor for this show because it addresses acting in unexpected ways.”
Theatre sports is more popular than ever.
September 8th, 2010
PRINT - Article: Mary-Jane Daffy [Melbourne Weekly Port Phillip]
Look, listen and act
Theatre sports has gone global. Once a humble hunting ground for new acting talent, such as Josh Lawson, Julia Zemiro and Colin Lane, this comedy-sport phenomenon now stands its ground alongside other spectator sports. And rightfully so.
This season is the silver anniversary of Impro Melbourne's Theatresports, now 25 years old, and teams will vie for the ultimate grand final position.
Mike Bryant is a regular to the scene. In his eighth year in the ensemble, Bryant is ready for the challenge. "It's a great creative outlet," he says of the sport. "I like the range, and the fact that I don't have to try and be funny with improvisation. When you get up on stage you just play the scene how it is; often the humour comes out by just going with it."
The evenings are made up of short shows. A dolphin-training game, where the performers learn what inspires each of them, acts as a positive reinforcement game. The Danish match is where a challenge is set, each side plays a scene and the audience decides the points allocated to each team. Finally, the most commonly performed standard match is where two teams challenge each other to a scene based on a pre-disclosed theme.
"It's a mock-competition style show," Bryant explains. "The beauty of it is that anyone can be involved. We have doctors, lawyers, writers, clowns and office resource managers all vying for a spot on the stage. It's a great creative outlet and consequently, a stress relief."
This year Impro Melbourne is aiming for a stellar season to coincide with the anniversary. But after eight seasons is Bryant up for the challenge? "It's a constant journey," he says enthusiastically. "It's dangerous to ever say I know it all because then you stop listening, stop reacting. And so much of impro relies on that."
PHOTO: Ponch Hawkes
September 4th, 2010
RADIO - Interview: John Sheridan [3MBS]
Interview with Alison Richards about her show, Instability Strip as part of the Girls At Work season.
September 1st, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Courtney Symes [InTrouble.com]
Special Feature: Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010
Get ready Melbourne! With more than 4000 artists participating in hundreds of shows throughout Melbourne from 22 September to 10 October, the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival is guaranteed to be an action-packed-art-extravaganza...
There is a vast line-up of live performances throughout Melbourne, such as Girls at Work at Theatre Works in St Kilda, Hunny-Bun & Baby Doll at Northcote Town Hall and Expose Yourself Globally at The Butterfly Club in South Melbourne
Girls at Work is a celebration of the strong female presence at Theatre Works over the last thirty years. Theatre Works wanted to recognise the women who have made a difference within the company, whilst also highlighting the success of women in the mainstream art world. Angela Pamic, Theatre Works Operations Manager and Girls at Work creator, believes that this event will "give women a platform to be recognised in paid jobs" within the industry.
Girls at Work consists of five shows; PaPer Man & The 499th Day, I Could Be You, La Petite Mort:The Orgasm, The She Sessions and Instability Strip. The collection of diverse performances "covers a number of audience genres", says Pamic.
PaPer Man and The 499th Day is a physical theatre piece, whilst I Could Be You follows more traditional script-style theatre and Instability Strip starts on the floor.
In conjunction with Girls at Work, Theatre Works and Tashmadada are offering 'Mistress'classes (master-classes) run by prominent female artists in Melbourne and Afternoon Delight, an open discussion and “dissection of contemporary performance today”.
Pamic believes the Fringe Festival is a “fantastic event that is accessible to everyone”. First-time visitors to the festival should just “give it a go! – be open minded…you'll see some shows that you never expected to like.” ...
For the full article, head to www.introuble.com.au
August 31st, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Casey Bradley ~ Melbourne Theatre Company Youth Ambassador 2010 [Stage Write]
Perhaps the only musical that compares itself to a hopeful "rice crispy treat" at a sophisticated cake festival – [title of show] is a quirky new musical about two struggling writers who create a musical about making a musical, for an inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival.
Jeff (David Spencer) and Hunter (Darryn Gatt) are stuck in a creative rut – they are long out of the theatrical business, but still retain big dreams of getting their show onto Broadway. So when the chance comes for them to enter a playwriting competition, the two optimistic friends decide to take it upon themselves to write the winning musical.
Hilariously witty and utterly random, this musical has disparate numbers with titles such as 'Untitled Opening Number', 'Die Vampire Die' and 'Awkward Photo Shoot'. It covers everything from writing a song, to random scene changes for no particular reason. However, despite the peculiar lyrics, the music was very catchy and clever. The comic timing was perfect, incorporating humour through quick witticisms and unexpected come backs. Laura Fitzpatrick, who played the sarcastic friend Susan, was the standout for her uncanny caustic humour and laid back charm. She had an air of confidence, and an engaging stage presence which added to the fluidity and great success of her performance.
The vocal quality of all four actors was very clear and strong, which was auspicious, for the chosen theatre space was fairly intimate. As a venue, Theatre Works complimented the show incalculably; helping the actors establish the actor audience relationship that needed to be so strong, due to the constant reminders the audience was given by the actors that the musical did not necessarily uphold a fictional world that we had to believe as an audience, but more of a very close representation of reality.
However, although the show was funny because of its unique flair, the show grew somewhat tiresome and repetitive towards the end. The progression of the plot followed all the different places that [title of show] toured on its inaugural journey to success, and it seemed to drag the production out beyond an appropriate time to end it. On one hand, it was interesting to see this; to both serve the needs of the script and to better understand the journey of [title of show], but from an entertainment perspective, the show became monotonous and the audience was visibly beginning to shut down.
[title of show] had, underneath all the random conversations and sporadic outburst into song, some charming moral messages. What we see is the creative journey of four interdependent friends writing a musical to pursue their love of theatre. We see them experience the highs and also the ultimate lows, and the measures of their loyalty to the friendships they share, especially when compromised by decisions that need to be made for the 'good of the show'.
Thanks to their constant breakage of the fourth wall, the audience truly felt a part of their collaborative journey, and genuinely wanted them to reach the success that they dreamt so opulently about. They are faced with dichotomies of success vs. Friendship and love vs. Work and have to learn to have a little faith in themselves, and in their work.
It was a surprisingly delightful show that was both hilarious and entertaining. It proved that good theatre can be created even with a set that has only four chairs, and with a script that has no real defined plot. Funny and charged with energy; [title of show] is playing at Theatre Works until the 11th of September 2010.
August 31st, 2010
ONLINE - Artist Profile: Paul Andrew [Australian Stage]
Aaron Joyner is a producer, director, writer and advocate for original Australian musical theatre. He is the founding Artistic Director of Magnormos, a production company specialising in producing both Australian, and landmark international musicals.
He spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.
What inspired your journey into musical theatre?
The first musical I really remember 'getting into' was Phantom of the Opera, although my mother took me to a lot of theatre shows growing up, and we had regular family sing-alongs to the Grease soundtrack! I was given a copy of the cast recording of Phantom by a family friend and I became obsessed, listening to it on my little cassette tape walkman over and over until I stretched the tape so far I couldn't listen to it anymore. From there I ventured out into other Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and then I discovered Stephen Sondheim through Into The Woods, and I've been a fan of all of his works ever since.
What do you love about Sondheim?
I love the detail in Sondheim's writing, that every time you listen to one of his scores, or see them performed live; you can find something new and have a brand new discovery.
I also love that he has chosen to stay true to the art of writing, and not indulge in spectacle or fluff (not that there's anything wrong with fluff) for box office success (and not that he hasn't had that). His music sets the perfect mood to tell the story, and his lyrics are equally poetic and character driven. I've had the pleasure of performing in two Sondheim musicals (Into the Woods and Assassins) and it is so very gratifying as a performer to 'sink your teeth' into the characters he creates, and the journey's that his songs take the characters through.
And what do you love about the abundance of musical theatre on the stages right now?
In Melbourne it is so great to have so many wonderful theatre experiences on offer all through the year. We're really lucky to have theatre at all levels of the spectrum, from the major commercial works, the independent theatre companies, and right down to an extremely strong amateur theatre community. Australian's love musical theatre and we have so much talent in our industry that we are able to put on world-class productions at home without having to import stars in any more. We still import most of the actual musicals, but that is starting to change too, with Australian writers starting to 'break through the barrier' in getting their works performed. Television shows like Glee have helped to make musical theatre 'cool' for the younger generations, so the future is looking very bright for the art form indeed!
What do you feel all this tells us about the zeitgeist right now, its darker side, what audiences want and need?
Audiences today are very savvy. While there is still a huge market for the spectacle-driven works, there is also a strong market for musicals that have genuine issues to explore, or complex themes. In 1964 when Anyone Can Whistle premiered (the third musical in our Sondheim Triptych) it ran 9 performances. It's a highly political musical which takes pot-shots at American values such as religion, consumerism, conformity and corruption in government, and at that time, not all that long after the McCarthy era - it was rare to explore these issues on the major commercial stages, and in musicals they were a definite taboo. But nowadays, the climate is completely different, and an audience can not only appreciate dark satiric humour but they revel in it. Due to the editing in film and television, modern audiences are also highly attuned to pacing in theatre, and would not suffer the long delays that once were necessary to move bulky scenic elements between scenes. In the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, there was almost always a refrain of a few more verses after a song finished, to give the stage hands time to change the sets for the next scene, but nowadays an audience sits through these repeats tapping their feet in impatience waiting for the next thing to happen because we're used to fast cuts and snap changes into the next scene.
For those not in the know, tell me about [title of show]?
[title of show] was originally conceived as an entry into the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival. The festival called for new musicals, and two 'nobodies in New York' Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell decided to write a musical to enter, and found that the best things they were writing about was actually writing about writing the musical to enter. So [title of show] - which is the first question on the festival's application form - was born, and it is a cheeky insidery look at the process of developing a new work of musical theatre in a culture dominated largely by revivals and reality TV shows. In fact, it's kind of like watching a reality TV show on stage, as the two writers and their lady friends Heidi and Susan (with the help of Mary on the keyboard) put the show together and enter the festival, then develop it further and find investors and backers, and eventually open on Broadway, receive a Tony Award nomination, and win themselves a legion of fans across the globe. If you love your musicals, there are plenty of insider references that will have you chuckling with self-appreciating humour, but even if you're not a musical fan, the writing is so clever and accessible that you can't help but be taken on the journey. The musical actually pokes fun at the conventions of Broadway musicals, so if you're the type of person that laments when someone just suddenly starts singing in the middle of a scene - this is quite possibly the one musical that you would become a fan of yourself.
And what is different about its Magnormos return season?
Well for starters we have a new cast member, as our original Hunter, Michael Lindner, was cast in the Australian premiere season of Mary Poppins so he wasn't available for the return season. Darryn Gatt, who has replaced Michael, has brought a brand new energy to the piece, and this has inspired changes in the rest of the cast as well. We've also 'touched up' some of the staging and tweaked the design slightly, but we've stayed true to most of what we originally created because it was so well received the first time, and we think we got most of it right then anyway! We were fortunate to have members of the original Broadway company (Jeff Bowen, Heidi Blickenstaff and director Michael Berresse) fly out to Melbourne to see our last two shows in the original season, so it's wonderful to know that we have their blessing with this production.
You founded Magnormos in 2002, tell me about the premise behind the company, tell me more, tell me more?
Magnormos was originally created to be a production company that would support Australian writers, and premiere landmark international musicals, and nearly a decade later - I'm proud to say that we've stayed true to this mission. Of the 17 musicals we have staged, 10 of these were written by Australians, 6 were Australian premieres of international works, and 1 was an Australian adaptation of a Broadway work (WORKING), written in collaboration with the writer Stephen Schwartz. We've also produced the annual OzMade Musicals concert which has supported over 50 Australian musicals, and workshopped two brand new musicals by Australian writers. I've met amazing people through my work with Magnormos, extremely talented and generous artists who have supported the Magnormos mission and ensured that our quality is always above the standard of our ticket prices!
Receiving a personal email from Stephen Sondheim recently would quite possibly be up at the top of my 'highs', as well as having dinner with Stephen Schwartz when he was in town for Wicked but seeing a writers face as they watch their work going from 'page to stage' during a rehearsal process, and then receiving accolades on opening night is always a special experience for me as well.
I haven't had that many lows, but all of these would be around the difficulties in making all of this magic happen on the budget of an unfunded independent theatre company (we have survived on the generosity of artists, project support from the City of Port Phillip and key sponsorships such as Yamaha Music Australia and Theatre Works). I've learnt to be a scrupulous budgeter, but there really isn't anything more depressing than an empty bank balance! Fortunately we've managed to make a profit (however small) or break even on all of our productions, so we're still around while many other initiatives have unfortunately dissolved or dissipated, but it is very challenging when theatre is a business that you need to outlay a lot of money before you start seeing any return.
Who has inspired your own journey so far as a director, writer and performer Aaron?
I've had a few amazing mentors in my career, Jean McQuarrie who was a lecturer at Monash University when I studied there (Jean was the musical director for most of the Melbourne Theatre Company's Sondheim productions), and also Peter Fitzpatrick, who was the head of the Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies (and funnily enough is the father of Laura Fitzpatrick who is playing Susan in [title of show]). Both Jean and Peter have taught me that passion is just as important as talent (and both of them have equal amounts in abundance), and that treating people with respect is paramount to creating a good team environment. From his own career, Stephen Sondheim himself has inspired me that you can stay true to your artistic vision and not feel you have to 'sell out' to achieve success, and I am frequently inspired by the casts, creatives and administrators who come to work for Magnormos.
August 30th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Anthea Cannon [Maribyrnong Leader]
Two faces for our Kingsville doctor in the house
WHEN you're successful in two careers like David Spencer, it can be hard to know which day job you're supposed to give up.
The Kingsville man, who combines a starring role in the theatre with his work as a doctor, believes he has the best of both worlds.
Always one for acting, singing and dancing, Dr Spencer accompanied a friend to an audition for the musical West Side story when he was in his fifth year studying medicine.
He ended up snagging a role and took a year off for the show then returned to graduate and complete his intern year.
By 2000 he had a handle on juggling his two loves after studying at the National Drama School in St Kilda while working as a GP.
Now with 2 1/2 years performing in Priscilla, one year in Chicago and five years appearing on morning television added to his CV, he’s been called back for an encore season of Magnormos at Theatre Works.
The quirky and acclaimed musical about making a musical, performed by the company for the first time outside the US in July, met with rave reviews from Geoffrey Rush and the original cast and creators.
"It’s great when a play does well. A lot of community theatre is just hoping to break even so it’s really exciting ," Dr Spencer said.
"The original cast came to the last two performances and did a question and answer with the audience and theatre students.
“They were really gracious and it gave us a lot of confidence. I’ve been really lucky to work in flexible clinics - acting is a real fantasy land and medicine keeps my feet on the ground. It was the best move I ever made coming to the West."
August 26th, 2010
Accidental Arts - 3MBS 103.5FM Classically Melbourne - Review: Peter Green
Since Friday last week its been a case of less is more with the theatre I've been to; "Crave" at Chapel Off Chapel and "Blue Serge" at Theatre Husk – sparse sets, good lighting, strong clear direction and ripping good texts, and the chamber musical "title of show" at Theatre Works on Thursday Night (a genuine return season by demand) topped it off for me!
Here I must repeat what I said when I reviewed Magnormous 2009 production of "Life's a Circus" just over a year ago; “I should here declare not so much interest, but confess I am an irregular attender to musicals, opera, recitals and even the Welsh Church to hear the choir and jazz conventions, but not frequently to musicals”
But “title of show” is an intelligent musical from Broadway – sounds like an oxymoron. A musical with a bare stage, 4 ill-assorted chairs, a keyboard musician Mary/Sophie Thomas in the back corner upstage and a cast of 4, all playing themselves with everything they say and do becoming the show, and above all lyrics and dialogue are witty, meaningful and relevant exposure of that competitive show biz world; the American dream of your show on a Times Square billboard and your name on a theatre marquee on Broadway.
“title of show”, music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, were played by David Spencer, and the book by Hunter Bell/Dareen Gatt documents its own creation by these two Broadway obsessives in 3½ weeks to enter New Yorks Musical Theatre Festival. They are assisted by two actresses (forgive the gender specific – but it is the world of the musical) friends Heidi/Lara Threw and Susan/Laura Fitzpatrick.
“title of show” is a funny intelligent piss-take on the genre; Jeff and Hunter try and reject the formulaic songs and stick to the strictly autobiographical, satisfying me in the front row, and the delirious fans behind me, who-hooing each number as well they should; something for everyone without having to leave your brain in the foyer.
“a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”
August 26th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Simon Parris [Theatrepeople.com]
Jeff and Hunter are writing a show. This show.
Confession #1: Despite the rave reports and accolades, I missed [title of show] the first time around .
Confession #2: Listening to the cast recording of [title of show] gave me the urge to eject it from my cd player and throw it out of my car window.
This time around, with my school musical long over, I am no longer a tosser virgin, and I cannot wait to go back to the cd and listen to it with the context and characters clear. Back by popular demand, [title of show] is a tight, joyful show that is not to be missed by fans of music theatre.
Best friends Jeff (David Spencer) and Hunter (Darryn Gatt) decide to enter a musical in the NYMF, but entries are due in only three weeks. Workshopping with old friend Susan (Laura Fitzpatrick) and new friend Heidi (Lara Thew), they write a musical about… writing a musical.
Just as Heidi has to fit workshops around her involvement in Disney's The Little Mermaid, Melbourne's [title of show] has lost original cast member Michael Lindner to Disney's Mary Poppins. Newcomer Gatt neatly matches the sparkle and verve of the returning cast. The camaraderie and trust between the four leads is palpable and makes the show even more of a pleasure to watch.
All musical fans will enjoy the show but Broadway aficionados will really love all the in-jokes and barbed comments. Rather than including the obvious crowd-pleasers, Jeff and Hunter work their way through more obscure references including Mary Stout, Dee Hoty, Broadway's Naked Cowboy and many more.
