Sydney Cabaret Competition
What’s it all about?
We are running some giveaways for the Sydney Cabaret Competition (here) and getting huge entries … it got me thinking. So, who better to answer my questions than Chris Archer, of Archery Productions.
Judith: Let’s work backwards ... what makes bad cabaret?
Chris: Great question! I think if you have no reaction to it, it's bad. If it doesn't entertain you, it's bad.
Cabaret is a funny thing because it's not easy to define (it can be any combination of singing, comedy, drama, dance - it's art). I've thought a bit about this, because if someone can sing really well, but they don't take you on a journey, is it still cabaret or is it karaoke?
It's also what makes it exciting. The wonderful Queenie van der Zandt told me that cabaret is 'the freest form of expression, it's so personal to those creating and performing it - and I love that inner look at the artist'. So perhaps what makes good or bad cabaret is how you interpret it.
Judith: I can’t quite believe the names that popped up on the list of artists in the heats. People that I chase around town to see them in shows. Tell me about the judges, I don’t envy them.
Chris: I can't believe it either - I'm so excited to see how this all pans out.
It was important to me to have a panel of judges who come from various fields within the industry, not just performers. Each week of the competition we'll have a special guest 'host' who'll also perform on the night. The hosts include the fabulous Catherine Alcorn (Winner 'Best Cabaret Performance 2018' - BroadwayWorld.com), Margi De Ferranti (2018 Glug Award Winner - In the Heights), and Matt Lee (2011 Helpmann Award Winner - Mary Poppins).
Also helping us find 'Australia's next cabaret star' is Avigail Herman, Mark Sutcliffe, Darren Mapes, Phil Scott, Queenie van der Zandt and Les Solomon. These names will be familiar to many reading this, since their experience in education, performance, cabaret, dance, management and theatre, truly spans the globe.
Judith: Just tell us a little about how the competition side works?
Chris: The competition really started back in March when entries opened. When we closed this on May 26, I was astounded by the volume and calibre of entries received. Based on a set of criteria, we hand-picked the contestants that will showcase their 8-minute cabarets during the competition.
The heats begin on June 16 and will run over 3 weeks on Sundays 16, 23 and 30 June, at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel. (time to plug $20 tickets here) At the end of each heat, the judges will choose 2 winners, and the audience in attendance on the night will vote for another 'audience choice' winner, all 3 will progress to the Grand Final.
We've encouraged the contestants to spread the word about the competition to their family, friends, fans and followers who can come support them, and possibly help them progress to the Grand Final.
Judith: The Final is quite an event culminating as it does at the Seymour Centre. How much sparkle are we expecting in the crowd?
Chris: Yes - the Grand Final is one of the feature events of the first annual Sydney Cabaret Festival. The Festival Director, Trevor Ashley will perform and host the Grand Final on Wednesday 10 July at the Seymour Centre, and yes, I've already seen Trevor's outfit and it's SPARKLY!
Trevor has a surprise panel of judges who'll pick the winner and runners up (look at the Festival program for a clue as to who this might be). Again, the audience will choose a winner. The 3 winners will share in over $5,000 worth of prizes!
Judith: What’s your hope for next year and into the future?
Chris: You might find it interesting to know that the Sydney Cabaret Competition is actually inspired by the former 'National Cabaret Showcase', which actually started back in the 90s by our guest judge Les Solomon (and the amazing Jeremy Youett). The Showcase went on to discover over a decade of Australian cabaret talent including Tom Sharah, Melody Beck, Alexis Fishman, Toby Francis, Sheridan Harbridge, Marika Aubrey and Gillian Cosgriff.
So my hope is to add a deserving name to that list! The winner of the Sydney Cabaret Competition this year will also receive mentoring and support in the hope we might see their full-length show brought to a Sydney stage or festival!
Next year, depending on how the competition pans out - i'd like to take on a few other cities and possibly re-brand to the 'National Cabaret Showcase' - but we'll see...
On my way to cementing a well-deserved reputation for taking lunch breaks away from artists, I had the opportunity to speak by phone with Benita De Wit, who is directing Razorhurst, next up at Hayes Theatre. Set in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, Razorhurst, with book and lyrics by Kate Mulley and music by Andy Peterson, this much anticipated production will be the Australian premiere of the show which was commissioned by and received its World Premiere at Luna Stage, West Orange, New Jersey.
“From the 1920s until the 1940s, two vice queens, Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, ruled the Darlinghurst underworld. Their rivalry was infamous, leading to a litany of violent crimes enacted by their razor gangs as each struggled to gain dominance in a world of sly grog, narcotics and prostitution.”
Judith: I was having a little poke around and I gathered that you introduced Andy Peterson to the story. I was wondering how long you've been living with these women.
Benita: So Andy and Kate and I were all working on another project and I stumbled across Kate and Tilly Rejected Princesses and I just thought it was really funny and sort of sent it on to them. Not really like knowing what … you know might be a fun idea for something. But kinda just a little nugget of Australian history.
And Andy and Kate ended up pitching it to Luna Stage who had asked them to pitch a few ideas for a two person musical and I think they pitched a whole list of things and that was on it somewhere. I was thinking this theatre in New Jersey won't want to present this Aussie lady gangster musical but that’s exactly the one they chose.
Judith: These are really iconic Australian women, do you think the audience is going to take sides?
Benita: I, kind of, would love it if the audience took sides. I think what the whole show is doing is grappling with their legacies and saying who was right, who was wrong. These two women are really arguing their cases. So, I would hope that the audience would come out with half of them loving Tilly and half of them loving Kate.
Judith: So moral judgments are not to be avoided but encouraged?
Benita: It’s what the show is asking. We have all this press about Kate and Tilly, we have these ideas passed down on who they were but it’s hard to really know unless you were around at the time. So I think it is about deciding for themselves, letting these characters tell their stories and allowing the audience to decide what they would have done in their same positions.
Judith: The show begins in the present does it not?
Benita: It does. The concept of the show is that there's a shop that used to be one of Kate’s sly grog shops, and one of her homes, that has been purchased by Tilly’s family and is being renovated to be turned into a coffee shop. And so it's a property war between these two ghosts because Tilly’s family has bought it, but Kate feels that she deserves space and it was her home and it was her business and that she's probably not going give up haunting it easily!
Judith: The name of the show used to be a nickname for Darlinghurst.
Benita: Yes, it's pulled right from the press. The press, and the Truth in particular, used that particular word when covering a lot of the Razor Wars between the women … and nicknamed Darlinghurst, Razorhurst, because of all of the violence with people using razors.
Yeah, there was a lot of slashings - many of which were from Kate and Tilly’s gangs, but also Norman Bruhn was active around that time, too.
Judith: I know there are no men on stage in the production but there were men around them?
Benita: No there's no men on stage, but we do have moments where we see Kate and Tilly play different characters. So we see Jim Devine and "Snowy" Prendergast and Gregory Gaffney. So we see we see moments of some of the men that were around them but it's really about Kate and Tilly - their rivalry and their legacy.
Judith: Your work as a Director has a, sort of, trademark immersion and multidisciplinary feel. Is there any of that here at the Hayes?
Benita: There is definitely a certain element that there may be some interaction. We're really excited about these women telling their story and a lot of that is engaging directly with the audience, but I wouldn't really say immersion in this one. It's still a pretty conventional theatre layout but, yeah, these women are sort of they are larger than life. We can't really keep them completely contained to the stage.
Judith: What about the music?
Benita: What Andy has done with the music is that he has pulled from a lot of vaudeville, musical hall and Jazz Era music. So there’s a real flavour of that in the piece and so there’s up tempo songs and also some really beautiful ballads and then some things that are a bit more like storytelling but it's really a kind of vaudeville musical style throughout the show.
The music is incredible and these two voices! We've got two of the best Australian voices on this show. (Amelia Cormack & Debora Krizak pictured above) So feeling pretty lucky to be in this rehearsal room!!
Judith: And the live music?
Benita: All we've got is just a piano and our two performers. So we've got our musical director, Lucy Bermingham, playing piano. She's onstage and it's just the three of them.
Judith: Using mics on this one?
Benita: They are. A couple of reasons really. It gives us the flexibility to play with a bit of the sound, because they are ghosts after all so we can have a little bit more fun if we can try to play with amplification and the sound design and all of that.
Judith: Is the setting the modern bookshop?
Benita: The set design and costume design is by Isabel Hudson who has designed at the Hayes a number of times. So what we have gone with in this show is it’s really about the building and the history in the building. There are still these properties around us.
We went on a walking tour the other day and we went to 212 Devonshire Street which was Kate’s home and sly grog shop and which is now a coffee shop. And there are all these buildings around and they do have so much history to them and so what we are interested in the setting in the space is creating this old building that has run-down somewhat and has that history in its walls. And then bringing that space to life as we tell the story.
We’ve also been inspired by those old black and white mugshots and we have drawn from that … these still and very powerful images of criminals.
Judith: When you were doing your research, what surprised you the most?
Benita: I think probably what surprised me the most was the kindness that both of these women exhibited … because you hear about them as notorious criminals, but there are so many smaller really beautiful little anecdotes.
Like when the show was announced, a friend of mine messaged me saying … oh, I love that you're doing a show about Kate and Tilly. She said her grandfather had actually been arrested when he was 19 and Kate was there bailing some of her girls out. And so she just bailed out my friend’s grandfather as well!
Just as an act of kindness and it's been all of those little moments … and I guess it's also been surprising that there is still so much living history. Because it was so recent there are so many people that had stories about their grandfather or someone that they know who knew Kate and Tilly.
And the thing is that as soon as Kate and Andy said they were writing the show, I said in my head … Oh I am taking this to the Hayes – it just felt like the perfect place for it, I couldn’t think of anywhere better for a new musical about Darlinghurst!
Razorhurst, with book and lyrics by Kate Mulley and music by Andy Peterson, will have its Australian premiere from 14 June.
A few questions for Jamie Oxenbould about his creation.
Trevor (Jamie Oxenbould) is a has-been. The auditions have dried up and his days as a television actor are over, but he wants another shot at the big time. However, it’s tough to make a comeback in Hollywood. Particularly, if, like Trevor, you are a 200-pound chimpanzee.
Sydney Theatre Award winning Outhouse Theatre Company and Director Shaun Rennie bring the hilarious and touching play, Trevor by Orange is the New Black and GLOW writer Nick Jones, next up on the KXT stage. Inspired by true events, Trevor follows the life of this ambitious chimp and his owner Sandra (Di Adams) in their odd dynamic of co-dependence.
I needed to know more about this extraordinary sounding play so I sent some questions through to Jamie.
Judith: This is theatre without a net isn’t it? We think simian and blockbuster, expensive special effects come to mind!
Jamie: You’re right, this is theatre without a net. Playing a chimpanzee who had an “acting” career and desperately wants back in to Hollywood was always going to be death defying theatre. And in a small space like the Kings Cross Theatre it’s especially frightening. No monkey costume or make up - just my ape DNA to fall back on.
Judith: Would I be right in thinking it’s a play about humanity. About communication and our limitations perhaps?
Jamie: Yes it is a play about humanity and communication…or our lack of both when it comes to raising animals. It plays on the humanity we instill in our animal brethren, not always for the good…and the miscommunication that happens between species. Like that classic cartoon where a dog owner is having a deep and meaningful conversation with his dog, and the dog just hears “blah blah blah”.
Judith: Trevor must have a different relationship with the audience than with the other characters, some of whom are afraid of him?
Jamie: Trevor’s relationship with the audience is different to all the other humans onstage, in that the audience are the only ones who can understand him…literally. To the other characters he’s just making monkey sounds.
The audience are also Trevor’s confidante in a way, so hopefully that relationship will set up a degree of empathy.
