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In Conversation with Christian Cavallo

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Playing this November, Joshua White's new play The Mentor is the final show playing at our Acland Street theatre in 2022. Director Christian Cavallo talks about key themes explored in the work and how stage stalwart Amanda Muggleton joined their team!

Q: Tell us about your first encounter with The Mentor. Do you remember your initial response?

A: My first encounter with The Mentor was during a creative development that I facilitated through a pandemic response initiative called Hope New Works. Myself and a small team created this online platform for new works while the industry was shut down, and facilitated developments for ten new works through the first lockdown of 2020. The Mentor immediately grabbed my attention. Firstly, it was a two-hander between actors exploring their craft. This felt like familiar terrain to me. I work as a teacher and educator in the performing arts myself. This play's unconventional learning environment and somewhat off-beat circumstance offered a great foundation for its two characters to launch into bigger themes. We were also blessed with having Amanda Muggleton read the work from very early on. She brings a certain gravitas to the piece, which I loved from our first Zoom readings. The work touches on navigating the industry, mental health, sexism and equality, personal cost, overcoming obstacles, identity and more. The play offers some really beautiful moments, some poignant moments, has a lot of heart — and hopefully a few laughs! Oh, and the coffee addict in me loves the coffee motif you'll see across the show! Q: What are some of the key themes explored in this work and are there some that personally resonate with you? A: The piece has a commentary on the entertainment industry and the nature of working as an actor. We explore themes relating to the profession and craft of acting, but also the sacrifices that are made, the pursuit of a career, and the personal cost that can come with the terrain. Amanda Redfern has a history with Hollywood, so our play comes with a heightened sense of history on the international stage; but whether you're in the entertainment industry in LA or Melbourne, we all make sacrifices to work and continue to be seen. I think the other thing that this play does really well is highlight that these two actors are people; they have their own humanity to contend with alongside what they do for their profession. As a teacher, I love looking at the craft within the play, but I also find it highly amusing where Amanda pushes Jordan in ways that you can't in institutional settings. I also love that exploration of the notion that everyone deserves a second chance. Q: The show features screen and stage stalwart Amanda Muggleton in the starring role as Amanda Redfern. What have you found most enjoyable with Amanda so far? A: Amanda — Yes, it's sometimes confusing that the character and actor have the same name!! — Muggleton is an absolute gem! She's been fantastic through our development processes. I love her spirit and enthusiasm for this piece! When we've spoken about some of the hardships encountered across the industry, or some of the difficult themes the characters discuss, Amanda has had a wealth of experience to draw on. She never holds back from sharing her views, and I have so valued hearing about experiences that span her career; even some of the less desirable ones. Our playwright Joshua White has no doubt also been inspired by Amanda M, which in turn only makes for a more compelling Amanda R. I first saw Amanda on stage as the Queen of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when I was a teenager. I've never forgotten that production and the magical quality it had. When I was little, The Chronicles of Narnia were my favourite books, but The Queen of Narnia was a character that scared the bejeezus out of me... I could never have imagined working with her all these years later! Very early on, Amanda let us know she absolutely loved being part of the first development process for The Mentor and that she'd love to be kept in the loop with whatever would eventuate for the piece. When she said yes to performing in this premiere season, I have to admit I pinched myself. I'm so glad she is premiering the work. She is cheeky, vivacious, flamboyant, has a wicked sense of humour, and can sometimes be a little bit naughty. I adore her! And if we can imbue the character with half of these qualities, then I'm sure audiences will fall in love with Amanda Redfern too! Oh, and I'm sure she won't mind me saying... and she makes a wonderful cheese platter, and she has the cutest little pup, Mopsy! Q: Connor Morel is an emerging artist with some already impressive credits to his name… how did Connor become attached to The Mentor? A: Connor and I have actually known each other for years. Connor played JD in a production of Heathers I directed in Geelong in 2017… that very production actually spurred us both on to apply to our respective degrees and work towards becoming career artists, so it’s very exciting to work together again all this time later. Since then he's made a name for himself in shows such as The Wedding Singer and Rent. He's definitely one to watch and has always been freakishly naturally talented! I love that we get to jump back into working together a little older, wiser, and with more experience between us. We still invited Connor to audition for us, Joshua White and I considered a few options for Jordan, but Connor's presence and effortlessness seemed to really capture what we wanted for the character. I’m really proud to have Connor in this show. Part of my aim for Bravo Arts is to create opportunities for regional artists and regional stories, so to be able to cast a fellow Geelong boy and create an opportunity for someone else from the region makes me really happy. Connor has been great in development with us, and as a writer himself, he's got a great mind for approaching the development of new work. Q: Can you give us a hint of what we can expect from the production design by Casey Harper-Wood? A: The Mentor will be the second time Casey and I have collaborated, following our recent show If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You by John O'Donovan. Casey is a really intelligent designer and I'm constantly in awe of his attention to detail and dramaturgical responses to text. I love when we get into discussions about colour palettes, patterns, textures, styles, moods and more... design-geek stuff, y'know? Amanda Redfern is a larger than life character, but we meet her at a point where she's lost her vitality and drive. The play is set in her apartment, and so we're very much in her world. Her meetings with Jordan help her reconnect to who she was and work through personal obstacles. I'm really excited to bring the audience into her world, but also to see her world evolve as she does.

Q: If you could invite anyone to see The Mentor, who would it be? A: Tricky question... but Heath Ledger comes to mind. The play touches on the pressures of being in the industry as well as difficult roles that can push and pull an actor. Heath has come up in a few of our discussions, and even though he's not with us anymore, it feels like he's the person I'd love to invite to this play. Ultimately though, it's a play about actors, and I think the play will resonate with other actors and people who work in entertainment... and I dare say our audiences will enjoy a peek behind the curtain too! THE MENTOR By Joshua White 16 - 26 Nov


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