The most admirable aspect of the show is that it actually is a totally original musical, which is what they set out to write. The easiest thing would have been to just include parodies of other songs and shows, having the audience laugh at the characters. Instead, we are taken in by the endearing leads and laugh with them at the vanities, paradoxes and roadblocks of Broadway. Jeff and Hunter dream of winning an OBIE, hope to be mentioned on NY1 and pray for support from the chaterrati on Talkin’ Broadway’s All That Chat
Knowing that we are watching their completed musical could remove some of the suspense but the pace and energy are maintained throughout, thanks in no small part to committed performances from the cast. Singing is also uniformly strong, sounding, in fact, much sweeter than might be expected for a comedy like this. The cheeky choreography is quite hilarious and very well executed, especially by Spencer. Congratulations to the dynamic team of Aaron Joyner, Director, Sophie Thomas, Musical Director (and 'Mary’ the pianist), and Jessica Enes, Associate Director/Movement Director.
Spencer highlights Jeff’s neuroses and frustrations, while still making him a thoroughly likeable guy. Gatt has a gorgeous twinkle in his eye as Hunter. Fitzpatrick plays against type as the world weary Susan, but is, of course, gorgeous whatever type she is playing. Thew is a delectable Heidi, shining in her 11 o’clock number A Way Back Then.
[title of show] plays at Theatre Works until 11 September. A must see for musical fans.
Darryn Gatt is gearing up for the comedy
production Title of Show.
PHOTO: TONY GOUGH
August 25th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Mark Smith [Moonee Valley Leader]
Moonee Ponds actor lands Broadway show.
NOBODY could be more pleased about the return Melbourne season of the Broadway production Title of Show than Moonee Ponds actor Darryn Gatt.
After making it to the final three in casting for the original Australian run in May, Gatt has landed himself a role of playwright in the return shows at Theatre Works in St Kilda starting this week. The Tony Award nominated production is the true story of US playwrights Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's quest to write and stage a new musical in less than three weeks for the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004.
The witty comedy takes a back-stage look at the drama it takes to bring a show to Broadway and is loaded with dozens of theatrical references.
"It's one for musical theatre nerds," said Gatt, 30, who plays a fictionalised Hunter Bell.
Gatt said he had been bitten by the acting bug at primary school when attending a local high school version of The Little Shop of Horrors. "I loved the freedom of dressing up, becoming another person and singing and dancing on stage," he said.
"I loved the idea of being able to show off."
He started productions at St Helena's Secondary College in Eltham the next year and joined the Shoestring Youth Theatre Group. He has also fronted a disco band and starred in a host of cabaret and theatre shows.
"I like to do a wide range of things," he said.
Laura Fitzpatrick stars in [title of show]
PHOTO: JASON SAMMON.
August 24th, 2010
PRINT - Article: [Caulfield / Port Phillip Leader]
Quirky show has funny name.
A QUIRKY musical with a strangely obvious name is hitting the stage in St Kilda. [title of show] is the true story of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's quest to write and stage a new musical in under three weeks for the 2004 New York Music Theatre Festival. Performing at Theatre Works in St Kilda, a four-person cast re-enacts the plight of Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan as they find backers, generate publicity and eventually make it to Broadway.
Caulfield resident Laura Fitzpatrick, who plays Susan, said the show involved clever dialogue. "It's very much like the silly conversations you have with friends," Ms Fitzpatrick said. "It's really funny and fast paced with a message that if you dream big and work hard you can do amazing things." Ms Fitzpatrick, who works in St Kilda as a digital copywriter, has also performed in My Fair Lady and The Full Monty.
The cast also stars David Spencer (Jeff), Lara Thew (Heidi) and Darryn Gatt (Hunter). [title of the show] is on from August 26 to September 11.
August 24th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: [Australia.Broadway.com]
TITLE OF SHOW Returns To The Australian Stage Aug 26-Sept 11
Theatre Works, St. Kilda MAGNORMOS announces [title of show] return season The quirky musical about a quirky new musical is back!
"must see" - The Age
"smart poppy and funny" - The Australian
"...the title of this show should be [fabulous sharp piece of theatre]" - Geoffrey Rush
"the most honest, thought-provoking musical you'll see all year" - Stage Whispers
Following on from its critically acclaimed premiere earlier this year, Magnormos is thrilled toannounce a return season of the Obie Award-winning [title of show] at Theatre Works from 26August to 11 September, 2010.
Buoyed by the glowing endorsements of [title of show] writer and Broadway cast memberJeff Bowen, co-star Heidi Blickenstaff and Broadway Director Michael Berresse, who flewto Australia to see the final show of the premiere season and a continuing buzz from thepublic, Magnormos Founder Aaron Joyner was encouraged to remount the production.
Three of the four original cast members reprise their roles in this witty musical including DavidSpencer (Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical) as Jeff, Laura Fitzpatrick (Fiddler on theRoof, My Fair Lady, Fame - The Musical, The Full Monty, The Thing About Men) as Susanand Lara Thew as Heidi whilst Darryn Gatt (You're a good man Charlie Brown) has been castin the role of Hunter to replace Michael Lindner, who has a previous commitment to Mary Poppins.
"Since we closed we have been overwhelmed by the audience feedback, and the requests for 'more', especially from those who missed it the first time so we're obliging with a returnMelbourne season while we build a touring program to take the [title of show] hilarity across the country," said Magnormos Artistic Director Aaron Joyner [title of show] is the true story of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's quest to write and stage anew musical in under three weeks for the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004.
Following the plights of Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan as they negotiate a musical theatreobstacle course of finding backers, generating publicity, and finally making it to Broadway,[title of show] is a razor sharp, uproarious musical about the pleasures and perils of creatingan original show in a culture dominated by revivals and reality TV stars.
Following its debut at NYMF, [title of show] enjoyed an acclaimed run at the Vineyard TheaterOff-Broadway and in 2008, Jeff and Hunter fulfilled their Broadway aspirations, where [title ofshow] ran for over 100 performances. Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) received an OBIE forhis work on the production, as did writer Hunter Bell who also received both Tony Award andDrama League nominations.
The momentum for Magnormos continues with the Company presenting A SondheimTriptych at the Melbourne Recital Centre in October to celebrate the 80th birthday of thelegendary Broadway Composer, Stephen Sondheim. More information at Magnormos.com[about Magnormos]: Established in 2002 Magnormos is a dynamic producer of musicaltheatre with a unique focus on Australian writers.
Magnormos has received both criticalacclaim and industry commendations for its work, including three 2009 Green Roomnominations for its most recent production Life's A Circus. Other Australian premieres includeThe Thing About Men, Flora the Red Menace, and Archy & Mehitabel, with Australian worksincluding Mary Bryant, A Bunch of Ratbags and Dutch Courage.
Double life: performing GP David Spencer.
Picture: BEN SWINNERTON
August 23rd, 2010
PRINT - Article: Sally Bennett [Herald Sun]
WHEN the call went up for "a doctor in the house" during a performance of Priscilla, a bloke in fish-nets, high heels and feathers burst out from behind the stage. The man in the audience having a heart attack must have doubted his chances of surviving, until he learnt that the cross-dresser running to his aid was in fact, a doctor.
Yarraville's David Spencer has found a way to successfully combine two different loves. By day, he's a GP at a St Kilda medical clinic; by night, a singing and dancing performer in some of our best musicals.
Most of Spencer's patients are oblivious to his unusual dual life, but others do a double take when they look up and see their doctor on stage.
"I don't walk around singing and dancing through my consultations, so most of the time they don't know," he says.
"I've been lucky enough to work at a really good clinic. The people I work with love the theatre and if I need time off, they're happy for me to do that and come back.
"At the most a rehearsal period will go for five to six weeks and then once the show's up and running, I still work at least a few mornings or afternoons a week."
Spencer's next role is in the return season of [Title of Show], a Broadway musical about four friends trying to put together a show on Broadway.
It's a big-hearted, quirky comedy that Spencer says is popular with people who aren't with normally fond of musicals.
"It's very honest," he says. "It's not about romance. It's about friendship and having dreams and following them and it all working out."
Spencer's first big role came just before his final year at medical school. He took a year off to perform in West Side Story before going back to the books and two years of hospital training.
He's been a regular in Production Company shows in Melbourne and spent four years touring Europe in blockbuster musicals including Chicago and Carousel.
"I do really enjoy medicine and thought I could combine the two, so I've tried to do that since," Spencer says.
"I think it really does make you do a better job in both places places when you've got a good work/life balance."
And the one night Spencer combined both jobs to help the heart attack victim had a happy ending.
The man went back to see Priscilla a month later, offering his personal thanks to Spencer backstage after the show.
Action ... Director Aaron Joyner at work.
PHOTO: DAMJAN JANEVSKI
August 17th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Charlene Gatt [Star News Group]
Show's a top title
IT'S the little musical that could, a quirky musical about a quirky musical that made its way to Broadway.
And Footscray director Aaron Joyner couldn't be happier.
Title of Show is the true story of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's quest to write and stage a new musical in under three weeks for the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004.
The musical made its debut, rather ironically, at the New York Music Theatre Festival, then enjoyed an acclaimed run at the Vineyard Theatre Off-Broadway. In 2008, Title of Show made it to Broadway, running for over 100 performances. It also received a Tony nomination.
The musical made its Australian debut earlier this year and is back in Melbourne by popular demand for a two-week season before going on a national tour.
"It was kind of the little musical that could. It was quite extraordinary," Mr Joyner said, describing the musical as "Seinfeld in a musical."
"The version we're presenting is an extension of that, because now it's come to Australia and it follows the journey of this little tiny show all the way to Broadway and beyond."
Mr Joyner is a former musical writer, who abandoned his craft to set up independent theatre company Magnormos in 2002.
Magnormos produces musical theatre, with a unique focus on Australian writers.
"It became apparent what was more important was not another writer trying to get work out there, but an entity that would actually support and promote new Australian writing," Mr Joyner said.
"We're really trying to develop the industry.
"It is really difficult as an independent theatre company, so when we have successes like this, it's really gratifying."
August 17th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Sascha Wyness [ArtsHub]
In keeping with the essence of absurdist theatre, this is a play about logic, failure and loss. Accordingly, Daisy Chain's narrative unfolds in reference to our human need to find meaning in life and our simultaneous inability to find it. The more we search, the less we find.
In the first of three acts, protagonists Sarah (Jessica Barnden) and Toby (Michael McStay) are seen enjoying a picnic in the forest. She is the youthful, free-spirited half of the pair while Toby self-professes his sensibility and unease with the world. When Sarah wanders behind a tree, the sound of lightening erupts like a death toll warning. An angel of death appears and henceforth all is not as it seems.
Now separated, Sarah and Toby search for each other in a nearby village, which is arguably somewhere, anywhere or perhaps nowhere. The occupants of the village offer cryptic advice to aid their reunification, however this serves only to further disorientate the lost pair. Simultaneously frustrating and amusing, the audience bears witness to this conflicting advice but continues to hope that meaning will be uncovered.
Between scenes the lights are dimmed and sets are openly altered, in a stylistic reference to a larger force managing things in the background. While effective, towards the end the scene changes seem to take longer, which is slightly disjointing to the story. The set itself is fairly minimal in design and successfully manages to convey an unearthly quality.
Throughout the play, the dialogue is a constant stream of philosophical and religious rhetoric. Being challenged are inherently unanswerable questions encompassing topics such as destiny; fate; the extent of infinity; the meaning of love; heaven and hell; and of course, life and death. At its core the play asks: are we lost or are we looking for the wrong things?
The audience's receipt of the meaning rests heavily on the ability of the actors to deliver the words in an easily digestible and natural style. Some were more successful at this than others, but credit goes to all ten cast members for their attempt to deliver such consistently complex narrative.
Daisy Chain's success lies in making viewers question our own individual meaning and purpose. Searching for meaning can be fruitless but, as expressed by twelve-year-old Caile (one of the villagers), "a good story end where it starts". This is indeed a good story, and yes it takes its viewer round in circles but this is a path to self-realisation, of which Daisy Chain encourages to consider.
August 15th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Danu Poyner [Australian Stage]
Rarely do we get an opportunity to engage with life's big questions that offers both intellectual and philosophical nourishment in a way that is also life-affirming and tremendous fun. Daisy Chain is such an opportunity.
In what marks the professional debut of promising new production house Rouse House Theatre Company, Daisy Chain tackles what it means to search for knowledge and for love, and finds striking parallels in our pursuit of both.
Sarah (Jessica Barnden) and Toby (Michael McStay) are on a picnic in the woods in the middle of nowhere... somewhere... anywhere... when they become separated. Pandemonium, as it were, ensues. Most of the play takes place as these two friends try to find each other in a village which, while small, they both seem curiously unable to leave. Along the way they are variously helped or hindered by the village's inhabitants, who are each absurdly infuriating and immensely appealing. No-one quite sees things the way the others do, but frustratingly, each's own perspective on the world cannot help but be shaped by the standpoint of the others. Hell, it seems, is other people.
To say much more about the story would be to ruin much of the fun. Suffice to say the script sizzles with clever wordplay as the narrative meanders along in a pleasantly disarming pattern of absurd exchanges and shrewd observational wit. The writing is tight, the characters both complementary and complete in themselves, and the assorted story threads eventually tie together in a gentle yet satisfying conclusion. It is a production clearly both cast and crew believe in, as the care and cohesion of the whole ensemble shows in everything from the production design to the pamphlet accompanying the show.
That is not to say there is no room for improvement. There always is. There were a few flubbed lines on opening night and one wonders if the dramatic payoff of including the occasional juggling routine is worth the technical risk - some of the cast occasionally dropped the ball which led to some awkward upstaging and sheepish grins. The method employed for the scene changes, while dramatically valid, meant such sequences were overlong in parts and endured in stiff silence which frequently deadened the otherwise lively and whimsical pace. Music may have helped here, and indeed if there was one element lacking from the overall production design it was a richer auditory experience. The set design however was impressive in its simplicity and versatility, the rather eerie lighting helping to create a sense that this space was nowhere... anywhere... but somewhere.
Describing Daisy Chain is nothing like experiencing it. Much of the joy comes from watching the two naive protagonists not comprehending what's happening to them, their understanding being gradually fed by others until they are able to make sense of things in their own way. This is the same journey the audience undertakes and it is immensely rewarding and fun. Don't miss the opportunity to partake in it - you may find you don't want to leave.
August 11th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Richard Watts [Artshub]
Alive with the sound of music?
When you think of new musicals, chances are you're thinking of a major production imported from overseas: Wicked or Mary Poppins, Jersey Boys or the upcoming Rock of Ages.
A home grown Australian production is unlikely to be the first thing that springs to mind, despite the fact that the last decade has seen the premieres of numerous new Australian musicals, including Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank's Prodigal (2000); Paris by Jon English (2003); the juke-box musicals Shout! The Legend of the Wild One (2001), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical and Dusty – The Musical (both 2006); and the original musicals Metro Street by Matthew Robinson (which premiered in Adelaide in 2009); I Heart Frankston: The Musical at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival; and Handle With Care, which also opened in April this year at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre.
But even the majority of these Australian musicals have had only modest success – Manning Clark’s History of Australia: the Musical (1988) not withstanding, which was a major flop – and generally speaking, have struggled to find a broader audience, unlike the international main stage imports which rake in both audiences and box office figures.
The ramifications of this are significant. As the website Australian Musicals notes, 'In Australia, musical theatre is arguably the most popular and highest grossing form of live entertainment, but (except for a few notable exceptions) the musicals which Australian audiences are applauding with their ticket purchasing are invariably international ... our writers are still prevented from showcasing their creativity to the Australian public – simultaneously denying Australian audiences a mirror to their own culture through the auspices of musical theatre.
'As well as the impact on our cultural development and international identity, vast sums of Australian dollars are leaving Australian shores in the form of royalty payments to overseas writers, producers, directors, choreographers, designers, etc, each time an overseas musical is performed professionally in Australia.’
Might a new initiative from the Australia Council change all that?
Launched last month, New Musicals Australia is a joint initiative of the Australia Council’s Music Board and Sydney consortium Century Venues (which operates a number of venues including the Enmore Theatre, the Factory Theatre and the Comedy Store) and comes hot on the heels of an announcement in March this year by The Arts Centre in Melbourne of a national, two year, $300,000 Music Theatre Development Program (also supported by the Australia Council).
Based on successful models piloted in the USA and UK, New Musicals Australia aims to provide writers and composers with the opportunity to have their scripts and songs workshopped and presented to high level industry peers, creative industry leaders, and Sydney audiences, through a series of professional workshopping opportunities.
The new initiative is led by Kris Stewart, founding director of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Resident Director of the musical Wicked in Australia for the Gordon/Frost Organization, and Festival Director for the inaugural Sydney Fringe, which opens in September 2010.
"We haven’t had a fantastic history of new musical presentation in Australia, and there’s probably a number of reasons for that, but I think part of it is because there hasn’t been any kind of infrastructure of support, any ability for a show to have a logical development, to find out what it’s got. Shows either sit in people’s top drawers for 15 years or they get thrown in front of an audience and get the chance for critics to say yes or no on whether it works, instead of things having a safer environment in which to be fostered," Stewart tells Arts Hub.
He says New Musicals Australia aims to provide a more nurturing atmosphere for the creation and presentation of home-grown musical theatre, akin to the role played by PlayWriting Australia in facilitating the development of theatre.
"What we’re trying to do here is mirror a number of really successful processes and initiatives that exist in the US especially, but also in the UK, for helping new musicals get up and get on."
Stewart is understandably excited about the new initiative, which he says will provide different degrees of support for the makers of home grown musicals depending on what stage of development their work is at, but not everyone in the sector shares his enthusiasm.
Aaron Joyner is the Artistic Director of Magnormos, a Melbourne-based music theatre company which since 2002 has specialised in the presentation of new Australian work. Their annual program includes the OzMade Musicals showcase, the Musical Theatre Readings Program (a developmental and promotional platform for Australian-written musical theatre), and the Prompt! Musicals program which produces boutique works of musical theatre – most recently a critically acclaimed season of [title of show], a new season of which returns to TheatreWorks in St Kilda later this month.
Joyner says he is happy to see the establishment of New Musicals Australia – “It’s fantastic to see Australian musical theatre getting much deserved support,” he tells Arts Hub – but is concerned that the initiative’s funding by the Australia Council comes at a cost for company’s like his.
“It must be said, it is a little heartbreaking for Magnormos to have been continuously overlooked for state and federal funding after almost a decade of pioneering work for the genre. Magnormos couldn’t survive without the dedication and hard work of all those who support us, especially artists, and it is my ultimate goal to provide at least equity payment for them. In this current climate, without federal or state funding, this is increasingly challenging for an independent theatre company.”
