Posts Tagged ‘Interpretation

18
Apr
11

INFLUENCE: AN UPDATE

Interview with the director: Sam Coward

Sunday 17th April 

Influence opened in Noosa on Friday night. You’ve had 3 sold-out performances to start the season. How do you feel? 

Very satisfied, especially considering where the show is at, where ticket sales are at and the level at which the public and critical responses have been. We’re in a good place!

Were there any obstacles or hiccups to overcome to get to this stage? 

It’s been a relatively painless process. Illness at the eleventh hour made me a little nervous but generally speaking, with the level of competence in my cast and the level of wisdom in Williamson’s words, it all went pretty smoothly.

Opening Night highlights?

It was the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to sit in the bio box and see the audience’s immediate reactions and feel the buzz – it was electrifying and very satisfying.

So what’s your role during the run?

Because I’m a control freak and because, for the technical accuracy of this show, a degree of intimacy with the script was required, I decided I wanted to manually operate the lights for Influence.

When did you stop giving notes?

 Today. Today the show reached a level that I felt couldn’t be enhanced or improved upon. This is not to say that I won’t be giving any further notes during the run, this just means I’m giving no more notes, at this stage, until further notice.

What’s your favourite thing about this show?

I would have to say that’s it’s probably that the end result is so close to the vision I had from the outset. This production has stayed true to the original picture and it’s exciting to see that a) we’ve been able to do that and b) other people like it too.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I would have put somebody else in the box early enough to learn the cues.

I really think the time invested in character early on is shining through now. We used the time we had very well. The performances are genuine. 

I’ve felt very confident, almost relaxed, which is really rare. Usually tech week is all horror but it was seamless. It’s been a relatively easy ride. I feel like I just had to sell the vision and then discuss characters with the cast, design…in fact, the biggest part of my job was at the front end. 

The playwright, David Williamson, is attending on the final night, a special gala evening to celebrate his 40 years’ involvement at Noosa Arts Theatre on April 30th. How do you feel about him seeing the show?

I’m very excited about that actually, because from our first discussions with him, he was intrigued as to how we were going to do this. Even Michael Futcher acknowledged that he’s not heard of anyone trying to do a Williamson in this way. I’m interested to get David’s reaction and I hope we can do his 40 Year Celebration justice. I’m quietly confident that we will. The way in which we are staging Influence is truly honouring the text and trusting that Australia’s greatest playwright is acknowledged as such for a reason. I don’t have to hide anything or do anything with smoke and mirrors because it’s enough on its own. And while I’m arrogant, I’m not arrogant enough to think there’s anything I can do with it that will improve on what’s already there. So with a text and a cast of this caliber how could I go wrong?

What’s next for you?

Hmmm. It’s a mystery.

David Williamson’s Influence continues at Noosa Arts Theatre until April 30th. To enquire about any remaining tickets, please call the box office (07) 5449 9343

24
Dec
10

Uncle Vanya

I’ve been catching up on the the last couple of episodes of Rake and whilst watching Richard Roxburgh, it occurred to me that I really should tell you how wonderful it was to see him on stage as Uncle Vanya, for STC, last week. Interestingly, my mum (and others) didn’t agree; she took issue with (Director) Tamas Ascher‘s whole vaudeville-esque approach and is of the opinion that something (or someone) akin to Roxburgh’s Rake character, Cleaver Greene, would make a more likable fellow in the title role in Chekhov’s classic play. To me, Roxburgh played a Vanya on the verge (some would say broken already) and shared with us the full gamut of human emotion, winning our sympathy early…well, clearly, not my mother’s sympathy! But that’s ok! Because this is Theatre! This is Art! And we are each entitled to our own opinions!

Interesting to read, as I do, some other opinions. Let’s look at them later, shall we? The overall impression I got from this production was that it was reinterpreted and staged to entertain, rather than to educate, a new Chekhov audience. This was, I think, Chekhov’s original intent (the humour is very much embedded in the text) and has been forgotten by various companies (and universities) over the decades, who have given us the impression that the classics should be highly regarded, carefully considered and deeply felt, rather than recognised, appreciated and enjoyed. I was so glad to see (IMHO) STC treat it as a gift to be enjoyed.

