Posts Tagged ‘george orwell

17
Jun
17

1984

 

1984

QPAC, ATG, GWB Entertainment & STCSA 

QPAC Lyric Theatre

June 14 – 18 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

The Lyric Theatre is a venue I rarely visit and I’m always overwhelmed by its grandeur. I witnessed a spectacular and mind-boggling theatrical adaptation of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Co-creators and directors, Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke found that interrogating the appendix of the book provided a new access point into the work, and helped them devise an exciting and terrifyingly current production.

 

 

For those who have not read the book, this show will have you falling down the rabbit hole, discovering a strange world with fresh eyes, and being confronted with characters you don’t completely trust. Orwell’s dystopian classic, first published in 1949, follows protagonist Winston Smith (Tom Conroy) a citizen of Airstrip One that was formerly known as Great Britain. The world is at war and the government is keeping a close eye on their people. A very close eye. Party leader of the state Oceania, known as Big Brother, has his city under constant surveillance and is swift to persecute anyone who steps out of line. This is a world where individualism is snubbed.

 

Freedom of speech, even the right to own your thoughts, feelings and ideas, will see you “erased” from existence.

 

 

The play opens with Winston writing a diary. To whom he is writing to, even he is unsure. The next generation? Is it a warning to remember the past and history as he knows it? Winston is aware the world he lives in is vile and unjust, eradicating that which does not fit with Big Brother’s ideology, providing a clean slate and obtaining total power. Winston wants to stand up against his oppressors and provoke change. He is also aware of being watched, and could be seized by the Thought Police at any moment. After a romance is kindled between Winston and another citizen, Julia, they decide to risk their lives and fight for freedom.

 

 

Macmillan and Icke intended to create a visceral experience, and they succeeded. There was a tension sustained that never allowed the audience to settle or become complacent. We were continually searching for meaning and truth. Or was that even important in the end? The sound (Tom Gibbons) and lighting (Natasha Chivers) was electric, breathing life into the ever-present and watchful Big Brother, and sending out shock waves, warning the audience to pay attention, “Where do you think you are?”

 

 

The physicality of the actors was next-level and helped blur the lines of reality and false-memory within the show. The “book-club” scene was repeated and each time a new discovery was made, unsettling the audience, as well as Winston who becomes increasingly un-reliable as time goes on. The cast hit every beat that ricocheted seamlessly from one to the other, showcasing how engrossing live theatre can be. A favourite performance of mine was Parsons (Paul Blackwell), whose comedic timing and honeyed vocals made him such a joy to watch. He was the bright light in contrast to Martin (Renato Musolino) who was deliciously menacing; you couldn’t let him out of your sight.

 

 

Winston and Julia met several times in a secluded room where they were free to be themselves, to love each other, and discuss how they could contribute to the rebellion. This room was offstage with a video camera inside that was projected onto the set, allowing the audience to see and hear everything. The lovers were unaware they were being watched. I must admit the use of the video projection for some reason did not work. I understand the intention behind it: Big Brother is always watching, but I felt disengaged. I was straining to connect to Winston, who in these moments had important and illuminating thoughts. I found it funny since we are so used to viewing things on screens nowadays, but I came to the theatre for a reason. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the creators (and by extension, Orwell) for us as viewers to continue to question the norm.   

 

 

Spoiler alert: when Winston and Julia are captured by the Thought Police and interrogated at the Ministry of Love, the set is torn apart, and in this moment, I screamed inside. I absolutely love when sets are transformed, alluding to a shift of perception; a change in the fabric of the world to which we had grown accustomed. The ending reveals the true identity of Big Brother, who comes to question Winston and everything he thought he knew about himself, about love, sanity, war, the list goes on. Terence Crawford’s performance is supreme as he digs into Winston’s brain, into the audience’s brain. His voice sent me into a trance and I was complacent in watching him torture Winston into admitting he was superfluous. I sat in my seat, gob-smacked, overwhelmed with information, filling up with questions.

 

 

Something that stuck with me is that power will continue to corrupt. There will always be someone at the top and someone at the bottom. This is what makes 1984 a timeless story, and why it’s important to continue interrogating. It speaks to the oppressed and why it is paramount that people stand up for what they believe to be right. I left the theatre terrified with the realisation that everyone is so vastly different. There are numerous cultures, languages, ideologies that often divide humans instead of uniting them. Every individual believes they are standing up and fighting for the right reasons.