Kris Stewart responds by noting that the Australia Council clearly want the money used to fund New Musicals Australia and the Arts Centre’s Music Theatre Development Program to have the greatest possible impact.
“And by working with the Arts Centre in Melbourne and also equally with Century Venues, they are [ensuring] that,” he says. “Because what Century Venues are doing is giving rehearsal space, performance space, they’re turning over administrative staff and infrastructure – things that would [otherwise] take tens of thousands of dollars.
“So I think that in order to ensure that our limited resources get spread as far as possible, it makes sense to take a partner on who can actually come to the table and help bring resources to bear. It ends up kind of doubling and tripling the Australia Council’s [funding], the limited resources that we have, and I think in that case a lot more writers will benefit from it.”
For more information on Theatre Works' 2011 MUSIAL WORK, stay tuned to the 'Our Works' page of this website.
July 20th 2010
ONLINE - Article: Heidi Bergmeier [Caulfield/Port Phillip Leader]
IF THE debut of An Elephant in the Room is every bit the success it's hinting to be, would its playwright and director Robert Gough think it ironic?
New Zealand-born Gough's work centres on the parallel, less-than-ordinary lives of two characters, intertwined with wise fables told by a charismatic Indian storyteller. "It contains just about everything good, bad, disastrous, and wondrous that I've ever observed in human behaviour," Gough said.
While his subtle Kiwi accent insists he doesn't want to give the plot away, he can say that the characters' pursuits don't necessarily go to plan. In contrast, the vision for Gough's creation is serendipitously falling into place. Gough wrote the character of Wally Stern specifically for American-born stage and film actor Bill Ten Eyck before the two had met. As luck, fate or coincidence would have it, Ten Eyck accepted the invitation. Gough said in one-way or another, the "seasoned cast had been hand-picked".
July 13th 2010
ONLINE - Article: Cheryl Balfour [Whitlesea Leader]
From taxi to trouper in Mill Park
A 58-YEAR-OLD taxi driver with a gift of the gab has made his acting debut in a new stage play by Robert Gough.
Tom Henderson, an Indian-born cab driver from Mill Park, said it was his natural gift for storytelling that landed him one of the lead roles in the black comedy An Elephant in The Room.
"Everyone that knows me thinks I'm crazy for doing this," Mr Henderson laughed.
"But I'm not the type to keep quiet, I believe in trying anything and making the most of it."
Mr Henderson has been a full-time cabbie for 12 years and a grandfather for a few months, but he admitted he had not ruled out a change of career.
"I love the way humour works in this country, you knock the hell out of someone and based on how they take it, you either befriend them or avoid them," he said.
"I came right into my own when I first came to Australia because I could give it back."
Mr Henderson doesn't try and hide his jovial personality from his patrons either, with many reporting the best cab ride ever to their driver.
"I love to have fun with people, one guy wanted me to take him to the MCG and I said, 'what's that?'," he said.
"After he got over the shock and realised I was joking, we both had a good laugh."
Robert Gough, the writer and director of An Elephant in the Room, said Mr Henderson was the standout of 15 Indian actors who auditioned for the part.
“Tom was such a great public speaker and a great storyteller,” he said.
“He has a great presence, which is very important and he's an actor I have a lot of faith in, someone I’ll always keep in mind.”
An Elephant in the Room is about secret ideals and ambitions.
Indian elephant fables provide a subliminal chorus to this slightly surreal fable, Gough’s intriguing reflection on our contemporary world is upbeat and compelling.
July 9th 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australianstage.com]
Wally is a fridge salesman. We think he is one thing, a loud wisecracking ex-pat American, but soon it becomes apparent that there is more to him - he is an erudite eccentric, given life by the ebullient performance of Bill Ten Eyck. Ten Ayck's acting is the best thing about this show - just as well since he holds the stage for most of the play. Sadly, he is not matched by the rest of the cast.
There are several problems with this piece. One is that there are gratuitous elements. The early appearance of the tradesman seems solely to let us know the play is set in Australia, a clunky device when this information could be imparted so much more economically in one of Wally's numerous phone calls. Having so much narrative in the form of phone conversations makes for a thud, thudding rhythm to the first half.
The little bits of 'elephant lore', although appealing, do not add anything to our understanding of the story or the characters, nor does the inclusion of some footage of Charlie Chaplin. They comprise an exercise in whimsy. Nice, but why? In fact the sense at the end of the play was Nice but Why? It doesn't hang together. The premise seems to be how two would-be artists compromise between 'art and avarice,' an over-simplification to begin with and perhaps therein lies the problem. Would it be better if the play just focused on story, didn't try to be deep, and let the themes emerge if they may? More fun is the skullduggery and how Wally deals with it – here, and with the development of Wally's character, the playwright is clearly most engaged.
The character of Lucy is boring, and the character of her brother unnecessary. There is nothing new here about the conflict between the needs to pay the bills and also engage with one's art practice – there are many interesting potentials for a story around a young actress's individual struggle to survive, but Lucy comes across as an undeserving sook and her character’s lines are woefully predictable. She’s wooden; not a real individual. The scene between her and Wally is the least satisfying part of the play and there's nothing to justify a romantic attachment between them, thereby undermining the finale. I also wanted to know why Wally’s script just happened to be sitting on his kitchen table … we don’t see him engaged with it prior to the moment when Lucy asks to see it. We don’t get a sense of his need to be a writer and the news that Wally was actually a playwright isn’t foreshadowed by his often too-obvious imparting of historical tidbits; however interesting this information may be, it needs to spring more naturally from his conversations.
However, after the interval there are fun and gunshots and mayhem. The whole thing ramps up, the action takes a welcome and robust break from phone conversations and delivers some good surprises with nicely underplayed cops and villains. The audience is rooting for Wally, in the American sense of the word, and we want to see him succeed – this is where the playwright/director plays to his strengths.
As a whole An Elephant in the Room is entertaining and fun, and Wally is an adorable and believable creation. While the play overall needs dramaturgical attention, there is definite potential here.
June 27th 2010
ONLINE - Article: [Indian Voice] - Local News
Indian-born THOMAS LEWIS HENDERSON, a popular taxi driver and storyteller in Melbourne, makes his theatrical debut in Robert Gough's new stage play, An Elephant in the Room. It's an amazing story: FROM JHANSI TO MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, TO THE STAGE AT THEATRE WORKS, ST KILDA!!!
RETURNING to the stage after more than 40 years, THOMAS HENDERSON, who cites Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as one of his favourite plays, makes his Australian theatrical debut in AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM!
Tom was born in 1952 in the town of Jhansi (in central northern India), and emigrated to Australia with his family in 1988. He is currently self-employed in the taxi business and is a well-known identity in that industry.
He is perfectly cast as THE INDIAN STORYTELLER who will provide the subliminal chorus to this modern day fable.
June 30th 2010
ONLINE - Review: Geoffrey Williams [StageWhispers.com.au]
Trust and honesty, like truth, are devilishly slippery touchstones in the theatre, and if this ambitious Vicious Fish Theatre production didn't quite manage to raise the stakes high enough on opening night, there is little doubt it could. And if it does, it will be something to behold. Watching it tentatively unfold on opening night, it was obvious that the company had the permission to fearlessly explore within Mr Gooding's beautifully crafted direction, but – with a few notable exceptions – the cast remained almost uniformly apprehensive and tentative in a piece that demands the exact opposite: a primal scream of fever-pitched fear so real you can taste it.
Belbel's searing, unsentimental play about the circumstances and consequences of a politically-motivated kidnapping, is an absolute ripper – efficient, perfectly structured, bitingly succinct and powered by flashes of brilliant observational satire. And in a week where we had our own particular brand of political blood-letting, Blood's quintessential theme of unwavering belief in one's right to self-determined rule over others in any given dominion, appeared to not have originated in Spain at all – but just a few hundred kilometers north in our own national capital.
Janine Watson, as the kidnapped wife of a Jon Peck's politician, delivered a beautifully complex and committed performance, while Peck, too, was excellent in his dual roles of a hapless policeman and the morally-bankrupt politician. Theatre Works's notoriously cruel acoustics took much of Kassandra Whitson's big monologue moment prisoner, but her performance as the politician's mistress and a pregnant policewoman revealed the essence of a really outstanding performance. Alison Adriano, Chloé Boreham and James Tresise all seemed a little unsure and ill-at-ease – with choices, voices and character seeming to almost evaporate within the huge, stark and demanding space.
Rose Connors-Dance's superb lighting design made much of the distracting and unnecessary set redundant. (I actually still don't understand why this show had a set.) Connors-Dance's obvious understanding and appreciation for the definitive power of shadows and darkness was risky, but flawlessly realised – supporting and, in fact, defining the space perfectly. 'Because of Ghosts' contributed some disappointingly fleeting moments of intriguing musical soundscape that seemed to exist almost to have lit the flame under the entire performance. That it didn't quite take on this particular occasion takes little away from the fact that Vicious Fish are an independent company to watch out for. And if everyone has resolved to accept their entire share of responsibility for what could be a rivetting performance of a fantastic play, it would qualify as the show to see.
Blood by Sergi Belbel.
English language translation by Marion Peter Holt.
Directed by Scott Gooding.
A Vicious Fish Theatre production at Theatre Works
Photographed by Paul Dunn.
June 30th 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australianstage.com]
Why would you want to see a play about something as repellent as torture? Because Blood explores the subject in a comical but never farcical way. And fear not, the violence occurs off-stage.
Blood, by Spanish writer Sergi Belbel, is a skilled presentation of a situation that is gruelling yet the experience of seeing the play is not gruelling, it's entertaining. Not that Blood trivialises its subject matter, far from it; it manages to make a theatrical experience accessible yet still ask the large, serious questions about being human and being a member of society. The play leads audience members to face up to any distancing that can happen within ourselves while observing characters isolated from their humanity yet who are also completely believable. No one is a monster, not even the disturbingly young dissidents who carry out the monstrous acts. Blood makes you aware of how any one of us can be adept at turning a blind eye to injustice or acting purely from intellect rather than from compassion. But the play doesn't judge. Blood is an extraordinary example of playwriting, the sort of thing which is often attempted but seldom works so well. It is classically theatrical in its structure and in this production the direction by Scott Gooding allows it to deliver on symbolic and visceral levels. There are some moments of fascinating wit, especially in the park bench scene. Most of the dialogue is clever yet not witty for the sake of it. Lesser writers rely on shock or horror or grit to stand in for depth, whereas this piece gives you an exquisitely ironic but wholly engaged perspective on a reprehensible set of crimes.
The comedy comes from the characters' recognisable self centredness. They exhibit banal, selfish, ignoble but understandable responses to crises. Only here the stakes are immense. The actors absolutely have to believe what they're up to in a play like this; fortunately this cast does. Janine Watson playing the Politician's Wife excels as the victim who refuses to be one, honestly voicing her reactions and thoughts while maintaining her dignity throughout. The other characters are not, but occasionally nearly, satirised; all are extreme in their own way. The matter of The Child being punished for the impulse to act out of emotion not principle gives real pause for thought. The scene where The Mistress confronts The Politician stays with you; surreal yet believable. In fact the production as a whole stays with you, which tells you how good it is.
Accidental Arts - 3MBS 103.5FM Classically Melbourne - Review: Peter Green
Last week, three openings in three nights, I finished on Friday night at Theatre Works with the first night in a short season from Viscous Fish of another play from the Catalan, Sorgi Belbel (born 1963 and I include the date, it has bearing on what follows)
My first reaction as I slowly exited the theatre in the buzzing foyer was "O, wonder!How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,That has such people in it!"
My second; how interesting that we have here in Melbourne, two Catalan plays running simultaneously, in two of our chamber theatres; Red Stitch with The Gronholm Method and Blood, A Play in Five Scenes at Theatre Works.
My third thought (I was celebrating at full pace); how some Spanish writers (I use the term inclusively) have as themes of cruelty and oppression and in the case of Blood, outright torture and mutilation.
I wondered if this was oblique revisiting of the devastating Spanish civil war, which like all civil wars was marked by the excessive cruelty and reprisal on the civilian population, and its lengthy oppressive and vengeful aftermath (Franco war still executing Republican prisoners into the 1950's). Even now while mass graves of murdered Republican sympathizers are being exhumed those on the right complain, despite the fact their dead were buried decently in separate graves, appropriately marked; that "old wounds are being re-opened!"
Excuse the opening essay but my suspicions are that, something other than the violent separatist campaign from ETA, the Basque nationalists including political assassinations of authorities and police, lies at the need to display cruelty. Scott Gooding, the director writes in his program notes;
"This is as close as I ever get to a message play. We all know the ones that state in simple terms – racism is bad, intolerance is bad, homophobia is bad, terrorism is bad. But by merely stating that I feel I am robbing an audience of the opportunity to make up their own minds, not about the subject, what they choose to do about it"
And later: "... this play is about hope and the fact that one day we may just change. I am still waiting in hope. That is my message"
About hope – I'm not so sure. Although the kidnapping of the politicians wife (the spring for all that follows) looks like a political action with a large ransom demanded and paid, the mutilation continues and she has her head chain-sawed from her body anyway! There is a child, who eagerly demands to watch the torture, despite her aunt's objections – she is the new generation learning the trade perhaps – some hope!
The actor playing the politican's wife was certainly convincing – how could she not be in terror in the dark. But i can't say the same for the others, they seemed unfleshed somehow – perhaps its in the writing, maybe the mater-of-fact delivery.
A scare on a public bench between two strangers with a box. A body part between them seemed so inconsequential as to perhaps be an essay in surrealism from Belbel. The company Viscious Fish has yoked its wagon to this playwrights star; their is a third in his series. I have not seen others, nor am I familiar with Belbel but Friday night I thought he had given the director and actors little to build on.
I was only able to fully appreciate the excellent set as I left the theatre with the lights up – excellent but wasted in the dark lighting plot.
June 30th 2010
ONLINE - Review: Cameron Woodhead [The Age]
A WOMAN, blindfolded and bound, is thrown into a darkened room. A politician's wife and philosophy professor, she has been kidnapped and held to ransom by a shadowy organisation.
We learn early on in Sergei Belbel's Blood that her situation is hopeless. Her captors intend to amputate a body part - her finger, ear, foot and head - every 10 hours. Whether the ransom is paid or not will probably make no difference to her grisly fate.
Director Scott Gooding delivers the play as a stark, tense anatomy of terrorism. The clinical brutality of the torture and murder is reflected in a kind of psychological mutilation, exhibited by the terrorists.
Responsibility for the deed is dissolved in a cult-like communal identity. Whatever their political objectives are (we never discover them), they're monumental enough to have hacked off any feeling for their victim. Yet weirdly, the terrorists - a man and a woman - preserve the gestures and semblance of empathy.
The victim's suffering isn't ennobled by philosophy. Being able to quote Kierkegaard and Sartre isn't entirely useless, though. Amid desperation, there's a relentless urge to give her final hours meaning - by sharing them with a young child who eagerly bears witness to the sadism of her parents.
The acting is businesslike and naturalistic, delivering the action without much in the way of nuance. Its deficiencies are balanced by imaginatively bleak staging and direction.
It's gruelling, anguished theatre, at pains to show that the victim, despite what is inflicted upon her, is more whole than her kidnappers.
June 25th 2010
ONLINE - Review: Anne-Marie Peard [AussieThearte.com]
Sergei Belbel's Blood asks what are the limits of a common morality and tests them with exposure to torture. It's an uncomfortable night in the theatre that leaves its audience shellshocked.
This production continues Scott Gooding and Vicious Fish Theatre's commitment to the works of Catalan playwright Sergi Belbel. Blood follows productions of Caresses and After The Rain. If reviews are to be believed, one was amazing and the other got a bit lost.
In Blood, a woman is kidnapped and told that over the next 40 hours she will lose a finger, an ear, a foot and her head unless her husband pays up. Her torturers try to ease her physical pain, but consider her life a necessary loss for their (unknown) cause. In a circular structure, filled with literal and metaphorical images of blood, we are taken from the torture room to the discoveries of her body parts, and returned to see the results.
Director Gooding quickly makes his audience uneasy with a flash of blinding light followed by a room that's uncomfortably dark, but light enough to see the what we don't want to see. The text describes the importance of a clean amputation, but the visceral reactions come from the sound of an electric saw and the fearless performance of Janine Watson.
The sickening anticipation of pain and fear created in the opening scene creates a physical reaction that draws the audience through to the conclusion, and the comedy that immediately follows offers some respite, but the relief is slightly frustrating.
Comedy isn't jokes and wit; it's how we get through every day. We laugh at ourselves and the world, so we can cope with the tedious and the unbearable. It's why we hear great jokes at funerals and why there's always some humour in great art. There is a lot of humour in Blood, but the laughs are sometimes misplaced and take us away from the story by reminding us that it's all a game of pretend, rather than giving us the breathing space to cope with the horror and the anticipation of the horror that's to come. This style of humour works best when we are laughing only to stop ourselves running or puking and the cast may need to tone down some of the comedy in order to make the laughs awkward and uncomfortable.
Watson, Alison Adriano, Chloé Boreham, Jon Peck, James Tresise and Kassandra Whitson are all strong performers who understand the nuances and guts of Blood, but they are not always compelling because they are bringing us the text and the plot, rather than letting us see the story about people discovering the unimaginable.
One of the strengths of the script is that is brings the hidden blood of the torture room to our everyday world, so that the pain and fear can't be ignored. As the audience know what's in the appendage-sized packages, the middle scenes have to be about the people who discover the packages. To sustain the gut-churning emotion of the opening, we have to care as much about every character as we do about the woman being tortured. Complete and complex people need to be on the stage, so that instead of asking why on earth the woman doesn't just walk away from the world's most annoying man, we're wanting two damaged souls to find love on that park bench and wondering how the discovery of an amputated finger is going to change their chances.
Theatre is moments of change. Each character is a different person at the end of their scene and showing more of that change, and more of light lightness before the dark, will bring the empathy and the closeness that will leave the audience unable to breathe.
The Blood text also suffers from a very literal English translation, to the point that words and phrases received giggles simply because they didn't sound right to the audience or feel right to the actors. Stage language by its nature is contrived and it's up to the actors to make it sound like it is the most natural and only logical way that people talk in this world. The language shouldn't get in the way of what the playwright and creators are saying.
Shows as unnerving as Blood need to settle and change as audiences react. Having survived its first week, the time to see Blood is this week; not only because the season ends, but because it will be so much closer to being something you're unlikely to forget.