Judith: He’s a weighty character at 200 pounds. How does that translate to the audience? Is that part of the acting challenge?
Jamie: In the script it does say he’s a “200 pound chimpanzee”…so I’m doing my best to bring a sense of that to the performance. Hopefully the audience will get a feel for his bulk, but more importantly his sense of danger and unpredictability. Like watching chimps in the zoo…they’re amazing to watch from afar, but there’s a sense of threat and wildness about them that makes you glad there’s a fence in between you.
Judith: What did draw you to this challenging role?
Jamie: What drew me to doing this role was the enormous challenge of pulling it off. It’s a fine line to tread between playing the frustrated, ageing, out of work actor and a chimp. The audience still sees a lot of human in me obviously…and the challenge for the other actors is to see me as just a chimp with some slightly human characteristics.
Judith: Trevor has some very human emotions, logic and aspirations and yet he has animal instincts at the core. What kind of research does that entail for you?
Jamie: In regards to research…well obviously the frustrated out of work actor part of it came very easily to me…and reading all about the real life story of Travis the chimp that this play is inspired by. You can really go down a rabbit hole on the web when you start looking at animal stories…especially animal attack stories…I don’t recommend it. There are many, many stories of chimps and apes that have been raised by humans and developed what we perceive as “human traits”, but are more likely a form of mimicry. And sadly most of these stories end in a tragic way.
Judith: What kind of emotions do you think the audience will experience during the show and what might they ponder on the way home.
Jamie: We hope the audience has a very funny night in the theatre. It’s a hilarious play (despite what I said above), his desire to get back in the acting game again is excruciating but funny to watch, especially when we see him fantasize about his chimp buddy Oliver - a wildly successful monkey actor…and his Hollywood dream woman, Morgan Fairchild, a B Grade actress who’s now hosting an Animal Variety show.
But of course there’s a sting in the tail, so we hope the audience walks away with a sense of the tragedy of the situation…and talks long in to the night about the reasons for imbuing animals with human traits, the hole they fill in our lives and the gross mistreatment we inflict on them.
Australian Vietnamese comedian, Diana Nguyen, launches her successful live comedy show, Phi and Me, as a web series on YouTube next month, to coincide with Refugee Week. Phi and Me is a 5-part web series, co-created by Diana and Fiona Chau and is based on their experiences growing up with a Vietnamese mum.
I caught up with Diana by phone in the hectic lead up to the launch for a laugh filled conversation.
Judith: So pretty exciting for you then.
Diana: Yes it is. Yeah. It's such high tension.
Judith: And what made you think that your live show would work as an online series?
Diana: Because there's nothing like it. This is the first-ever Vietnamese Australian family comedy series in the world, on screen… on TV, on movies, or on computer screen. This is the first time ever, so I know it will work because the story has not been represented at all.
Judith: And of course, no pressure goes with that!
Diana: (laughing) Oh no not at all!
Judith: It’s created with Fiona. When did you realize that you had the same mother in common?
Diana: Well, I’ve known Fiona since Grade 4. And we actually grew up with each other's mums … our mums used to hang out with each other. And so I've known Fiona for 25 years now. We've somehow sustained a friendship and a creative friendship all this time.
So the character that I perform is actually both our mums combined together. So that we don't centralize on one type of mum ... we wanted it to be a community of Vietnamese mums.
Judith: And how do your mums feel about that?
Diana: My mum … she didn't approve of my acting career for a good eight years until I performed in Miss Saigon and then she was like, oh, I understand what you're doing now. So when Phi and Me came out as a stage performance at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, my mum saw people around her in the audience laughing and I think that's when it hit her that our purpose wasn't just to make people laugh but we want to bring our community together. And also make money! (Both of us had a good laugh here!)
So yeah, I think my mum and, you know, any parent that has a child who is in the Performing Arts they do come to realize that there is a far greater purpose than being famous. Unofficially, Phi and Me is to bring first and second and third generation families together.
Judith: When I saw your trailer, I laughed out loud and scared the cat, because I was a PA teacher and I had that conversation with parents so many times.
Diana: When we did the show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival our Drama teacher came out of retirement from acting and joined us on stage for four seasons of Phi and Me. In the web series the teacher’s name is Mr McFail and we make the joke that he fails at everything in the mum’s eyes.
Judith: You play the mother in the series and she’s a quite broad character. How did you find that line between going too far and, you know, just being funny enough?
Diana: I think these days a lot of film and TV. They're not just doing comedy/comedy or drama/drama, it's in the middle … so dramedy. And we do not want Phi and Me to be all about laughs.
We wanted to touch on the sacrifices that our parents had made to be in Australia, as refugees and as Australians, and we wanted to show how difficult it was for us as teenagers to grow in our world. We're actually sitting on two fences of being Australian and Vietnamese. So for us, we wanted to touch the heart in this web series. So, in Episode Four, and this is a bit of an insight for everybody, the comedy is dropped out and you hit the heart of the show … and you see you see these two people, that you've been laughing with all the three episodes, really see inside their head in Episode Four and that's what we wanted. We wanted substance and we wanted to show a real relationship between mother and daughter.
Judith: Yes, that makes sense. And I think that touches everyone is well. It is obviously going to have a huge audience, I imagine you are expecting a range of responses … everyone will get something different?
Diana: There’ll be in-jokes that only Vietnamese people will understand but universally people will laugh. We didn’t want this to be an ‘ethnic’ web series … we wanted this to be a universal web series about any parent’s love for the child and what they will do for their child and what a child would do for their parents to impress them.
So yeah at The Comedy Festival we had Italian and Sudanese and Afghan people come watch our show and they all came out going … I get that Mum. And it's because mums love their children to death and will do anything for their success. So I think it's as broad as you can get!
Judith: Well I laughed and laughed at the trailer, so I think you are on to something. Tell me about the origins of it … before you got it fully fleshed. Where did the idea come to you from?
Diana: So Fiona and I were known as the two stooges in high school. And in 2010, I was inspired by someone I saw at the Comedy Festival and I just thought … oh my God, we can be funny and tell stories too. So that's how the stage version happened in 2011.
We raised finance and support and so from a 3 person troupe, the web series was filmed in 2017 with a cast and crew of a hundred people. So it jumps from three people to a hundred!
And if we talking about finances I did crowdfunding for $26,000 to get to where we needed to be at post-production and then Screen Australia happily added an extra $52,000 to help with the post-production. So that's why we're having a big party in two weeks’ time.
Judith: Crowdfunding is enormous help to emerging artists. Have you got any advice for people trying to make their own work?
Diana: Yes. Know what you are making and what are the themes … and that's where will you were talking about how broad is it? So you can have a niche, like our niche is Vietnamese people, Vietnamese people will want to support, which is amazing but our story is so broad. So find out what your themes are and then marketing - market your crowdfunding and be so unapologetic with spam.
Because with social media these days, the algorithm will find first or second or third connections who hear your story and that's the people that you want to connect to your crowdfunding. You don't want to just connect with friends and family but you want strangers from another country to go... hey, I believe in your work and your story and that's what happened with me! Phi and Me got crowd funders all over the world supporting it. So it’s not just a Melbourne, an Australian story - it's very global story.
Judith: Following further from that, when it goes online, is it subtitled?
Diana: Yeah. So we've got SBS on board doing a Vietnamese subtitle. So we want 90 million people in Vietnam to watch this. That’s where we will go viral and get Season Two. We want this to be accessible to the first generation Vietnamese, like Vietnamese Americans, to see their story being told and that's really important to us.
Judith: You've got quite a passion for the sharing of this story. Best of luck and only 11 sleeps.
Next up for Genesians - a chat with director Trudy Richie
Persuasion, from Jane Austen, by British playwright Tim Luscombe is next up for Genesian Theatre Company and I had the chance to speak with the director, Trudy Ritchie. Catching up with her by phone during a busy lunch break in rehearsals, Trudy had a bit of a wander up the street so as to be away from the sawing and drilling of the set construction crew. When we got the background noise down I wondered about what we need to know.
Judith: So I'm thinking that maybe people haven't come across either Austin or Persuasion since they were at school. So would you like to give us a little reminder to take into the theatre with us?
Trudy: Of course … Persuasion was one of the last novels that Jane Austen wrote and I believe it wasn't actually published until after she passed away, which is a bit sad. She actually didn't title it Persuasion her brother did. I think she drafted it as ‘The Elliots’ which is interesting.
There is a theme of persuasion running throughout and I guess it's whether having a decisive, firm character versus someone who is susceptible to persuasion; that it's definitely there. But I think it's really it's a love story and it's a chance for righting the wrongs of the past. And that's what happens with the main characters of Anne and Frederick where they fall in love before the war.
Judith: So this is the Napoleonic Wars?
Trudy: Yes. That's right. Yeah, and so they fall in love before that and he actually proposes and she accepts. Unfortunately, she's persuaded by Lady Russell, who has become like a mother to her since her mother passed away, she’s persuaded to decline because he isn't a man of fortune at that time. And so they are both heartbroken and he goes off to war and then eight years later he's back in town and they're reintroduced.
Judith: And he's now famous and wealthy, is that right?
Trudy: Yes. Yes. He's made quite a bit of money in the war; he's been chasing bounties on ships and done quite well for himself. So it's all quite changed.
Judith: The media release indicates that you're doing it in a traditional form, but in an ethereal place. With all that sawing going on when we started to chat, what can audiences expect?
Trudy: Well, I think a lot of the audience they will be hoping and expecting it to be quite a realistic set, which the Genesians do very, very well, but this won't be a realistic setting. It will be quite an adaptable set.
We couldn’t go the traditional way with the set because of the nature of the script. It’s very episodic. So it just moves from one location to another and if we had the beautiful set changes that we normally do, it would just be too much. The audience would grow tired of it and it would just break up the flow way too much. So we've got a set that we can have on stage the entire time and it works really well.
We love that time and we've tried to give as much of the Jane Austen world as we could through the costume and elements of the furniture. There’s some beautiful dresses! And bonnets, there have to be bonnets. But yeah, it's still the traditional text but in a setting that that's probably a little bit more abstract … without giving too much away.
Judith: Of course, the costumes are one of the things that your audiences is love. With the traditional text, I've been reading the play and the language is quite heightened. Do you think that the audiences need a certain sophistication to buy into the characters?
Trudy: I don't think so at all. No, there's so many wonderful, rich characters in it. I think it's just very easy to understand and, also, it's quite amazing how the adaptation is quite different from the novel. It draws out all of the humour and it's actually quite a funny script. So I think it will surprise people in that way.
There’s a lot of jokes and they are very funny. Jane Austen was very funny and people don’t always understand that and this script really shows that aspect of her personality and writing, which is really nice.
Judith: There’s some dialogue we are not used to: “fine looks” and “sisters of inferior value”, stuff like that. Was there a temptation to put a modern spin on it?
Trudy: No, it’s traditional. We are keeping with the etiquette of the day and the manners and so forth.
Judith: I think, in a way, that's what audiences want because if you going to immerse in the period then you don't need glaring changes to the text.
Trudy: That’s right. You know, it's perfect the way it is.
Judith: What kind of research have you been setting your cast?
Trudy: They have been researching the etiquette and manners and the curtsies and holding, you know, arms behind backs and things like that. Things are starting to heat up now and we'll be looking at things like mapping out how far the different manors were located, how far away they were from each other, and how long it took the carriage to get there and things like that. So yeah, we're starting to bring that to life.
Judith: Who do you think are the characters that we will fall in love with?
Trudy: The lovers. Without a doubt. But they are all so wonderful in different ways you know. Like Louisa and how gregarious she is and she’s really quite hilarious. Sir Walter and his vanity and some of the things he says like - morning visits are never fair for a woman of her age. And Elizabeth is hilarious as well with her snootiness! There's so many great characters I couldn’t pick.