My opinion about Cate Blanchett hasn’t changed. I admire and adore her. She is surely one of the most consummate actors of our time (this, when Judi Dench has been named best stage actor of all time). Her beauty is incandescent, her voice is sublime and her collective skills – employed seemingly effortlessly – to portray even the slightest hint of emotion, both on stage and on screen, cannot be contested. As Yelena, Ms Blanchett was beguiling and SO beautifully bored. In fact, I have decided that it is my ambition to be that beguiling AND that beautifully bored one day. Also, I would like, one day, to casually and seemingly effortlessly fall backwards through an open doorway without causing any injury or humiliation to myself or to anybody else whatsoever. Just saying.

It was a treat to see John Bell as the Professor, Jacki Weaver as Nanny and Anthony Phelan as Telegin. In fact, Mr Phelan reminded me of a delightful, gentle friend, with whom I used to work, so tender and amusing was he. It was a disappointment to me that Hayley McElhinney, with her long list of credits, including the honour of being one of the 12 contracted to The Actors Company, completely lost the depths and layers and contours of the final monologue, which I have always loved as it is written and loathed as it is delivered, in that classically-trained, dark and dismal, typically university-interpreted Checkhov voice; empty of the hope that underlies the acceptance of the working poor that life does indeed go on and thus, work must also, quite simply GO ON. There was the hard determination in her voice but none of the subtle, gentle joy and love and light simultaneously, which I have always felt needed by the end of Chekhov, in order to let us leave the theatre looking forward to the next day rather than dreading it. And I wanted her to have loved and lost and retained something. I’m thinking of Pippin’s Grand Finale. Not because I think every show should finish with flash pots and glorious death but with the hope that there are still the simple joys to be found in every day, if only we look for them, even in the face of despair. And after her tumultuous journey, I expected more…contrast.

To put Cate Blanchett on stage with Hugo Weaving was pretty much a stroke of genius. For me, the relationship between them MADE this production. What I want to see in any production is the connection between the characters and for each, a clear journey. The connection between Blanchett and Weaving was pure magic. Each had a journey of epic proportions, made up of the most minute detail. To join them for 4 acts meant a masterclass for actors, for the cost of a coveted ticket.

The tickets were booked a year in advance, as part of an annual sojourn to Sydney “to see Cate”, which, each year, involves my mum, my sister, various friends from editing and publishing as well as a bunch of other friends, who are now known in literary circles at least, as The Family Law.

We did not get (we did not try to get) anywhere near Oprah while we were there but we did spend hours wandering through Annie Leibovitz‘s life, at the MCA, which was inspiring and incredibly moving. In a room holding a series of photographs of her dying father and another series of her dying long-time partner, Susan Sontag, I was moved to tears and unable to look away…

This Vanya failed to stir in me the same emotions. Despite this, I loved it. For me, that is great theatre. For Jason Blake, of The Sydney Morning Herald, same (read his review here). Not so, for some of his readers and these are the comments I find fascinating. Hint: read Blake’s review first…

Then read…

Couldn’t disagree more with this review. The production was a travesty of Chekhov’s work.

The adaptation, with indulgent Shakespeare references to boot, managed to lose all the depth of the Russian original replacing it with a Carry On! version full of slapstick. All the beautiful monologues washed over the audience and many of us left feeling gravely disappointed. Checkov should give you a kick in the guts by the end but all the beautiful monologues washed over to nothing and I left the theatre feeling gravely disappointed.

Bill Peters | Sydney – November 15, 2010, 8:29AM

And…

Some sanity – thanks Bill Peters!

I sadly feel as though many theatre makers are guilty of grossly underestimating the sophistication of their audiences and therefore feel the need to ‘panto’ shows up. You do not have to be a theatre buff (which I am not) to realise when you are being condescended to and when this occurs walking through the liminal door that good theatre (so I am told) should open is next to impossible.

The sycophants in the crowd irked me no end. It is as though they are all playing the part of theatre goers, all in on this bizzare conceit instead of ever truly engaging with the work. My relief upon leaving the theatre earned my sanity five stars!