June 21st, 2010
PRINT - Article : Scott Howard [Melbourne Weekly]
Blood, sweat and tears
An intriguing - and at times horrifying - play is coming to Theatre Works. By Scott Howard
Director Scott Gooding is no stranger to plays that evoke intense reactions. He is about to present the Australian premiere of Blood, a dark and sometimes violent play, at St Kilda's Theatre Works.
Written by Catalan-Spanish playwright Sergi Belbel, Blood is the story of a woman who is kidnapped by two young extremists and told that she will be subjected to a series of amputations over a period of 40 hours unless an unspecified ransom is paid by her politician husband. This is the third time Gooding has brought Belbel's work to the stage, having previously directed productions of Caressess and After the Rain.
"All his characters and all his scripts are surprising," Gooding says. Belbel has a way of making his characters talk that is both shocking and beautiful at the same time." The world Belbel creates in Blood is one of disconnection, violence and also humanity.
"The audience will feel empathy for all the characters. There are no heroes and no villains, just people trying to do the right thing." Gooding says Belbel works in a theatrical ambiguity. He never explains and allows the audience to make their own assumptions about aspects of the play. "None of the characters or places are named, there is nothing for an to lock on to, which also means that we have the freedom to set it in our world," he says.
There is a political and ideological subtext to the plot looking at the idea of "class", the gulf between rich and poor and what happens when ideology outweighs humanity. Ultimately, the question Blood grapples with is: does the end justifying the means, no matter what the cost to one's own humanity?
But the dark play also has lighter moments. "There's a bit of physical comedy, there's a lot of very clever wordplay, but also because the characters are not reacting how the audience would expect it becomes a laugh."
Gooding and producer Cathy Horsley (pictured) have assembled a "spunky" cast to bring Belbel's play to life and trust that their audience will take the leap of faith required to enter the sinister world of Blood.
A season of nine shows runs from June 24 to July 4 at Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda. For bookings and more information, visit theatreworks.org.au or call 9534 3388.
May 20th, 2010
ONLINE - Article : Travis De Jonk [SameSame]
As I walk into the dress rehearsal of Robert Sturrock's latest show, Obsession, I am already awed by the sets, dancers and details that are casually in place on stage. The cast are finishing a brief production meeting before Robert Sturrock [ pictured second ] leaves them to join me for our interview. Just before we begin, the dancers play out some of the parts of the show for our photographer. To begin with, the 12 dancers are clad in little more than cool fitting black dancers underwear. They are fit, fierce and fabulous... Bam! And for five minutes we both watch, quite captivated.
This is only my third experience of Sturrock's work. I was blown away by the first piece I saw a couple of years ago, Skin. I was totally floored by OM, his offering last year, you can see the pictures here.
You can never guess what you are going to see in one of his shows. But you can be sure of this... A dance work by Robert Sturrock work is always breathtaking to behold. Exquisite detail is crafted into every element of the show, from the choreography to the wonderful costumes to the stunning lighting, all of which meld into a rich surreal visual feast.
It's clear that while Sturrock is first and foremost concerned with the art form of dance, he still creates like a visual artist. He creates like a painter or photographer, except that his images and tableaus are moving, breathing and very much in 3D.
Sturrock tells me that all his works begin with sitting around with the creative collaborators that he's working with. Usually an image or images will spark the creative process which then unfolds like an exercise in word association. There is a lot of experimenting and collaboration. Most important to the process for him is fun and playing.
"I'm about fun. Creating is fun for me, and when you're an artist or dancer or whatever... when you're doing what you love, then you could be working 18 hour days and you're still having fun... That's how it is for me. There's no point if it's not fun..." he explains.
In true post modernist style, the images and references in his works aren't just appropriated. They are re-interpreted, spun on their head, subverted or challenged. What you see is almost always given an undeniably modern and contemporary re-telling with a distinctly queer aesthetic and sensibility. Erotica, drag, sparkle and skin collide with beats and rhythms into an evolving organism. Even at its darkest his work can't help but be a fresh celebration of popular culture.
It's interesting, considering that dance is once again facing a revival in the mainstream and it is bigger than ever in the pop universe. With the success of all those dance shows from Dancing with The Stars to So You Think You Can Dance, there certainly are a lot of avenues around at the moment. There is also a huge drove of people wanting to give dance a shot. But according to Sturrock, it's their drive and reason for dancing that is most important.
"I was lucky in a way... I began dancing in an era when it was very hard to be taken seriously by the wider public... If you were a dancer then you were automatically a poof and you were in for a bashing... or at the very least a ribbing. As tough as that was, it meant that you really knew if dancing really was for you... I'm glad thing are better these days though.
"But I see it all the time... people wanting to get into dance, but for all the wrong reasons. Some want to do it because it's so cool right now. Others' aren't really passionate about it, but see it as a vehicle for quick fame. A real dancer doesn't just dance, but they live it and breathe it. It's as if they would die if they couldn't do it... that is how it should feel and what it's like if you really want to be a dancer. That's how I recognise a good dancer." Sturrock said.
Robert Sturrock is highly regarded in the dance industry - Back in the 90's he worked in television as a dancer on Channel Nine and also as a dancer in touring opera productions. More recently he made a return to TV for masterclass with the finalists on So you think You Can Dance. However, his main focus has become his dance training.
Sturrock has been running his own successful dance school called Industry Dance, for nearly twenty years. His reputation both inside and outside the industry means that he never has to advertise to fill places at the school. It's clearly his pride and joy, as are its' dancers, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better opportunities. Some have joined international dance companies. He mentions dancer that went on to choreograph for Kylie Minogue. And another danced for Michael Jackson in This Is It and also features in the This Is It film. That same dancer has since gone on to dance in Christina Aguilera's lastest video.
A former student of Sturrock, dancer and creative collaborator, Rebecca Fairey has worked with him for many years and is a key player in the current show, Obsession. She gave me an insight into what Robert is like to work with.
"In many ways, being in one of his shows is one of the hardest gigs you'll do as a dancer, but they are also the most fun. When will you get this level of play and costume?! His shows are quite demanding and he asks a lot from you when you're on stage. You're not just dancing, but acting and performing. It's a real taste of what the real world is like for dancers, and if you can do this then the rest just a piece of cake..." she tells me.
"You can see that the dancers really look up to Robert. When he is in choreographer mode, it's very serious and focused, but when he's not working he always takes time to have a laugh and a chat. It's a very family vibe, and you can see that he cares a lot about the dancers... he is a dancer, he knows what it's like to be one."
Sturrock seconds his tough and passionate stance when he works.
"This isn't filling in time for me... this is my life, and it's the life of my dancers and all the creative people I'm collaborating with to make these works happen. I take that very seriously and I give myself to it. We all work hard and push hard. That being said, the process and the finished product is always playful, creative and fun. You can feel it and see it."
Sturrock has a word of advice for all those aspiring dancers out there. He says that while dance training is booming, not all schools and classes are going to be good for you. Some dance schools are just businesses and money making machines that care more about your dollars than your training. According to the choreographer, they can be quite damaging and he really suggests doing research about the schools, asking the right questions and even taking them for a test drive.
And as for himself, what does the future hold?
"I'd really like to formally start a dance company and tour the work that we have been creating. At the moment it's just a question of time and resources. I could do it now, but I don't want to put unnecessary pressure on myself... It will happen, it will be fantastic, it will happen naturally... and I think it's not all that far away."
May 10th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Antony Steadman [ArtsHub]
"In 2004, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell wanted to enter the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival (NYMF). The problem was, Jeff and Hunter didn't have a musical. With the application deadline set, three weeks later they entered [title of show], named after the first line in the festival application form.
[title of show] takes a witty look at both the pleasures and perils of the artistic process, the art and business of creating an original show in a culture dominated by revivals and reality TV stars.
The plot follows Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan as they negotiate a musical theatre obstacle course of finding backers, generating publicity, and finally making it to Broadway. As they make the journey from nobodies to somebodies, [title of show] is a witty, melodic and uproarious musical about making ones dreams come true."
More of a musical sitcom than your standard musical fare, this show is sure to please your regular theatre-holics and your occasional visitors alike. Its hilarious, to the point where you may find yourself snorting with laughter. Director Aaron Joyner has assembled an extremely talented cast which includes David Spencer as Jeff, Michael Lindner as Hunter, Lara Thew as Heidi and Laura Fitzpatrick as Susan.
The talent surrounding this production is immense, in that everything that happens on stage seems so effortless, making the entire production almost feel voyeuristic in its approach. The fourth wall can't be broken down here as there are no walls to speak of! With literally a skeleton of a set, with a keyboard and four chairs, this show does definitely a Broadway Musical make!
The cast weave in and out of the comedy, melodrama, songs and dialogue without batting an eyelid and make the hour and 40 minutes of the show simply fly by.
It's impossible to choose a standout of the production as this is definitely an ensemble piece, with each member of the cast given their moment to shine. David Spencer as Jeff is the story's voice of reason and the "sensible one" delivering much of the foundation for many of Michael Lindner as Hunter's one liner punches. Lara Thew as Heidi seems physically too young to be auditioning for Ursula the Sea Witch in Little Mermaid and Donna in Mamma Mia, however emotionally is able to pull it off. Rounding out the cast is Laura Fitzpatrick as Susan, whose comic timing seems almost too real! All four cast are equally as strong vocally as each other which just proves again that our theatrites in Melbourne are a talented bunch.
With all its jibes at both successful and failed musicals, this show is a must for any "showmo" but the fun doesn't stop there. Whatever you do make sure you go and see this gem of a piece whilst you can. The two week season seems so short, so it was pleasing to hear Mr Joyner speak of a potential tour and return season later in the year.
Who would have thought a musical about writing a musical would have so many layers and so much heart?
May 8th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Anne-Marie Peard [Sometimes Melbourne & Aussietheatre.com]
Melbourne company Magnormos are presenting the first international production of the meta-hit [title of show]. With four chairs and a keyboard, this work has re-invigorated the idea of independent original Broadway musicals and given hope to countless 'nobodies', and the Australian production is guaranteed to make you fall in love with musical theatre all over again.
In [title of show], Hunter Bell (character and creator) says he is striving for something that makes people want to pay attention. And he found it. Hunter and fellow-nobody/friend Jeff Bowen decided to enter the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004, but the application deadline was three weeks away. So they grabbed their friends Heidi and Susan and wrote a show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.
If you don't know the story, I don't want to ruin it for you. So get to Theatreworks for this can't-stop-smiling-as-you-watch-it production and see what can happen when artists trust that tiny voice inside of them that is kicking the shins of at the vampires of self-doubt.
[title of show] is self-referential - in a Judy and Micky meet Seinfeld at a meta-fiction book club way - but its freshness and original voice force it to leave self-indulgence behind. Not that the creators haven't indulged in a bit of self-gratification...but it doesn't matter if you don't get the Aspects of Love joke or recognise the CATS ring tone or haven't even heard of most of the shows in the song about flop musicals - these are the bonus laughs for musical theatre buffs.
These creators indeed know and love musical theatre. They know it has moments of fluff and foggy dream sequences. They know the endless auditions, the factory-mentality of big shows and the countless performers who want someone to pay attention to them. And they love the quirks and high kicks, while understanding that it's substance, content and guts that sustain the great shows far more than tulle frocks and high Cs.
[title of show] is full of gorgeous fluff, but it also questions art and the quest for fame, exposes raw self-doubt and explores the consequences of success - and has a song about filling in forms! Is it any wonder I loved it?
Re-creating a Broadway success with a story firmly planted in New York culture could have been dangerous, but director, and Magnormos founder, Aaron Joyner has captured the joy and hope of the original show and injected it with a spirit that could keep it running for months. Shame they only have two weeks.
And the cast are as perfect as a cast can be. It's too easy to forget that [title of show] isn't about David Spencer (Jeff), Michael Lindner (Hunter), Lara Thew (Susan), Laura Fitzpatrick (Heidi) and Sophie Thomas (musical director/Mary). Make the most of seeing these folk on a small stage while you can. (David and Michael were recently in Priscilla and Michael is about to start rehearsals for Mary Poppins.)
If you sit and watch this show saying "why didn't I do that?" - well why don't you? If there's something in you screaming to get out, let it. Just please don't try and copy [title of show], because it'll never be this original again. Take some sage advice and know it's better to be nine people's favourite thing, rather than 100 people's ninth favourite thing.
NOTE: There's a show on MONDAY night for everyone who is performing in all the other shows on in town.
7th May, 2001
ONLINE - Review : Cameron Woodhead [The Age]
'Entry' - Level meta musical a must see ****
THINKING of a musical as ''post- modern' seems ... imprecise. Since at least Kiss Me Kate (well before the term was even coined), musical theatre has routinely drawn attention to its own artifice. It helps, I suppose, that there's no shortage of artifice to which one might draw attention.
Yet how else are we to describe the recent embrace of the meta-musical - the musical about musicals. With shows from The Drowsy Chaperone to Forbidden Broadway flowering from the seeds of small-scale satirical revue, digging under the boards and behind the scenes of Broadway has never been so popular.
No show goes as far in this direction as Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's Magnormos, which documents its own journey from page to stage.
It must be the first musical to hit Broadway with only four chairs and a keyboard as adornment. Its success owes nothing to production values (there aren't any), and everything to the cleverness and originality of its script and songs.
The show's name springs from the entry form to a New York musical theatre festival. Jeff (David Spencer) and Hunter (Michael Lindner) have decided to stop dreaming of writing a Broadway musical, and start working on one.
Trouble is, they have nothing to write about. So, teaming with actress friends Susan (Laura Fitzpatrick) and Heidi (Lara Thew), they use the comedy and drama of the three-week creative process as content.
Magnormos presents a high-calibre Australian premiere that fans of musical theatre would be mad to miss. Director Aaron Joyner has assembled a dream cast and brings out its chemistry.
It's rare to see musicals with quite so much book. One of the show's main attractions is its free-wheeling situational comedy. Featuring the two struggling gay artists and their fag-hags, these episodes put something like Will & Grace to shame. The acting, especially Michael Lindner's wide-eyed antics and Fitzpatrick's sharp irony, will have you laughing out loud.
Songs range from the whimsical to the sardonic to the slightly sentimental. Bowen's complex harmonies are catchy, his lyrics witty, and they're performed with brio.
6th May, 2001
ONLINE - Review : Jacqui Bunting [Theatre People]
What do you get when you combine four mismatched chairs, one keyboard, a turkey burger, three luscious blondes (one partially mute), two gay thespians (one a grammar Nazi with a soft spot for Wonder Women and a tendency to get "hangry", the other a "procrasturbating" navel-gazer with a penchant for internet porn and dream sequences), songs about monkeys and speedboats, a plethora of theatrical in-jokes and a touch of chest fuzz?
You get [title of show] - a quirky, hilarious, charming little meta-musical that has managed to make it's way to the land of Vegemite, koalas and K-Dudd thanks to Melbourne's favourite little independent producer, Magnormos.
Bored in their apartments, Jeff (David Spencer) and Hunter (Michael Lindner) decide to write a show for submission into the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival. Only problem is the deadline is three weeks away and they are stumped for ideas. So, in a light-bulb moment, they decide to write a musical about the making of the musical you are watching. They rope in two female friends - serial Broadway understudy auditionee, Heidi (Lara Thew) and Susan (Laura Fitzpatrick), a quick-witted cool chick who has given up on showbiz for the remuneration that comes with a soul-destroying corporate job. Hilarity, success, disappointment, bitching and re-writing ensues as this foursome try to find a balance between commercial success and creative integrity. But in the end, they remain bound by their affection for one another and a shared desire to realise their creative dreams. This may sound glib but I assure you, it's not. The intelligent, self-deprecating humour of the writing ensures that this one-act delight never allows itself to become self-indulgent or pretentious.
After an opening number (entitled Untitled Opening Number) slightly lacking in energy, the male leads soon found their rhythm and by the time Michael Lindner did his final butt shimmy in the hilarious An Original Musical I was totally transfixed. (Side note: When Michael first appeared on stage for this number I mistakenly thought he was dressed as a tooth and about to launch into a song about cavity prevention - which would not have been entirely out of place in this unpredictable show, he was in fact a blank page).
Molars aside, the highlight of the night was the comical and unexpectedly poignant Die Vampire Die about the "vampires" of self-doubt that visit the creatively-minded, eroding any semblance of self esteem. This number was led with conviction by Laura Fitzpatrick whose sublime vocals and dry delivery of some of the shows best lines were spot-on till the last line of the show.
With a minimalist set, no costumes changes and an absence of sequins and chorus girls, you need exceptional performances by the four leads to make this show work. I imagine it would be daunting to take on characters initially played by the characters themselves, but each of the cast were entirely believable and able to tackle the material with just enough subtlety and over-the-topness (not a word I know Jeff) to make the scenes snap, crackle and pop. (This is an attempt at a rice crispy treat in-joke). Not for one second did I doubt that this uber-talented foursome were mates, as passionate about their project as they were about hanging out with one another. High-five for the cast chemistry.
David Spencer and Michael Lindner were fantastic as the brooding Jeff and the flamboyant Hunter. Their voices blended seamlessly and they captured the natural cadences of conversation so that their interaction never felt scripted. Their performances were vibrant and charming ensuring that the audience remained engaged and entertained. I had the urge to hop into Jeff's living room and flip through Playbills then scoot over to Hunter's place (on my magical chair) and You Tube stuff.
Lara Thew as Heidi is a welcome addition to the Magnormous cast list. She has a power-house voice and a commanding yet cute-as-a-button presence. She had the opening night audience on side from the minute she popped on stage so I'm thrilled that she's "living and loving life in Melbourne" because I look forward to seeing more of her around the traps. And her shoes were lovely.
The partially blonde mute I mentioned in the opening para was in fact Musical Director Sophie Thomas who appears on stage as the accompanist Mary. Mary is only allowed to speak once Jeff assures her that he's sorted it out with the Union. Fact is, she doesn't need words. Mary manages to let you know exactly what she's thinking with the simple raising of an eyebrow. Subtle. Fabulous.
This show is likely to be adored by musical theatre tragics and thoroughly enjoyed by non-die-hard-thespians, though the latter might wonder why the a large portion of the audience start giggling when Susan blurts out "Don't say that of course you were meant to have children". I'm sure more than one Broadway in-joke flew over my head but I got just enough of them to feel like one of the cool kids.