An interview with the actor playing Sir John Kerr, Marney McQueen.
I can’t tell you how much I laughed upon seeing that Marney McQueen would be playing Sir John Kerr in Squabbalogic’s upcoming musical The Dismissal. I had questions…
Judith: Oh, please tell me that you're enjoying rehearsal.
Marney: (Big laugh) It's amazing. I absolutely love creating new Australian works. You know, I feel it's just a thrilling thing to be a part of, telling our stories. I did Priscilla and then Dream Lover which wasn't our story, an Australian story, but it was a new Australian production with Australian creatives. And I really love being a part of that process and I've just been blown away with The Dismissal by the boldness and the talent. Yeah, the fearlessness is the main thing and the incredible talent that the creative team have put into to this show.
Laura Murphy's songs and lyrics are just amazing and the script written by Blake Erickson & Jay James-Moody is so fresh and funny and clever. And you know, we're just seeing … I mean, we've only been in the rehearsal room for three days, so we're just seeing it start to have life now. It's just great seeing the actors working and yeah, bringing it to life.
Judith: I spoke to Jay when he was doing Herringbone and he was talking about it then and it sounded interesting. So how did you come on to the project?
Marney: Well, just through my agent. They wanted a female to play the role of Sir John Kerr, the Governor General, and at first I didn't think that I could do it; I didn't think I was available for the date. And then they came back to me, which is always nice, you know, and I had an audition. It wasn't really an audition … it was a very warm, casual, sort of, talk through of some of the scenes because a lot of the show hadn’t even been written. In fact, the script is constantly being updated but was really only really finished about three weeks ago. And so the music came first, Laura wrote most of the music before a script even existed. So it's been a really interesting way to see how the creative process has evolved into production.
Judith: The production itself is described as a work-in-progress. What is the audience going to see?
Marney: Well, that's a really interesting question because you know, we've only got three weeks to pull together what is essentially a full-scale musical. So I don’t know if there will be any concessions made for the newness of the work and the limited rehearsal time! But I really think that we are going to go hell for leather over the next three weeks to pull off a full-scale musical because it’s going to have all the bells and whistles: the band and the costumes and everything. It’s not a reading, to the audience it will look like a full scale production. But Jay is sort of assuring us that it's just a first presentation but yes to the performers that doesn’t mean anything. It still means that you deliver at 150%.
Judith: Yeah, that's right. He likes to work that way and it's been very successful in the past. but it's in the York Theatre, which is huge.
Marney: Well, they're taken out two of the seating banks but still I think it seats 400. I believe!
Judith: On to your role. The more obvious differences aside … what qualities do you think that you share with Sir John Kerr?
Marney: (Big laugh) Oh great question. (thinking) Pride. Yeah, he was a very, very proud person … Didn’t like being made a fool of or having the mickey taken out of him. Now, I certainly don't mind making a fool of myself but yeah, I would say that I would share that with him; being a proud person. He certainly was a very proud person - always had his head held high and I think, you know, the repercussions of his decision would have absolutely crippled him as a person the rest of his life. It just went completely the opposite way to what I imagine he would be expecting might happen.
Judith: What kind of research does a role like this entail?
Marney: A lot … all the events leading up to the Dismissal? Yes. I know a lot more about politics in 1975 than I did previously!
Judith: I lived through it, and I'm sure I don't remember myself, so it'll be fun to see it on stage.
Marney: Yeah well … it is quite detailed but there are some characters who are really …. big in this show. A lot of the supporting characters have been given special license to just absolutely go to town with their characterization. And some of those songs are really funny.
Judith: So tell me about the songs, does Kerr have a solo or anything.
Marney: Yeah he has a couple of songs. The first one he sings is when he’s just met the Queen. It’s his ‘I Want” song – suddenly he’s flipped into another world and it’s an insight into what he wants in his life. It's all about how he just wants to be best friends with the Queen and hang out with Philip and pat the corgis and pop the corks and drink champagne and just, you know, live the life with Philip and Elizabeth. So that's his dream. And that's a fabulous song supported by some gorgeous showgirls … or … maybe they're going to be in top hats and tails. Well, we're choreographing it today. So I'll tell you more about it.
Then there is a beautiful ballad towards the end that is sung by all three of the men. The three main protagonists in the story Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and John Kerr. And it’s about your legacy. What do you leave behind? What do people think of you when you're gone? What do they think about what you do in your life? And that's a beautiful song.
Judith: Are there many songs that are going to be earworms? Do you think we’ll be humming as we leave the theatre?
Marney: Well, welcome to the last few weeks of my life. They are really catchy and quite a few different genres. Worthy of a soundtrack … original Australian cast recording! That’s what I’m gunning for.
Judith: Please, please, tell me Norman Gunston is in it.
Marney: Yes, Yes. Norman Gunston is played by an exceptional actor Matthew Whittet and he narrates the show. And can you believe that Norman Gunston was there on the steps of Parliament House when Gough came out after he’d been “sacked”?
Judith: I remember, painfully well.
Marney: Can you believe it! So we recreated that scene where Norman is on the steps. And Norman is narrating the whole show. And it’s good because the subject matter of the show is quite heavy, I suppose, but with Norman and then with the clever writing from Jay and Blake, it's been able to remain light and fresh. And there's also a lot of commentary on, the way the world is today; it, sort of, has a lot of references to the modern world as well.
Judith: It says some on the promos, ‘rage-filled’. From where you are standing is it a rage-filled show?
Marney: Well, that was a word Gough Whitlam used … and that's a song in the show!
Trans disciplinary artist.
Image: Best We Forget (installation view) - Dean Cross
The Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA), Australia's most illustrious and long-standing Indigenous art awards, has announced the 2019 finalists.
Sydney artist Dean Cross is one of the finalists and if, like me the name sounds familiar to you, Dean began in contemporary dance, performing and choreographing nationally and internationally for over a decade with Australia’s leading dance companies. Following that Dean re-trained as a visual artist, gaining his Bachelor’s Degree from Sydney College of the Arts, and his First Class Honours from the ANU School of Art and Design. He is a trans-disciplinary artist primarily working across installation, sculpture and photography.
Dean Cross was born and raised on Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country and is of Worimi descent. I had the chance to speak with him in New Zealand where he is currently working on a project.
Judith: So you are in Windy Wellington …
Dean: Yes, currently in Wellington on an artist exchange. It’s actually a beautiful day here today. I’ve been here for five weeks already but I’m coming home next week.
Judith: I wanted to start at the beginning. I was very struck by your work Right Land’s. I am wondering if you've always seen the world in visuals, you know, do you have a visual brain I suppose I'm asking?
Dean: I would say yes to that. My previous life was as a contemporary dance choreographer and the moving body and that relationship to a viewer... I think I’m just wired that way. And now as my body has aged and wearied, I no longer work so much with other people and other bodies, the choreography now appears, instead, in more subtle ways in the individual art that I make now.
Judith: And you're a transdisciplinary artist, so your practice is wide ranging. Do the ideas come to you as the product as well as the process, or does one, sort of, work towards the other?
Dean: That’s a difficult one to pin down, I would say that usually the ideas are the first things to form … they will sit and stew and swirl around before they are fully formed. But having said that, there are times when I suppose I have surprised myself … when the work will emerge from you and you don’t quite understand what you are working on. And it only reveals itself through the doing. A little in column A and a little in column B depending on what I am thinking about at the time.
Judith: And installations, there are many of those, do those come to you as separate works or is it one concept that appears to you?
Dean: Well … I think it more that there are two parallel facets to being a practical visual artist: the work side, the studio side and then the other line is the building of shows. The understanding of how a body will go through space to view work. And I think that often artists forget about that; curators forget about that to a certain extent.
The line dropped out here but when we reconnected …
Judith: So we were talking about how it comes together in the gallery.
Dean: Yep when I’m building a show, when I am installing work I am often thinking about the physical experience of the viewer, how the viewer will move through the space. And I think that is my choreographic brain kicking in and having an understanding of the subtle manipulation of a physical body that produces emotion or even a physiological response and those are also tools which can be used by an artist.
Judith: I can see that in your work called 1kg of Earth from a 1000km’s Away where you are using what essentially in print, we would call white space.
Dean: So the way that that came together, that particular piece. It had been an idea for a long time that had never been produced. For the most recent Kaldor Public Art Project I was able to realize that work and I travelled 1,000 kilometers to K'gari (Fraser Island) and came back and installed a kilo of sand into the gallery space. I think that was a work where I wanted to, I think, sort of, re-enact or understand for myself a sense of displacement or distance, long distance. But also, perhaps more simply, a way to make a really big sculpture. I like the idea of a sculpture that is 1000 kilometres long or painting 1000 kilometres long. And in the space, when it’s received, there’s a shift that they have to do mentally to stretch themselves across that vastness.
Judith: As a sixth-generation white Australian who connects very strongly with your work, I’m curious if you know who will be your audience when you begin a work. Is it possible to know? Do you want a particular audience for what a particular piece has to say?
Dean: No. I’ve never really thought about that to be honest. Any works will be read in a myriad of ways depending on who is doing the reading. Often, I think, there are things in my work that only Aboriginal people will understand because of the experiences we’ve had and non-Aboriginal people, there are parts of their lives where their story resonates. Not everyone’s story is a happy story no matter who you are. But I’m not exclusively making work one way or the other.
Judith: Well, I must say on a personal level my responses to your work are so strong. Dropping the Bullshit really hit home. Especially generationally because I'm older so and we grew up with those images… there's no doubt about it. It’s a consciousness raiser across the whole of our community isn’t it?
Dean: Coming back to who is the audience, maybe it is the children who haven't been born yet who we need to educate. They will be the ones who live in a world where those sort of binary, kind of dichotomy, separate people, concepts will evaporate. Those children that we have to hold our hope for ... not saying that the rest of us have to give up. Surely that’s where our attentions and hopes will lie.
Judith: Children are our future for sure. On that topic where do you think awards like the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA), are placed to support emerging artists.
Dean: I think the prizes can be useful in the presentation of Aboriginal art to show the scope of what it is that Aboriginal artists are producing across the entire continent, those things are all really, really great. But I mean, it's not why you make work and not why you are involved in that kind of exhibition, it does highlight it though.
Judith: I mean there were 280 entries and there are 68 finalists so it highlights that that creative side of the Aboriginal experience?
Dean: Absolutely. Any exhibition whether it's a prize or a non-prize that is exclusively Aboriginal people … needs a real breadth of practice, which I think is the key. Because I mean it's still a problem, the issue of what does an Aboriginal art work look like? And there's a very fixed, I would say colonial perception of what an Aboriginal art work is and should look like, and that's not any of the work that I make or any of my peers. That fixed idea comes from very centralized, like, western desert and the top end and there's lots of us making work outside of those centres.
So I think that museums and galleries have a real obligation to be expanding the perception of that. I’m in a show (unbranded) at the moment that deals with this directly. The whole premise of the exhibition is an expansion of what Aboriginal Art can mean. Because, of course, it can mean anything, in the same way that in the western art canon it can mean anything. But because there are still prescribed notions around Aboriginality, authenticity and what it means to be an Aboriginal person, we are not afforded the same luxuries of being able to produce any sort of artwork we want.
Then even if we did, by nature of being a political body because of my history, it will always be a politicised work regardless of its intention. I could make it pure abstract painting but because of my politicised history, because of my politicised body, it’s going to be a political artwork no matter what.
See more about Dean Cross and his wonderful making at his website. The winners of the 36th Telstra NATSIAA will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) on Friday 9 August 2019.
