13
Aug
12

Chris Beckey: on behalf of Salvador Dali

 Steven Mitchell Wright and The Danger Ensemble’s Loco Maricon Amor opens on Friday night.

Chris Beckey took some time out to tell us about it and about life as an artist.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” – Salvador Dalí

 

Chris Beckey Loco Maricon Amor

 

Chris, you’re a multi-tasking, interdisciplinary master; what exactly are your roles in this show?! Which came first?

Thank you, Xanthe, although I’m not sure I am actually interdisciplinary. But I’ll take flattery where I can get it.

 

I was initially approached to act as dramaturg and literary advisor on the project, much in the same way as I had with The Hamlet Apocalypse. I’d spoken to Steven Mitchell Wright, Artistic Director of The Danger Ensemble and director of Loco Maricon Amor, about my interest in working with him as an actor. So, some time later, he asked me if I’d play Salvador Dali. Of course it’s not as simple as ‘playing’ Dali. So I guess the best way to answer your first question would be to say that I’m working on the project as dramaturg, literary advisor, a deviser and performer. As regards this final role, more specifically I’m the actor speaking on behalf of Salvador Dali.

 

What drew you to The Danger Ensemble? Can you tell us about the company and the way you work with them?

Steven and I have known each other for about 15 years and we first worked together in 2003. So my connection to The Danger Ensemble is through Steven; he’s the artistic heart and brain of the company. I love working with him. And I like to think we’ve developed, and continue to evolve, a really healthy working relationship. We balance, challenge and complement each other. Katherine Quigley is the company’s rather brilliant and generous General Manager and Executive Producer. The amount of work Kath puts into the company is staggering. Somehow, over the years, I’ve managed to develop an appreciation for both the artistic and production processes involved in getting a project off the ground. I guess I kind of act as a sounding board for both Steven and Katherine. And of course, I get to make my own contributions as an artist on various projects. My relationship with the company, with both Steven and Kath, is incredibly precious to me and was one of the big reasons I returned to Brisbane this year.

 

What impact do you think The Hamlet Apocalypse had on you and on Brisbane?

Well, I have to say it’s hard for me to discern the impact The Hamlet Apocalypse may have had upon Brisbane. At the time it was performed, as you know, I was living in Wollongong. Since returning to Brisbane in January, for various reasons I haven’t really had, or taken, the opportunity to re-engage with the theatre scene in Brisbane as much as I had hoped. Of course, I’d like to think it did have some impact but I can’t really articulate what that might have been. And maybe that impact, that influence, hasn’t fully emerged yet. That’s not for me to say.

 

As for me personally, it had a huge impact. I rarely cry in theatre. I know the tricks, the mechanics. But I found the collision of worlds and contexts set in motion within the show profoundly moving. I was a mess after each and every run I saw. A critical mess with lots of thoughts and questions, but a mess nonetheless.  I was always blown away by the honesty, the openness and the courage of the actors and Steven’s ability to create an environment where they felt safe to offer those qualities, yet to challenge them to offer more every time. It really was an affirmation for me that these were the people, the kind of artists, with whom I wanted to work. The work itself, the show, always made me value the experiences of my own life and value each moment. I always walked away from the show, whether in rehearsal or in performance, determined to live each moment of my life fully, to savour each and every moment. And I found that to be such a beautiful gift.

 

Describe the company in a word.

Obviously I’m incredibly close to the company and have an insight into the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. I know it’s not very marketing savvy of me, but I’d feel to try and sum that up, and to sum up what it is that the company does, in a single word would end up belittling some aspect of its work and the work of those who make it happen. Sorry.

 

Describe Loco Maricon Amor in a word.

Similar to my answer with The Danger Ensemble, I don’t know if I can sum up Loco Maricon Amor in a word. To me, it’s a beautiful show. It’s complex. It’s challenging. It’s full of heart, full of love in a myriad of forms. It’s heartbreaking. But that’s my experience as someone involved in the creation and performance of the show, a view from the inside. I can’t think of a single word that captures all that without belittling one of its other aspects or biasing the way in which the show might be received. It’s better for our audiences to make their own choices.

(Fair enough, on both counts. – Ed.) 

 

How has surrealist style informed the overall style of the show?

Steven was determined that the show wouldn’t only be a show about surrealism or about artists associated with surrealism as a style and movement, but that surrealist techniques for creation should underpin the show. So throughout creative development and rehearsal we have been using various surrealist techniques and that spirit remains within the show, has had a marked impact on the form of the show.

 

What was your first false memory?

Unlike Dali, I’m not savvy enough to determine which of my memories are true and which are false. And I certainly don’t have any intra-uterine memories . . . as far as I can tell.