Chris Hanrahan | Sydney – November 17, 2010, 3:51PM

And…

Embarrassingly, those ‘sycophants’ in the crowd were my fellow students from NIDA.

They were laughing up at every opportunity so people would look at them.

I too was bored with this show. If anyone saw the production from Maly Theatre a couple of years ago you’ll know what I mean. That production had me in tears, digging around in my bag for tissues, a cloth, anything.

I think everyone’s a bit starstruck.

NIDA Grad | Sydney – November 19, 2010, 8:07AM

 

I was determined to get over my starstruckedness because, let’s face it, I’m a forum bunny and you can imagine how excited I was about being there on the NwtA (Night With The Actors). I actually had a question! So I asked it! I asked, after a lot of other fussy queries about the inclusion of Shakespeare and about working with a non-english speaking director, about the company’s general approach to text and to working with each other. It was was important to me to verbalise what we have been getting nearer to defining as XS Entertainment‘s approach to our own creative process. Who better to answer than the Co-Artistic Director of the Company, Cate Blanchett?! She said, “Text is the bedrock. And then, as actors, we each bring to it what we will.” And I am so glad it is as simple as that!

After, of course I was totes inspired to spend a heap of money at the bookstore downstairs while my sister and co posed for pics outside by the poster…

I’m finally posting this on Christmas Eve and I hope Christmas and New Year’s Eve are wonderful for you. Poppy and I have just watched It’s A Wonderful Life and it really is the ultimate reminder of the season.

Next week, keep up with what’s happening out at waterlogged Woodfordia by following XS Entertainment on Twitter!

25
Sep
10

Erotique: The Fringe of the Fringe

Finally! Home on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, where the air and the water and the streets are clean, for almost a week and I can tell you this…

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city…

Petersham Town Hall. The fringe of The Sydney Fringe Festival. If you were one of the few who found us out there, on the edge, thanks so much for coming; we hope you enjoyed the show.

We figure we’ve earned our stripes now. We were the out-of-towners this year, the interstate visitors, the Sunshine Coast emerging artists; we didn’t know anybody, our support network was small and we had very little local knowledge. We thought, “How excitement! This is what a fringe festival is all about!” We expected to meet a heap of other artists, see their shows, hang out in a chai-type-tent somewhere and talk theatre into the wee small hours.

Well, we met a heap of other artists on the first night of our stay. We met Kris Stewart, Artistic Director of the festival and Meryl Rogers, General Manager of the festival and we also met some of the top peeps in the industry at Mr Anthony Costanzo’s one-night-only show at Notes: Words and music from Life’s a Circus and More. Featuring Lucy Durack, Patrice Tipoki, Chris Parker, Rob Mills, Amelia Cormack, Maria Mercedes and Cameron McDonald, this first show – for better or for worse – served to reinforce my high expectations of what was to come and remained one of the festival highlights for me.

The other was Bare, a newish musical take on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers; in this case, two boys who fall in love at a Catholic High School. Friends there assumed it had been written and developed especially for the festival but I knew this was not so. In fact, I remembered reading that Bare was hailed as “better musically and dramatically than Rent” by Los Angeles Daily News in 2001. That’s a big call. And this production, seen by just 4 full houses at the Newtown Theatre, proved it.

Performed by a cast of senior students and new graduates, Bare was the show that blew me away. The collective talent was phenomenal and the entire production was pared down in order to simply share the heart wrenching story. There was never any question about what was happening where. These kids worked much harder than some of the professional ensembles I’ve seen. This includes the talented young MD and his band. Their energy, their focus and their intent, in most cases, meant passionate and perfectly authentic performances. As performer and performance coach, I was completely inspired and maybe even a little bit envious that these kids have had the opportunity to do a show that, clearly, I am too old to ever be cast in! I know that Ben felt the same way, hearing some of the songs sung in turns, so tenderly and powerfully by Seann Moore and Zac Smith. N.B. Not strictly true (I’ve still got time!) but look, Jenni Little, who played the unfortunate young Ivy, definitely had the show stopper, as her character struggled to come to terms with her roller coaster ride. The other stand out had to be Elyse Atkins, who played the hilariously self-deprecating sister of Jason, Nadia (or, as she self-proclaims throughout one song; “Plain Jane Fat Arse”). Each character’s journey was massive and I cannot stress enough, how professionally these kids delivered a really challenging – on so many levels – show. I hope to see them achieve their goals for this production next year and if possible, I would love to see it again.

