14
May
13

Mud, Sweat and Tears: shake and stir’s Nick Skubij pigs in part 2

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

Nick 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 this week! Animal Farm previews Wednesday and opens Thursday. See you there.

 

Read Part 1 here

 

Part 2

 

Animal Farm is coming to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast as part of a National tour. So is shake & stir reaching regional Australia each year now?

We sure are. With both our in-schools and our mainhouse work. Each year shake & stir perform for over 180 000 people all across the country. In 2011 we hit the road on a three-month national tour of our production Statespeare. We are currently on a similar tour with Animal Farm (36 national venues) and will be heading out again in 2014 with 1984. These tours are a great way for us to get QLD theatre into other states but also to increase the access that people living in regional areas have to high quality live performance. Our in-schools program tours extensively each year through regional QLD, VIC and TAS.  As a Cairns boy who loved to act, sing and dance but didn’t always have the professional opportunities to do so – getting out to the regions and providing these chances for students will always remain high on my priorities for shake & stir. We are also giving regional students across Drama, Dance, Art, Music and Photography an opportunity to interact with professional artists via our freshly launched QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival – but that’s a whole other interview! J

 

Nelle LeeCan you tell us what happens on Manor Farm and what we might, hopefully, take away from this interpretation of Animal Farm? Should we have read the book first?

Ok… Basically we have a bunch of unhappy, mistreated animals on Manor Farm, who are abused daily by their master/farmer– the dreaded Mr. Jones. One evening, the animals gather in the barn to hear Old Major, the sort-of patriarch of the farm, deliver a speech about how the animals hold the power in themselves to overthrow Jones and run the farm much better – in a way that ensures abundance and equality for all. The animals do so – they successfully expel Jones from the farm and start self-governing. They soon learn that every society needs leadership so the pigs appoint themselves as the key decision makers and decide on a set of unbreakable rules (the seven commandments) that shall define their new way of life. Over time, things start to take a turn and, well, I’ll stop there so as to not give it away for those that haven’t read the book! Our adaptation is very faithful to the book. It is not necessary to have read it before you see the show.

 

Have there been any changes since the original production?

The production has changed a little bit – we have a new cast member, Tim Dashwood who brings a whole new energy to the piece. It was really important for us to retain as much as possible from the original but still take the invaluable opportunity to revisit moments that could benefit from a bit of tweaking. We also had to redesign some elements to make the show more ‘tourable’ while retaining the spectacle of the original.

 

Ross Balbuziente

What sort of actors’ preparation or approach has led to the dynamic portrayal of the pigs on Manor Farm?

A big portion of our first week of rehearsal was literally spent work shopping animal movement and watching a lot of youtube clips of pigs, horses, sheep, hens, cows… Initially, we had no limitations on how far we wanted to take the physicality but we did know that we wanted to avoid heading into really obvious ‘animal acting’ territory. We wanted the piece to be very physical but not to alienate the audience. What we found helpful was starting from a literal place and then stripping back until we agreed on the essence of the animals and what was absolutely necessary to get the idea across clearly, quickly and not in a way that distracts from what they are saying (which is where the REAL piggish character comes from). We had the additional challenge in this piece of also having to portray humans – we quickly explored the concept of animalizing the humans and humanizing the animals.

 

What has it been like to work with Director, Michael Futcher, on this production? He speaks so highly of shake & stir. Is this a long-term relationship based on mutual admiration?

Michael is a perfectionist and we love working with him! He brings a meticulous eye for detail and story into the rehearsal room and prior to that, the dramaturgy of the script. He is a very trusting Director and a lot of the time is not interested in dictating movement and blocking but will literally sit back and observe while we all get stuck into working our way through the text on the floor. After absorbing all this, he has an astute way of retaining the good and tossing away the not-so-good. He is very patient with ironing out kinks in the script and suggesting judicious snips and cuts – he shares our vision for short and sharp theatre. We have always very much admired the work that Michael has done in the past and our professional relationship has developed into an ongoing one – Tequila Mockingbird will mark our third production together. We have a fantastic creative dialogue now and we know and respect what each contributes to the mix.

 

Tim Dashwood

I’m a big fan of your design team; these guys are a force to be reckoned with! What do Josh McIntosh (Designer), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer) and Guy Webster (Sound Designer/Composer) bring to Animal Farm?