 

This adaptation is magnanimous on so many levels. It steam-rolls Orwell’s novel into the 21st Century where the same themes are painfully current and expressed with renewed vigour. It rips you from your seat and spits you back into the world to question everything you thought you knew.

 

This 1984 is a glorious example of the power of theatre.

06
Jul
15

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts – perfect school holiday entertainment!

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts

shake & stir

Roundhouse Theatre

July 4 – 11 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

It’s a rock concert, a Hip Hop film clip, a fairytale, and a favourite book brought to vivid life, all rolled into one and all PG-Rated. It’s the perfect solution for some school holiday fun that the whole family will enjoy, really. 

 

 

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More a reflection of my lack of conviction in a situation as a parent than any annoyance at the response of a volunteer at the venue, I found myself, in teacher tone, addressing an usher about a drink before taking our seats at The Roundhouse on Saturday. I’m accustomed to pouring wine from a glass into a plastic cup in order to take it into the theatre, but I was surprised to be told that Poppy would need to do the same for her drink, which was in a pop-top sealed plastic bottle. I almost laughed out loud. Seriously?! You want my jumping-up-and-down-excited nine-year-old to take her seat in the theatre with an open cup of diluted juice? (Don’t ask! We are having sugar talks at the moment). As Poppy dutifully uncapped the bottle and poured her juice-water into an enormous plastic party cup (she’s an excellent pourer and transferrer), I wondered what other mamas would do. I can think of a couple that would simply say, “No. No thanks, I think I know my child” and another couple who would actually laugh and say, “Are you joking? THINK about what you’ve just said!” And I wish I’d said something other than okay and put the bottle-with-a-lid-shut-tight in my bag because sure enough, right at the end of the show, Poppy accidentally kicked the cup, spilling the remaining slightly sticky contents over the floor beneath her seat. OH, OOPS, WHAT A SURPRISE (I said sarcastically, silently in my head).

 

As a fairly conscious parent and a first aider from way back, my immediate response is always to check for danger, assess any injuries and avoid further catastrophe while keeping anyone involved calm and quiet. There are times when Sam makes it clear that this is not the correct response, that it’s too calm and without consequence for the culprit (he is referring to our child). But more often than not, the consequence is in the disaster, and in this case, Poppy was embarrassed and upset because she knew I had felt the better option was to not do what the usher had told her to. Also, she slipped and fell against her seat BUT IT’S OKAY SHE’S OKAY.

 

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Why am I telling you this? Because going to see live theatre is about the whole experience, and often parents tell me it’s too hard to take their kids to see a show. If the venue makes it harder than parents already perceive the trip to be, who can say when they’ll be back?! Fortunately, nothing has ever deterred me from taking anyone to the theatre and Poppy is a resilient child, so despite her moment of mini-trauma (not only is she resilient but she’s also very dramatic. I don’t know where she gets it from), we agreed that Revolting Rhymes was the BEST EVER! AGAIN! Perfect school holiday entertainment for the whole family, nothing should keep you from enjoying this show.

 

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If you’ve been around for a while you’ll know how much I love shake & stir, one of the country’s most professional and engaging theatrical teams, with such broad appeal they can consistently sell out work that reinvigorates the likes of Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Emily Bronte and Bram Stoker (trust me – there’s no doubt Dracula will sell out!).

 

It seemed unlikely that shake & stir could make a slicker, funnier show than last year’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Having had it on the road for some time (they just returned from a sell-out season in Hobart at the end of a national tour), the team has cranked up the pace and polished every aspect until this production sparkles even more brilliantly than before.

 

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With the A-Team of design teams on board (Josh McIntosh, Jason Glenwright & Guy Webster), this show was always going to look and sound fabulous. The colours and textures – rich, warm autumnal tones, tulle and brocade – are vaguely reminiscent of the curtains in Captain Von Trapp’s house, which Maria makes into play clothes for the children. Yes, I know those are greener, but don’t tell me you didn’t think of them too. The overall aesthetic is one of magical rainy day dress ups and cubby house construction using tablecloths and sheets and pillows for hosting soft toy high tea parties. Perfect!