Sam and I saw Wicked while we were in town (it closes in Sydney on Sunday). Of course, the production values were spectacular and I loved it because I love the show but I couldn’t help but wonder (and I often wonder about this so bear with me)…why did I feel that there was something missing? If anybody can enlighten me, please feel free to add your comments. I know not everybody loves Wicked but I actually, really LOVE Wicked! Having said that, the book is a little lacking in substance, assuming that we all know what happens next and that we are familiar with the characters. But when we are given a different take on those characters, I would like to see more of the layers, more of the complexities and, especially in Act 1, much more of who Elphie is; I mean, who she is outside of the stereotypical Green Kid who doesn’t fit in. In a spectacular, touring, professional production, just how does one DO that? Is there even room in the rehearsal schedule to work on individual characters to the extent that we will feel empathy for Elphie due to her own actions, reactions and emotions, rather than the simple sympathy that is derived from how she is treated by others? Is it just me? Am I a heartless, shallow soul? Alright, don’t answer that. I probably haven’t explained very well but I’m sure the same point will come up again.

Despite my musings, I came away from The Capitol Theatre (sans green glasses, glitter globe, shirt and cap) impressed with the performances. In fact, I think I am Lucy Durack‘s newest biggest fan. Her interpretation of Glinda was original, not to mention gorgeous and I’m going to say it (I don’t say it often), absolutely flawless. She and Patrice Tipoki, who (we are proud to remind everybody) hails from the Sunshine Coast, were wonderful together. I’m now even more excited about taking Poppy, four, to a matinee in Brisbane in January.

Meanwhile, back at our humble little venue in Crystal Street, Petersham, we had the usual technical hitches before our first show on Wednesday and, as usual, everything was alright on the night! We celebrated at Max Brenner‘s on King St, Newtown (I will write that once but in fact, the same could be said of at least three more “celebrations”! Copious amounts of chocolate was consumed by the cast. What a deliciously decadent discovery)!

Word of mouth, even without a sizable support network, worked and we enjoyed greater numbers at each subsequent performance. On a couple of occasions, we also enjoyed the pizzas from the boys next door, who thought it was about time somebody rocked up to give the topless pub waitresses up the road a bit of competition! That made Sam so proud.

Closing night saw us with an audience that was well over capacity and nothing but praise for the production. And lots of friends and randoms asking, “So how do you prepare to get naked?!” I’m going to put that to the cast and get back to you because I know just my version can get a bit tedious sometimes.

We got to 3 shows at Carriageworks and 1 other at The Italian Forum. At Carriageworks (surely the most under-utilised venue of the festival), A Tiny Chorus, Clammy Glamour and a secret show, upstairs between those two shows: The Nick Cave Murder Ballads. A Tiny Chorus moved me to tears and then later, in retrospect, I decided I would love to work with those girls to get something different from them! Not better, different. It was a superb show and it would be fascinating to see what else can be done with it, especially after winning some of the awards at the other festivals.

Clammy Glamour was tricky and untidy. Others loved it and their closing night sold out. Murder Ballads was mostly disturbing and a little bit amusing. Others would certainly reverse that statement to reflect their enjoyment of the shocking puppetry, like Coraline meets The Corpse Bride meets Team America (FUCK YEAH)!

Pistol Whipped, a dance piece, which was on late one night at the Italian Forum, was not at all what it promised to be. It was a great lesson in marketing.

That is what a fringe festival is all about!

We are still having fantastic conversations about everything we saw- conversations that started over coffee and dessert in various groovy cafes late at night and continued after rising late each morning, over the best breakfasts to be found in Newtown, at El Bahsa/El Basha on King St. The boys there made us feel completely at home and never once looked as if they were even close to throwing us out. No, not once! Clearly we were spending far too much on coffee and chai! I think it’s important to note too, that we helped support several other local establishments, including the cash-only (curses!) Pastizzi Cafe and the tiny Blackstar bakery, which had a selection of pastries and gorgeous sweet treats, including incredible edible-even-after-you’re-quite-full danishes and the most delicate pistachio macaroons. The only place that comes close to Blackstar on the Sunshine Coast is my latest discovery, thanks to the French friends of French friends, Maison de Provence in Cooroy. Now I find out that our composer, Ms Leah Barclay, has known about it all along!!!