An interview with actor Reza Momenzada
In the offices of a hip New York magazine, where the banter is more poisonous than the pens, a group of twentysomething editorial assistants scrap it out for their bosses’ jobs. And, a book deal before they’re thirty. In a culture powered by status and Starbucks, a regular work day suddenly turns into anything but, and these aspiring journalists are presented with a career-defining shot at the best-seller list.
Outhouse Theatre Co (The Flick and The Rolling Stone) and Seymour Centre will present the Sydney premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist play, Gloria in June.
I had the chance to interrupt Reza Momenzada’s lunch break from rehearsal to ask some questions about this intriguing play. Reza is the bearded man up the back in the photo and you may have seen his work in The Sound of Waiting at the Eternity Theatre and Humans at the Old Fitz.
Judith: Can you give us an idea of what the play is about?
Reza: Well, the play begins in the offices of the cultural section of a publishing magazine in Manhattan in New York, where there are several young, very young, assistant editors and an intern.
Judith: And who do you play, Reza?
Reza: I play Lorin, a fact checker who is a very sad, sad exhausted man who is stuck in his office in a job that he's not happy with at all. He always regrets doing this and not doing what he was always passionate about doing, which was going to law school to become a lawyer.
Judith: If I understand correctly, all the characters are not doing anything that they want to do. They're all thwarted in their ambitions for what they want to be.
Reza: Yes and I suppose ambitious is the best way to describe these characters … they are all ambitious. They are trying to climb the ladder of success no matter what cost. They don’t care about anyone but themselves and they are fed up with what they are doing in the office.
Judith: Can you share with us the kind of research did you’ve engaged in for the role?
Reza: Well getting to know what a publishing life is like and what is a fact checker’s role in a publishing magazine. And what their everyday life is like; these are people who spend a lot of time in the office. They even work over hours. So I had to understand the nature of this job for my character and what he's going through at the moment … doing this kind of job every day for someone who yells all the time, it becomes quite exhausting.
Judith: Yes, I imagine so. But with Alex Berlage directing I imagine that it's not a very static show though, because he has a strong eye for movement doesn't he? So even though these people are sitting and working at their computers, I expect it's a fairly busy play.
Reza: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean the space that we are in is quite small being in an office. But I love working with Alex. His attention to details - the way that you deliver the line and the way that you move around the space. So yes, it is quite a busy environment. But at the same time, a small place where a lot happens and a lot is being said and done at the same time. It’s quite challenging at times.
Judith: Yes, I can imagine and you've got a pretty impressive cast that you're working alongside.
Reza: The other actors, oh my god, just so talented and generous. Even through I haven’t met any of them before working with them I feel like I have known them a long time because I feel so comfortable that it doesn’t feel like any kind of work. It feels like you are having so much fun with such talented people that you are learning from … a lot.
Judith: What about how you got into acting? I saw that you have been training almost since you arrived in Australia. When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Reza: Very good question. I suppose I knew when I was in high school. I came to Australia from a non-English speaking background and it was hard to connect, you know. But when I did drama class I realised I didn’t need to do much to connect and have fun. Acting gave me that opportunity, or the chance, to belong to a place that with quite foreign to me.
Judith: That is a very moving story. On that topic, I just was wondering how you're seeing diversity on a Sydney stages? This is a very diverse cast in Gloria.
Reza: I think, being new to the industry and from talking to other actors, I think it is happening. I think they are starting to recognise and accept that there are other cultures. Everyone is unique and has a beautiful Story to tell. And, you know, a lot of those stories come from outside of Australia. And actors from outside Australia who can tell these stories, I think, is a bonus and I think I think it is shifting. And I hope, I hope, that it grows and it becomes part of Australian theatre.
Judith: I agree. And what are you moving on to after this run.
Reza: I actually had to turn down another theatre work that was clashing with this and my agent was also trying to book me for a TV show which was clashing! So at the moment, I'm just focusing on this one. And then once I put this behind I’ll be ready to move on to the next project.
Judith: That's one of the problems with being a jobbing actor, isn't it, it all comes at once?
Reza: Yes it all comes at once and it’s quite difficult to juggle!
Sharp Short Theatre
The stars of the future. Interview with the event producer.
Now in its fifth year, Sharp Short Theatre is a short play competition for writers, directors and performers who are 18 years and under, and aims to uncover and cultivate the next generation of Australia theatre practitioners and artists.
As the exciting heats approach I had the opportunity to ask some questions of Producer Amy Matthews.
Judith: Nice to e-meet you, Amy. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for my readers. Sharp Short Theatre is in its fifth year this year, how did it all start?
Amy: Nice to meet you, too. Here at Riverside we felt, as a professional venue, there was an opportunity to provide a unique venue based experience for young people interested in directing, performing and writing for theatre. As a venue we are in this great position of having access to a professional theatre space and fantastic theatre practitioners. Why not give young people an opportunity to access these same things and chance make theatre in this space?
Students enter the competition to showcase their work. The fact their work is then showcased on a professional stage, with professional stage managers, lighting and sound technicians and industry mentors is what they come back for.
Judith: How does it all work in practice?
Amy: We have 4 heats all in one week, and then a final which is a week or two after the heats. Judges from the theatre industry (who generously volunteer their time) watch the heats and select one performance per heat that automatically goes through to the final. The remaining finalists are chosen at the end of the week, after all the heats have been performed, based on the judges scoring and recommendation. A total of 9 plays go through the finals.
Then, the judges on the finals night select who will win which prize. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories including Writing, Directing, Performing and Overall Production.
There is also an Audience Pick which our finals audience have fun selecting on the night, and a Mentor’s Choice, a 10th act that performs on the finals night during judges deliberations but does not qualify for the finals (as a way of the Mentor’s encouraging a play that did really well; took on feedback etc).
The heats week is exhausting for me but so rewarding and the highlight of my year. The transformation I see from the tech runs earlier in the heat day to the final performance in front of the audience can be so huge- and it’s great to see young people learning and developing throughout the day (let alone over the years of competing in the comp).
Judith: It’s all about the young people but I am wondering what part do the schools have to play? Or does it come down to the parents?
Amy: Generally, it’s the schools that do play a major part in giving their students the opportunity to enter this competition. We get both actual schools and after-school drama schools entering and a lot of it really does come down to their teacher to support their entry. Each entry has an adult ‘producer’ who takes care of the logistics of entering- does the paper work, gets the excursions approved etc.
Without their support, we wouldn’t have a competition, so I can’t thank these amazing teachers enough!
Judith: Have you seen a change in the themes over the last few years, young people’s worlds are changing fast!
Amy: Definitely! It’s funny but some years there also seems to be organically developing ‘themes’ for the year. A few years back, there were a lot of political plays- many of them mentioning the then Prime Minister Tony Abbot. Last year it was very ‘horror’ and ‘thriller’ focussed- with every second play featuring some sort of mystery/ murder or gore (some comic and some serious).
It really does provide a marvellous insight into what young people are feeling and thinking. Their aspirations and their concerns. What they perceive as their future or their present. It’s well worth watching!
Judith: What about the mix between comedy and drama?
Amy: I’d say there is generally a 50/50 mix. If there was a trend, I’d say primary school aged students tend to do comedy and fantasy the secondary schools tend more towards drama and issues.
But generally the heats are really well balanced between the two and the audience will get to laugh AND cry!
Judith: Thank you for your time, just one last question. Riverside Theatres has huge audience footprint, are you finding that Sharp Short Theatre is attracting young people from all over? It’s a rare opportunity!
Amy: Yes in fact I’d say close to half of our entries are from regional NSW, and the others that are from the Sydney metro area are from all over Sydney. The regional schools we have competing this year are from the Hunter Region, Bowral, Wollongong and Katoomba. Our Sydney schools come from Blacktown and the Hills area all the way to Vaucluse and Pymble. It’s such a great mix of schools and students from all walks of life!
Sharp Short Theatre is at Riverside Theatre from June 1 with the finals on 14th June.
Some insights into the set, and costumes, for Collaborators coming to New Theatre.
An interview with designer Colleen Cook.
Judith: It’s a tricky space, the New. So, with this being an intimate story inside a huge geo-political world, have you stripped it or narrowed it in?
Colleen: I’ve tried to incorporate both aspects. I am keen to show the squashed, communal housing that reduced fine old houses and apartments into subdivided living quarters and communal kitchen spaces. Repairs are either non-existent or tired and there is a mishmash of styles and history in the walls, the furniture and the floor.
Because there is a continual flow in the play, I have shown the vast Stalinist regime around and beyond the small communal set. The back wall is exposed on the Stage Right side, a red architrave juts into the dark black space and cold light protrudes trough the long corridors onto the empty and black front of the stage. The actors have a huge space to work in, in front of the set, and from wall to wall.
Judith: There are so many visual images we associate with Stalinism and the period, from black and white grainy footage to blood on the ice labour camps, how did you choose your colour palette for set and costumes?
Colleen: I love working with colour. It’s one of the most important things to me, along with lighting. Because I wanted to avoid clichés, red is used sparingly. It’s a trim on architraves that are otherwise within the communal housing set. Absolutely no warm colours are seen in the costumes until characters start to embrace elements of Stalin’s regime – accepting the heating, a driver, a luxurious party all courtesy of Stalin’s ‘generosity’. The opposite of red on the colour wheel is green, so there are many shades of greens, ochres, browns and greys, in defiance of the red splashes.
There is an added complication in this play. A scene from Molière’s Malade Imaginaire is played out on stage. I have paid homage to the Moscow Arts theatre’s constructivist period, using shadow movements behind a double calico screen which also serves to divide the makeshift rooms in the apartment. The actors are in taupe, beige, white and black, matching the calico. There are two actors who work with Vladimir within the play’s story. They are also in that colour scheme.
Judith: There are 14 in the cast by my count; that’s an impressive amount of costuming to prepare isn’t it?
Colleen: It’s huge, but even more, each of the cast members have changes, and the actors portray many different characters with quick costume changes. Then there are the Molière scenes at the beginning and end of the play, which require masks and medieval doctor’s hats and costumes. Not the sort of thing you find off the shelf, so these have had to be designed and made, to a tight budget.
Judith: In the early design phase what kind of decisions do you make with the director and other creatives? I’m thinking about whether the comedy shows in the design or, because there’s a fantasy at the heart of the play, deciding whether anything fantastical needs illustrating.
Colleen: Because I am an actor and director as well, I know how important it is to make everything move well for performance and I also like to give actors places to put things easily so that they have the flexibility of business for their characters. The director, Moira Blumenthal and I worked closely weeks before we started rehearsal, to see that sight lines would work, and exits and entrances would make sense. The play is full of complicated fictional and real entrances and they happen quickly, so it’s not easy to make sense of them all.
It’s also important to make the comedy work in the set. The stage directions specifically ask for a sliding door through which various people emerge (one actor lives in the cupboard). All the productions I’ve been able to get my hands on have changed this to a hinged door, but Moira insisted on a sliding one. Because that means twice the width to allow for the slide, I’ve introduced another cupboard next to it and that too will give the audience some surprises (no spoilers!).
Judith: I like to give readers an understanding of the swan’s feet. How much work goes into construction, sewing, sourcing etc? How long before rehearsals start is the team already working? And how long does it take after the curtain comes down and the show finally closes?
Colleen: I had made my set model before Pygmalion’s production commenced, and that’s the show before ours. I’m in Pygmalion (I play Mrs Higgins) so being super organised was paramount.
Sourcing props, materials and costumes starts straight away. The longer you give yourself the better chance you have of staying within budget. This has been a mammoth show for sewing costumes. Much of it has to be done from scratch, so it has involved a few people helping with basic sewing to complete garments. We have been making the set around the current production which will help a lot. We will bump in immediately after the Pygmalion set is dismantled. I will be doing quite a bit of painting and wallpapering to create the layers of history in the communal housing section of the set.