 

keepcalmandmakecurtainclothes

 

shake & stir think of everything.

 

The wonderfully talented, comical ensemble comprising Judy Hainsworth, Leon Cain, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij strikes the right chord with an audience who are already vocally ready to participate, having sung at the top of their little voices before the show, “I GOT BILLS I GOTTA PAY!” (shake & stir always have the best pre-show soundtrack!).

 

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Thenadier style, the actors pop up from under trapdoors in the revolve – the only set piece, brilliantly designed and utilised – and each performer tells us, “You think you know this story… You don’t!” There are giggles and then shrieks of laughter, from kids and parents (and from Leigh Buchanan, next to me, and Billy Bouchier and Paul Dellit in front!), as small bold voices call out, “Yes we do! YES WEEEEE DOOOOOO!” The atmosphere is vibrant and silly and fun. It feels like so many children’s birthday parties when at any minute things could turn to utter chaos, but a pretty distraction or little bit of structure is re-introduced at precisely the right time in order to avert disaster.

 

Director, Ross Balbuziente, like the perfect host, cleverly manipulates every moment of Revolting Rhymes, from the grisly to the ridiculously funny.

 

With the opening sequence setting a cheeky tone and a cracking pace, we can’t wait to see what comes next…again!

 

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It was fun. It was hilarious. My favourite was Little Red. She was awesome. She was really funky, a tomboy instead of being a pretty little girly-girl. It was funny when she took the pistol out of her knickers. She was funny but you couldn’t trust her.

 

The porcupine one was funny and it was funny how she was so scared of the dentist, which was quite like real life because most people are actually scared of the dentist.

 

It was funny when the man dressed up as one of the ugly sisters. And Cinderella had to run home in her underwear and that’s just so different. In the Cinderella we are all used to her gown turns into rags so it’s much funnier to see her in her underwear.

 

And I loved the three bears, especially the mum because of her accent. This mum is my mum’s favourite character. She says Nelle is a scream. That’s something her mum, my Nanny, would say.

 

Mira said the crunching noises were a bit disconcerting…

 

It tells you more about the stories, like there is more to the stories, like the secrets of the stories.

 

It’s sometimes scary but not too scary.

 

It’s important that it looks good, that theatre looks good – the lights and the costumes are gorgeous, awesome – otherwise we’ll stop watching and just talk because we haven’t seen each other in such a long time.

 

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Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts is holiday money well spent, perfect entertainment for all ages. You don’t need to be a child or take a child to enjoy this one. You just need to stick to your guns if challenged by an usher over a drink! Must close Saturday July 11!

 

 

26
Jan
14

shake & stir’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival finalists in The Tempest

 

The Tempest 

Shake & Stir Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse

January 20 – 21 2014

 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on…

 

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Shake & Stir are always putting on something daring. These guys make theatre as if it is it’s own living universe and not a show we have to sit back and watch. It feels like the whole show grows and changes with us on the night and we forget that there were rehearsed lines.

 

The top 30 competitors from the Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival combine their powers in this multi-arts exploration of Shakespeare’s late great work, The Tempest.

 

So the top 30 Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival Finalists who performed Shakespeare’s Tempest last week were nothing short of what Shake & Stir embodies.

 

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works. Simply put, it is the tale of a great storm bringing two lovers together while a magically enhanced father, with the aid of nymphs and other foolish spirits, makes mischief for all on his island. What made this performance equally incredible was that the display of choreography, lighting, acting and atmosphere was pulled together in one week.

 

Matt Walsh, Shake & Stir’s Resident Company Actor, appeared in this production as the great and powerful (and cheeky) Prospero. This is a role familiar to him, and he delivered it with the awe and wit that Prospero would have had were he real and truly ruling his own bizarre island.

 

The students got to add a touch of their own perception to the play too. The experience and opportunity for them was to really delve into a great play that not many have studied. But in understanding the text they first had to compare it to their own perspective. This was done in humourous ways such as the drunkard character Stephano, played by Liam Soden, carrying a sack of “goon”, and the daughter of Prospero – Miranda, played by India Oswin, telling her father he was embarrassing her in front of her crush. This further confirms the argument, which Shake and Stir tackled last year when they asked, is Shakespeare still relevant?

