Mud, Sweat and Tears: shake and stir’s Nick Skubij pigs in part 1


Four legs good, two legs bad.


Animal Farm, one of the most controversial and studied political commentaries returns to Brisbane in a multi-award winning, physical theatre production. Playing for a strictly limited season, George Orwell’s simple yet intensely powerful fairy tale illustrates with stunning clarity and grotesque beauty how greed and power corrupts and with devastating consequences, can change the course of history.


Revolution has taken place at Manor Farm. The pigs have assumed control and under the principles of Animalism a better life free from human service is promised to all. Guided by a simple set of rules and an unrelenting respect for authority, it is not long until the rules that promised freedom become the chains that bind the animals once again.


Directed by Michael Futcher and realised by shake & stir and a cast of Queensland’s most dynamic actors, Animal Farm promises to be one of the most shocking, relevant and wickedly funny theatre events of 2013.



Nick Skubij Animal FarmNick Skubij (Adaptor / Napoleon / Jones) took some time out during shake and stir’s national tour of Animal Farm to tell us about the show, the tour, the company, social media, Shakespeare, Orwell, and the state of arts education in Australia, before the show returns to QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre next week!


Part 1


What was your first point of contact with Orwell’s work?

About 5 years ago, I was visiting my parents back in Cairns, looking for something to read and stumbled across an old copy on the bookshelf. I immediately recognized the title and being only a short book, I thought I’d give it a go. About an hour later, I had raced through it, re-read a couple of chapters and was stunned at how horrible (in a good way) it was. At the same time, I found myself chuckling as I imagining the animals holding their meetings in the barn. My mind raced, making parallels to what was going on at that time in my world and I was very excited at how great the book could be on stage. I guess the seed for what would become our production was planted then.


Why is it important to continue studying the classics, like Orwell and Shakespeare, in schools?

These classics (especially in the case of Shakespeare) are the root of our language and have contributed so many words, phrases and ideas that remain today. They paint an explicit image of human nature that we can still very much relate to. More than just studying the texts at schools, I believe it is extremely important (and again – especially for Shakespeare) for teachers to grab the opportunity to expose their students to live productions of these works – that way it is the job of the actors (and the production team) to get the message of the works across. Often this is a much more achievable task when it is taken out of the classroom setting and presented to the students in a way they are not necessarily expecting. I promise – it makes a teacher’s job easier when opening the books up back in the classroom!


Animal Farm shake and stir

How did Orwell’s dystopian view of the world inspire shake & stir’s productions, the first Australian adaptations for the stage of Orwell’s work?

We all like to think that things are perhaps not as bleak as Orwell wrote – but if we stop and think about it… Take the recent horrific Boston bombings. The photos of absolute horror from the site and the descriptions from people staying in nearby hotels of the distant sounds of explosions from the street below. It reminds me of the way Winston Smith describes his environment in the first few pages of 1984. Of course, he is much more desensitized at these horrors than we are. While we are not living in a total state of dystopia, what I love about both Animal Farm and 1984, is how they present society at the extreme end of the scale to hopefully shock us into examining our own way of life and to take precautions to prevent our world becoming like his. It is especially important for young people to experience Orwell’s message as they are the ones most capable of shaping our future.



shake & stir is known for its ensemble-based work. Can you talk about your creative process?

Collaboration and trust is key. Once we program a show we do whatever we can to assemble a creative team that we believe are going to best understand the project and share our vision for the end result. This sounds obvious, but we place great importance on getting the team just right. We make sure we invite the absolute best in the biz to work with us and endow them with as much ownership over the project as possible. In the rehearsal room, it is all about play and getting up on the floor quickly to see how the show organically takes it shape. Working with new works is a bit of a double edged sword (Tequila Mockingbird will be our fifth new work in a mainhouse season) as although it means there is flexibility to make changes on the fly, it also means that there might need to be a bit of time dedicated to reworking text to make it work in situ. This is where we rely on not only the patience but the input of our actors and Director to uncover solutions. The same can be said for our annual in-school season. Ross, Nelle and myself create the shows collaboratively – we write, direct, design, sound design and sometimes av design all of them but ultimately we encourage a genuine sense of play in the rehearsal room with our terrifically multi-skilled and dexterous team of actors. As far as our mainhouse season is concerned, we now have a fantastic team of regular shake & stirrers including our wonderful Director and Dramaturg Michael Futcher (who we have worked with on both Animal Farm, 1984 and our upcoming production Tequila Mockingbird) and, of course, the absolutely astounding Bryan Probets. I am on tour with Bryan at the moment and get the chance to see how he works both on and off stage everyday and I challenge you to find a more committed, dedicated actor who not only is instinctually phenomenal but who also gives 200% of himself all the time. I get exhausted and inspired watching him.