When the show finishes, much of the set will be undone and the timbers recycled for another production. We will begin dismantling the set as soon as the audience leaves the auditorium! Costumes will need to be sorted according to the place from which they were borrowed, and then washed and drycleaned before returning them. That brings us at least into the week after the close of the show.
Judith: What elements of the design process do you like most and is that what drew you into this world?
Colleen: For me, the creative process is the thing that gives me joy. It’s more exciting to work with constraints and tight budgets than to have a limitless palette. My first love is drawing, with wet or dry media. I love the immediacy of mark making and working with lines that can’t be erased. Everything you put on the page is valid. Similarly, this set and all the design elements are in my head, just like the image I see on a blank page before I start drawing. It’s a matter of seeing what happens, going with it and being flexible.
I have both my mother and father to thank for my spontaneous way of creating. My mother was a contortionist with the old Tivoli theatre in Sydney and later made many costumes, mostly for variety – singing and dancing shows. Quick changes were a specialty and nothing she made ever fell apart, no matter how much stress was put on the costumes. She would cut out a pattern straight onto the fabric and her guess work was astonishingly accurate. I work the same way and still use her treadle sewing machine from about 1930 for all my sewing. I don’t enjoy sewing and working from a pattern would be my least favourite thing, but I certainly love to create something from the image I have in my head, so if that means sewing, so be it!
My father built record players, radios, microphones and sound systems in the valve days. He built the cabinets as well. He could build anything form bits and pieces, always finished beautifully. I still use two bookshelves he made at least 45 years ago and they’re still going strong. I often helped him in the workshop and love working with wood.
I performed in theatre in one way or another all my life. More often than not, I contributed to costume making or props along the way, and my skills grew along the way. I can’t help seeing the whole production at once so it’s only natural I should enjoy any aspect of the process, on stage or off.
In a disaster of colliding schedules this is a late interview with the writer/producer/performer whose show Never Let Me Go was my highlight of the recent Batch Festival at Griffin.
Judith: Thank you so much for taking time out of what must be a horribly busy schedule. This is a world premiere work, written and produced by you, plus you are appearing in it ... and it opens in under a fortnight. As the writer do you get calmer about this time even as your other responsibilities ramp up?
Adriano: Haha. I wouldn’t use the word calm, but when you are wearing so many hats as the creative process continues you have to shift your focus. As we get closer to production I have to accept that I have to let go of the impulse to do re-writes and focus on the text with my actor’s perspective and approach it differently.
Judith: This is quite a cast and creative team assembled for its outing at ‘Batch’ . Have many been with the project over its gestation?
Adriano: The cast was assembled quite quickly which was a small miracle. We needed actors who could sing, play multiple roles and be willing to input and workshop a new Australian work.
My previous work This Boy’s in Love was directed by Johann Walraven who directs Never Let Me Go, so we have a shared creative language.
Steven Kreamer, the musical director has just come off working on Evie May at the Hayes last November, which I thought was fantastic and I asked him to arrange some 80’s era pop music for a boutique choir of voices and he said yes!
Judith: I’m expecting great music because Steven is on board. What track do you think will be the major earworm?
Adriano: There are lots of 80’s tunes people will recognise, but Steven has arranged them in complex and clever ways that they may not be readily recognisable. Toby Gilbert who is a regular house DJ and composer has also created some new 80’s dance tracks which feature in the show. My brief to him was to create something between Giorgio Moroder and New Order and he has exceeded my expectations!
Judith: What motivated you to tell this particular story?
Adriano: I am a gay man who became a teenager in the early 90’s where there was scant representation of gay people in media, stories and films. There were however stories that began to emerge about a mysterious disease called AIDS. I remember watching the Grim Reaper Commercial as a kid and being aware of something ominous but not sure if it was ten pin bowling I should be afraid of.
As I grappled with the secret of my sexuality I realised I wasn’t going to change and this is who I was but the dots began to connect and it became clear that men like me were dying. Struggling with my sexuality as a teenager I didn’t have a sexual awakening or tender first love but the fear of death and intimacy and sex.
The hysteria around AIDS, the uncertainty, the tragedy of lost young lives and the moralising that this disease was some sort of punishment weighed on me as a young man. I wasn’t excited to start my gay fabulous life.
I moved from Perth to Sydney when I was 21 and I was introduced to a world of dance parties, gay bars and being part of an accepting community. The first time I marched in Mardi Gras I was a champagne cork flying though the street, bursting with happiness and awe that so many people were affirming my identity. All I’d ever felt around being gay was fear and isolation and here I was exploding with joy and exclaiming Happy Mardi Gras! to thousands of new friends!
As I began to explore the scene I discovered I wasn’t as sexually daring as I thought I would be. It took me longer to trust, build relationships and I rarely jumped into bed with someone I barely knew. I wanted to be bold and free spirited and couldn’t work out what was holding me back.
A few years ago I read a play called The Normal Heart by US playwright Larry Kramer. It chronicles the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York through the eyes of writer Ned Weeks as he forms community action groups and fights dogmatically for money for research, outreach and awareness. He pleads with his community to stop having sex to save their lives while still yearning for connection and intimacy. And there it was. In that character Larry Kramer had distilled an essence of my experience growing up in the shadow of AIDS. I set about researching more about this period and I found a book called Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS by Paul Sendziuk. The book details the history of AIDS in Australia from the early 80’s and the innovative government approach and involvement of community action groups in forming policy and prioritising education and prevention.
As a story-teller what struck me most about the Australian story was the fortuitous circumstances that allowed for Australia to have the lowest HIV transmission rates in the developed world.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have your friends die around you before you had even turned 30. People had so many funerals to go to they had to decide which one of their friends they would say goodbye to. What I realised as I delved deeper into the story of AIDS was that these men and women didn’t give up and live in fear, but they overcame everything to care and love one another. I wanted to honour the people who lived and died in my community and who fought bravely. I often think of all the fabulous and creative men I never got to meet. They could have been my mentors, my friends, my lovers. I will never know the power of their human spirit but their stories have given me strength to live boldly and Never Let Me Go is my love letter to them all.
Judith: People like myself, who also lived through it with our brothers, might be a bit wary of revisiting those dark times. I have always found your work uplifting, how will Never Let Me Go send us from the theatre?
Adriano: Ultimately, I think the story of AIDS in Australia is uplifting because divergent groups (politicians, doctors, the gay community, drug users, sex workers, researchers) had to come together and cooperate and in the process they saved thousands of lives. They didn’t take the moral high ground like in the US, believing AIDS was God’s punishment, but they were pragmatic, progressive and united.
AIDS showed us that you can affect change but you have you can only do that form a position on non-judgement. Nobody could say this is right or wrong but they had to look at the facts and accept that they couldn’t act as a moral arbitrator. Because no one is innocent, everyone is flawed and no one has the right to stand in judgment. When we live from this place we tap into our humanity and discover it is infinite in its scope.
I think the audience will leave the theatre proud that we as a country acted with commonsense and compassion.
Judith: Are there plans to take the show to a wider audience after sharing it with the Griffin crowds?
This is the first incarnation of a project that I hope to expand to a longer work, which covers more of the history and develops the characters further. At this stage it is a taught 60 minute narrative. As an independent theatre maker you hope people take an interest in your work but ultimately there is not a lot of money for development of new Australian work.
But I’m optimistic and tenacious and I know this story is special and I believe that it will resonate strongly with audiences.
If I’m going to put my dreams out there -I would love this show to end up being Australia’s Angels in America. Big call, but dreams aren’t meant to be small.
Read my review of Never Let Me Go here.
An interview with the director, Erica Glynn who is also the daughter of the subject of the film, Alfreda Glynn.
She Who Must Be Loved is a documentary showcasing the epic life story of Alfreda Glynn - who founded Imparja TV and radio networks across Australia – including CAAMA, Australia's largest Aboriginal media organisation. One of the hot ticket docos at the 66th Sydney Film Festival the film is directed by her daughter - influential Indigenous filmmaker Erica Glynn (In My Own Words – SFF2017).
We had the opportunity to send through some questions to Erica about this film.
Judith: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions. I believe you are in Cooktown. I am a Townsville girl and I miss the warm, so … slightly envious.
Erica: No worries Judith. In fact I’m based in Sydney but in Alice working at the moment….and it’s freezing here in the desert.
Judith: This film is certainly a family affair and I imagine a lot of love went into its making. Is it a film you have always wanted to make?
Erica: Yes & No! I always thought someone in our family (not necessarily me) would get it made. Partly because so many other filmmakers have pestered Mum over the years to do it, and she has knocked them back, but mostly because she is an incredible person who deserves to be acknowledged for her contribution to Australian Media.
Judith: As the participants, including your mother are aging, did you feel a time pressure to bring this film to screen?
Erica : It’s been swimming around in my brain for many years but at the end of the day the timing was perfect. I’ve matured enough as a filmmaker to take on such a complex and layered story. My Niece Tanith, the Producer, has enough credibility now to attract financing a film such as this and Mum is bold enough to say how what she wanted to talk about and what she didn’t.
Judith: The film uses some remarkable historic footage - how difficult was it to source? And would you mind giving an insight into your cultural approach to using the footage?
Erica: CAAMA has a rich archive and obviously this was where we headed first. Like every other blackfella screen situation it comes down to consultation and making people aware.
Judith: The title is intriguing. Is it indicative of you or your mother, do you think?
Erica: She Who Must Be Obeyed was the film’s working title. In the 80’s, white people who had held all the power in Alice Springs for a long time, were really challenged by Mum’s/CAAMA’s requests and expectations. They publicly referred to her as She Who Must Be Obeyed. But in the end the film moved in its own direction, and that name no longer suited. She is not that person anymore. It seems the new title She Who Must Be Loved means different things to different people. You have to watch it to figure out what it means to you.
Judith: I read the German review of your film on IMDB and she mentions a “respectful distance” approach to the film-making. Do you see that as accurate?
Erica: I was simply trying to get stuff from an elderly woman who on Day One regretted she’d ever agreed to have a film made about her.
Judith: Most documentaries, personal or political, are a call to action. What would you hope that audiences of your film are invested to do after viewing?
Before the return to Barangaroo for Vivid of Marri Dyin, an interview with one of the creatives behind this much anticipated free event.
Photos from 2018 by Steve Christo
Winter Camp, presented at Barangaroo for Vivid Sydney 2019 will bring back the six-metre tall puppet Marri Dyin (“Great Woman” in Sydney local language) now joined by Sydney school children to share in the stories of the land and its relationship with First Nations peoples.
I had the chance to speak with the Scott Wright, Artistic Director of Erth Visual & Physical Inc, a performing arts company renowned, among other achievements, for its creation of giant puppetry. Marri Dyin is pronounced “Mahr-ee Djin”.
Judith: Your character is coming back and she’s got company?
Scott: Yes! Marri Dyin what an amazing creation? She’s starting to grow into anything more than we ever expected.
Judith: She’s not a specific spiritual character is she?
Scott: That’s right. It doesn’t have any connection to any traditional indigenous or First Nations stories or culture. What she is is a contemporary spirit which acknowledges the women of Australia.
Last year was so specific and she represented the women of the Eora Nation but I think, as she continues to grow into her potential, it’s important to acknowledge all the First Nations women of Australia.
Judith: And to include the children is a wonderful move for her.
Scott: Well, the children are the future aren’t they? They will carry the knowledge into the future and we can only do our best in order to pass that knowledge on.
Judith: How are the children involved?
Scott: In a very practical sense there are over 500 school children participating in workshops with dancers we are sending into schools. And then on the nights of Vivid, each school will have an opportunity to perform with Marri Dyin.
