Posts Tagged ‘forum

07
Dec
12

An Afternoon With Stephen Sondheim or Diary Excerpt of a Fanatic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

A very talented and very fanatical friend of ours took off to see Stephen Sondheim in Melbourne, while Mr Sondheim was here to see the hit production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and answer a few questions in a forum of a different kind…

 

Contributed by Darren Heskes 

 

What started as “An Evening with Stephen Sondheim” for me became “two postponed evenings with Sondheim” (he had fallen in England whilst walking and talking, fracturing his  right wrist), 2 non refundable airline tickets, a hotel room that had been paid for (which resulted in me going to Melbourne just to use up the accommodation and second airline ticket), and a “hang the expense, I’ll take the family down South and pay extra to see Forum weekend. Like I had money to burn!

 

It wasn’t the latest Smash hit  musical or  Lady Gaga concert that  the obsessive ones sell their parents to see, so why do all this to see an 82-year old man being asked questions that I already knew the answers to?

 

BECAUSE HE’S STEPHEN SONDHEIM! 

 

Of all the people in this world Sondheim is the only one I would ever  make this kind of effort to see.

 

 

I could have bought a ticket to New York and camped outside his place for the same cost.

A career spanning over 55 years as the ultimate theatre songwriter: lyricist  for West Side Story and Gypsy leading to his eventual destiny providing music and lyrics to his  revolutionary and sometimes daring masterpieces Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George (my number one musical of all time), Into the Woods, Assassins and Passion. He  has worked with  some of the biggest Broadway and West End  giants and I could spew forth wads of info your way but come on! You have a computer…Look him up. If you’re unfamiliar then it’s time to get acquainted as there will never be another Sondheim, just as there’ll never be another Shakespeare or da Vinci.

 

“In Person”. That concept seems ridiculous, something  that interests fanatics and stalkers. I was no different. I was even annoying the concierge at the hotel he was staying at. But I wasn’t alone and although he made it quite clear during the anticipated afternoon  that he could not write at present (the wrist damage is severe as he is right handed), the faithful stood waiting at the stage door with programmes, scores and paraphernalia to have him sign. I was no better. I took note of the non-signing but made sure I left a musical proposal for him to peruse with the stage door manager (like I’m the only one who’s ever done that). I know full well the cold truth of reality but that doesn’t mean I’m not checking my email every day, just in case.

 

Anyway… After a brief delay waiting for the greatest songwriter of the latter 20th century, there he was… in person! Shorter than I imagined. Christopher Lawrence asked thoughtful and well researched questions that Mr. Sondheim was both surprised and pleased with. Excellent for the less dogmatic admirers, but for the ravenous devourers we wanted to have him all to ourselves. Musical excerpts were performed by various artists, and not having been a Packed to the Rafters follower all I can say is “OMG… that Hugh Sheridan can sing!” What a voice. The most perfect rendition of the title tune from the less successful opus Anyone Can Whistle. Even Stephen (well, I’d hoped we’d be on first name terms by now) was moved. To the point in fact that he scolded someone taking photographs during  the song.

 

Silvie Palidino’s Not a Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along was not only incredible to listen to it brought the Maestro to tears. Less convincing unfortunately, was Martin Crewes who did the Sunday in the Park excerpts. It just didn’t do it for me. Now if Hugh had sung it I would have been on my knees sobbing like an infant. Everything these days is cross-promotional and so this was in preparation for the 2013 Melbourne season of Sunday in the Park. Now if it was a Quast or Jackman in the lead (as they both had done so in the past), or even a Sheridan, I’d be booking passage immediately. Crewes, although capable, is no heavyweight. 

 

Geoffrey Rush joined Christopher and Stephen on the stage for 15 minutes of further cross promotion (Forum) and as entertaining, funny and talented as he was, I came for the awkward New Yorker. It did give an insight however into the methods and abilities of Mr Rush and why he is where he is today.

His attention to detail is second to none and for a self confessed non-singer he puts many  supposed singers to shame. 

 

Now back to Stephen…While we were lead chronologically through his career, with 2 interrupted hours there was no time to be stuck on 1959’s  Gypsy ( I mean, he was allowed to write lyrics only at this point at Ethel Merman’s request) and while Mr Lawrence attempted to steer proceedings further on, many in the audience had to let out a sigh to delay things another 5 minutes! COME ON PEOPLE! The highpoint of all musical theatre was his career from 1970-1994 and we still had another 11 years to go. TIME’S TICKING! Unions wouldn’t allow for a finish any later than 4.30 pm so MOVE IT! 