We visited STC and pretended we were taking a break from rehearsals to grab a coffee over the water, as you do, feeling totes inspired by the famous names, the stunning photography and the current season’s imagery lining that corridor. As I tweeted, how good would it be to go to work here every day?! I know. There is no tone in tweets. Only some of you who really know me, really got that level of emotion. I know.

For a bit of R & R, we spent a full day in lovely Manly, which we thought felt a bit like Noosa in the old days – no, really – and enjoyed Spanish tapas or steaks, depending on the mood. I was extremely tempted, during both ferry crossings, to belt out a bit of THIS

…but thought better of it. It will make much more sense on the way to New York, obviously.

Um. So Ben was feeling left out of the nudity clause, obviously…

We managed to balance the week quite nicely, between our show, others’ shows and the fun and games. This was possible because we have, as I’ve mentioned before, such a fantastic team. It’s been sad to come home and fully realise that there will never again be a performance of Erotique. Not like this, not with these performers. If you missed it, you really missed it! We didn’t even film it. Not sure why. We’ll definitely regret that, having collected such great footage previously, to give La Ronde some immortality. And that’s the next focus: the DVD, which will give La Ronde a life beyond the sold-out Sunshine Coast seasons. Well, that and the creation of 2 more shows this year as well as 2 shows and a fundraising mega-event next year. A holiday in Greece is also on the list. Or at least one in Sydney.

26
Aug
10

EROTIQUE – NOTES

I know I had promised to share process/progress notes at the outset of this blog and failed to deliver during La Ronde, largely because I felt I was in such a busy, multi-tasking place at the time and I never stopped for very long to reflect upon or to dissect exactly what I was doing. Also, I tend to shy away from the more academic literary styles of writing…as you may have noticed.

Tonight we had notes. It was just Ben and I, working together with Sam on our scene, Scene Six; the final scene of the show.

No pressure, guys, NO PRESSURE.

I had been given notes previously of course, during La Ronde‘s rehearsal process, which I either applied or argued at the time, before getting on with the job. This time, this process seems slightly different. In my life, I’m just as busy (busier), just as multi-tasking (more so), just as exhausted (much more so) and yet, this time around, it feels like I’m more focused and more able to apply immediately – without arguing – the teeny tiny adjustments necessary to make this scene really…smart. And by “smart” I mean “sting”, rather than come across as anything particularly intellectual!

The premise is simple. The motives are honest. The story is short and bitter sweet.

For those of you unfamiliar with

a) the way we work or

b) our product

let me explain something…

We don’t do “acting” *GASP*

I know. I hear ya. It’s a big call. And arguable, sure, depending on your perceived notion of what acting is or isn’t or should be or shouldn’t be. And whilst Sam and I may disagree on the process part, we certainly strive for the same end result. And that is:

TRUTH. BEAUTY. FREEDOM. LOVE.

Ha! I just wanted to throw in a little Moulin Rouge again. It was time.

We do want all of that, in various guises, on stage at some stage…but not all of the time. What we do want all of the time is truth. And the way we get it is to gradually rehearse the actors out of their pre-conceived notions of story, character and connections or relationships.

The actors end up not “acting” at all.

Ben and I have indeed been feeling our way into this final scene. No pun intended. It is so not that sort of sex scene. We had a script with which to work on Monday, after 2 rehearsals and just 2 weeks out, before we “should” have it all together for the preview performances at the M1 Function Rooms in Maroochydore (stay tuned for those details).

As Director, Sam gave us the basic structure of the scene and did his whole descriptive-analysis-my-turn-in-the-spotlight thing so we were sure to GET IT. His vision, that is. WE GOT IT and we brought our own stuff to it, then we contributed to the shape of the script, did away with the script, wrote a new interpretation of the script to better reflect the mood and motives of the people we felt these characters to be and we worked it to the desired emotional point at the very first rehearsal anyway, because we were really feeling it, because we could relate to it, because we had created it.