We have, a guess you would call it a shoal of illuminated native fish, and the children will puppeteer those fish around Barangaroo as a recognition of the seasonal changes and the food sources that were available to First Nations people at that time.
Judith: And she is camped for part of the week isn’t she?
Scott: What we have learned is that as the months got colder the people would migrate from inland to the coast because the temperature was warmer on the coast. And so the idea is that Marri Dyin has come in onto the coast because the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and she’s setting up camp. And she’s collecting food, preparing for the winter months.
Monday to Wednesday she will sit in contemplation and Thursday to Sunday she gets up and she is actually going to be naming things in the Sydney language. So as she travels around Barangaroo she’ll be identifying various things like trees and water and sky and children and she will be giving them their names in what we understand to have been the language spoken in Sydney before settlement.
Judith: Sounds like a great way for the children to teach their parents.
Scott: Yes! What I’m interested in is education by action rather than education by institution. We are not producing a formal way of learning but creating an immersive experience where through that experience you may subliminally learn two or three traditional words, in a way an act of preservation.
Judith: Can I ask you about the usual Vivid technical concerns around wet weather and lighting?
Scott: Well, she has her gunya so if it gets really wet she can always go into her hut and bunker down and warm herself around her fire. But essentially she is made from the fabric that a lot of people’s shower curtains would be made from so she can take a bit of weather.
The lighting is a series of LEDs and she has over 300 inside of her - so an infinite array of colours and it allows us to program her anyway we want. Colour, patterns etc - it’s exciting.
Building on what she did last year her visual language is increasing, she can do so much more this year. Last year she was big and brazen. She did fire ceremonies and conjured up a thunderstorm - very dramatic. But this year we wanted to bring her back to a more gentle presence and initially I thought she would do less but it turns out she is doing more!
Judith: One last practical question, how many operators does she take?
Scott: There’s a team of ten operators but apart from the puppeteers there’s also technical people, stage management, site managers etc so in reality it would be 10-15 people on any given night to bring her to life.
Marri Dyin is spectacular and she’s beautiful and she has a presence that is very calming but at the same time she provides a catalyst to having that discussion around First Nations people and culture and language and the importance of preservation.
Winter Camp featuring Marri Dyin is 24 May–15 June, 6–9pm. Winter Camp show Monday – Wednesday, performances Thursday – Sunday at Exchange Place and Wulugul Walk, Barangaroo. FREE. More Information here.
I loved the book and had the chance to speak with Producer/Director Sophie Hyde about the film which is set to be one of my highlights of Sydney Film Festival, 2019.
Animals the novel, from Emma Jane Unsworth was first published by Canongate in the UK in May 2014, then reprinted as a paperback in June 2015. The film, from Australian producer/ director Sophie Hyde with Unsworth as the screenwriter, will screen during Sydney Film Festival 2019. Animals features Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) as best friends who live in a haze of drink, drugs and one-night stands, cutting a swathe through Dublin until their friendship is tested when one of them falls in love.
Early this morning, Adelaide time, I spoke to Sophie while she was out walking.
Judith: So you are an early riser.
Sophie: I am and I like a walk especially if I’m talking. I find it hard to sit and talk.
Judith: Your film Animals looks like being one of the highlights of the Sydney Film Festival. Will you be coming up with the film?
Sophie: I am coming. I go to London first to premiere it there then straight to Sydney.
Judith: Is that at a festival in London?
Sophie: Yes it is. It came out at Sundance in the US in January and now it’s premiering at Sundance London which is where Sundance take, I think it’s only six or seven films, and do the UK premiers of those.
Judith: How important do you think Festivals are to an independent filmmaker?
Sophie: To me it’s really important. At the moment film festivals are the only place, as audiences, we are seeing a lot of films. And as filmmakers - we are showing films to an audience ... hopefully it’s going to go broader than that ... but in the first instance that’s where you present it first to an audience. And it’s like festivals are curators of work and people get to see the films through that so you are not relying on salespeople, or whatever, to connect you with audiences. To me they are really important.
Judith: Sort of on the same topic, your film 52 Tuesdays picked up a swag of awards. What do those accolades provide?
Sophie: It’s depends on the movie of course. Awards are those funny things ... you try not to get too attached to them but it still feels nice when you get them. For a film like 52 Tuesdays it was really important because we made that film without anyone knowing about it; it was a very small movie. And so awards really did something to ask people to stop and pay attention to it and gave it some kind of kudos in a world where we were completely unknown and our cast were all unknown.
I think some movies don’t follow that path, they don’t need that so much, they have a different audience and a different way of getting to them. But certainly when you are an independent filmmaker it’s useful!
Judith: In other interviews you have spoken about your independence as a filmmaker, how important is it to you to make your own work ?
Sophie: Really important and increasingly so, I really believe in it. There’s a temptation to want to reach out ... when you are young and also even now for me ... to step into something where someone else has raised the finance, all the work is done for you and you just get to go in and be the director. But the satisfaction for me is much greater on things where I have a part in that, where I am part of a team that is working together to do all the elements.
So, for me, I don’t want to go in and feel like I’m working for someone else, I want to work with other people. Having independence is what gives me that, the power to make the things I want to make.
Judith: So with Animals, how did the opportunity arise to work with author Emma Unsworth who is also the screenwriter.
Sophie: I was sent the script, and I read the book and I pitched for it. It gets sent out to a handful of directors specifically and then you kind of pitch back to them. And that one, for some reason, I just thought it was the right kind of film. And I met them, Sarah Brocklehurst one of the producers and Emma on Skype and I felt that was the right kind of people to work with. So I came onto the project that way.
I was talking before about how someone else has “owned “ it but over the years how we developed Animals and financed it, it also became owned by my production company as it became and Australian/Irish co-production. So it became ours as well; it morphed into something.
Judith: And you appear to have reveled in the Irish identity of the film?
Sophie: I did... I loved that part of it. The original book is set in Manchester but we moved it to Dublin for financial reasons. And we were still going to set it in Manchester, or that was the request, but I just loved Dublin so much.
I loved the world of Dublin for the girls in the story ... old and amazing architecture and beautiful streets and this very literary background. To tell a story in a city, I think the city kind of becomes part of it and so you ... I ... have to immerse myself in that place and understand it really quickly. That was great! That was a very enjoyable part of making that movie.
Judith: And there’s a shorthand for the audience about the Irish and drinking?
Sophie: I think Irish and Australian people really understand each other ... there’s this real comradery ... and I think Australians get the drinking really quickly as well. It doesn’t sit as well in, say, America, for example. I’ve found people there struggle with it, the way the girls drink. That’s very interesting. I haven’t been to the UK with it so I’ll let you know!
Judith: Variety called your directing style “spangled” I really have to ask about that!
Sophie: (Laughter.) That was a really funny quote from them and I was like - is that an insult? So I’ve taken it as a positive and we have used the term ‘dilapidated glamour’ when we talk about this film.
There is like a glitter on the feet and dirty toenails. It’s like they are very glamorous, and they are olde worlde in some ways like a movie stars but they are also really grotty and messy and bringing those elements together is what we were doing with the characters. And I guess also in my directing style there’s a kind of full richness inside the story ... it’s very luscious but also very grounded and real and raw. I don’t know that we see those things together a huge amount.
Judith: Thank you so much for your time and walking breath. One last question: please tell me it’s true you edited the film in your backyard next to the chicken coop.
Sophie: Yesss. My partner Brian (Mason) shot the film and also edited it. So he came to Dublin with me and we immersed there. And then we came back to Adelaide and we really do have a shed in our backyard, it’s kind of a lined shed, like a studio. And it’s right next to our chooks and our dog’s there and the possums run around and make a lot of noise. And editing there is like shutting off from the rest of the world while you put together a movie which is what editing takes.
You’ve Got Mail
Before it opens tonight at the Batch Festival we asked some questions of co-creator Ang Collins.
Call me romantic but I was very intrigued by You’ve Got Mail by Ang Collins and Sarah Hadley, a weird and wild satirical rom-com for the Batch Festival. So I sent through some questions to Ang about this odd offering.
Judith: Is it weird that I am emailing you these interview questions? Rather than speaking to you directly about a show which explores the lack of emotion on the internet?
Ang: This way, we’re just like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan! Emailing back and forth with calculated witty banter. It is funny that emailing interview questions has become the norm so quickly - if it doesn’t exist online it didn’t happen!
Judith: Should an attendee do an iTunes hire of the movie before hitting the show?
Ang: Absolutely not. If you know and love the film, you’ll enjoy the show immensely. If you have no idea what the film is about and have no interest in watching it, you’ll enjoy the show immensely. This show exists in its own right entirely.
Judith: The show was a big hit at Bondi Feast, what made you reprise it and have there been many changes?
Ang: The Bondi Feast run was so much fun - we literally threw the show up in its rawest form and had no idea whether people would get it, let alone enjoy it. Thankfully they thought it was hilarious and weird, so that gave us the confidence to go back to the drawing board with it, and see what directions to push it in next.
This show was and still is a work in progress, and the Batch Festival run is the next step in an ongoing cyber-journey. We’ve made a bunch of changes, and wrangled the beast into a weirder, sillier, more cinematic direction (read, lots of movie references in the form of little Easter eggs). It’s going to be the bigger, better version of the show we put on at Bondi Feast.
Judith: It’s an unusual way of looking at the world, this show. With writing from yourself and Sarah Hadley with Ella Prince, Christopher Ratcliffe and Sophia Campion in the cast was the creation of the show hysteria or hard work?
Ang: I think the lens that we’re working in is both unusual and a typical millennial way of looking at art making and relating to the world. Millennials love irony, nostalgia, and bowerbirding old ideas to make something new. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with this show, and what Sotto’s theatrical point of view is in general. (Sotto is on Facebook)
That being said, the creation of the show has been a blend of both hysteria and hard work. We’ve drafted and redrafted the script upwards of twenty times, rehearsed our butts off, and honed the vision down to a tee. We’ve also produced potentially the silliest show a Sydney stage has ever seen, and have tried to control collective fits of laughter at each rehearsal so we can move on and actually get some work done. It’s been so fun to make.
Judith: The ‘Batch Festival’ is full of great work again this year, will you get some time off to see some of the other shows?
Ang: Most definitely! The perks of being on first at Batch is that after our show is done on opening weekend, we can kick back and enjoy the rest of the fest! We’re excited about seeing a bunch of the shows, particularly You’re Safe till 2024, Tales of an Afronaut, and Never Trust a Creative City.
Judith: What will your audience take home as they tumble down those steep Griffin stairs?
Ang: Being in the late slot of 10pm, I hope the audience just has a bloody good time at the theatre, and is surprised by something that they maybe haven’t experienced before. It’s so awesome that our crazy strange show gets a life on the little Griffin main stage. We’re pumped.
A world of Celtic music, magic and masterful storytelling!
Dreaming the Night Field: A Legend of Wales takes to the stage at Riverside Theatres as part of an international tour and we just had to ask questions of storyteller, Michael Harvey.
Judith: It’s great show title! I think it engenders a peacefulness and communal calm. Is the title drawn from the Mabinogion?
Michael: Not directly. It comes from a song that Lynne Denman wrote called Breuddwyd/Dreaming and we wanted to give the show a title that had resonance for people. The show has an otherworldly feel to it and is closely connected to landscape and after batting it around a bit Dreaming the Night Field was the winner.
Judith: It seems not to be a very peaceful story … there’s war and betrayal. What emotional journey does the audience go on with you?
Michael : There is certainly some strong stuff in the story but it is not just about the strength of the emotions or the violence of the actions because the mythic focus of the story gives a bit of distance to what goes on. We recognise the actions of the characters but most of them are more than just people in the sense that we know our friends and neighbours.