My earliest memory, or one of them, is of being about 3 or 4 years of age. It was Easter time. I’d been eating a hard candy Easter egg. I went outside for no particular reason. I have quite a vivid memory of the brown corduroy overalls I was wearing, a visceral memory of the feeling of the Autumn sun on my skin, the taste of candy in my mouth.

Whether that memory is true or false, I can’t tell.

 

What fascinates you about people? About actors? About audiences?

Oh my, how much time do you have? I don’t think you can work in the theatre without a deep fascination with human beings in all of their glory and despair, our light, our dark, our strengths, our weaknesses, our histories, our futures, our complexities, our contradictions, our differences and our similarities. We deal with the raw material of humanity and human experience. We need a passionate interest in all the shades and dimensions of that experience. For me, that fascination stands, regardless of how a particular person comes to the work, whether they are the material on which a work is based, a character, an actor, artist, director, writer, choreographer or as an audience member.

 

Can you tell us about your training? Who and what have influenced your approach to performing and theatre making?

I’ve actually never trained formally, never did an actor training course. Like a lot of actors and performers, I did a fair bit of youth drama activities, such as AMEB Speech and Drama and youth theatre, and I studied drama at the University of Queensland. That was an amazing course but it wasn’t geared to train actors. My first professional job was with Fractal Theatre and I got a lot of on-the-job training from them.  I was so lucky, I learnt so much working with Fractal. And over the years, I’ve attempted to address the gaps in my training through workshops and other experiences, but much of my training has been on-the-job.

 

And of course, I’ve done a lot of training in various forms of Japanese theatre, such as Butoh, and with the method of actor training developed by Mr Tadashi Suzuki. I’ve been working with these styles and method for 20 years now and I’m still blown away by the insight they offer on the craft of acting. And not just in a general sense, but each and every time you come to the methods, each time you train.

 

As for my influences in terms of the theatre I create, one of my biggest inspirations is Adrian Kiernander, who was a lecturer and tutor at UQ while I was studying there. His teaching was amazing, the balance he found between critical and theoretical thinking and practical creation and exploration is something to which I still aspire. His teaching is my benchmark, it still has a massive influence on my work as a teacher, actor and creator.

 

I have a huge list of performers and directors and film-makers who have influenced my own work. I guess the big ones are Lindsay Kemp, Steven Berkoff and Kazuo Ohno and film-makers like Peter Greenaway and the late Derek Jarman. I was also entranced in the mid- to late-1990s by the work of a number of performers based in Sydney, many of whom were associated with the Sydney Front; performers like Nigel Kellaway, Meme Thorne, Dean Walsh, Joel Markham and Deborah Pollard.

 

I guess I’d describe these as my core influences, the influences that keep me working, creating, questioning.

 

And even though they’re not theatre artists, my work has been hugely informed by French poststructuralist theory and philosophy. My understanding of the world and my approach to thinking and to inquiry is drawn from writers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. I also take inspiration from the contemporary American philosopher, Alphonso Lingis. Lingis shows us how philosophy and thinking must be lived and must be tested through the living, while our lives, the way we live, should also give rise to deep and critical thinking.

 

What sort of theatre do you strive to make and why?

I’ve always aspired to make theatre that asks questions of and challenges myself as an artist and the world in which I’m situated. Theatre that explores and extends our understanding of what it is to be human at this point in time. But I also hope to celebrate our humanity, in all its ugliness and beauty, its light and its dark. For me, this is where my heart is, this is where my passion lies. I don’t think that all theatre necessarily needs to do this. But this is the kind of work I seek to make. As artists, we have the ability to effect the way that people feel, perceive, think. About themselves. About the world. That’s a privilege and a huge responsibility. If I don’t use that to question and grow, it feels to me like I waste a precious opportunity. Oh, and of course, I always strive to make work that is just plain fabulous.

 

Lorca was a poet and director. Tell us about the sort of theatre he made.

I haven’t actually found much by way of documentation of the kind of theatre Lorca was making. I feel bad for saying this, but I suspect I wouldn’t have liked it. Which is fair enough, I guess. Lorca was working in the 1920s and 1930s, I’m a theatre artist living in 2012. There’s about 80 years of theatre history between us. A lot has changed in that time. But despite all that, his words – his plays, his poems, his essays and lectures – are still incredibly powerful and beautiful and seductive. I’d hazard a guess he was making theatre of his time, maybe even ahead of his time. But theatre is ephemeral, which is something Lorca loved about it as an art form, and so are its conventions and its styles. So for me, Lorca’s value lies in the artifacts he left behind, his words, his thoughts, his feelings, his blood and his passion in print. I think it’s a great tragedy he died so young. When he was murdered he’d been working as a director for about 5 years. He’d written three stunning plays, just amazing pieces of work. I really wonder where his thoughts on theatre and poetry and where his work would have led if Spanish history hadn’t played out the way it did.

 

What makes an artist an outsider?