The success of this show lies in its humour and quirkiness. While necessary to add substance and stay true to the story, I found the "angsty" scenes following the show's success at the festival to be a tad klunky in an otherwise zippy show. However, by the time Thew delivered the heartfelt A Way Back to Then, I was back on the fan wagon.
Movement by Associate Director Jessica Enes was clever and well-executed, managing to punctuate the hilarity of the scenes with a zealous exclamation mark. Jessica, Sophie and Aaron Joyner obviously make one helluva team. Aaron directed this piece with smarts and should be incredibly proud of this slick production. His passion for producing musical theatre that is original, refreshing and inspired is...well...inspiring.
Magnormos not only introduce us to delectable little morsels of musical theatre heaven, they also present themselves with consistent professionalism. From the neat lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw-Campbell and attuned costuming by Emma Kennedy to the impeccably designed program, it's clear that this company has got it's sh*t together. And that Naomi sure can make a mean opening night cupcake. Delish.
So c'mon y'all, get to Theatre Works and support this fabulously adorable, sassy little show, because it's cool and different. And because I said so.
PRINT - Review : Kate Herbert [Herald Sun]
THE title of this musical is [title of show]. If you ever fill in an arts funding form (don't bother!) it's the first line.
Creators Jeff Bowen (played by David Spencer), and Hunter Bell (Michael Lindner) bent all the guidelines for writing a musical. So successful was their rebellion that they won three OBIS awards and were nominated for a Tony.
The music conforms to recognisable styles but the story, lyrics and dialogue break with tradition. Bowen and Bell, two gay New Yorkers who work in musicals, write a show about two gay guys creating a musical about themselves creating a musical. Get it? The creators played themselves in the original production, but for this production director Aaron Joyner casts locals. Their four voices blend beautifully in a range of peppy tunes with quirky, funny lyrics.
No lighting effects, set changes or pyrotechnics. Not until the producers stick their noses in, forcing the creators to argue over script changes. The characterisations are not complex but Spencer has fun as pedantic composer Jeff, and Lindner relishes playing flamboyant, ambitious Hunter. Laura Fitzpatrick is composed as the sardonic Susan and Lara Thew employs her big voice as the colourful Heidi.
The show pokes fun at the expectations, budgets and predictable content of the musical, its producers, casting decisions, cheesy lyrics and awful rhymes.
PRINT - Review : Paul Ransom [Inpress]
This is the first sentence of my review.
Yes, you've got it; [title of show] is a fully self-referential exercise, literally chronicling the rise from obscurity to Broadway acclaim of four New York friends. As such it is full of smart one-liners, comic songs and good old-fashioned camp music theatre aspiration.
Right from the outset it's clear that this production is not your usual big ensemble piece. With its clean and simple set (four chairs and a keyboard in a room) and its unfussy lighting design, [title of show] is an intimate and almost domestic piece. The four characters spend almost the entire show onstage, giving this a classic sitcom feel. Indeed, you might say it's like Seinfeld with songs.
This first production of [title of show] outside America is full of quirks and passion. The cast (David Spencer, Michael Lindner, Laura Fitzpatrick, and Lara Thew) may struggle a little with the NYC accents but on the whole they fly through the text and soar through the songs. If the dialogue seems a tad forced to begin with it gets funnier as the show progresses, as do the cast, settling into their characters and finding a more natural delivery. As such the spritzy Manhattan vibe of the show, complete with references that don't quite work in the context of Melbourne, survives intact.
Post-modernity aside, [title of show] is a sardonic and self-effacing paean to the grand music theatre tradition of America; its camp, funny, sharp tongued and thoroughly noughties.
May 5th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Ian Nisbet [Stage Whispers]
[title of show] an original broadway musical
[title of show] is my new favourite thing. Magnormos present the Australasian premiere of the show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, and it rocks.
Magnormos could only have found a better Hunter and Jeff (Michael Lindner and David Spencer) if they had somehow extradited the real Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen to play themselves. I can't believe I've never seen Lara Thew (Heidi) before and was blown away by her performance. I've also never experienced Laura Fitzpatrick tackling a role like Susan before, and her dry-ice sense of humour and timing were hilariously brilliant. It's a fantastic cast with a vibrant energy you can't afford to miss.
Theatre people, you need to see this show. It may only have a cast of four and one keyboard, but it's the most honest, thought-provoking musical you'll see all year. For those searching for inspiration, there's "An Original Musical," for those with self-doubt "Die Vampire Die." The show is highly genre-referential, meta-theatrical and deconstructive, and has a strong understanding of the language of theatre technology. [tos] is an exercise in unbridled ambition, and the genre needs more Hunter Bells and Jeff Bowens.
The only disappointment about last night's show was that these stellar performers were working to half a house. The show in [tos] sells out, and it's a pity the real show isn't doing the same. It may not be flashy, it may not be expensive, but boy is it exciting.
May 5th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Alison Croggon [The Australian]
Broadway musical about nothing gets by on charm and pop savvy
[TITLE of Show] is the Seinfeld of musical comedies: a show about nothing, featuring the creators themselves. Our struggling New York nobodies, Jeff and Hunter, read about a new musical theatre festival and, undaunted by the fact that the deadline for submissions is in three weeks, decide to enter.
The only problem is that they don't have any ideas.
Adapting a story, like The Little Mermaid? Everybody does it. Adapting a movie, like The Little Mermaid? No, they want to write an original musical.
Then they come up with the idea of writing a musical about two guys, Jeff (David Spencer) and Hunter (Michael Lindner), writing a musical about two guys, Jeff and Hunter, writing a musical.
They rope in some friends: Heidi (Lara Thew), a tiny cog in the massive Broadway machine who spends her time in audition hell, Susan (Laura Fitzpatrick), who works in a small-time corporation, and Mary (Sophie Thomas), who plays the keyboards and is sometimes allowed to speak on stage.
We follow the fortunes of [Title of Show] as it is accepted for further workshopping, opens at the New York Music Theatre Festival, goes on to success at the off-Broadway theatre The Vineyard and finally, after various heart-searchings about selling out, on to Broadway itself.
The New York version featured the original cast as themselves, reinforcing the self-referential dizziness.
Here we have actors playing the characters, but that simply adds to the referential layering.
This arch conceit sustains the show for a surprisingly long time, although not quite as long as the show's length warrants. The Broadway version, which is the one we get here, feels padded out.
No meta-theatrical stone is left unturned. It opens with a song called Untitled Opening Number, which tells us that this is the opening song, and finishes with the line, "This is the last line in the show".
In between it's stuffed full of in-jokes for Broadway geeks, but the sheer exuberant charm will seduce most. It's smart, poppy and funny, with appealing characters and songs.
In short, it's fluff. But as Hunter says, as he agonises over his artistic integrity, there's nothing wrong with fluff.
What's most appealing is its theatrical simplicity. It's staged in the skeleton of a house, and the props consist of four chairs. For all its homage to the Great White Way, it's the antithesis of the standard Broadway show, and demonstrates what smart and simple staging can do.
The performances, by some accomplished musical stagers, are impeccable.
April 30th, 2010
ONLINE - Article : Anthea Cannon [Maribyrnong Leader]
Still coming up with a title but show's a hoot
LIFE and art are blurring for Maribyrnong's Aaron Joyner as he directs the Australian premiere of [title of show]. Yes readers, that's its name.
The script, which was written for the New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004, is about writing a script for the New York Music Theatre Festival.
Mr Joyner, who founded the theatre company Magnormos, described the show as similar to Seinfeld in a musical.
"It's a 90-minute show without an interval so the four characters are on stage basically the whole time. It seems straightforward but it's surprisingly complex," he said.
"The original cast (who are the characters in the shows) are coming to see the show so it's difficult enough playing real people. But to have those real people watching is really surreal."
But the cast haven't held off making the musical their own, emailing writers Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell about their "tweaks" and localised changes.
"We didn't look for people who look the same (as the original cast). We were after people who had their own way of showing who the characters are and their characteristics." Mr Joyner said.
"The two guys who play Jeff and Hunter are both Melbourne boys with a wealth of experience on big musicals and their friendship comes across."
And just in case you're not confused enough, Mr Joyner is both the director and executive producer.
"I constantly have to think about all the elements, I wear two hats and have to argue with myself. But it's a fantastic team who make me able to do it," he said.
"The show still follows a musical narrative but it puts itself under the microscope and references itself and has a joke at itself. Even if you hate musicals because people always break out in song, you can connect with [title of show] because it looks at that."
April 28th, 2010
ONLINE - Article : Emma Sloley [The Australian]
Duo created their own big break
AT the heart of the cheekily self-referential play [title of show] is an idea with universal resonance: how to express oneself artistically without selling out.
The show, which had a successful run on Broadway and is about to start its season at Melbourne's Theatre Works, follows the adventures of two "nobodies" - aspiring writers/directors/actors Jeff and Hunter - as they create a musical and negotiate the rocky terrain of the theatre world, in the hope of being discovered.
The co-creators of the show, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, starred in the original version and in real life happen to be musical theatre talents who wrote the play while waiting for their big break.
Meta enough for you?
I meet Jeff Bowen on a New York spring day so riotously rife with blossoms, sunshine and cheer it makes me want to break out into a show tune. But I'll leave that to Bowen, who's an expert at such things after his little musical-that-could became a hit on and off Broadway and won its creators acclaim and Obie awards.
Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.
"Basically, it was a writing exercise," the softly spoken Bowen says with a smile and shrug, referring to [title of show]'s genesis.
It all came about during the spring of 2004, when Bowen and Bell (who met in 1995) were working together on several off-off-Broadway productions that he describes as "ridiculous fun little shows downtown that reminded us why we all fell in love with theatre in the first place".
A friend sent an email alerting the pair to a new musical theatre festival coming along and suggested they submit something.
"The deadline was three weeks away, so we ended up deciding we'd write whatever we could, and submit that," Bowen explains.
"And we found really quickly that what we enjoyed was documenting what we were writing.
"The first draft was pretty `insidery', a lot more about the festival. I think a lot of the judges who read the scripts were mentioned in the play."
The resulting musical was accepted by the festival and led to a stint on Broadway, at the Lyceum Theatre, in 2008, in which Bowen and Bell cast themselves in the leading roles. "We were available," says Bowen of the casting decision, "and we were cheap."
The show explores issues that will feel familiar to anyone who's struggled to emerge from the wings and on to the stage, all the while maintaining some kind of artistic integrity.
"It's a story about how everybody in life has to put themselves out there and take a risk, whether you want to be a nurse, a doctor, a beautician," Bowen says. "We didn't go into it knowing that. We decided to write a very specific story about people who happened to write theatre for Broadway. But ultimately what happened was it became a story about four people who have dreams, and have each other to try to get through it."
While the play has plenty of show tune-style campery and rapier-sharp dialogue, there's a poignant thread through the hilarity that taps into the anxiety of attempts to create something that matters. "The director, Michael Berresse, really challenged us as writers to delve into the anxieties as well as the joys," Bowen says, "because that's where the drama is. That's where the theatre is."
That co-mingling of poignancy and wink-wink acknowledgement of the occasional absurdity of creating art is ever-present in Bowen's musings. When I mention that one of the songs in particular, A Way Back to Then, is a moving meditation on regret and should be released as a single, he quips: "Maybe Barbra Streisand would agree to sing it!" Then he follows up with: "A lot of people have said that song speaks to them, that they relate to that idea of finding your way back to that time when you have that kind of freedom, when you're boundless."
As well as its successful run on Broadway, [title of show] has managed to amass a cult following, thanks largely to a website that's grown into a community of aspiring theatre kids. "A lot of people have been following it," Bowen says, "especially college students, the outcast types. Theatre is kind of nerdy here. Anything that causes people fear in America is put down, anything that makes people uncomfortable gets associated with nerds. We really don't celebrate our nerds here in America."
I remind him that the nerds won in the end, given the world seems run by them these days, and he agrees. "Now I wish I was nerdier," he says with a smile of faux regret.
Nerdiness aside, the play has propelled him and Bell into a different stratosphere, where doors suddenly start to open. The pair just finished working on a roadshow for Disney and is now working with the ABC network on a new TV sitcom with the producers from Desperate Housewives. Before our interview, Bowen had just done a behind-the-scenes VIP tour of Marvel Comics, a childhood dream come true. As Jeff and Hunter's autobiographical characters in [title of show] find, though, success isn't always what you expected it to be.
"It's so funny," Bowen says, "but I've always imagined, `Oh, I'll be able to do a hundred things once I make it', but the reality is you still have to do it, you still have to wake up and do the work. Someone will say, `Oh we'd love you to write this song,' I think. I love getting offered it, but wait, I actually have to execute that material! That part doesn't get any easier."
As if worrying he might be tempting fate, he hurriedly adds with a smile full of gratitude: "But it is nice having opportunities."
I ask whether he agrees that audiences need musicals now more than ever. He thinks for a moment, giving my frivolous question full consideration. "What I kind of wish for a lot of people is that they'd have the opportunity to actually work on something like this," he says. "It's such a collaborative art form. When you're a week away from opening a Broadway show, there are so many people involved in the execution of that. You kind of have to have people's back, you have to step up.
"I think it would be great for people to have a window into that, because it's so inspiring."
To complete the meta circle, Bowen leaves me with one of his favourite experiences in the life cycle of the show, one that illustrates poignantly what the characters themselves go through. "The first preview on Broadway, that was the first moment after all the hard work when I really checked in and realised, `Oh my god, all of this is really happening'," he says, his eyes shining as if still in the glow of those magical footlights. "It was kind of bittersweet. There's a lot of fun in the imagining what something is going to be."
"Magnormos will present the Australian premiere of the four-person (and one musical director) Broadway musical [title of show], which is scheduled for a May 3-15 run in Melbourne.
Directed by Aaron Joyner, the cast will feature Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical's David Spencer as Jeff, Michael Lindner (Mary Poppins) as Hunter, Laura Fitzpatrick (The Thing About Men) as Susan and Lara Thew (Damn Yankees) as Heidi.
Musical director is Sophie Thomas; Jessica Enes choreographs..." www.playbill.com - By Andrew Gans [23 Mar 2010]
April 20th, 2010
ONLINE - Article / Review : Ricki B [The Mooks Report]
After watching So You Think You Can Dance on TV like a religious bandit, I decided to race down to see some of Melbourne's ULITMATES take the stage in "Parkland Avenue," a new piece of unique, contemporary theatre from Collaboration the Project.
A professional choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance", Paul Malek has performed all over the world. From cruise liners, to being Rehearsal director for the Jean-Ann Ryan company in Miami, Malek has given a true identity to the face of contemporary dance. His wealth of training and experience was all brought to life in "Parkland Avenue".
Have you ever felt pure natural ecstasy through the love of friendship? Have you achieved hope and life through the beauty of always having friends that take you along for the ride no matter what? Or have you ever fallen short and chosen the wrong path? If you have managed to answer yes to any of these, then chances are, Parkland Avenue is something you should see.
Parkland Avenue is a breakthrough in Contemporary dance. This well crafted piece has given a new meaning to what we call a dance performance. Enforcing the quote, "Your actions speak so loud, I can't hear a word your saying," I was completely teleported into the world of "Parkland Avenue."
The soundtrack, including Karen O, Florence & the Machine and John Mayer was so well crafted and the story was so effortlessly and beautifully told. This moving, truthful experience genuinely tells the story of love, beautiful friendships and what can happen to a person when their dreams and aspirations are shattered.
"Parkland Avenue" is beautifully performed by a radical cast. Brendan Yeates' performance produces a slick current of male dominance as he bursts on the stage with imaginative storytelling. Ashleigh Perry plays the apple in everyone's eye, a stunning young woman who blazes across the stage, producing a colour of feeling among the audience. Last, but not least, Matt Holly gives a notably overwhelming performance as he delves into a place of complete loss.
All three performances present a new breed of dancer. That is, a dancer who can express their emotions through intelligent choreography and superb acting.
After watching and experiencing this show, I had a quick chat with the talented writer, producer and choreographer, Paul Malek:
How do you originate a piece like Parkland Avenue?
"Actually Riki It's based loosely on passed experiences; friendships people that have moved in and out of my life"
Now Paul tell me how do you manage to choose a soundtrack full of the vibrancy and shades of colour that you decipher?
Well Riki I actually sit down with my laptop and search for hours hunting through artists on ITunes to find songs I like and then buy them and make them fall into my puzzle of dance.
Tell me Paul, how do you devise with your performers on a project like Parkland Avenue?
Oh Riki... It's just like any performance I direct my artists sometimes obliviously with the freedom of exploration but mostly I choreograph and direct scene by scene generating flow and persuasion.
As an audience member, what did you want me to leave feeling and thinking about?
To have witnessed a slice of completely beautiful life, and that's exactly what I left thinking and feeling "Beauty". Paul Maleks extremely wholesome tale of the most universal hopes of finding and living for amazing friendships and love was brought to life and I cannot express enough how much after seeing this piece that I wanted to get up and dance throw myself around a room and jump in the air and fall in love.
ONLINE - Review : Paul Ransom
Another triumph for Paul Malek and Collaboration The Project. Both the mass stomp of It Sounds Silly and the emotive three hander Parkland Avenue are utterly compelling. Ambitious and bursting with youthful energy and drama, these pieces have a freshness and vitality that lead you to think that Malek is cooking up something magic out there in Melbourne's western suburbs.
April 17th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Jordan Beth Vincent [The Age]
Childhood joy meets in-your-face teen angst
OH, TO be a child again! This double bill begins with youth company Project Y's It Sounds Silly . . . Devised by a team of choreographers from The 2nd Toe Dance Collective, the first act reminds us that the childhood fun of slumber parties and backyard games was often tempered by trampoline mishaps, monsters under the bed and the horror of losing mum in the shopping centre.
The dancers, aged from 12 to 22, pound out a sophisticated version of patty cake on the floor, transform washing baskets into snail shells, and describe the best and worst memories of their childhood.
This bittersweet exploration is made all the more delightful by the youth of performers who regale the audience with tales of "When I was a little girl . . ."
In the second act, choreographer Paul Malek takes us from childhood to adolescent challenge in Parkland Avenue, an ambitious production centred on a tragic love triangle.
Segmented by a string of pop songs, it draws heavy inspiration from teen soap operas, layering exaggerated emotion over self-conscious angst.
