Directing La Ronde

I thought it was time for a proper little chat with the Director, Sam Coward. He wasn’t hard to find. He was watching SYTYCD in the next room.

We have coffee. It’s all good. GO!

So. Sam. Why La Ronde?

Sam: I felt it was time to challenge audiences and actors. First and foremost a performer, I’ve recently become frustrated…disenchanted with what performing is all about. I have seen too many 2-dimensional characters on Sunshine Coast stages. I wanted to give those performers the chance to stretch their legs.

Is La Ronde doing that?

Yes. The plan to stretch audiences and actors is working, well; it’s clearly working for the actors at this stage anyway. We will see about audiences.

Performers have suddenly found themselves immersed in a process of self-discovery and have had to really trust in their director from Day 1. These particular aspects of acting may be new to some Sunshine Coast performers!  Their vulnerabilities are in my hands. They may not have been asked to take such enormous risks before now. La Ronde presents very different challenges for different performers. We have characters who are driven by the words they utter and characters without any dialogue at all. And by introducing nudity, the actors have all had to step out of their comfort zones, bare some flesh and feel completely comfortable with that pretty quickly. Some more quickly than others. I have cast bold performers who each have their own style and approach to acting…and I’ve challenged them on those things. I’ll give you an example. Without giving too much away, Nathan (The Poet) is being stretched as a performer. He is working hard to feel comfortable with his nakedness and with his pretty hot encounter with Kay (The Girl)…this on top of learning lines and determining objectives. More so than getting those mechanics of the character’s actions happening, it’s mostly the mental, emotional process as an actor; coming to terms with such confronting, challenging demands. He is seeing some great results come from a creative process that is entirely new to him.

As Director, how do you feel about your approach to this workshop-style process?

I was well-prepared and I prepared well, those who I knew would be involved. There were a few initial discussions about why we’re doing La Ronde. My reasons, explanations and justifications about the direction and the vision allowed the actors to accept what I was trying to do. And then, after a bit of talking, they had to just jump in and get the clothes off and feel that first shock/slap of embarrassment and get on with the job.

As Director, how have you  helped support/guide the actors getting past that initial point of fear?

Some actors needed to remove some layers sooner and some have waited for me to tell them, “Ok, now let’s get the gear off!” As a director, I was a bit green in terms of shaping the sex scenes and initially, for two of the girls, I turned the lights down and lit some candles and let them listen to the mood music…and it backfired because it set a really romantic mood and the girls started feeling really uncomfortable and wondering what I wanted to see and they started really fondling each other and then got really weirded out! So then we put the ugly lights back on and debriefed and choreographed the entire scene. It was the third party directing their sequence of steps, relinquishing them of all personal responsibility. Sometimes we forget that the actors are vulnerable and they are real people. In this case, the sequence became their safety net.

What about your original vision for the show? Is it being realised? If so, what is it that is helping to bring it to fruition?

The vision is being realised, with enhancements. The original plan was to workshop a textually out-dated, thematically and contextually current play with competent practitioners who had the ability to work in this particular way. People are happy to be working with a director who has had a clear vision from the outset and has some idea about how to manifest it.

With everybody onboard, the actors were able to adopt what I wanted, in terms of mood and relationships and find new ways to improve/develop their scenes. Each scene has the potential to be spectacular. Remember, each actor only has two scenes so, as actors, each has the opportunity to really shine in this show. The actors have all taken on board the direction (and the overall vision) and extended themselves beyond it. We’ve truly seen that. Some more than others. Some performers have been happy to let me lead. Some have been more forthright about their opinions on things. Let’s use Kay and Nathan for another example. Kay and Nathan were originally directed to play their scene in a soppy, romantic way and then it ended with a blow job. My bad…Kay suggested that if they were in love and a romantic mood had already been established, it would involve more than just a blow job. She felt comfortable to discuss this and consequently the result is far superior. This has been an integral part of the process; the negotiation and give and take between actors and director.

Tell us a little more about the rehearsal process.

There were always some intentional applications in terms of process, however; some things have been stumbled upon quite by accident. For example, by not giving Tim (The Judge) a complete script until this week, we’ve taken his focus away from the text. He was a script-driven actor and wanted the text committed to memory prior to the rehearsal period. He spoke to me about it. I didn’t want to see that kind of judge. The potential for any actor who works purely from a script is that the text is used as a crutch and the character is created from the page alone, rather than making it an internal process and letting us see a bit more of the actor himself. The workshop atmosphere of rehearsals to this point has allowed the actors a greater degree of freedom: time and space to play, which is often not afforded (or entrusted) to them.

You obviously have a great deal of faith in your cast. In the context of working with Sunshine Coast actors, what have you discovered during the process so far?

The audition was impressive (I only wanted one, no call-backs, it was quite an intuitive thing), in terms of the discovery of a broad cross-section of people all willing to go on the same journey. I’m very matter of fact about it. The coast has always had these people, this talent, here, in little pockets; they come out of the woodwork whenever there’s something interesting happening and it shouldn’t ever be a huge surprise to see them. It’s not often that something more interesting happens and these performers get the chance to present themselves in a truly honest and open manner, ready for anything the director might have for them. And look, this may not be the best vehicle to showcase the extent of everyone’s talent anyway.

What I mean is, we weren’t aiming to please with this show. We’re not pandering to the performers or to the theatre going public here. We’re hoping to put on some different theatre, which will evoke responses about people’s own sexual activities and experiences. Everyone will be able to relate to someone in this show. It may not have been the type of entertainment they wanted to see this year (it’s not a toe-tapping, colourful musical) but not all theatre is nice. The comical, uplifting, light-hearted entertainment has a place – go see Avenue Q – but we’re telling extremely intimate stories here, we’re sharing secrets if you like, putting out some challenging messages and there are many layered, contrasting and complex emotions involved with that, without a song or even an interval to give you a break. It’s relentless. And that’s a very human thing. Sometimes there are just no stops.

So what does the director want out of all this?

I want acknowledgement…that you can do something that may not be publicly or socially loved and gushed about by the industry or by the public but that you can be respected, not only for being bold and taking risks but also for being able to pull off some high class entertainment. I want this to grow me as a director and enhance my reputation as a creative professional.

And what of the life span of La Ronde?

Who knows? I really don’t know. That’s for next time…over more, much more, coffee.

As a producer, director or performer, Sam has worked for the past fifteen years in the business. On both stage and screen, Sam has experienced all facets of production. In 1999, with appx $250,000.00 of self generated corporate and private funding, Sam staged in a warehouse in Warana, Lloyd Webber’s classic, Jesus Christ Superstar, which broke all records for attendance at a Sunshine Coast production.

Shout! The Legend of The Wild One, in 2008, marked Sam as a bold, inspired Director. In close collaboration with The Events Centre, Caloundra, Sam re-cast, re-structured and re-directed this major musical production in just 8 weeks, achieving a successful artistic outcome.

Sam is currently the Co-Director of XS Entertainment, which will establish a functional network of Sunshine Coast artists and produce film and theatrical productions, utilising new media and local resources.

3 Responses to “Directing La Ronde”

  1. March 6, 2010 at 6:23 am

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