 

This excellent display of young Queensland talent sadly stayed at the Powerhouse for only two nights. But the glorious, oceanic stage was a wonderful sight for those who did get a chance to see it, and support Queensland’s youth, which hopefully we all do from time to time. They are, after all, the future of our industry.

 

Ed’s note:

 

Hot tip for teachers – don’t let your students miss the opportunity to work alongside Shake & Stir, ever. If we could clone these guys and put them into all Australian schools you’d never hear another kid complain about having to study Shakespeare again. There’s no question that Shake & Stir has helped keep Shakespeare not only relevant but vital to Australian school students.

 

Keep an eye out for details about this year’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival and book now, if you haven’t already (you haven’t already?!) for the return season of their fearless and flawless production of Orwell’s 1984 directed by Michael Futcher and featuring Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee, Bryan Probets, Nick Skubij & David Whitney at QPAC 15 July – 2 August 2014

 

 

19
May
13

Animal Farm

Animal Farm

shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

15th – 25th May 2013

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

 

In a recent Lowy Institute poll, 60 per cent of Australians are now indifferent to democracy while only 39 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds believe democracy is preferable to other forms of government.

This is the return season of shake and stir’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I didn’t see the original production so I was determined to get to it this time. Directed by Michael Futcher, and designed by Brisbane’s theatrical Dream Team (Josh McIntosh, Jason Glenwright & Guy Webster), this is a powerful political production, true to the text, nicely adapted by Nick Skubij. Originally published in 1944, Animal Farm tracks events leading up to the Russian Revolution, and explores allegorically, Communism under Stalin.

 

The only problem I have with this production is its conclusion. Up until the final sixty seconds or so, this is shake and stir at their provocative, political, theatrical best, with the perfect combination of some of Brisbane’s best actors and a deft director’s hand to bring this morality tale into context for new (and returning) audiences. While the story is bookended beautifully by the use of animated shadow imagery (the opening is gruesome and it’s perfect), the final picture doesn’t seem to have a strong enough impact. But when I spoke to others they were surprised that I’d even mentioned it.

 

A ninety-minute actors’ boot camp, Animal Farm is a must-see for students and teachers of performance and design, but also for anybody who enjoys a good story told exceptionally well. This is theatricality of the best sort, for the purpose of powerful storytelling. Whether we learn a lesson or not, we enjoy the process and when it’s over it’s not; we have masses to talk about and we’re pleased to have made the effort to get out of the house and into the theatre.

 

Animal Farm

The cast is superb, with the founders and creators of shake and stir at its core (Nelle Lee, Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij), and Bryan Probets and Timothy Dashwood completing an impressive, multi-skilled ensemble. The physically and vocally demanding characters are switched on and off masterfully, with the actors’ animal gestures and sounds truly replicating a farmyard’s activity and cacophony, complete with tin pail percussion and lots of mud!

 

The chilling soundscape and original score, designed by Guy Webster, adds the edge to this production, as does an imposing set, by Josh McIntosh, giving us the dizzying heights of progress and the simple spaces that are home to the workers who make progress possible. The actors utilise ladders, levels, doors, windows, and all sorts of hidden spaces to keep the pace going, when a less imaginative company might fuss with superfluous costume and set changes. In fact, this is the most detailed and economically designed production I’ve seen in place in the Cremorne, and even more impressive than that, is the fact that this same set has fit (and will continue to fit) into different venues across the country! McIntosh is clearly a Lego Master Builder from way back. Jason Glenwright’s cinematic layered lighting design swings between The Wizard of Oz and The Twilight Zone, such is his uncanny sense of exactly what it is we need to see. Is there any other creative team in town so in synch with every aspect of production as well as each other? If there is I’m yet to see the evidence elsewhere in so slick a show.

 

Animal Farm is exemplary in its theatricality, a perfect storytelling model for teachers and makers of theatre, a chilling reminder for all of us of the dangers of ignorance and apathy when it comes to governance, and another feather in shake and stir’s green cap. Michael Futcher’s keen eye for detail and his easy-going directing style are in evidence in every aspect of the show. Don’t be the one who misses it this time around.

 

The Brisbane season (until May 25th) kicks off the Queensland leg of a national tour so if you’re located outside of the city (teachers and community theatre peeps I’m looking at YOU), and you see this one coming soon to a theatre near you, GO. I may even go again… IN KAWANA. SEE YOU THERE SUNSHINE COAST!