In Malek's commercial style of contemporary dance, every movement is hit hard and laced with in-your-face sexuality. Video, miming and lyric-laden music drive Malek's narrative, resulting in a production that vacillates from refreshingly straightforward to uncomfortably sentimental.
Although it is clear Malek has potential as a director, Parkland Avenue is a little too heavy-handed in its treatment of young love to hit the mark.
PRINT - Review: Rob Bates [Wentworth Courier]
Gainer's musical journey
TELLING jokes to and about Jews isn't as easy as it sounds, according to UK comedy musician Daniel Cainer because "for every two Jews there are at least three opinions".
Cainer will bring his latest work. Jewish Chronicles to Bondi Pavilion next week and describes the show as a collection of songs and stories about the journey of a nation. from Abraham to Sacha Baron Cohen.
Jewish Chronicles has received critical acclaim in the UK and is being performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
"People have been saying some very nice things about it and I haven't had to pay them or anything." Cainer said. "It started when I wrote a little song to myself for my own birthday party but I realised what I was saying really resonated with people."
Prevously writing and performing for TV and a weekly radio news program in the UK. Cainer said he'd always been a topical composer but that everything changed when he started singing about his "midlife kosher crisis".
"It's a bit cliched but when you get to a certain age you naturally start thinking about who you are, why you are, where you're going and where you've been." he explained. "I started making fun of the Jewishness in my background. which I'd never paid much attention to and found it quite illuminating. I certainly never thought this could be a great career plan and I'll sell thousands of CDs"
In fact, that is exactly what has happened and Cainer said many of his fans were not Jewish at all. "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Seinfeld or Fiddler on the Roof or Woody Allen." he said.
"Predominantly Jewish audiences can actually be harder to play to."
Cainer said his songs were frank without controversy personal without bitterness and that they avoided cheap laughs at the expense of religion and culture. He said much of the material encouraged audiences not to take life too seriously and learn to laugh at themselves but acknowledged that some topics were strictly taboo.
He said he walked the fine line between self-deprecation and offending others.
April 9th, 2010
PRINT - Review : Danny Gocs [The Australian Jewish News]
Music adds spice to life.
STORYTELLER Daniel Cainer draws on his musical talents to relate anecdotes about events and characters that shaped his Jewish heritage. He would feel quite at home presenting his songs around a campfire, but the intimate surrounds of Theatre Works in St Kilda, proved ideal for his show titled Jewish Chronicles - a take on the Jewish newspaper in his hometown of London - which had its Australian premiere last week as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Coiner has a friendly smile and easygoing personality, and quickly engages the audience, establishing how many non-Jews are present and taking pains to explain the meaning of traditions and Hebrew words.
Much of the show is spent on his electric keyboard. While the subject matter is about what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, it seems that the most interesting parts of the show are those that contain a liberal dose of spice, such as the Tale of Two Tailors where a relative is defrauded out of the lucrative proceeds of an invention, and the antics of an unsavoury drug-dealing rabbi as told in the up-tempo number Bad Rabbi.
It is hard to tell how much is true and how much is the result of Gainer's creative writing, but the spicier segments were far more interesting than his own story of growing up Orthodox in London, then spending most of his life as a secular Jew before returning to Judaism after his divorce.
There are plenty of witty asides, self-deprecating comments and audience interaction to keep the show humming along.
This review is from the opening night performance at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Jewish Chronicles will be staged at the Bondi Pavillion Theatre, Bondi Beach from April 13-18. Bookings: www.mca-tix.com.au
April 9th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Siobhan Argent [Artshub]
I often find the definition of humour quite mysterious. The term can be stretched to cover good and bad, funny and offensive, as well as different genres of performance. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival has never been afraid to stretch the boundaries of what 'comedy' defines, and this is a perfect example. Daniel Cainer's Jewish Chronicles sits somewhere in the no-man's land of this definition. It is not a laugh-a-minute show, but this is not the intention.
Cainer's show aims to encapsulate the Jewish tradition by mixing Jewish-themed songs with amusing anecdotes about Cainer's childhood and adult life following the Star of David. Mixing light banter with lengthy songs about subjects including Monty and Morris in The Tale of Two Taylors with ancestrally-themed ballads, the highlight of which includes his swan song about the extramarital escapades of his parents. It's a light-hearted look at Judaism and the humorous ways in which Jewish tradition has infiltrated everyday life, including the oh-so-cliché Jewish phrases.
As a sort of tribute to Jewish tradition and history it passes well, obviously attracting mainly Jewish and Yiddish speaking people to its audience. As a non-Jew, I found the parlay between Cainer and his Jewish contemporaries entertaining and educational. Anyone who wants to imagine using Jewish paraphernalia as bongs would get a nice image from Cainer's colourful descriptions of a naughty Rabbi. And for non-Jewish people, Cainer ensures they are kept in the loop on Jewish terminology, particularly when it pertains to a critical moment in the performance.
If you can make it through the sometimes overly-long tunes about long lost grandparents, you get a glimpse, at the very least, of Cainer's understanding of his past and how that has influenced his eventual path back towards religion (after falling off the wagon in his early adulthood). Including the audience, particularly engaging with the Jewish audience members, enhances the communal atmosphere that Cainer does his best to encourage.
However, the comedy could sometimes be a little too disparate. The atmosphere was certainly genial, but long songs about family and lyrics that, unfortunately, have been used before, can make the show somewhat dry at times. Luckily, these are contrasted with shining moments of lyrical brilliance, including the tongue-twistingly fast Bad Rabbi and his swan song, which sets the stage over at least five minutes for a clever final punch line.
I admire his subject selection, particularly since it is hard to translate that subject into audience numbers, but Cainer has clearly thought out his subject matter and acts as a filter for non-Jewish audience members, filling listeners in on all the terminology they need to know.
If you like courage and a relaxed atmosphere, Daniel Cainer can take you where you want to go.
April 5th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: David Kary [Sydney Arts Guide]
It has been a long time since I've been to see a singer songwriter in concert. London's Daniel Canier's show, 'Jewish Chronicles', reminds me how inspiring an experience it can be!
The defining feature of 'Jewish Chronicles' is its intimate, sharing quality. A middle aged songwriter, Canier wears his heart on his sleeve, sharing a range of stories from his life, especially in regards to his family, his feelings about his Jewish identity, and his reflections on a host of subjects.
In 'Here with me tonight' Cainer sings about how he hopes his family are in some way in the audience tonight. In 'Surbiton Washerama' the subject is the traumatic break-up of his parents marriage, with its genesis taking place at the local washerama aka laundromat.
In 'A Tale Of Two Tailors' he sings about his grandfather's business partnership that went terribly wrong- 'for every moment of joy, there's a corresponding tear', and caused 'broiges'/major rifts within the family. In 'Best I Can' he sings about his own personal heartbreak, his marriage break-up, and he does so in such an honest, humble way- 'I don't know my arse from my elbow/but I'm doing the best that I can'.
The songs, 'Jewish Man', 'Yiddishe Waltz', 'The Wrong Side Of The Wall', and 'Road to Jerasulem' focus on his Jewish identity, and on the current political situation in Israel.- 'I am a Jewish Man/my angst/my guilt/that's the way I am built'.
In songs such as 'God Knows Where' and 'How We're Blessed' he shares some of his personal philosophy about life,- 'Consider the light that guides you/without which you would flounder in the dark...In this short time on the planet/We are honoured guests'.
In 'Bad Rabbi', Canier sings incisively about a hypocritical corrupt London Rabbi, a Rabbi Baruch Chalomish, who was convicted in a London court of being found in possession of a large quantity of cocaine. He sings also of how the Rabbi had a penchant for escort girls!-'He baked a mean hash bagel/he was a wild guy/ for a Rabbi'.
My verdict. 'Jewish Chronicles' is a winner and full of 'naches'. I loved Cainer's unpretentious, warm approach. He mainly played electric piano with a bit of guitar, and his great lyrics were carried by his melancholic, plaintive voice.
There's plenty of blood on the tracks in this show but the heart still sings strong! Daniel Canier's 'Jewish Chronicles' plays Theatreworks , 14 Acland Street, St Kilda, Melbourne until the 10th April and then moves to Sydney. 'Jewish Chronicles' will then play the Bondi Pavilion Theatre from the 13th to till Sunday 18th April.
April 2nd, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Anette Slattery [ The Groggy Squirrel]
I was talking to my mum on Good Friday, and she said she was heading off to church, to hear about Jesus. I told her that my day couldn't be more different. I was going to see The Jewish Chronicles, to hear the life story of a Jewish man...hang on...
In this show Daniel Cainer shows us his Jewish heritage, his family background and, largely, himself. He does this mainly through song, with introductions and explanations between numbers.
His music is beautiful and, at times, reminiscent of Tim Minchin at his big-ballad-best. On keyboard and, for one song, guitar, even an untrained eye like mine can spot the fact that Daniel Cainer is an extraordinarily accomplished musician. The music and lyrics range from deeply profound and touching to raunchy, energetic and hilarious.
His first song tells the story of the enforced migration of Jews out of Russia and Northern Europe in the first part of the twentieth century. This is a haunting song and Daniel cleverly moves the subtext from the diaspora of the Jews, to broadly encompass ideas about the human condition. This sets the tone of the whole show. This show is no Three Rabbi's go into a bar.... This is an honest, real and strikingly authentic account of Jewish identity within the broader sense of humanity itself.
Daniel goes out of his way to accommodate the non Jewish members of the audience. He does this by explaining peculiarly Jewish terms and practices. We even got a little lesson in Yiddish 101. I loved this aspect of the show, much preferring someone to invite others into the complexities of the subject, rather than blanching it out to make it so accessible it becomes bland and meaningless. I felt ultimately that there was little of the show I didn't get, except for the odd inflection or reference that seemed to strike a note with the Jewish members of the audience.
The show is advertised at running at seventy five minutes, however it went for a good hour and a half, so bear that in mind if you've got shows lined up after it. That said it certainly didn't feel over long, in fact when it finished up I thought it couldn't have been much more than an hour, which is a really good sign.
Whilst there are some great laughs, don't expect this to be the most consistently funny show of the festival. But this show is a beautiful piece of theatre. It's polished without being slick, touching without being soppy, satirical without being offensive and educational without being patronising. Really enjoyable and very worthwhile.
April 2nd, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Ian Nisbet [Stage Whispers]
Daniel Cainer's Jewish Chronicles is a one-man cabaret fresh from the Edinburgh Festival and London's West End. A collection of songs and stories that examine, with great compassion and humour, what it means to be Jewish in the 21st Century, the name is a play on the Jewish Chronicle newspaper and the show itself an accidental product of Cainer's own 'mid-life kosher crisis.'
If scientists created a Sondheim/Minchin hybrid and sat it at a piano affectionately named YAMALKA it would sound like this. Add a pinch of William Finn, serve with a klezmer jus and you have the perfect recipe. Cainer's use of internal rhyme and robust piano arrangements were extremely refreshing to the ear and I caught myself humming bits of "God Knows Where" on the drive home. His intelligence and musicianship are obvious, and it is their use in combination that establishes the stories as the true stars of the show. Every one is engaging or insightful and always with a humorous edge.
In an audience where non-Jews where the minority, Cainer was extremely warm and welcoming, ensuring everyone understood any Yiddish references, sometimes even pausing mid-song if he'd forgotten to introduce a term before he began. Cainer is connected to every story, some directly, some more historically, and whilst the details may be personal, the themes are universal, appealing to Jews and non-Jews alike.
More information and samples of Cainer's other works can be found at www.danielcainer.com.
March 24th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Danny Gocs [The Australian Jewish News]
Comedy, pathos and a midlife crisis
BRITISH comic Daniel Cainer explores his Jewish roots in The Jewish Chronicles, which begins its Australian tour next month at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
The cabaret-style show had its origins in the Edinburgh Festival two years ago and has been staged more than 50 times in theatres around London.
"The show is connected to a midlife kosher crisis following on the heels of my divorce," explained Cainer, 49, in a phone interview this week from his home in Britain.
"Although I was raised in an Orthodox-style family, I lived a fairly secular life and had not paid much attention to Judaism until my 40s," he said. "It was like living 40 years in the wilderness!"
In The Jewish Chronicles, Cainer uses music and anecdotes to share insights he discovered while exploring his roots.
"I've drawn on my personal experiences and reflections - the show would not work if it was not genuine. It covers a broad spectrum of Jewish shtick."
Cainer emphasises that the show is not stand-up comedy, but crafted storytelling laced with humour.
The show had its genesis when Cainer saw an advertisement in the London Jewish News to put a show together for the Edinburgh Festival.
"I had one epic song to my repertoire and thought that I could develop it to represent the Jewish experience and it just grew from there," he said.
"I try to make it less exclusive and out of the ghetto. For some shows there were no Jews in the audience and I needed to explain the Yiddish, but I still got a good response.
"It was more challenging but very satisfying. It's a universal experience that I'm talking about. The whole premise is being caught between the secular and religious worlds and what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century."
This tour will mark Cainer's second visit to Australia. "I made a quick trip to Brisbane for four days when I was trying to get as far away from London as possible during my divorce," he said with a laugh.
Cainer also writes music for television productions and is the brother of astrologer Jonathan Cainer, whose star guide appears in newspapers and magazines around the world including the Herald Sun in Melbourne.
But he would not be drawn on whether Jonathan has predicted a rosy reception for the show in Australia.
The Jewish Chronicles is being performed as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from April 1-11 at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au It will also be performed at the Bondi Pavillion Theatre, Bondi Beach from April 13-18. Bookings: 1300 306 776 and www.mca-tix.com.au
April 4th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Stephanie Glickman [Australian Stage]
The Jewish Chronicles is essentially a collection of songs by UK based singer/songwriter Daniel Cainer about his Jewish culture. You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the humour and the more serious sentiments, but it probably does help.
Cainer's inter-song banter mainly consists of explaining the Yiddish words and Jewish terminology in the lyrics that non-Jews may not know and some well-worn but perpetually funny Jewish humour. It's hard to tell what Cainer's personal relationship to Judiasm is now. He gives hints of a childhood filled with paradoxes - his parents sent him to Anglican school, yet they followed some orthodox Jewish practices at home. He says that he was distant from religion for a long time and seems to have reconnected to it through writing The Jewish Chronicles.
It's the songs that are definitely the highlight of the show and ultimately, as a collection, evoke a universal sense of Jewish culture and family heritage. They are amazing collections of musical styles, from klezimer to ragtime to pop with lyrics which playfully mix the English and Yiddish languages. Many even sound Jewish, drawing on musical motifs of ancient Jewish prayers and traditional song. They are all cleverly composed and presented on either keyboard or guitar.
Many are epic tales in themselves, narrating complex and tangled relationships of Cainer's ancestors and Jewish figures that go on for ten minutes or more. There are feuding tailors (Tale of Two Tailors), a cocaine dealing Rabbi (Bad Rabbi) and extra-marital affairs straight out of a soap opera (Surbiton Washarama). Others, like God Knows Where and Wrong Side of the Wall are more melancholic, ruminating on Jewish immigration and Israel. With such dense musical material, it's no wonder that Cainer only got through seven songs in the space of 80 minutes.
While Cainer's music is brilliant, weaving humour and seriousness, his chatter could be more focused and substantial, content-wise, especially considering that he is preaching to the converted. At Saturday night's performance he had trouble rousing the mostly older crowd. He worked hard for audience response, spruiking for vocal interaction to figure out who was Jew and who non-Jew. The cavernous venue didn't help since he was far away from his audience and at times, there were glitches with audio.
Luckily, when The Jewish Chronicles has a slightly under night, there's always the CD to put things right! Cainer's unique songs are what it's about. Individually or in collection, they go the distance even when live performance conditions are less than ideal.
January 21st, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Simon Round [The Jewish Chronicle Online]
A vision of a rabbi inspired me to sing
Many people feel they have a vocation for their jobs but few in showbusiness have actually experienced a calling. But this happened to Daniel Cainer, who had what he describes as "a vision" which compelled him to perform.
Cainer, who for the past two years has been touring with his successful show Jewish Chronicles, says the original idea of writing and singing Jewish-inspired songs came to him in a rather unexpected way.
"In my imagination I was visited by this old rabbi who told me to write this stuff. That probably sounds a bit 'woo woo'. But since then it seems to have taken on a life of its own."
The show has been to the Edinburgh Fringe and he will take it to Australia later this year. It has also been noticed and praised by, among others, Alan Bennett and Howard Jacobson.
At its core are songs related to Cainer's Jewish identity, some of which are satirical - like a new number he has written about Manchester's recently convicted cocaine rabbi - and some which were in the original show, including a song which poignantly tells the story of his parents' divorce.
At the heart of 49-year-old Cainer's material is the mid-life rediscovery of his Jewishness. He explains: "I guess it's a bit of a cliché. In middle age I started to look at why I felt the way I feel. It occurred to me that the reason I feel this way is because I'm Jewish.
"It's like when my brother [the Daily Mail astrologer Jonathan Cainer] says something like: 'You've got Saturn ascending and Uranus on your triple conjunction' and I think, thank goodness it's not my fault, then."
While Cainer, who on Wednesday joined Jewish comedian Mark Maier for a show in Radlett, claims to represent no one, he does feel his particular brands of Jewishness strikes a chord with audiences. "It's a great relief to have come out of the kosher closet, as it were. I'm hardly United Synagogue but my observations seems to hit a chord across all denominations. I do lay on the shtetl shmaltz a little but I'm also a little edgy and risky - it seems to resonate."
Daniel Cainer perform[ed] 'Jewish Chronicles' at the New End Theatre on Sunday January 24 and January 31. Tel: 0870 033 2733
February 22nd, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Engel Schmidl [Moonee Valley Leader]
Dag in drag
THERE'S a proud tradition of cross-dressing in Australian culture, from footy players squeezing into skirts to a Moonee Ponds housewife becoming a worldwide celebrity.
Essendon West playwright Rob Lobosco's new play Dress to Hide: The Story of a Straight Aussie Bloke follows the gender-bending experiences of dedicated father-of-two Trav, who takes to drag shows to brighten up his life.
The play is based on a conversation Lobosco had in a local pub.
At first, he thought it was the alcohol talking when a fellow drinker told him about a passion for cross-dressing. But talking to the man in less inebriated states revealed it was the truth.
"None of the story has been embellished," Lobosco, 34, said.
He was amazed by the man's sincerity and motivation to express himself. "For me this character of Trav has created a lot of shifts in my life," Lobosco said.