shake and stir theatre coYou offer productions and workshops for schools, in schools? What can teachers and students learn from the way you work and from your body of work?

shake & stir enjoys it’s reputation as a diverse, multi-faceted company that is constantly evolving. We will always aim to offer a huge selection of in-school opportunities. This year we have 10 in-school productions touring primary and secondary schools and a suite of workshops targeting most areas of the arts from Multimedia Theatre to Shakespeare. If we don’t have something ready-to-go, we will create and customize to fit in with a teacher’s needs. Just recently we were quizzed about wearing too many hats and questioned as to the necessity of having ‘so many strings to our bow’ but I believe it is so important to be diverse in this industry and develop as necessary! As a self-funded, independent (but still commercial) company that employs over 12 full time staff members and 10 weekly casuals, diversity and growth is vital. Teachers booking our in-school productions or workshops get the chance to work with a company that understands the ins and outs of EVERY aspect of theatre. Not only do they gain access to some of the best artists/instructors in QLD, but students who are interested in pursuing a genuine career in the arts will get the chance to pick the brains of these artists and start a dialogue with the company. We are very proud to employ students who have graduated from our after-school classes, holiday workshops and work experience opportunities. In 2013 we have 8 past shake & stir students on the shake team as paid employees. We believe in young artists taking a sense of entrepreneurial ownership over their careers – you have to strive for personal creative success but if you don’t understand the business and how to develop sustainable work then you may not be around for too long.


shake and stir theatre co

How important is The Arts in education? Do you think the value of theatre is reflected in the new National Curriculum? Does this match up with the National Cultural Policy?

The Arts in Education are obviously hugely important. Full stop. Belief in this is one of the key reasons we created shake & stir in the first place! Curriculum is always changing (especially with changes in government), but I think it’s important to remember that the Arts can help arm students with the tools needed to be creative and to understand creativity – this helps with so much of their education – confidence, problem solving, thinking outside the box, communication skills, being critical thinkers – I could go on. What we do like about the new National Curriculum are the general capabilities that sit above all subjects and how drama and theatre fit in so well with these. This is especially true with intercultural understanding, ethical understanding, personal and social capability and critical and creative thinking. So much of what drama and theatre is about is building the creative and critical thinkers of tomorrow.


I truly hope teachers get on board with the drama component of the Arts National Curriculum as it’s proven to help young people in so many areas of their lives. shake & stir definitely understands this and we have seen first hand the changes our in-schools performances and workshops, after school primary drama classes, holiday workshops and mainhouse productions can provoke. It is also why we see it a necessity to have an Education Manger as a fulltime staff member – Naomi Russell joined the team this year after teaching fulltime at various high schools in QLD and the UK. We are serious about making valuable connections between Arts and Education. What it’s really about now is getting everyone on the same page. When Simon Crean (former Minister for the Arts) launched Creative Australia it was stated that Artists and creative practitioners and professionals are at the heart of the cultural sector. A well-trained, resourced and recognised group of creative practitioners and professionals provides inspiration and leadership as they pursue their chosen fields with diligence and commitment.” (Creative Australia, 2013) We hope that’s what shake & stir are providing for the leaders of tomorrow – an inspiration for young creatives who will be the future theatre makers – and with a National Creative Policy that backs these people up – that’s a future myself and all at shake & stir are proud to be apart of.


shake and stir theatre co

You guys are present across multiple social media platforms and you have a massive following. I love seeing the positive feedback you get after shows and workshops, particularly from your student fan base. How important is it for theatre companies to embrace social media, and to connect with audiences across multiple platforms?

Hah! I think we all need to embrace facebook as much as possible until Zuckerberg realizes how much of an asset it is for creative businesses and starts charging for it! Social media is such an important way for us to stay in touch with our young audience base. It has also been fantastic to see how our older audience is increasingly getting on board and embracing this technology. Through our facebook page, instagram account, youtube channel and twitter feed we can connect instantly with thousands. It’s all about making them feel included in what we do on a day-to-day basis whether this is sharing tour/backstage photo albums, announcing opportunities to come and work with us in the office, audition notices or tweeting what we just ate in the van prior to a school show! Social media is also a great way for us to take feedback on our shows – young people are very honest online nowadays and it is a familiar way for them to let us know what they think of what we do. We definitely listen to their feedback and combine this with our official teacher feedback when creating our future shows. We also receive some really touching stories via our social media, especially in relation to our “moral-based” in-school performances. Students feel empowered to share their bullying stories or teenage challenges with us – these are messages that motivate us to continue to do what we do.



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