 

At interval I went off to do the usual: buy a drink, go to the toilet. Little did I know that those that remained milling in the auditorium were given a survey and then they selected 3 people to ask Mr Sondheim a question each…WHAT?! If I’d have known that I would have worn an adult nappy that day just in case. OH what wasted questions! It was like being given 3 wishes and wasting every one of them. The first question was by an older gentleman with the need for people to think he was witty, the second by a  young bassoonist who went and sat back in her seat mid answer (2 wishes down) and the third by a bumbling student not even aware of the full extent of Sondheim’s career. Folks…he went from strength to strength well after West Side Story and 55 years on he would like to forget some of his early career cringe-worthy lyrics. 

 

It’s a shame most people in this country are not as well versed on Sondheim as they should be. The more recent Burton film Sweeney Todd, which may have brought a younger generation a taste of Sondheim, is style over substance. Don’t ever see the film versions of A Little Night Music or Forum… They’re rubbish.  However you will never regret getting your hands on the filmed stage versions of Sunday in the Park with George and Company, the original cast recording of Sweeney Todd and the Sondheim biography by Meryle Secrest. Life-changing.  

 

So all in all was I satisfied… Not really.

But I would not have missed it for the world.

 

I mean… HE’S STEPHEN SONDHEIM! 

 

Stephen Sondheim

23
Nov
12

Sondheim says…

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

 

 

Stephen Sondheim is in town!

 

No, not in Brisvegas but in Melbourne for Frosty’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, directed by Simon Phillips and starring Geoffrey Rush.

 

Of course you knew that.

 

But did you listen to the conversation he had on Radio National (Books and Arts Daily) with Michael Cathcart?

 

If you missed it, take the time to listen now and catch up on reviews from Crikey and The Age.

 

Is Forum your favourite Sondheim show?

 

 

 

10
Mar
12

so what will the state theatre company of the future look like?

Well now, let’s see. It’s Friday and the Forum (and the opening of The Greenhouse) was Thursday. It seems like an eternity ago! I’ve been busy, yes (I’m always busy) but I’ve been thinking. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Bucchino again lately and this is the core of what I came away thinking (and singing) during the drive back to the coast and upon getting home and going to bed instead of blogging until 2am…

RHYME IS WHAT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO UNLESS WE WANT IT TO

When we look at the state theatre companies across the country, do we not think they all look a bit like this?

Yes. It’s a neat street.

Of course the vision for the QTC of the future varies enormously, depending on who you ask to paint the picture. The many, many, MANY pictures are wonderful! And at least we all seem to agree that we would prefer to see something more like this:

And because we know we can, we want to feel that we are creating work that helps us to look like this:

Imagine what the street would look like if our state theatre companies all followed their dreams and each became a true home to their artists, producing sustainably, a vast array of work in traditional and non-traditional spaces, which truly reflected their communities; their people, their stories, their hopes, their dreams and their realities.

WOW!

So my point is this: it’s time to drop a great big bloody bucket of orange paint over each of our state theatre companies!

If there’s an Artistic Director game to do it, it’s Wesley Enoch. He has, better than any other as far as I’m concerned, established a firm platform of community engagement and open public forum. Wait. To trump Cate, he may have to appear on a community group’s stage himself somewhere, say in Ipswich…

Some stakeholders prefer to take a similar approach to that of Lucas Stibbard’s, by taking a look at what we don’t want. This is a fine approach to begin with; ruling out what’s not desired and leaving us with the perfect picture! Easy! But there’s no perfect picture, as we know. And that’s why it’s so hard to make the changes. What if we start small? What if we don’t even call our subscribers “subscribers”? Are they not now “season ticket holders”? Language and perception are two of the big orange splots within the bigger picture.

A number of artists mentioned that we might do better to look at the sporting model in Queensland. This is something that Sam (my husband) has been saying for years. A rare breed, he loves his sport AND the arts. Depending on the season and whether or not the art is paying, one will always win out.

Anyway, Paul Bishop, our extraordinary facilitator for the afternoon’s forum (really, he should have his own morning show), introduced by Associate Director of QTC, Todd MacDonald, gave us a brief history of the world’s culture and asked us to fill in the blanks for the last 50 – 60 years, specifically for Brisbane theatre. What? Oh, right. To appreciate where we are now and where we’re headed, we need to understand what’s gone before us. Fair enough.

So we had our afternoon’s schedule on a whiteboard and, armed with coloured felt pens, A4 paper, post-its (and iPhones), although we were already running 15 minutes late, we were ready to change the world!