He said that, even though the play was set in suburban Australia with very Aussie characters and a knockabout sense of humour, the message was universal. "It's made me realise that we all have to do what really makes us happy."
Lobosco, who plays the lead role, said the role tested his acting range, especially playing Trav's alter-ego Anastasia.
"I have never worn a dress or wig or put on make-up in my life.
"But thanks to lots of voice coaching I am pretty convincing. I just hope no blokes try to pick me up because I look pretty hot as a chick," he said.
CAST IN PHOTO: Rob Lobosco, Adam Dawson and Bella Merrington
Accidental Arts - 3MBS 103.5FM Classically Melbourne - Review: Peter Green
An Exercise in Hopelessness
I went to Theatre Works in St Kilda on Saturday afternoon, drove past Albert Park Lake and the noisy rape of the Grand Prix, to a performance of At The Sans Hotel. This was a first work from yet another new independent theatre company or group.
The production was designed by its performer Nicola Gunn and collaborator of five years Gwen Holmberg Gilchrist, and Rebecca Etchell, colleague for ten, and I mention this first because of the use they made of the space of Theatre Works, its lighting and perspectives. It was consummate companion to Nicola Gunn's script and performance - a great theatrical lesson in artistic completion.
The company had stripped the hanging blacks from the walls, exposing them to give an illusion of greater space, folded back the tiered seating rows and provided plastic kitchen chairs, on the flat floor for seating. Floor, audience and performance space, lit very intelligently, including the exposed two back doors, opened to reveal a fifties bathroom, and two neon signed hotel telephones from another age along side them - intriguing visions some 15 meters in the distance.
Why am I spending time reviewing this production, when it closed on Saturday. Well, when Angela Pamic, the power house who runs Theatre Works, rang and suggested I would not miss At The Sans Hotel; I complied and her recommendation was fully rewarded, and I went because this way a genuine work in progress - not an unfinished, unready muddle - sometimes disguised under that description, and finally I went because I wanted to see it in a later incarnation.
I think the program note from Nicola Gunn give some idea of the performance and its beginnings;
"At the Sans Hotel began in 2008, but actually it began much earlier - in 2005 - when I first read about Cornelia Rav: a sometimes German woman who was wrongly incarcerated as an illegal immigrant for 18 months. While this performance is not about Cornelia Rav exactly, it borrows from her plight and interweaves facts from newspaper articles with imagined and autobiographical stories. I still don't know who Cornelia Rav is."
The first 40 minutes of the performance was from Nicola, insisting in a French accent she was Sophie, filling in for Nicola - Thus the first of many deliberate dislocations. She spoke directly to us of many things, used a blackboard, gave us sweet sherry to prelude a game of musical chairs, disappeared behind the blackboard to stuff herself with cake, doing and saying much more, all with increasing insistence and tension.
The performance travelled into darkness literally (or actually if you like) and metaphorically. The character of Sophie transmogrifying into one more resembling Cornelia and her troubles. Nicola's collaborator in the darkened space wheeled a bright electric bulbed illuminated sign 'Rescue Me', through the performance, the protagonist emptied sand from her shoe, and the pace increased, events became more hurried, more dislocated and more disturbing.
I have recalled only some of the multi-layered, multiple images and many allusions thrown up by this performance of At The Sans Hotel and yet, what at first seemed confusing was fascinating and captured me right to the end. On looking around me to the mostly female audience I thought the performance spoke directly to them.
I shall be watching for Nicola Gunn and her colleagues of Sans Hotel in the future, and I suggest you do also.
April 1st, 2010
ONLINE - Review : Adam Rafferty [ Theatre People]
If experimental and original new works are the lifeblood of theatre, then an artery pulsing with carotid strength is currently pumping through St Kilda's Theatre Works.
At The Sans Hotel by Nicola Gunn is a new work loosely inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, a mentally-ill German-Australian woman who was unlawfully detained in 2004 after turning up at a North Queensland hotel without any travel plans or documentation and only conversing in German. A situation ripe with narrative potential, and if pre-publicity for the production was to be believed, the source for an in-depth presentation of this intriguing woman's story.
However, the production that Gunn has developed from this inspiration is a far more obtuse look at the story than one might have been led to believe. Instead, the audience is guided through the themes of mental illness, desperation and hopelessness that the Rau story evokes, in an entirely abstract fashion.
Entering the performance space to find a hotchpotch of seating, patrons are greeted by enormous projections of everyday people holding up signs saying 'see me', before Gunn as 'Sophie' introduces herself to the audience and attempts ineffectively to conduct a survey on the success of the production so far. This is just the beginning of the insights to mental illness provided by Gunn.
'Sophie' is equal parts funny and disturbing as she goes on to deconstruct Gunn's performance - in a very post-modern way. She describes the source of Gunn's ideas and how her original concepts were far more intellectually ambitious than what she ended up with, being self-deprecating in a way that she needn't be.
After attempting to create a diagram of the production's conception on a blackboard, she eventually breaks down into a more identifiable interpretation of Rau and her possible schizophrenic nature and multiple personalities. A clear delineation is made at this point between the observational and presentational aspects of the work.
The post-modern portion of At The Sans Hotel with Sophie and her brightly mad behaviour is both highly entertaining and works incredibly well in making its point. The more abstract presentational portion that follows is not quite as successful unfortunately. While highly artistic, intelligent and sometimes ingenious, the histrionic and undisciplined nature of the mental disorder that Gunn presents here doesn't succeed far beyond demonstrating manic behaviour rather than providing any insight or shining a new light on the subject. This doesn't detract however, from the overall entertainingly intriguing nature of this production; one which brings new meaning to the word 'originality'.
Gunn explains in the programme that this piece is still growing and will continue to be refined, which is interesting within itself. Are we witnessing experimentation or a determined piece of art? Either way, the current avant-garde style of the work is highly recommended viewing for those who love challenging and abstract forms in their theatre.
April 12th, 2010
ONLINE - Review : John Bailey [Realtime Arts]
The self-interrogation of Nicola Gunn's At the Sans Hotel began the moment it registered in a potential audience member's consciousness, though this wasn't made explicit until the performance itself began. Advance publicity was strewn with enigmatic images of a half-visible Gunn disguised as a noir femme fatale or a monkey bellhop; textual fragments mentioned a woman trapped in a bathtub or lost in a desert.
What we got was something quite other. A woman with a slightly hokey French accent greets her audience and hands out an invisible questionnaire, inviting us to complete a survey on our experience of the (non-)show so far. Okay, we're playing pretend. Then we're given real pencils to use in the process. Is this some kind of joke?
The French woman eventually apologises that Nicola Gunn's At the Sans Hotel won't be on offer tonight. She instead takes us on an hilarious, sometimes desperate series of digressions in which she discusses the show that should have taken place and the narrative problems it presented. A chalkboard breakdown of structure, themes, metaphors and sources recreates the absent play, and frequent audience involvement is less threatening than engaging. Gunn-and I was never even sure if this was Gunn we were watching-is a brilliantly likeable performer who effortlessly wins over her onlookers within minutes.
It's this charm that makes At the Sans Hotel such a success. Like UK company Hoipolloi's exquisite Floating of last year, and with hints of Forced Entertainment's more accessible work, this is a gift to its audience rather than a challenge. It's not a navel-gazing exercise into meta-theatre but a bracing, bewitching investigation into presence and absence. Its real subject, which we approach in a curious crabwalk, is the identity unable to step outside of or contain itself. The open nature of the piece is a structural component of this: referring to Gunn's earlier works, directly engaging the audience, and the whole artifice of that advance media blitz are figurations of the subject that cannot remain for itself a stable and coherent self. That Gunn was inspired by the case of Cornelia Rau, the schizophrenic German citizen and Australian permanent resident, whose identity breakdown made headlines in 2004, helps explain the motivation behind the work's unique structure, but there is so much more for each viewer to discover for themselves.
March 31st, 2010
PRINT - Review: Tony McMahon [Inpress]
About as comprehensible as a David Lynch film, with stunning sound design and an eerily beautiful sense of disquiet to match, Nicola Gunn's At The Sans Hotel is decidedly not for everyone. For a start, many theatregoers don't like it when the play they're watching is smarter than they are. Myself, I tend to enjoy being in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, and this is without doubt the case with genius-in-waiting Gunn. Add to this the fact that the performer/director/collaborator's vision is so singularly uncompromising and intelligent, her subject matter so incredibly brave, and that her performance - in what is essentially a one-woman show - is simply from another planet, and I'm prepared to say this is the theatre event thus far of 2010.
Gunn is one of those performers whose look can switch from conventional feminine beauty to that of a tragic heroine in the blink of an eye. Such is the power of her acting here that her body appears literally to change shape from one scene to the next. A smile morphs seamlessly into hopeless despair. Kate Bush one minute, Clytemnestra the next.
But what can I tell you about At The Sans Hotel? Not a great deal. As I said, Gunn is way smarter than I'll ever be. I'm willing to wager she's a huge Lynch fan, probably Brecht, too. I wouldn't be surprised to run into her in a park one day reading Jean-Paul Sartre. There are telling insights here into subjects such as mental illness, desire, gender, the plight of refugees and even the nature of storytelling in the theatre itself. The story of Cornelia Rau was apparently the spark that ignited the writing. But really this is all rather secondary to the sheer bodily force of the thing. And the fact that theatre as truly unique and groundbreaking as this simply cannot be seen every day.
In recent interviews, Gunn has been keen to communicate a sense that At The Sans Hotel is very much a work in progress. I know what she's saying. There is a slightly murky newness to the ideas she's attempting to get across here. Again, though, I go back to Lynch. With hindsight, it's possible to see much of his masterpiece, Blue Velvet, in the epoch-defining yet rough and ready Eraserhead a decade earlier. Gunn has probably not composed her masterpiece yet, but judging from this work, she surely will one day. I think it will probably be one day soon, but even if it takes decades, and again going solely on what I saw in this play, it will no doubt have been worth the wait.
March 25th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: John Bailey [Capital Idea]
Don't really want to say too much about this one, but it's an absolute must-see. It's as much about our expectations in a theatre as anything else, so I'd be best off telling you lies about the piece. God knows that's what the advance publicity did, which is brilliant strategy in my book. If it helps, though, it's reminiscent of Forced Entertainment's more successful work and has the generous charm and accessibility of last year's exquisite Floating by Hoipolloi. Get yourself along.
March 23rd, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Samantha Wilson [Artshub]
At the Sans Hotel, playing at Theatre Works in St. Kilda, is one of the finest pieces of theatre put on in Melbourne for years. Nicola Gunn has created a remarkable and indescribable character study - of which character you're never entirely sure - pulling together threads of story, seen and unseen, into a blistering, funny and moving piece of performance art.
It is hard to describe what happens in At the Sans Hotel. Not to worry though - a telltale sign that something is good is when it is indescribable. The character that Nicola Gunn has created is an unstable figure in the Theatre Works space, a space purposefully made cavernous, part bureaucratic small town meeting, part decrepit, and crumbling hotel ballroom. Gunn starts off as Sophie, a French community centre worker, baffling the audience who sit scraping in their old school chairs, peeking between shoulders, each one trying to connect to what is happing - a meandering yet utterly absorbing journey along the mind of this woman, whoever she may be. Gunn was partly inspired by the story of Cornelia Rau, a schizophrenic woman who was detained as an illegal immigrant for eighteen months, unable to remember her name or even her true nationality, speaking German or English with a bad accent, using a different name, unable to find a reason for her deception.
The space is a character in itself, both immune to her identity and searching for it with her, refusing it with her. The piece works in the anticipation that someone else will join Sophie: Cornelia Rau? Anna Schmidt? Nicola Gunn? The character morphs at beautifully timed moments, created by a web of lies, and the desire to distance herself from them, to not have told them in the first place, to curb the compulsion that brings her into a slowly closing circle of herself. But, as with all tragic pieces that are somehow funny, her hell is inescapable, so what is she going to do with it? Stuffing her face with cake, talking down the phone to a dead line, acknowledging stolen plot lines while trying to explain the show to the viewer, the absurdity is something to be laughed at by everyone but the victim - who also happens to be the creator - of the situation.
The visual aesthetic arches slowly out of the piece as it progresses. What starts out as a visually basic piece slowly transforms into an intricate and sublime building of imagery, with the help of a series of unique, bold and thoughtful lighting states. Pieces on the ever growing stage area are each put there for a reason, a reason that is not drummed into you when it finally makes itself clear. Running around this massive stage with a portable stereo in hand, her safety net, Gunn is clearly in charge of her environment, whilst simultaneously being swallowed by it. And always there is the glimpse of a whole other world through a twin set of doorways. It is obvious that Gunn's collaboration with Gwendolyna Holmberg-Gilchrist and Rebecca Etchell has paid massive dividends.
I'll shut up now. Go see this thing, as soon as you can.
March 20th, 2010
ONLINE - Review: Liza Dezfouli [Australian Stage]
This play begins seemingly by agreement with the audience. A woman sits almost unnoticed under a huge slide show of photos of ordinary folk holding up hand written signs saying 'see me'. We wait a long time in performance terms for her to come downstage and begin to talk. By that time the audience has rearranged the chairs and made more eye contact than is usual at shows, bonding over the odd and apparently informal beginnings of this monumentally original work.
Nicola Gunn starts off inhabiting a warm, fragile and utterly hilarious character, Sophie, who goes in to deconstruct the performance before it's even begun, She gives away Nicola's methods (referring to a favourite book - 'she borrowed some ideas; like the plot') and we are seduced by her, willing to go along on an unknowable ride within the first five minutes. There are many exquisite moments of physical theatricality, for example, after she has been writing on a chalk board she wipes it, leaving wet marks forming a sad visage. The performance completely disarms us and makes us laugh while taking us deeper into the experience of being disconnected from oneself.
You are made aware of the agreements of theatre; outside of comedy a performer would never deprive an audience member of his chair and then go on to shame him in front of the rest of us. We don't need to be told that this is what happened to our girl as a child. In lesser hands obvious rule breaking can lend a 'studentish' cast to a show but not here. Her relationship with us and the objects around her reveal her pain as much as what she says and by the time Sophie's other personas turn up we understand how urgently she needs them.
For most of us 'ourselves' are given. We know, more or less, who we are and we wake up every morning taking for granted we will remain so (unfortunate as that may at times seem). But to not have that, to not be able to depend on yourself being around, is something only the seriously mentally ill know; the immensely impressive thing about this show it that it gives you more than 'an insight' - you do get to somehow feel it. Long 'gaps' between business on stage allow for an accumulation of what we've experienced, effecting an appreciation of how everything in the space and time supports the story, plus you get to take your personal temperature, so to speak. The audience becomes involved, not by being emotionally manipulated, but rather in a most authentic way, in the private perception of the fragmented life of one who is abandoned. You are eagerly looking forward to what will happen next with absolutely no idea of what that might be. We're brought to care most skillfully by a stunning level of performance, a rare thrill in theatre.
'Sans' of course, means 'without' so the hotel the characters retreat to, apparently a place of refuge, doesn't exist. The show is inspired in part by the sad story of Cornelia Rau who was incarcerated for 18 months for being lost, literally and to herself.
‘Clever' gives the impression of a mannered, consciously, impressive sort of piece and ‘intelligent' sounds worthy and well-researched - this play is so much more: different, really funny, authentic and astute, and honestly, honestly, marvelous.
March 17th, 2010
Inpress - Article: Tony McMahon
Tales of three very different women make up the crux of At the Sans Hotel, the latest production at Theatre Works. TONY MCMAHON speaks with director NICOLA GUNN.
Inspired by the much-publicised wrongful detention of Australian citizen Cornelia Rau as an illegal immigrant in 2004, Nicola Gunn's At the Sans Hotel is a psychological detective story concerning a German woman who wanders confused and disoriented into a deserted hotel in the desert, surrounded by familiar objects. Gunn has been making quite a name for herself in Melbourne and international theatre circles with her forceful work, somehow managing quite nimbly one of art's major feats: making the tragic seem truly funny. This latest work looks set to be no exception, and Gunn herself says that, when it comes to summing up At the Sans Hotel, she won't be taking up too much of our time.
"I can do that very quickly, actually," she says. "Essentially, the piece is about a woman who is pretending to be someone else, and the fear of being exposed. That's pretty much what the story is about. It's as simple and as complicated as that."
Rather than being a story about Cornelia Rau, however, says that At the Sans Hotel is more a document of her own reaction to the case.
"I think this is my personal response. What I read about her, what I imagined about her. I think I felt compassion for her situation. I wasn't interested in the political ramifications, I was more interested in the story of a woman who had reached some sort of crisis and disappeared into the desert. And the fact that she was so long incarcerated and didn't reveal her identity.
Was that a result of some kind of mental illness? I don't know. There are so many questions. I think she was scared of being identified and being put back into a psychiatric institution."
And coinciding nicely with the theory that all good art is autobiography, Gunn says that At the Sans Hotel, more than just a personal response, is entirely about her.
"This story is utterly autobiographical, actually. I think that's why I put her story in some kind of vessel so that I could really expose myself in front of a group of people, which is what I do. I guess it's the kind of work I'm interested in: I'm interested in humans and human relationships."
Gunn is adamant that theatre is a collaborative art, and that her longtime working partners Gwen Hohnberg Gilchrist and Rebecca Etchell are a huge part of what it is she does, evidenced by the credit attached to this production of 'created and designed by' all three artists.
"We all know each other really well and we sort of complement each other. The way we work is that we all try to do a bit of everything. Our roles are quite amorphous. I'm the one that's writing it, so of course I'm the one that's responsible at the end of the day, for better or for worse."
In parting, Gunn makes the extraordinarily prescient point that theatre, unlike novels or films, for example, is often a work in progress and theatre-makers are judged by completely different standards to other artists.
"This is something that is really close to my heart. The expectation at the premiere of a work in Australia is that it be perfectly ready," she says. "I don't know if enough thought goes into developing plays here on the live stage. I just think that's a huge problem. It feels like I'm trying to foreshadow my own failure but it isn't that, it's just that this work has been through such a long process and this is probably not the ultimate version of it. A writer would maybe have years and years to develop a novel, but as a theatre maker, I don't feel like I have the luxury of time. Money is always an issue. A lot of shows that come and tour Australia, you know, these massive productions, it's not the first time they've been seen. They're refined."