Wow, look at that; my little green grammar line didn’t come up there! *win*

Expressed that way, it sounds so simple! Doesn’t it?!?? It is simple…if, as an actor, you can let go of all the stuff you “should” be doing as An Actor and just be the person in the story. And within that story, tell your story. We are privileged to be working with a bold director who believes in madness before method and that in between, anything goes! Lucky for him (and for us) it appears to work.

It is, in fact, the same way I coach much younger actors and singers (not so much of the madness methinks, though they – the kids – may beg to differ). It’s certainly not a common approach on the Sunshine Coast, particularly when we’re talking about school students and studio students in the lead up to the local eisteddfod!

Luckily, my recent experiences, outside of the schools, have served to validate the way I do what I do.

The way I see it is that parents are happy to pay fees for lessons outside of school in order to see results outside of the ordinary.

Contrary to popular belief, these are not just parents looking to put their child into a class because they didn’t make the netball or the footy team! In fact, they are my favourite kind of parents because they are like mine and they acknowledge and support their child’s passion for the Performing Arts, driving them to classes and rehearsals and concerts and eisteddfods and exams and…well, you probably know them too.

In schools, regardless of fees paid or the way in which the department is run, I have found that if I employ the same unconventional teaching methods, parents and principals all tend to ask, “Is that really necessary?” even before they see the work. Or indeed, the results that come from working in such an honest way.

Sometimes, when they have seen the work, they can’t help but question the way in which it was developed. And well they should! It’s always a fascinating and very courageous journey! But they don’t always like what they hear. They wonder why, when JUICE is the title in the curriculum, do we stray from it?! “Well, actually, it’s more that we’ve gone off on a tangent, to tell more personal stories and the stories have come from the kids. This is their Juice.” Their ideas, their content, their experiences, their stories. Their truth. Do we censor that? Do we deny what actually happened during their weekend? Do we not tackle the real stuff when it starts to get hard? Do we not allow the real stuff – the hard stuff – to become the lesson? I don’t want to get way off track here (too late!) but self-devised and collaborative drama is really what we’re doing here. And it’s magic. Let the kids play like this too. Don’t stop at “drama games” for 10 minutes to start or finish a class *groan* but build on them! Use them to advance the drama and develop the stories the students want to tell. We are all storytellers; actors, singers, dancers…how liberating and empowering it is to just tell the story in the spirit of truth! I hope I’m preaching to the choir here!

Maybe it’s just me.

Oh, but tears! Tears, for example; tears mean trouble! Trouble for me, that is! For the student, tears often mean the liberation and self-discovery and the realisation that “OH! I never knew I could do that!” And, “Thank you!” that, as a teacher, I can tell you, we love to hear! Tears might be shed over something joyous like this or over something devastating, like, “Oh. I never realised I felt that way.” And, “Ouch! That’s a painful truth!” (i.e. he’s just not that into you!) Somehow these lessons are more easily taught away from the rigour of a traditional classroom setting.

For those on the outside of the drama class at school, tears (or any strong emotion) can be confronting and confusing and frightening and threatening (“Oh! What? She made her cry?!”) For those outside the studio setting however, tears seem to be a little more acceptable; there is an understanding that the student has made a bold choice and has committed to delivering their own interpretation of the song or monologue or scene. AND THAT’S CONFRONTING. For the artist, I mean. So let’s learn to chill out, open up and tell the truth of our stories! Let’s accept that THE PROCESS MAY INVOLVE TEARS. And let’s appreciate those parents who support the interests and ambitions of their children and send them to Performing Arts studios outside of school hours! And look, I don’t really make a habit of making my students cry; of course it’s just an example. What I do, unlike others who baulk at the thought of anything really tricky or emotional or REAL (or those who have also been told by administration that they just can’t field any more enquiries about one class) is to not stop nudging somebody towards their own raw, vulnerable place, which is where the tears might be.