We realised, after just a few minutes, that there has been far richer theatrical culture in Brisbane than many realise, for much longer than some care to remember. Kaye Stevenson commented that resilient artists have continued to work for a long time in this town. What a timely reminder (mentioned again later, during the Welcome to Country from Uncle Des and the opening address from Wesley Enoch) that we must keep asking our elders what has happened before us. We must be willing to listen and take down their stories. We must re-tell them. We must continue to value that which has gone before. I don’t doubt that we do, just as I don’t doubt that there is anyone who doesn’t want to do things better than they’ve been done before.

The question of sustainability was a major one – it kept coming up in conversation – and it took David Walters, the master of green lighting design (and by green I mean sustainable and not for Wicked), to point out that we had full lights on in the room for the day, for a discussion, rather than all of us looking like death-warmed-up under the ugly lights (he didn’t say anything about looking like death-warmed-up but we all know that’s the issue here).

The theatre is an aesthetic thing! Nobody wants to be photographed under the fluoros!

Luke Jaaniste spoke of the theatre company being more a part of our entire ecosystem, a living, breathing, feeding, inter-dependent organism, though his paper reads more clearly about this than his brief address to us on the day and I urge you to go back and read it. Lisa Erhart gave us the Galaxy Analogy and poignantly noted that she is one of the cool, older, red stars within our galaxy, while there are others involved who are the hot, new, young blue stars. She wants us to smash the elite theatre culture that appears to be – still – associated with the company and for it to become far greater reaching and responsive to community. Anna Molnar used the term “theatre without borders” and also noted, later, that to trademark it or copyright it would defeat its purpose. It was noted that the only “colour” in the room was in the paper and pens. Todd MacDonald summarised that the state theatre company has a responsibility to raise standards and tell the stories that truly reflect our community. This came up repeatedly. In Farmer Rob’s words, we must start to “sell to the farmers.”

Rob spoke about farmers who sing – they’re happier – and have “thrown out the farm”. (I’m waiting to see the link for this organisation and when I do, I’ll add it here.) This became more relevant as we began discussing the traditional space, the buildings and that “elite” culture of pre-booking, dressing “appropriately” and going to dinner and a show. Todd asked, “Should we lose the mothership?” There was deathly silence. As Wesley honed in on later, the place is significant. It’s important to have a home for artists and a place where people can gather together. As a little, tiny, independent company who floats from theatre to theatre, to Boreen Point, to Community Hall, to park, to beach, to living room, to vacant shop, I know this to be true. We feel it. All the time.

IMHO a company needs a place to call home.

The need to re-structure the company came up several times, with artists wanting artists paid first. Fair enough. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that admin need to be able to sell a show in order for the artists to have an audience! Andrea Moor said the company should be one that, “serves the fans and the artists first.” She also wants to see, as we all do, the companies working together. I don’t doubt this is happening more than ever before, with the dialogue now wide open between QTC and La Boite.

Emma Bennison spoke on behalf of Access Arts and expressed her frustration (echoed by many others in the room and on Twitter) at the funding bodies favouring young and emerging artists for far too long. She reminded us that it’s distressing for her sector of the community to see able-bodied actors playing characters with disabilities. There are actors with disabilities who are not even being considered for these roles. I was waiting for Suer Manger to pipe up. Emma also stated, quite rightly, that we can’t possibly become a more inclusive and accessible company while we continue to make assumptions about people (artists) with disabilities.

Angharad Wynne-Jones joined us via Skype (Sigh. There are always technical difficulties, aren’t there?) and shared with us these words:

We need to balance fear and hope. We need to do things better and differently. We need to hold hands before the paradigm shift.

And a wonderful, quirky, living room work, choreographed by Lucy Guerin for the homeartproject.com

Matt Delbridge spoke about London’s Green Theatre Project, citing excellent examples to balance the horrific stats of energy use (read waste) by theatres everywhere. You only have to Google “green theatre” to find enough material to occupy your reading time until Arcola Theatre becomes the first carbon neutral theatre in the world. And they will. Check out what they’re doing – for their theatre family and for their wider community – here. Our own Umber Productions achieved a small miracle with David Walters lighting their production of Elaine Acworth’s Water Wars. Their Education Pack provides nice, simple detail about how this was done. I wish the writers and implementers of the new you-beaut rigid bloody curriculum would see more theatre. Just saying.

“I limited the amount of power used. I know it was a kind of arbitrary thing, but I set myself the task – and the show was a touring piece – to run from a 10 AMP (domestic) socket. It simplified things.”