March 15, 2010
The AGE - Article: Robin Usher
Nicola Gunn's new one-woman show, At the Sans Hotel, originated with the 2004 reports of the unlawful detention of Cornelia Rau.
CANADA is a big country a long way away, and that makes it perfect in Nicola Gunn's eyes. The writer and performer has won several Canadian theatre awards for work developed in that country's interlinked fringe festivals, stretching from Montreal west to Vancouver every summer.
''It's a fertile training ground that allows new work to be self-funded and presented to generous and accepting audiences,'' she says. ''Since it's thousands of kilometres away, nobody in Australia will ever know about any failures.''
But she warns the anonymity means it will not enhance anyone's career. ''I love it because of everything I have learnt there.''
Although she admits her first tour was ''a horrible failure'' in 2001, Gunn has since performed her Canadian-developed one-woman shows such as The Elephant Club, Tyrannous Rex and An Unfortunate Woman in Melbourne, as well as New Zealand and the US.
Her latest project, At the Sans Hotel, is rare in her career because it has been developed in Melbourne over the past two years and opens in St Kilda's Theatre Works on Wednesday as part of the company's Selected Works program of new work.
It is set in a rundown hotel where a woman marooned in a bathtub is piecing together the fragments of a terrible crime she may or may not have committed. Outside, a German woman wanders the desert, while a third, the Inconsolable Woman, reappears from Gunn's earlier work.
''They are all disguises of my secret personas, which means my happy extroverted personality is a lie,'' she laughs. ''It sounds very dark but it is tempered with subversive humour.''
The show originated with the 2004 reports of Cornelia Rau, who was unlawfully detained for 10 months as part of the Australian government's mandatory detention program. One newspaper article said Rau had arrived at a desert hotel without money or identification.
''I sympathised with her story, but not whether it was due to mental illness. That is up to the audience to decide.''
Gunn is more interested in exploring psychic truths she believes everybody shares. ''By sharing mine I show people that we are all the same.''
But she stresses that her aim is not therapy but entertainment. ''That is a word that is almost taboo in some quarters. But I am just a performer trying to make my tragedy funny.''
The new work is different from those devised solo in Canada, where Gunn would do everything herself, from putting up posters to handing out flyers. The fringe network provides a venue and a technician in the different centres for an affordable registration fee.
Hotel's development began when she was doing a postgraduate theatre-making course at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2008.
''I felt I had stalled and I discovered the VCA was a wonderful place to convalesce and make different sorts of work,'' she says.
She shared her ideas with Gwen Holmberg-Gilchrist and Rebecca Etchell and they worked on the show as a team.
''Gwen is the lighting designer and Rebecca is the production manager but basically we are responsible for everything,'' she says. ''I feel I have been slowly chipping away at it over such a long incubation period. It will be a relief to get it on and get my life back.''
Her Canadian experience means she is used to developing a work in front of audiences. ''In a three-month tour, the show would become quite different by the time it all ended.''
She did this with the new show at La Mama Theatre last September in a piece called My Friend Schadenfreude, which was billed as part of Hotel's development.
But Theatre Works' decision to include the new play in its Selected Works program led to funding support from Arts Victoria, which has resulted in one of the biggest productions Gunn has created.
She says she would like the show to tour, but admits it is too big an undertaking to do alone.
''It needs a team, so we might try to pitch it to some production houses,'' she says, while acknowledging there are not many who might be interested apart from the Malthouse and Sydney's Belvoir Street.
''We will see where it goes after this season.''
At the Sans Hotel opens at Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda, at 8pm on Wednesday and runs until March 27. Go to theatreworks.org.au or ring 9534 3388.
Congratulations to Gravity and Other Myths. They've just been awarded the 'Best Circus Show Award' in the 2010 Adelaide Fringe Awards... and you saw them here first as part of our recent CIRCUS WORKS season !!!
Phantom Limbs, winners of our 2009 MOVING WORKS Peoples Choice Award and Theatre Works Creative Development Award have put their awards to great use.
Created at Theatre Works late last year and presented, in part, at the 2009 Melbourne Fringe - Dance Miniature season under the working title of the Ganzfeld Frequency , their latest show, The Memory Progressive looks at the aftermath of severe memory loss.
Theatre Works is so proud to support this fabulous young company and hope that if you haven't already seen the show, that you go and book your tickets now.
Interested in reviews? Then see below;
February 3rd, 2010
Inpress - Article: Tony McMahon
As THEATRE WORKS head into their 30th year, operations manager Angela PAMIC takes TONY MCMAHON on a trip down memory lane.
"I was still in primary school when the company started,'' says Angela Pamic, operations manager of Theatre Works, arguably one of Melbourne's, and Australia's, most important cultural organisations. This year, the Acland Street, St Kilda company celebrates 30 years in existence, a long time in anybody's estimation but nothing short of astounding when the fickle nature of arts funding, fashion and audiences combined is taken into considerable. As befits such a momentous occasion, Theatre Works has planned well, basically a yearlong party, but Pamic starts out with a little bit of philosophy first.
"Theatre Works is a centre for innovative theatre" she says. "We take great pride in nurturing the artistic community by helping artists produce exciting and cutting-edge new work. We fill a void in the independent sector by providing support for the many talented emerging and mid-career artists who need assistance and resources in order to develop their skills and create fantastic theatre, dance, circus and other performing art forms. By providing our support initiatives to the artists, we are able to provide advice and assistance and take some of the administrative burden away from independent companies so that they can concentrate on the artistic business of producing great work."
Like any organization, of course, Theatre Works has had to adapt over the three decades of its existence in order to remain relevant. Pamic takes us on a brief biographical ride.
"The company has undergone three reasonably major reincarnations, but one thing that's remained consistent throughout this time is our commitment to supporting emerging, independent artists. Founded in 1980 by a group of young VCA graduates, including Hannie Rayson, Caz Howard, and Peter Sommerfeld to name a few; and with a strong emphasis on new Australian works performed in unusual and interesting locations, Theatre Works quickly developed a reputation as a leader in Location Theatre, with a number of their early productions being performed in non-theatre locations around Melbourne, including trams, boats, old mansions, and pubs. Some of the company's most memorable early productions are Room To Move written by Hannie Rayson Storming St Kilda By Tram, performed over 500 times on various moving trams, and Living Rooms performed at St Kilda's Linden Gallery, the latter two written by Paul Davies.''
The 1990s was a time of great artistic flowering for Theatre Works, under the legendary direction of Robert Draffin, and also saw the company branch out overseas.
"In 1985 the company moved from the Eastern Suburbs to its current location in the old Christ Church Parish hall in Acland St, St Kilda. During the '90s, under the artistic direction of Robert Draffin, productions evolved in style and content. With an increasing emphasis on Mythology, storytelling and adaptations, Draffin's production of Rigoletto: A Perversion received critical acclaim and an Age Performing Arts Award and the company began to tour internationally with its work."
But in recent times, Pamic continues, the focus has shifted to a more supporting role.
''Over the last decade, Theatre Works has seen itself more as a producing hub and resource for Melbourne's independent theatre scene and, since 2004, has developed a number of curated programs designed to support and nurture the exciting talent that we have here in Australia. 2004 saw the company unveil its signature program Selected Works, which provides up to four companies a year an opportunity to present their work in the Theatre Works venue, fully supported by a publicist, marketing, front of house, and technical staff Some of Melbourne's best independent companies are Selected Works alumni, including Stuck Pigs Squealing and Ignite Theatre. In 2008, we introduced a second tier support program called In The Works, which assists four companies a year - five in 2010; so many great applications, we couldn't narrow it down - by offering them a week-long creative development period in the venue where they can workshop their new ideas while still in the early stages of development. We then hope to see these works come to fruition in future Selected Works seasons. In 2009, the company unleashed two new support programs; Moving Works, a weeklong showcase of eight dance and physical theatre companies, and Circus Works, a two-week season of four circus and physical theatre companies.''
Everyone knows theatre people like to drink. This will no doubt have the effect of making the area around Claypots Seafood Restaurant in Barkly Street the place to be Monday 15 February. Theatre Works is holding its 30th Birthday Dinner there, to which everyone who has ever been involved in the company is invited, but Pamic promises restraint.
We've spent a great deal of time trying to track down 30 years' worth of company members and this will be the first opportunity for many of us to catch up and be in the same room together. I'm sure we'll all be on our best behavior. . . Promise. It's a very important opportunity for us to collect the stories and memories of the company's history."
Yet another celebratory event planned for this year is the publication of a book on the company. Although Pamic says it will be a coffee table type affair, she does promise it will contain lots in the way of bite.
"The stars have been aligning well for us and within a week of discussing birthday celebration ideas with the board, we decided that we wanted to create a historical book. This book will be a beautiful coffee table-style book but with a bit more grunt, filled with strong images and stories. We hope the book will also include in-depth research and academic articles being contributed by a number of company members. Our aim is to produce a book that not only engages with the general arts loving public but is a resource for arts students and practitioners alike."
In parting, Pamic urges anyone who has ever been involved, including punters, to come out of the woodwork and show the Theatre Works love.
"We've put the call out to anyone and everyone out there who has worked at/for/with Theatre Works and who may have Theatre Works memorabilia. We'd love for you to loan or donate the material and allow us to include it in our exhibition and book. We also encourage those same people to come along to the birthday dinner on 15th February and share your stories. If audience members out there have anything to offer, we'd love to hear from you, too. Tell us what your favorite show was; your fondest memory; your funniest story."
Theatre Works 30th Birthday Dinner / At The Sans Hotel.
WHERE & WHEN:
Claypots Seafood Bar Monday 15 February / Theatre Works Tuesday 16 March to Saturday 27 March
January 29th, 2010
The Age - Article: Robin Usher
Theatre Works is celebrating two very special anniversaries this year, writes Robin Usher .
THE general manager at St Kilda's Theatre Works, Angela Pamic, is so busy this year that she is relying on cancellations in the company's heavily booked program to get any holidays.
''We were 97 per cent full last year and bookings are at 100 per cent for 2010, but there is a chance a show could drop out next month,'' she says. ''That will give me a chance to have a break.''
Theatre Works will present more than 35 independent works this year, and celebrate a double anniversary - it is 30 years since it was formed as a company from actors freshly graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts, and 25 years since it moved into its present home in an old hall in Acland Street as a tenant of the Anglican Church.
''Not many companies have lasted this long,'' Pamic says. ''We have reincarnated ourselves over that time but our motivation to help emerging artists has not changed and we want to celebrate where we came from and where we are heading.''
The company, which launched its 2010 season this month, is also presenting a series of exhibitions in its foyer featuring photographs and posters from its archives. Pamic is hoping to produce a book on the company's history by the end of the year.
For its first five years, the company concentrated on location theatre and one of the best known works from that period was Storming St Kilda by Tram. Early members included playwright Hannie Rayson and director and actor Mary Sitarenos.
It evolved under the direction of Robert Draffin to concentrate on literary adaptations and for the past seven years has worked with the independent community to nurture new works and emerging artists.
''We provide infrastructure and support valued at around $17,000 to four companies that are in our Selected Works program every year,'' Pamic says. ''This allows the companies to concentrate on their artistic efforts.''
The program includes Nicola Gunn's At the Sans Hotel, Ignite Theatre's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and the Melbourne premiere of Daniel Keene's The Nighwatchman by If Theatre, directed by Matt Scholten.
''Ignite Theatre first attracted critical attention when they presented Jet of Blood here in 2006, and another company that went on to achieve great acclaim, Stuck Pigs Squealing, has also been in our Selected Works program,'' Pamic says. ''Some companies just need a leg-up to break out and get the wider attention they deserve.''
The program, which began in 2004, pioneered a path since followed in various ways by the Arts Centre, the Malthouse, Meat Market and the Melbourne Theatre Company.
''The more companies providing opportunities the better,'' she says. ''Some of the others have bigger budgets so they can afford to pay wages while we just offer the box office.''
The company receives $130,000 a year from Arts Victoria. ''We do a great deal with not much,'' Pamic says. It also received project grants from the City of Port Phillip in 2009 and Pamic hopes these will be repeated this year. She is also seeking funding from the Australia Council. Rents are subsidised to most companies outside the Theatre Works programs, and Pamic acknowledges she could achieve a greater return on the open market.
''Our aim is to assist independent companies by providing infrastructure and support,'' she says. ''The support that we can offer might be crucial to a work being produced.''
Competition to be chosen in the Selected Works program is intense. Pamic says there are about 30 applications a year for the four production slots. The selection is made by a panel from the company with guests from the industry.
As well as the main program there is also In the Works for development projects, and Pamic hopes to run a three-week season for women writers and directors, inspired by the high percentage of women in the company's early years.
Theatre Works' main program begins in March with Nicola Gunn's At the Sans Hotel.
January, 25th, 2010
774 The Conversation Hour - Radio Interview: Jon Faine and Co-host Tony Martin
Hear Alison Richards [Theatre Works Chair], Geoffrey Rush and Lisa Lambert chat with John and Tony
* Head to the latter half of the hour to hear Alison talk about our exciting 2010 program.
A theatre group has put St Kilda on the map.
January, 20th, 2010
Emerald Hill Times - Article: Rosemary Bolger
When Paul Davies joined independent theatre company Theatre Works in 1982 - two years after its inception - there was just one problem: the company had no stage to perform on. An undeterred Davies, a regular tram commuter, decided to write a play to be performed on a moving W-class locomotive. "It was partly because we didn't have a theatre and because we wanted to reach out into the community." Storming Mont Albert by Tram soon became a sellout and the company went on to stage the play and its St Kilda version on trams more than 500 times. "That was our first big success," Davies says. "The tram show established the company as a serious contender and the funding began to flow."
That support has propelled the company along to its 30th anniversary in an industry not known for its longevity. Davies, who is researching and writing the history of Theatre Works, describes the first decade as "exciting times". In 1985, the company left the eastern suburbs for St Kilda and converted a disused hall in Acland Street into a theatre. St Kilda provided no shortage of inspiration for the group which produced a number of plays about the diverse area including Cake, an Acland Street comedy, and Full House, No Vacancy, about local boarding houses.
While thriving at its permanent base, the group refused to be confined to the stage. The success of the tram shows sparked a series of what has become known as site-specific theatre. The Mont Albert tram show was adapted to St Kilda's routes, they performed on a boat on the Yarra and explored the history of a St Kilda mansion that now houses Linden art gallery. "It was ahead of its time," says Davies. He loved the interaction with the audience each setting produced. "Once an off-duty policeman boarded the tram at the point when one of the passengers is trying to purchase a ticket with a pound. "He proceeded to attempt to arrest this character, not realising he was part of a play." Theatre Works operations manager Angela Pamic would love to revive the tram show, but it's not just the new style of trams that would make it almost impossible - the company has undergone dramatic change.
Rather than commissioning and performing its own work, the group now focuses on supporting other independent companies and artists by providing the venue, technical support, front-of-house staff and marketing for the play. "It makes sure they put everything into the work and let us worry about the other stuff," Pamic says.
To celebrate the 30-year milestone, a series of exhibitions highlighting Theatre Works' history will be on display throughout the year and people's memories of their involvement at the company will be recorded.
Diamonds are these girls' best friend
January 13th, 2010
ONLINE - Article: Patrick Arnold[MCV]
Melbourne gentlemen (and ladies) will definitely prefer these blokes, observes Patrick Arnold.
Get ready Melbourne, a drag comedy extravaganza is set to dazzle Midsumma.
Inimitable showgirls Courtney Act and Trevor Ashley are very excited to present the Melbourne debut of their hit show Gentlemen Prefer Blokes that has already wowed and startled audiences in Sydney, Perth and Adelaide.
Lampooning female celebrity duos, Trevor and Courtney appear as Madonna and Britney, Kylie and Dannii, Patsy and Eddie and plenty of others plus take a stab at films including Beaches, The Devil Wears Prada and Australia.
Courtney and Trevor say their arrival at Midsumma follows a hectic December and January schedule including coincidental shows in Hong Kong on New Year's Eve.
Trevor says they were originally going to bring Gentlemen Prefer Blokes to Midsumma in 2009 but they couldn't get the show ready in time.
"Now it's finally coming down here after all this time, it's very exciting and we're really looking forward to it," Trevor says.
Courtney says she's never been down to Melbourne for this period of time. "I'm looking forward to actually having an opportunity to experience Midsumma instead of zipping in and out," she adds.
Inspired by cabaret divas and classic female duos, the show initially grew from the idea of impersonating Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell singing 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'.
"We'd just come out of a meeting, hopped into the car and I remember saying 'What about Gentlemen Prefer Blokes?' we both chuckled and thought that was it," Courtney says.
Trevor says both of them had really wanted to work together at some point, even before they put Gentlemen Prefer Blokes together. He also hinted at a sequel.
"We wanted to do famous female duos through the ages; we started with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe and then moved on to other couples. There's still a chance we might do a second one with all the duos we didn't fit in this time."
Courtney met Trevor just after arriving in Sydney during the early noughties at a comedy restaurant where Trevor was belting out Peter Allen numbers. It was several years later, after climbing individual ladders of drag stardom, they entered into this first collaboration.
Courtney says before getting together they were the opposite ends of the performing spectrum; Trevor was "high classic camp" with Courtney at the more subtle end. Courtney thought they both had something the other performer could benefit from.
When asked what the Midsumma crowd can expect from Gentlemen Prefer Blokes, Trevor says it's really very funny and Melburnians will love it.
"It's one of the funniest things I've ever done and obviously has fantastic costumes and wigs as well as amazing video segments, it's a really fun night out," Trevor adds.
Trevor laughs as he describes playing 'post-op trannies for Jesus', "They're sort of modern day evangelists and they're rather scary but very funny."
Courtney loves playing 'good witch' Glinda from Wicked the Musical and thinks Melburnians will probably understand the parody more than other audiences.
"It's quite fun. Originally I was Glinda in a wheelchair because I'd broken my leg but this time I'll be Glinda in hotpants," Courtney says.
Courtney broke her leg skiing a week before opening season in Sydney resulting in a last minute re-write that only added to the hilarity, especially during the finale with Trevor also in an electric wheelchair.
"My wheelchair driving is really bad and I often almost went off the stage. Once, my front wheel completely went over the edge and I nearly fell into the front row," Trevor says.
Although Midsumma audiences will miss out on Courtney and Trevor's wheelchair antics, they are certainly guaranteed a riot of camp cabaret.