It’s an interesting question. A complex one, too. You know, there’s a long history of artists being treated as outsiders. In Ancient Greece, Plato wanted poets banished from the city. In the Middle Ages, artists were regarded with a great deal of suspicion. And on and on. Artists never seem to have sat, or have been accommodated, comfortably in social frameworks. Then you look at someone like Jean Genet, who embraced the idea of being an outsider. I suspect Dali was also fond of the idea of being an outsider. Even though he was a member of the Surrealists, he didn’t seem particularly upset when they expelled him from their ranks.

In 2012, are we as artists, and I’m talking primarily theatre artists, outsiders? I’m not sure. I guess it all boils down to how you define what constitutes being inside and how being outside relates to that.

 

What makes an artist free?

Similarly, I think that depends a lot on how you define freedom. Are we free to create the work we want? Are we and our work bound by the financial relationships into which we enter, whether with governments, patrons and sponsors or co-producers? Are we bound, limited, by the socio-political climate in which we create? Can we say what we want to say, need to say, in the face of these factors? How far are we prepared to bend, to compromise, so that our work is made and seen? Sorry, I’ve answered your question with a plethora of my own. Whether they’re important questions to ask or not, I don’t know. But I guess these are the questions I’m asking of the current climate in regards to our freedom as artists.

 

What will we take from this show?

Obviously, that’s hard to predict from inside the work. Loco Maricon Amor will definitely offer a unique theatrical experience. Stepping out of actor mode for a second, I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. I think at the heart of the work lies a question about what limits us, what holds us back, and a challenge to throw ourselves into life, into our work, our love, our art, with all we have, without fear or hesitation. If anything, I hope audiences take that challenge from the show.

 

What will you walk away with?

Oh, I walk away with the same challenge. I’d never ask something of an audience that I wouldn’t ask of myself. Apart from that, it’s been such a rich experience. As part of this process, we’ve been asking whether it was possible for me to work both as a dramaturg and as a performer on the same process. I’ve learnt heaps in that regard which will obviously have a carry-on effect for future projects. It’s been such a pleasure working with this ensemble of artists. It’s been difficult territory to enter and the courage of each and every person and the support given to each other has created a beautiful environment in which to work. It’s always great to reconnect with those who work regularly with The Danger Ensemble, Peta Ward and Polly Sara in this instance. They’re completely inspiring. I’ve loved having the chance to work with Caroline Dunphy again. We haven’t worked together on a show since 1996. Steven has been trying to get Caroline and I on a stage together for some time now so I’m glad it’s finally happened. More please. And it’s been great working with the younger artists on the show, Thomas Hutchins, Lucy-Ann Langkilde and Bianca Zouppas. I look at their work and wish I’d had their guts when I was their age. I know it’s the kind of thing that always gets said, but I really do hope we all stay in touch beyond the end of this stage of the project.

 

What’s next for you?

Once Loco Maricon Amor opens, we begin in earnest the process of developing a new work, i war, with a work-in-progress showing presented by Queensland Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival as a part of QTC’s Greenroom program and Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar in September. I’ll also be working on a new draft of the text for Children of War, which is being presented with Vanguard Youth Theatre in November as part of the La Boite Indie season.

 

By all means, don’t go near this question if you prefer but if you’d like to go there, what do you think about the current state of the arts in Queensland and what can we do about it once we’ve broken free from our negative cycle of bitching, blame and reproach?!

I’m not sure I can really comment on this one with any authority. I’ve only been back in Brisbane for a little over six months and I’ve found everyone to be really lovely and supportive so far. And circumstances have restricted my engagement with the industry, so I’m not really sure of what’s been going on in the community. Recently, Brian Lucas quoted Andy Warhol on Facebook, Warhol said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” And I’ve accidentally found myself in that situation. Although, thinking about it, that’s probably a good place to be. Head down, tail up. There’s always going to be conflicts within the arts industry. The work we do as artists isn’t easy, we put a lot of heart into it, we put a lot of our selves on the line. And sometimes we can take criticism or circumstances that compromise our art on the chin, sometimes we can’t, sometimes we shouldn’t. I guess my hope would be that, regardless of that, we create an environment where young artists are able to grow and flourish. As I said before, one of the great things about working on Loco Maricon Amor has been working alongside Bianca, Thomas and Lucy-Ann. I’d hate to think we’re creating an environment where they feel inhibited, where they feel their only option is to move to another city to pursue their careers. I’d have to confess that I’m not one hundred per cent au fait with the cultural policies of the new state government but what I have heard and understood has left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. We need artists here, we need diversity, we need old voices, we need new voices. And if the government isn’t going to encourage that, the onus falls on us to do so. How do we do that? I’m not sure. Hopefully, time will tell.

Loco Maricon Amor

 

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Andy Warhol

 

Chris Beckey Loco Maricon Amor_2

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