Walters told Kate Foy that the biggest challenge in Water Wars was, ‘getting my head around this approach to lighting. I don’t know of anyone else who’s taken it on. It’s challenging – bloody and dangerous at times but, at other times, very rewarding.’ He continues, ‘… and just because we have the tools doesn’t mean it’s good design. I’m conscious of LEDs being fitted in to what we’ve always known. We’re in transition. We’re in a catchup game now and, for the first time, we have tools we don’t quite know what to do with. We’ve now got computers which have given us extraordinary and sophisticated ways of controlling that light, once we’ve generated it.

Where I am learning is in the area of control. There are old ways of doing things but now there is so much flexibility. For example, there are 60, 80, 100s of channels of control. I’m having to learn to re-think in design terms.’

Right. What have I missed? What we believe is essential to the state theatre company of the future. And the observations from Steven Mitchell Wright. Hmmm. Could have heard a pin drop. Steven said aloud a lot of what has been unspoken. In order to move forward, QTC need to address a lot of problems.  He is an advocate for adapting our language and our labels to better represent the stakeholders. He sees a need for greater depth and transparency in the engagement with community and while he acknowledges that the discussions, debates and forums are happening already, QTC now need to genuinely respond and make the tough calls to bring about real change for artists.
Since I’m still up and here, here is a little something from Travis Bedard, in the middle of the current #2amt discussion (if you’re in theatre and not on Twitter yet, IT’S TIME), re the problem with theatre in America. I include it because we all have to remember that we all have something to do with making changes for a better future. That sounds awfully trite but, especially in our theatrical circles, I get sick to death of hearing the sneering and judgement before support and admiration for our fellow artists. Be a part of the change. Be the change you want to see. Stop wasting paper. Turn off the lights. Get to a show via public transport. Make braver, better, smarter choices. Keep creating new work. Keep sharing the work. Share the love MORE.
QTC is not UNloved. Far from it! We just don’t know how to show our love sometimes.
“You understand of course, given the size of this niche, there’s an almost 50% chance that YOU are a problem with theatre in America?”
-Travis Bedard
No problem here! No problems that are not being addressed, anyway. Keep supporting, sharing and inspiring change. The changes will come about because we continue to challenge, adapt and evolve. Meanwhile, The Greenhouse, the youth ensemble, Wesley’s regular newsletters and the engagement with community give me confidence that QTC are serious about change. For the first time, they are questioning – from the inside – the necessity of rhyme. The state theatre company of the future looks like it’s genuinely open to suggestions and will look very different if we just give them a chance and a bit of encouragement along the way. We need to keep reminding them:
RHYME IS WHAT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO UNLESS WE WANT IT TO
And we need to remember that sometimes, half of the audience – even the invited guests amongst them – are not going to find your art interesting, regardless of the changes you make. This actually happened last night, to my, er, horror. They will continue talking and drinking, regardless of what or who you have put on the stage in front of them. But no problem. Not everybody watches the grand final, either. Let’s not be so precious, let’s not waste time and resources dwelling on it (let’s not decide to leave them off the guest list for the next opening, which was one suggestion I overheard in the more attentive section of The Greenhouse crowd); let’s just get on with the show and bring on the theatre companies of the future.
Check out the forum gallery here and on Facebook.
08
Mar
12

QTC Forum: What Does the State Theatre of the Future Look Like?

We’ll find out in just a few hours! Well, we’ll certainly have a clearer picture of what it MIGHT look like. We’ll be live-tweeting from the forum but I thought I’d give you some pre-forum reading matter, courtesy of QTC.

THE FORUM PLAN

Luke Jaaniste:

Read his paper Liveliness: Conditions of a Lively Ecosystem (and state theatre) here

In a nutshell: We need to foster the five qualities required for liveliness: diversity, connectivity, flexibility, reflexivity and capacity.

How could a state theatre company be part of this?

EXCELLENT QUESTION.

IT’S A FORUM. LET US KNOW YOUR IDEAS, PEOPLE.

Lucas Stibbard, of boy girl wall phenomenon, offered a vision yesterday via Facebook, which I think is worth noting here. It’s a longer note but then, if you’ve had time to watch and share and debate KONY 2012 you can read this and process what you will.
“Me, I’m very fond of that image of the vase that becomes two faces when you look at it long enough. To me it’s always symbolised that by looking at the negative space around something you may be able to infer its shape, or to put it another way – if you work out what you don’t want something to be then, by a process of elimination you can start to understand the shape you desire.