The truth is extremely confronting and we face it in order to deliver it believably to an audience. As my good friend, Todd Schroeder likes to say, “If you can see it, you can sell it!” This is so difficult at first, for the students (including the adults) who have been told that their proclamation style “acting” and pantomime over-the-top-ness is DA BOMB.

THANK YOU Idol, X-Factor, Everybody in the Whole Freakin’ Universe’s Got Talent and every other reality tv talent-seeking competition insisting on increasing ratings and rewarding mediocrity!

Even my 10-12 year olds will invariably hear from me, from the outset, “I don’t believe you!” I say it lovingly, of course. And then I wait, with baited breath, for each to turn up to their second lesson ever…and yes, they always do!

Ok. End of rant/schools vs studios comparison/self-appraisal and approval segment.

So. I was going to share the director’s notes with you. Here they are:

  • 4 pages of script and 3 out of 4 pages perfect.
  • projection. You only have, at any time, one word each; make sure they get it.
  • more joy in the memories. Not sure why but “wasabi” works!

The rehearsal ran thus:

  1. lines run
  2. gabble, which is a lines run in fast forward
  3. lines run out of context (this was DIFFICULT for me)!
  4. lines run eyes closed (this was easy for me)!
  5. director’s notes

So, without even moving it this evening, we felt we got to the truth of it again. Well, our truth, which is, after all, all we can offer.

And you can take from it what you will.

Sam said an interesting thing, a great analogy for what we do. Here it is, paraphrased and noted here late, late, late; I will do my best to explain it so you GET IT.

The Preface: Sam used to run nightclubs. The real seedy ones, you know? He would sort out all sorts of trouble, especially after close (and kids, I’m talking about a 5am close, none of this 1:30 curfew and bring up the ugly lights before 3). During a stint at the helm of one particularly notorious club, he would walk home to our apartment at sunrise each morning and then walk with me along the beach to the school at which I was teaching, before walking home again to go to bed by about 9am. True story. He walked a lot.

The Analogy: Sam says a scene is like a nightclub. You have it there, all set up and you can see in your mind, the types of people who are going to rock up each night. You vaguely know what to expect from them because you’ve seen it all before (the bogans, the bikies, the flirtatious fake boobs, the stiletto through the palm of your hand on the stairs)…When they actually rock up, they’re not quite as you imagined them but they fit your scene and you can manipulate their actions to a certain extent (mood, music, lighting, security, etc). Every time a person walks into that club, the scene changes. You manipulate what you can but ultimately, the people make that club what it is.

Sam says it is his job to welcome the actors to the club and help them to feel comfortable in their own skin. Hmmm…Well, now, more than ever, that job description makes perfect sense. Next week, Ben and I will be getting comfortable – literally – in our own (lily white winter) skin.

Keep those ugly lights off, thanks, Sam!

10
Aug
10

New Musings from The Director

This post dictated by Sam Coward, The Director, as he sits in an antique chair in his mother’s house, in which we too now reside. Two weeks ago, the universe decided we were needed here. So here is where we are.

Amidst a period of utter chaos, unmatched in our existence, XS Entertainment is forging ahead with preparations for The Sydney Fringe Festival (tickets have gone on sale today)! Somehow, we still seem to be on track. How? I don’t know! It’s a mystery!

Cast – check

Flights – check

Accommodation – check

Sets, Props, Costumes – check. Almost. Sort of. Well, not really.

We have faith that the theatre gods will smile upon us and allow us to create the next chapter of La Ronde…

How?

I don’t know.

It’s a mystery.

After two sell-out seasons of La Ronde, it is hard not to be complacent about our capabilities. A quick reality check reminds me of the work required to make each of these creative ventures successful. Maybe I’m being over-confident or maybe I have sublime confidence in my cast and the people around me. My system has worked thus far so why would it not work again?! Having said that, never before has my system had so many external factors impacting upon it!

What doesn’t kill us doesn’t kill us.

Three scenes are in tact and the remaining three are in various stages of development. ie I have to write them. We’re trying some new stuff, some different stuff, whilst trying to re-capture the magic that was La Ronde. It’s always hard bringing in a new recruit and it’s always challenging to work into the show, the physical changes of certain cast members…and into the schedule, sufficient time to satisfy her pregnant cravings!