It is a bit like Greek tragedy where the events of the play are pretty horrific but the overall effect on the audience is a clearing and calming rather than trauma.
Judith: With songs and music and storytelling the tale is told in a mixture of Welsh and English. How important was it to maintain the original language as the work was prepared for non-Welsh speakers?
Michael: Vital. We feel it gives a window on to the world that the stories come from. As soon as you use the Welsh place names and personal names the language is already present. These have an evocative power that brings the places and people and places into the room.
The show was conceived bilingually and almost all the songs are in Welsh which, we feel, actually gives the audience a rest from some demanding listening for a few minutes before we dive back into the weirdness of the action.
Judith: Do you find, as you have been travelling, that your storytelling needs any cultural adjustment or is the work itself enough of sharing of common ground?
Michael: So far not. We’ve done it in Wales, England, Germany and Holland and so far people get it. We’ll find out what happens in Australia very soon!
Judith: The trailer is amazing … does the stick balance have a traditional significance or do I have to wait and see the show to fully appreciate the meaning that is allied with the beauty?
Michael : I wrote a piece about the sticks for the programme.
During the R&D phase of Dreaming the Night Field we talked a lot about how we wanted to have a strong scenographic element in the new piece. Stuff on stage that could move around, be three-dimensional and somehow link, rather than separate, the performers from the audience. So not just a backdrop, then. But what?
During the early development stage we stopped off on the way from Cardiff to Aberystwyth to pick Lynne up from her house. Once I’d finished gazing at the beautiful view she has of the Teifi valley I started to thumb through one of her Andy Goldsworthy books and stumbled across pictures of his work with the French dance company Ballet Atlantique where the dancers incorporated wood into their work and thought, ‘Why not?’.
So once we got to Aber I bunked off for half an hour and drove round the wooded surroundings of Aberystwyth Arts Centre and filled my car with as many branches as I could and, what with the wet Welsh weather, I actually collected a lot more nature than I had originally intended.
Strangely, no one batted an eye lid as I hauled my wet, smelly, moss-covered heap of wood into the lovely circular studio in the arts centre. We played with the sticks for hours and knew that they were great playmates but we didn’t really know any good (or safe!) stick games.
Enter visual artist and stick-tamer Sophia Clist. She herded some sticks into the barn beside her old Dartmoor farmhouse and chopped, sawed and stuck branches together and then brought them to us. We set them up in rehearsal spaces in Cardiff and Merthyr and bit by bit we got to know our woody teammates in a series of trial and error attempts at putting people, sticks, words and music together.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Without false modesty I think that I can confidently claim to be able to walk and talk at the same time but as soon as I had a stick in my hand I reached cognitive overload and could barely remember my name let alone what Gwydion did next or what I was meant to do with the big stick I was carrying.
However we persevered and slowly the sticks began to get into the game and actually started showing off. Without much apparent effort on their part, and with just a little help from us, the sticks became a sea shore, a mountain range on the Llŷn peninsula, wounded and dead soldiers, deer and wolves. And not only that they also brought a spaciousness and depth to the complex and contradictory emotions in the story we are trying to tell. We never try and illustrate anything, it’s just that we can’t stop ourselves from projecting likeness, attitude, emotion and intention onto the sticks as the story unfolds.
Don’t ask me how they do it, all I know is that by bringing what is outside inside and spending enough time with it, a level of communication is reached where you don’t need to grapple with yourself trying to find a way to express all the weirdness and complexity in the story because, if you pay attention, you’ll find that the sticks are right there, showing you exactly what it’s all about.?
Judith: Thank you again and best wishes for interesting travels in our own ancient land.
Michael: Looking forward to it!
Director Paula Crutchlow. Storyteller Michael Harvey. Singer Lynne Denham. Composer/Musician Stacey Blythe.
We had grabbed a few minutes from Batch Festival co-curator and Griffin Artistic Associate Phil Spencer as he headed into production week.
Judith: Thanks for taking my call, you must be fairly busy at this point?
Phil: (Laughs) It’s just starting to kick up . You know what it’s like, on paper it seems like a great idea ... let’s schedule 15 programs over 10 nights and let’s turn them over with half hour change-overs... then you get about a week out and you are ‘who’s idea was this ?’
Judith: It’s a difficult thing the second of a festival, especially given the success of last year.
Phil: Yeah second night syndrome. The first Batch was last year and it went tremendously well so we have been spoiled for choice. So we curated exclusively through submission this year and we still had a lot to choose from. Can’t moan too much but the hard bit of the job is saying no to so many great things! Just trying to find the right recipe for what will be a fun few weeks in Kings Cross.
Phil: Are you seeing changes in the alternative theatre scene in Sydney?
Phil: It’s interesting, I’ve been in Sydney for 10 years and, like the rest of us, going to the theatre three or four times a week. In that context Sydney feels really exciting at the moment. As scene and a sector, the kind of independent arts scene and the alternative performance scene and the rise of comedy scene that’s come about in the last few years. So we strive like many cultural Renaissances through a struggle ... venues have closed, funding has been pretty much decimated... and out of that rubble people have sort of worked really hard and tirelessly to be a bit braver and bolder with the conversations we are having with our audiences.
And perhaps more unabashed about making work that’s pushing the envelope. And having a quiet confidence that you will find an audience for the work you are making and that those audiences will find you no matter what venue you pop up at. What festival or abandoned car park or where ever you decide to perform your work. We are finding ways to engage a new audience, people who will come across theatre ... curated nights or alternative venues!
So it’s a really fun time to do what I do as a theatre maker and programmer and curator.
Judith: Batch is a chance to catch a lot of these artists in microcosm as it were. A taster of what they are about.
Phil: True. Griffin, in a way, is always been led by the venue because it’s such an iconic space. It’s been around so long and magic really does happen up there in the attic. So what I find is really fun is that, if you create the right performance, you have the right actors and people around the stage it becomes a privilege for the audience to be that close to the action.
Judith: I worked there a bit in the 90s and my abiding memory is that it was filthy.
Phil: We’ve popped the Hoover round since then but to be honest it’s not much better.
Judith: But there have been changes. Especially in the foyer which your media release says is going to be “buzzing”.
Phil: Well, we are working with a visual artist, Todd Fuller, who has a beautiful project called Unite Project. Essentially how his visual art works, he’s going to be projected on the wall of The Stables, outside. And inside you can experience it because all around the foyer is going to be ... some grown up colouring in!
And you can contribute to this stop motion work that Todd has been creating over the past few years. Something to do between shows and between craft ales to continue generating this kind amazing animation.
Judith: Wow . That will be worth people wandering past if they are going to eat out or to other local venues.
Phil: Yes we sometimes worry that snuck up there in Kings Cross you might not know we were there, so we want to be as visible, as colourful as possible, for a few weeks. That’s one of the purposes of Batch really to be as open and accessible as possible for people who never maybe go to the theatre or have never been to our theatre.
Judith: When you are curating do you see the performance or choose from the written submissions.
Phil: So the panel, Emily Havea, Tasnim Hossein, Nicole La Bianca and I, we read a hundred or so submissions for 12 projects all up.
We didn’t obviously see all of those performances but we have seen much of the artists’ work before ... one of the privileges of being someone who curates and programs is a curious mind. So even if I’m not putting a festival together I’m always going to see the work of my peers and contemporaries because it’s exciting and you want to know what’s going on and who the next great writers and what collectives are emerging.
You like to think you have your finger on the pulse but what is invariably true is that something comes through the door from someone you have never heard of or that you would never have thought would make an interesting bit of theatre and it becomes a centrepiece.
Sometimes people misconstrue cutting edge new work as work made by young people. What we really embrace in Batch is that we want to put on stage stories and voices of people who might not be occupying that central canon of Australian theatre … namely dead white blokes. Which is a broad umbrella term and there’s no universal thread but every piece that we program in Batch is … this is probably a story you have not seen on your stage recently … or enough.
From Lane Cove Theatre Company comes a relevant pop-rock musical, unusually, with a sung through score. I had the chance to send some questions through to one of the directors.
Bare is playing next at Lane Cove Theatre. According to the compnay this is a “Pulsating, electric contemporary LGBT pop-rock musical which follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with issues of sexuality, identity and the future.”
I had the chance to send some questions through to the Director, together with Isaac Downey, Kathryn Thomas.
Judith: Hi Kathryn and thank you for taking my questions about Bare. How did this project come to you?
Kathryn: I was recommended to listen to it after I fell in love with the musical Spring Awakening many years ago. And I’ve been in love ever since.
Judith: Do you think that being an off-Broadway offering gives the show an added relevance and attract tion?
Kathryn: I think coming of age stories are so universal that anyone who’s been a teen, suffered heart break, struggled with their sexuality or had body image issues can relate to Bare.
Judith: You are directing with Isaac Downey and have a terrific creative team including Steve Dula as Musical Director. Are you using live music?
Kathryn: Yes, we will have live music. Because of the space we use, we are making it more intimate by using an acoustic ensemble.
Judith: It’s a big cast though, 17 performers who sing, dance and act. Are they mostly playing the young people?
Kathryn: 3 of the 17 roles are older people (Claire, the priest and Sister Chantelle)
Judith: There seem to be a diversity of themes in the work: LGBT, yes, but bullying and self-esteem and resilience? What questions would you like the audience to ask themselves after seeing the show?
Kathryn: Perhaps question how you’ve treated someone in the past for how they look or their sexuality. Remember that we are all equal and struggling equally regardless of who we are. This show hits home for everyone in some way.
Judith: Lane Cove Theatre Company have tackled shows from Godspell to The Wondrous Wizard of Oz which is coming up. Community Theatres are incredibly important to the cultural life of Sydney but is the company any closer to having a permanent home?
Kathryn: We keep trying and trying. We are never not trying to find a home. The more people see our shows, hopefully the more the community will realise we are doing something so important for the community and young creatives in Sydney.
Judith: Thank you for your time and one last question … The show is a pop-rock musical, what song do you think we will have as an earworm when we leave the auditorium?
Kathryn: Birthday Bitch
Junk: From the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Australia’s leading national youth circus, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus is bringing ‘Junk’ to Riverside Theatres. We had the chance to speak with Artistic Director, Jodie Farrugia.
Judith: I’m looking forward to seeing Junk again. I saw it at the Opera House a couple of years ago, I expect it will have changed.
Jodie: Yes, a little. The cast has changed as the some of the young artists have graduated from the school and new ones have come in. As I have a new cast member come in, I like to include them in the process and allow them to find their own offering and character within the show. The basic premise and the narrative are the same with some changes to the circus skills and acts.
Judith: Do you find the kids come to you with a skill or an interest in a certain area or do you need to assess them to see what they’ll be good at?
Jodie: The young people who are cast in the show are all part of the Flying Fruit Fly school in Albury-Wodonga. There’s 85 students there at the select entry school from Year Three to Year Twelve ... 8-18 years old. And so they audition to get in and there’s an academic school attached to the facility but they train at circus. And 17 get selected for the touring show. So they have been training for a long time and they have specific skills and circus skills like theatre, performing and storytelling stuff. So the show touring is part of their training in transferring their skills into something that is artistic and creative on a stage.
Judith: And so you find that as they graduate from the high school that they tend toward going into the industry or perhaps other artistic careers?
Jodie: It seems like a little bit of both. Some do go straight to join companies here and overseas. Others go off to do further training in circus, also sometimes overseas. Others go … you know I’ve been doing this a long time and I want to try other things ... how many people can say at ten years old they’ve performed at the opera house?
I’ve been with the company about fifteen years and I see that they are very strong human beings, resilient and with a, you know, sense of culture and understanding of the arts.
Judith: I expect that is part of your duty of care. I know that organisations like the Vienna Boys Choir have very strict protocols around when the young people can no longer perform.