So let’s look at what the state theatre company of the future shouldn’t be and by that same process of elimination we may begin to infer a shape:

It’s 2020 and the season is entirely composed of 7 one-person, co-pros and buy-ins that allow for costs to be met. The upstairs of the company is staffed at 50 and the shows at 3. The works are, for the most part, traditional fare with any risks being minimised into smaller runs in smaller venues. There’s a Williamson or Murray-Smith always. The gap between locally produced works (which are shown separately to the main season and included with education and youth programs) has widened now to being undertaken by what amounts to a different company. The staff is, for the most part, uninvolved in the workings of the downstairs where the one show that the company of the future is producing themselves this year, rehearses. Marketing is done with little consultation as to the actual project and locked in for the whole season before casting has been resolved and the creatives have started discussions. The creatives continue to work in a standard Writer, Director, Designers paradigm and collaboratively devised work continues to be met with a combination of fascination and fear as it doesn’t fit neatly into the systems in place. “Season of the stars” casting to bolster audiences has meant that the 7 one-person shows from the season are performed predominantly by celebrities or musical theatre performers. The audience turn up see their show and go home having been told again that this is what theatre is. Ticket prices are extortionate to cover the fact that subscriptions are much lower due to the fact that the generations that do subscribe continue their decline.

So that’s the darkest of all possible futures – the faces from the face/vase picture, the negative. So let’s not do that.

Now let’s look at the vase.

It’s 2020. The season is broad and varied – there’s an amazing show from overseas that everyone should see once before they die. There’s an insane experiment by a local group that only has one audience member. They’re both programmed and marketed as part of the same season. There’s a golden oldie – there always will be. There’s a pair of shows running in rep that are companion pieces – they compliments and comment on each other via contrast. There’s a musical and a blistering physical theatre piece, there’s a geo-locative city game/promenade thing. The company’s annual must-sees are the Christmas show and the local spotlight that takes a small company and lets them do what they do with a real budget and infrastructure but without interference. The marketing and promotion of the season is artful and true to the productions – this is partly because the consultations between the workers in all areas of the office and the artistic teams are fluid and constant. The venues, which are of all sizes and shapes have well appointed bars and food and act as places to go and spend time as well as see shows: destinations rather than venues. The season’s performers are drawn from the best the country has to offer as well as the company’s ensemble program, and one or two personalities (that bit is inevitable).

Bi-monthly talks like Improbable Theatre’s D&D’s in England allow for lots of discussion with the community and the well-managed online presence of the company of the future allows for dialogue with anyone willing to get involved. The “education” shows, now referred to as part of the season, are made at the same budget and managed by the same workers. As such the demand for arts workers and producers has meant that the project teams in the office are full of passionate and committed artists whose skills in making work extend into management and production allowing a permeability between time spent managing projects and time spent in projects. The company’s first response is “let’s see how we can make this happen” with a default position of “Ok so we can’t do that, however here are 3 other options”. At the center of every consideration is the work.

Subscription has fallen away as a generation that doesn’t do that comes to its prime. However, it is a generation that values live-ness and experiences and as such will come to what it perceives as worth its time and as such the range and quality of the season appeals (as it has to). Ticket prices have come to represent value for money, not an investment in a night of entertainment.
There are a mixture of creative paradigms in play in the rehearsal rooms of the company – one project is made under the traditional auteur/director, designer, writer model, another involves a collaboratively devised work, another somewhere in between and the company is flexible enough to be able to accommodate and adapt to the rhythms and styles of process undertaken.

The company’s ensemble program allows for young and emerging artists to continue to develop their skills and get vital contacts and time onstage as they train and work on the season in capacities that include stage-hand and office work, ushering, time spent in classes and observation of the processes of shows that are in rehearsal and development and in roles in the season. This work is backed by the opportunities afforded young makers, directors and facilitators who are also part of this ensemble and whose late in the year group work is another vital piece of the company’s yearly programming.

The company’s programming is applauded for it’s breadth, it’s depth and most importantly, it’s daring. It has no time for “creative industry” as art making is not an industry and no time for “cultural capital” as culture is priceless – it believes risk is it’s own reward. It undertakes to showcase talent, grow and nurture local creation and innovation and create experiences that cannot be replicated in any other medium as well as continually expanding the notion of what performance can be for both itself and it’s audience.

Now this is without offering solutions or budgets and with full knowledge that the future will probably be as much the faces as it is the vase. But it’s what I dream of.”

What’s terrific about this post, in addition to Lucas’s passion about the future (thank you, Lucas) is that Wesley Enoch got onto it, after sitting with us at Poe’s table last night at opening night of The Raven and commented:

“How exciting to read these thoughts…..that’s what we should be doing. Imagining the State Theatre Company of the future…together. It fact the future doesn’t have to be that far away. Love W”

When the Artistic Director of the company invests so much into ongoing public discussion about what the state theatre company of the future looks like, I’m pretty confident that it won’t look too shabby at all. What do you think? What are you hoping to see?