They are awesome! Each has a very clear aesthetic that works for what we want to artistically achieve and they all work so well together. The beauty of our design team is that they reinvent themselves each time we create a new work – Out Damn Snot! and 1984 are two very different looking and sounding shows! But what is most fantastic about our team is their work ethic. Each will work relentlessly to pull off their designs when it comes to getting the show up and what they achieve in the time they have is extraordinary. We also had the great pleasure of collaborating with the boys from optikal bloc on 1984 and anyone who saw the show will agree that their av work spread over 12 60inch plasma screens was pretty special.

 

You guys are a tight-knit team and you’ve worked together for a while. Can you tell us about building the company with Ross Balbuziente and Nelle Lee?

We started this adventure seven years ago now and it seems like yesterday. Everyday I go to work with them, whether it is to our office, into the rehearsal room, into a workshop, performance or national tour, it is like going on a new adventure with my two best friends. Corny – yes, but true. Back in 2006 when it all started (fueled by a lot of cheese platters and wine if memory serves me correct) it was the same thing. I think what makes this work is that we understand each other so well and we respect each other. While we don’t always see eye-to-eye on certain things, there is a huge amount of trust that we have for each other’s decisions and artistic ideas. Between Nelle, Ross and myself, all major business decisions are shared equally as are all creative decisions. I guess we are unique in this respect in that we each jointly wear the ‘Artistic Director’ hat but then individually have so many other unspoken roles vital to the sustainability of a commercial company.

 

Bryan ProbetsBryan Probets and Timothy Dashwood are a couple of Brisbane’s favourite performers. What qualities do they bring to this production? 

We pride ourselves on providing employment for QLD artists and we are thrilled to be working with two of the best in this show. Again, there is a lot of trust in the ensemble, five actors giving it their all for 85 minutes – physically, vocally and emotionally. Bryan and Tim are two very generous and committed performers in every sense of the word. We are also fortunate that the company really enjoys each other’s company – we have had many memorable moments on tour both on and off stage. But of course, what happened on tour stays on tour 😉 Also, it would be remiss of me not to give a big shout out to our crew who are also some of our state’s best – Our Stage/Tour Manager Dan Sinclair, our Technicians Scott Barton and Clark Corby and our Drivers Speedy and Frank – they all bring a wealth of experience and like Boxer – they always work harder!

 

How does shake & stir cast their shows? Is it invitation only or do you hold general auditions?

Most of the time, our mainhouse shows are cast by invitation. When programming or discussing our future productions, we usually have an actor in mind who we think would be ideal who we chat with very early on to gauge their interest in collaborating. That said, if we get stuck, we hold specific auditions based on recommendations from our Director. Each year, the company holds General Auditions for our annual schools touring program. On offer is a full-time year of work for energetic, enthusiastic actors keen to work with young people. Details about these auditions are announced via agencies and our website and social networks. Auditions are then by invitation only based on the strength and suitability of their application. We have to do this as we get a couple of hundred applications from people all across QLD/NSW.

 

What are your top tips for aspiring actors? Do they still need to leave Brisbane to train, or to get a foot in the door? What are the advantages of staying?

My top tip is that an actor who succeeds in creating a career in the arts is an actor who is capable of creating their own opportunities. Whether you ever actually need to create your own work is irrelevant but having as many skills up your sleeve as possible is the key. You definitely don’t need to leave Brisbane to find work, but you can’t sit around waiting for work to come and find you. I think the best training institutions are the ones that place this idea on par with the actual actor training! Brisbane is great in that it has a flourishing independent theatre scene as well as two fantastic funded companies each programming diverse, exciting work and each with very clear pathways to connect with them. There is huge support available right now for artists wanting to get out there and make theatre – support that ranges from financial or government grant support to venue support for both rehearsal and production.

Tequila Mockingbird

I’m excited about your next adaptation too, Tequila Mockingbird, which opens in August. Can you tell us about it?

Another much loved, iconic story retold for today. It is a show we have sat on since we began the company waiting for the right time. We step away from a straight adaptation and move toward a contemporary retelling, inspired by the legendary novel by Nelle Harper Lee, written by our very own Nelle Lee! It’s going to be gutsy, confronting, honest and will certainly push some boundaries. We welcome back our powerhouse team of regulars and add a couple of new artists to the mix – the fabulous Barbara Lowing and recent USQ graduate Shannon Haegler. The show is in co-production with QPAC and tickets are selling fast. We have challenged our team to reinvent themselves to create another theatre piece that is unmistakably shake & stir but continues to push the company in new directions and challenges the audiences’ expectation of what to expect when coming along to see one of our shows. 

 

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