Jodie: I love it when people ask about that because it’s not often talked about and it’s a major part of working with young people. As a director I take this very seriously. By the end of this tour we will have been on the road for over six weeks with seventeen young people from seven years old and there is all sorts of welfare to be thought about. The “non performance” schedule is in the hands of a very experienced tour manager and there are three parent chaperones and all the people I work with lighting, sound, riggers, stage managers are all educators in different ways.
Judith: It’s family isn’t it, circus ?
Jodie: Yeah that’s what’s really nice about it and I feel the family atmosphere, the trust, the bond, they have with each other shows on stage. It’s part of the magic because they are all in sync with each other, they all care deeply for each other. The “yes” is everything on stage.
Judith: What kind of work do we see in Junk?
Jodie: It’s a very acrobatic show. There’s a very beautiful teeter board that opens the show, like an old fashioned seesaw. Jumping from a tower and being launched into the air! Really nice hand balance work where we use shadows and screens and the bodies are really large in the space and look glorious. A beautiful, beautiful Chinese pole act, which is new to the show, where they climb and drop and catch on a very small surface.
There’s also the tramp wall which is new for the Fruit Flies and that’s probably the big feature act but I do like to draw attention to the duo straps. It’s quite extraordinary what’s happening there. It’s two artists but the pulley system is controlled by the artists on the floor ... there’s so much work with the riggers to make that possible. Plus they play live music on instruments as well so I feel like it’s the heartbeat of the show with young people doing everything!
Judith: You must have been with the company long enough to see the children of Fruit Flies come through.
Jodie: The youngest girl in the show, she’s 10 years old her father was one. And there’s another one too now I think if it.
Judith: Amazing. Grandkids next!
Caroline O’Connor is returning to Eternity Playhouse.
Accompanied by Daniel Edmonds, Caroline’s cabaret ‘Up Close and Intimate’ has a return night on Friday April 12.
It was a genuine pleasure to speak with this sparkling, funny and engaging artist by phone from her home in Noosa.
(Photo of Caroline O’Connor by Peter Rubie)
Judith: ‘Up Close and Intimate’ is coming back for one night? That must be fun?
Caroline: Yes exciting isn’t it. It doesn’t always happen that you get a call like that. It has happened to Daniel and I once before. We were in New York doing ‘The Girl from Oz’ at Birdland. We did it on a Monday night and they asked up to come back the following Monday ... which happened to be Australia Day! It’s always a wonderful compliment to be asked back.
Judith: That’s been a long relationship with Daniel hasn’t it?
Caroline: It has you know ... and it happened by accident. I was actually meant to be doing a gig, here where I am now in Noosa, and I got chickenpox on a flight back from London. Would you believe? In my forties!
Obviously we had to cancel the gig and I ended up doing it 3 weeks later, they were very kind and put me on at the close of the festival rather than the open. But the people I was working with were not available so I was looking for a new collaborator. Simon Burke says: I’ve just worked with this brilliant guy from Canberra.
As soon as he put his fingers on the keys, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! So I snapped him up and I’ve been schlepping him around the world ever since. He’s been real godsend to me actually: energy and talent inspires you as an older artist.
Judith: You certainly have got around. Do you think you will settle or always be a vagabond?
Caroline: I’m scared to settle down in case I like it too much ... and I just go: that’s it I’ve slowed down to a point where I have actually stopped.
Moving to Noosa has been an interesting thing to do because people assume it is a place you go to to retire but for me I can go anywhere from here. I’m going back to London in May for a while and New York for a trip. And I have ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ coming up at Melbourne Theatre Company. But it’s right on the water and it’s beautiful here. And I have a little room, a little atelier, when I can rehearse and play music and learn scripts. It’s a lovely workspace for me.
Judith: I missed ‘Up Close and Intimate’ first time round but saw your work in ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.’ Is the process of preparation different between a speaking and singing role?
Caroline: It comes down to memorising and I just find with music that there’s something about the muscle memory of the tune that helps to learn a song perhaps a little easier than a script. Although, I do hear musicality in a script especially in the emotion and pitch and strength and speed etc
Judith: And cabaret must have its own set of muscles?
Caroline: I wasn’t drawn to it at first . I believe cabaret is hard thing to do well because you have to be yourself much of the time up there. I mean you can’t be just yourself or you’d be at home in dressing gown and slippers! But then you can’t be a character, you can talk about the characters of course. But I found the whole thing very interesting.
I started looking and studying it when I was in England and thought this can be really bad. Then I started looking at the Americans the way they did it and they had such a craft with it with their storytelling. You have to open up a bit, which I didn’t want to do, but tell the stories of how you got the job, the tricky things and the good things. And I think that’s what cabaret is ... it’s very important that part of it. It’s not just the songs.
Judith: So how does that influence the songs that you chose because your repertoire must huge?
Caroline: Well, gosh. I’ve never been able to do a one hour cabaret before and that was what we created for Darlinghurst Theatre. We sort of looked at each other and shook our heads because we have always had to come up with a least a dozen for each act. At least 24 maybe 26 - mix it up with some medleys sort of thing. So the challenge was to condense it down to 10 or 11 songs.
So instead of doing what I have done over the years, which is highlights. If I don’t do something from ‘Chicago’ or say ‘Mack and Mabel’ people seem to be disappointed. I decided to do some of those but introduce some new songs that I have never done before and material I have done overseas and never in Australia. Daniel wrote a new song for me and we closed the show with it. It was nerve wracking because I had never done it before and only got it that week.
It is hard to choose and I often ask friends or my husband what would you like to hear if you come to my show? You are doing for the audience, as much as you enjoy it for yourself, and I think there is certain work that people associate you with.
Judith: I think that’s very true. Especially considering your long career. I have one last question before I let you go. I was at lunch with a friend, who’s a great fan of yours, and asked what she would like to know? The question that came back was: how does she keep her figure. And I said I can’t ask that but having chatted with you for a while I bet I can!
Caroline: (laughing) Well, it’s not getting’ easier I can tell you that! I’m at that age now where it’s fighting me! I’m not going to lie when I do have time off I relax a bit. I’m not one of those people who’s obsessed with it, it’s part of my job. The first time I did ‘Chicago’ was ’98 and the next time was 11 years later and I still had to get myself back in that shape. When I am working I am pretty good at being disciplined then: a good eating plan and I work out a lot when I’m rehearsing. So the job helps me out a lot! (Laughing again).
Once you start rehearsals, that 4 week rehearsal period, you are 8 hours a day 10-6 moving and dancing. So I would like to keep the dancing as long as I can so I can hang onto my figure as long as I can. Chita Rivera, she’s my idol. She’s still giving it. I don’t know that I want to go that long but, you know, she did Spiderwoman when she was 60 so I look at that and think why not!
‘Up Close and Intimate’. Caroline O’Connor, accompanied by Daniel Edmonds, back by popular demand Friday 12 April at 7.30pm at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Eternity Playhouse. Bookings: (02) 8356 9987 or at the website.
Yesterday Steve Rodgers took over the role in ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ at Belvoir and will soon play a season at Riverside Theatres. We had the chance to ask him some questions about the role and his varied career. (Photo of Steve by Daniel Boud)
Judith: It is such a pleasure to be able to send some questions about this great show. I happened to be sitting behind you when I saw it on opening at Belvoir and was watching you as much as Kate. Can I fan-girl you a little? I loved your writing in ‘King of Pigs’ and your performance in ‘You Got Older’ broke my heart! Where do you get your energy and creative drive over such a long and varied career?
Steve: Thanks for the compliment on King of Pigs and You Got Older, both projects I adored. Blazey Best and Claudia Barrie are both such brilliant directors. But to your question, I think creative energy or drive for me is really about staying sane, being connected to people and the world. Writing and being inside a story allows me to cope with all the awful stuff in the world and at the same time celebrate all the brilliant stuff. So theatre, with out sounding too much like a theatre-nerd, is kind of my church.
Judith: As co-director and now stepping into the role at Belvoir, before opening at Riverside, do you take a holistic approach or does each task require a different set of theatrical muscles?
Steve: My role as the co-director was to observe, and improvise with Mulvers (Kate Mulvany) the different scenarios she was going to encounter, but also be a part of the greater discussion around the work. As an actor it’s about personalising it for myself, going inside it and trying to live the experience in the most authentic way I can.
Judith: I recently spoke to Ursula Yovich about ‘Man with the Iron Neck’ and she just raved about your dramaturgy. As an actor, is there a temptation to step outside your performance?
Steve: How amazing is Ursula Yovich? I think stepping in and out is the key. Craft has to do with the ability to monitor and shape choices, then hopefully you can trust your instinct and intuition to just do it, but honestly I try to start every project as a dramaturge or actor or writer not knowing anything, not having the answers. Creating something is about asking questions, some you’ll never answer.
Judith: ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is such an engaging show, do you prepare for the audience responses? Run though variations on what might happen and so forth, or is it an organic and instinctive process?
Steve: You definitely rehearse for different scenarios, improvise different factors that might come into play, but you’ll still get unique and fresh stuff thrown at you every night by the audience, which is the gift of this show.
Judith: The show is an emotional rollercoaster, high energy travel into the audience and the intimacy of solo expressions of sadness. What is it that you would like audiences to take with them from the theatre?
Steve: Audience Member: “It’s okay to be sad, it’s human, we need to talk about mental health more, normalise it, but shit, life’s good, aren’t people amazing? What are my brilliant things? What are yours? We should stop for ice cream or chocolate or wine on the way home.”
Judith: My friend wandered down after the show curious to read the set and came back burbling excitedly about the things she saw. The production design and music is part of the charm and reach of the piece with brilliance in the detail. Do you have a favourite thing or is that too hard a question?
Steve: So many, too many, but people laughing and crying at the same time is right up there, skinny dipping in the ocean, the prospect of dressing up as a Mexican Wrestler.
Judith: Many thanks again, I am really looking forward to seeing you in the role.
Steve: Take care. Make sure you come and say hello. Stevie.
Here at Reviews by Judith we are going to be talking to lots of creatives but to begin with a big ole bang, we decided Nickie, who will contribute to our music reviews, would throw some questions at Judith.
Nickie: So why a new website for theatre and film reviews. Aren’t there too many already in Sydney?
Judith: Start with the easy questions eh? Well, I just think the audiences for performing arts can never be underestimated and they devour different points of view. You can see it on social media and you can hear in when you stand in line to pick up your tickets. It’s very important to have many independent voices.
Nickie: So you write for other sites, too, don’t you?
Judith: Sure do and I will keep writing with them because it improves my process to write within other guidelines. Some sites need a dispassionate, literary and rational voice, others want a more personal, reflective response. However, I have been writing for a while now but not every show I see suits those other sites.
Nickie: When I read your theatre reviews, I notice that you always mention the lighting and sound.
Judith: I love how Stage Managers and backstage people now have a photo in lots of the programs. It didn’t happen when I was coming up, we all wore black and tried to hide away but the work that creatives and crews do is taking more light these days. Skilled design is essential to good theatre and I believe that it needs to acknowledged and brought gently to audiences’ attention without pulling focus.
Nickie: And the technical side of film?
Judith: Absolutely. How many stars are made by one beautifully lit moment or a heartbreaking cutaway at exactly the right time? I have a technical eye and joining the dots between performance and what I see and hear is pretty important to how I view.
Can I go now?
Nickie: One last question. Why did you include your friends in this adventure?
Judith: I actively despise the second act of Into the Woods. Best then, for me not to review that one! Stuff like that and because I need to take a friend with me to explain things like Burlesque and solo stand-up comedy which I sometimes don’t get! I’ll see almost anything but sometimes need a little help from friends. I really am going now.