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. 

 

07
May
13

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.

 

 

Connect with shake and stir on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

 

 

25
Aug
12

1984

shake & stir 1984

1984

shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC Cremorne 

August 16 – September 1 2012

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU

 

And by Big Brother, of course I mean George Orwell’s and not Network Ten’s. Written in 1948, Orwell’s prophetic horror story of a state’s absolute power over the individual, in the current political climate, feels more relevant than ever.

I missed shake & stir’s production of the multi-Matilda Award winning Animal Farm last year. There have been many times since then that I’ve thought to myself, “Self, you really should have seen Animal Farm last year.” Now, after experiencing their faithful adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 (like Animal Farm, it’s the first theatrical adaptation of the novel in this country), I can honestly say I intend never to miss another main stage show from shake and stir.

This is a relatively young company, as far as main stage experience goes. Education Queensland accredited, they are more often seen in our schools. (Well, in those schools smart enough to book them well in advance). Their current touring show, Statespeare (“studying Shakespeare suckeths”), has been nominated for a coveted Helpmann Award. Not only that, but through their connections with students and teachers along the way, I ‘reckon shake & stir theatre co. receives more feedback via social media than just about any other Brisbane-based theatre company. The larger companies can learn from these young guns, a thing or two about the power of Instagram! I expect to see them on Pinterest next! With their increasing presence across the state and online, and with this powerful production, impressively staged in QPAC’s most intimate space, the Cremorne Theatre, shake & stir have become the company to watch.

Under Michael Futcher’s intelligent and daring direction, this show is flawless. Futcher has missed none of the powerful motifs from the original, horrifying novel, beautifully translating to the stage, the fear of rising power that, at the time, Orwell sought to warn readers about (he feared the lengths that Spanish and Russian communist governments were prepared to go to, in order to gain control of their citizens would catch on in the West). We feel the threat of oppression and absolute control by a totalitarian government that monitors its citizens 24/7. In Oceania, even thoughts can be crimes.

As we enter the theatre under a couple of rather intimidating searchlights and sit down before an immense wall of television screens sporting the eyes of Big Brother, we sense that all is not well. Understatement of the year? Perhaps. There is a distinct air of foreboding. The impressive digital display is built into a brilliant bomb-stricken set, which is full of surprises, revealing secret spaces and allowing easy access to props as well as providing gasp-worthy changes of scene as the plot rushes along and suddenly takes a turn into a well-balanced blissful state. Josh McIntosh has designed the ideal, austere interior, incorporating optikal bloc’s technology. I loved optikal bloc’s input into Anna McGahan’s He’s Seeing Other People Now and this effort too is impressive. The pre-recorded footage would mean little however, without the physicality and the prowess of the actors on stage. Particularly effective are the opening couple of minutes, the disturbing “two minutes of hate”, which had – believe it or not – a stronger impact on stage in 2012 than on screen in the 1984 released film.

As the long-suffering Winston Smith, Bryan Probets is outstanding, delivering his best work when he is silent on stage and his gaunt, pre-filmed face utters his every thought on screen. (It’s fascinating to see an audience struggle, not knowing which face to watch!). It’s a truly cinematic effect and testament to shake & stir’s commitment to establishing authentic connections with their audiences and challenging the forms and styles of traditional theatre making. As Smith takes step after tentative step towards certain doom (taking his lover, Julia, with him), “We watch on in enraptured horror, but…like Winston, manage to hold on to hope.” The hope is fleeting. The interrogation sequences within Room 101 are completely terrifying, the stuff of nightmares, which is of course the point and the conclusion, unhappily, is inevitable. I defy you to keep from squirming and shifting uncomfortably throughout. I guess the overriding hope is that it will never come to this outside of a book or a proscenium arch.

Boasting an enviable collective skill set, this ensemble is superb. Hugh Parker, Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij join Probets in what must be 2012’s most ambitious bit of storytelling (and arguably, the best told). Josh McIntosh (Designer), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer), Guy Webster (Composer/Sound Designer), optikal bloc (Media Producers) and Ben Shaw (Stage Manager) complete the formidable creative team that will, I suspect, take home another couple of Matildas this year for their fearless and flawless production of 1984. Bravo!

1984