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In Conversation with Oliver Cowen | GHOSTS

"I've never really played a villain before, so it's been a bit challenging to find ways of showing that he has complexities to him, he's not at all just black and white."

Today we chat with Oliver Cowen about preparing for and performing as Jakob in the upcoming production of GHOSTS written by Jodi Gallagher after Henrik Ibsen and directed by Steven Mitchell Wright. Playing at Theatre Works from 30 May to 15 June.


Can you describe a typical day of rehearsals for GHOSTS? What is the atmosphere like behind the scenes?


We begin each rehearsal by spending 5 to 10 minutes warming up our voices and bodies so we don't get injured, and so we are fully available for everything that comes at us. We then do a check in. We see where everyone is at and we each say something we will be bringing to the rehearsal, such as a way to think about the ideas, or something to try, or a exploring some sort of new angle we haven't thought about before. Then we jump into the rehearsal proper. A lot of the process has been the exploration of the text as a whole, which means we have often done full runs of the show in different ways to explore various aspects of the work. We have also been breaking scenes down to work out exactly what is going on and choreographing bits and pieces. It varies a lot from rehearsal to rehearsal, but we always finish with a check out, which is something that we're taking away from the rehearsal to ponder until the next one.


What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing this adaptation to life?


The themes are pretty full on and they don't hold back through the course of the play. To be in the world of the play can be a bit confronting, and so managing that through the rehearsal has been a little challenging. This particular adaptation is also a bit challenging because we are truly seeing the world of the play through Helene Alving's eyes, and so what she says goes. What this means for the show will probably be a challenge in keeping on top of where we are in the timeline of the play.


Do you have a favourite line or scene from the play? What makes it stand out to you?


A: My favourite line is my opening line: "Someone told me there may be rain." It's a beautiful line to enter on as it can be seen in a few different ways. One of them as 'oh no it's going to rain' but also 'thank God for rain' as the play is set in a drought in outback Australia.

 

How has working with director, Steven Mitchell Wright been?


I have long admired Steven's work. He makes incredibly ambitious work and pulls it off. He has such incredible vision for everything to do with the production. He has such high standards but everyone is so keen to make a truly magical piece of theatre we are all meeting him there. Steven is so refreshingly rigorous in exploring all aspects of the work, it's really inspiring for everyone around him.

 

In what ways has this role challenged you compared to other roles you've undertaken?


Engstrand is arguably the villain of the piece. He's immoral and selfish and sexist and just an awful git really, but he's still a human. In a way, he's just a guy trying to make the best of a bad situation. I've never really played a villain before, so it's been a bit challenging to find ways of showing that he has complexities to him, he's not at all just black and white.

 

Q: Looking back at your journey through this production, what moment or aspect will you carry forward into your future projects?


A: I'm so proud to be a part of this team. Everyone in the cast is just so good and are always making me want to do better. Everyone is working hard to make the best piece of theatre they possible can and I truly believe we will. This work is something I will bring into my own practice.

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