It is also noteworthy to mention that there has been an air of expectation about the new context. We have previously worked within the perceived conservative boundaries on the Sunshine Coast and now I have to wonder…is it even necessary to alter what worked? Will the fringe audiences be any different? Isn’t each audience different to the next, regardless of the town they’re in? Does that mean we should spice it up for them? Because we have a pre-conceived notion that they must want “more”? There’s an element of if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it but there is also an expectation about the big city and what may be needed in order to make similarly sized waves in a slightly bigger pond. However, the show has never been about shock or gratuity so why would it be about those things now? I think I just answered my own question. Rather than changing anything to suit an unknown audience, perhaps we continue to focus on the vignettes and the talents and generousity of the cast, in order to deliver a spectacular piece of sexy theatre. Tell the stories.

We have airfares to get to Sydney and a roof over our heads once we get there. All we need to do is put on a show, right? Easy.

Do a bad show and we’re remembered for the wrong reasons. Do a mediocre show and we fill our spot in the program. Do a great show and we may well be on our way…

The most important thing at this stage is that I rebuild the team. Whilst the individual rehearsals were great, it was the coming together of the company that brought about the original success of this show. The timing in which we bring everybody together, to bond and learn to trust each other again is crucial. Even fitting in the individual rehearsals, while we attend to the other demands in our lives, has been far more challenging this time. This week and the last have been complete wipe outs. As things settle down here, we will find the ways to work again. The show must go on! BUT, as my wife reminds me daily (she is aptly re-named The Friend for this new version of the show), sometimes there is life to cherish first. Live the life, cherish the moments and the show will somehow survive (and grow and endure) simply because we, and those we care most about, continue to live.

How?

I don’t know.

It’s a mystery.

21
Jun
10

Re-visiting The Dreaming

Hi, I’m Xanthe and it has been 6 days since my last post.

I have been pondering the nature of a comment from a reader *quietly celebrates having a reader* that came as quite a shock to me. Seriously, the accusations are fierce and I’m dismayed and surprised that anybody could have taken offence to my last post in quite the way that they have, considering that my criticism was entirely artistic and not intended to be a racial slur. Sadly, somebody considers my comments to be evidence that “Systemic, vile racism is well and truly alive…” Sadly, that person is one whom I admire and respect.

In the same sense that I hope our annual, national Sorry Day has started to open the channels of communication  between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians (as well as starting to close some of the gaps made specific in Reconciliation Australia’s Position Paper), I hope that those offended will accept my apology, as any offence was unintentional. Like Sorry Day, this little post is intended as a small step towards reconciliation, in this case, between myself and the Doomadgee mob, with whom I had previously had the ambition and the audacity to think that I might be privileged at some stage to work…though not now, it seems! Regardless, I’m sorry that my words have been misconstrued by those who generously shared their unique culture with us at The Dreaming Festival (and by one who, in fact, laid the foundation for it), which was held recently, to celebrate indigenous culture from all over the world.

Probably unfortunately for me, I stand by my observations that, with a little early artistic direction, a healthy respect for and a thorough understanding of the Doomadgee culture and traditions, it is certainly possible to get a critically and publicly acclaimed show together…not unlike this one (or nothing like this one, if that is the intention)!

No doubt, by making this comparison I will again attract criticism from those who insist on being offended by my personal opinion.

Meanwhile, let me tell you why I absolutely LOVE these guys (one of whom is Stephen Page). 2009’s YouTube sensation, The Chooky Dancers created, out of their own dance and story-telling traditions, a cheeky, comical, well-rehearsed and well-delivered indigenous dance fusion performance; a clever, fun, tongue-firmly-in-cheek version of several recognisable dance styles and “stories.” What a brilliant way to cast a positive light on a culture that, along with those other cultures, we co-exist with. We live in a great big melting pot of wonderful people and while festivals like The Dreaming provide a place to gather and celebrate, perhaps some of the focus needs to shift back to the concept of sharing. Yes, I know it was there – the sharing – of course we saw and experienced the sharing of many aspects of many different cultures, via the performances, the workshops, the panels, the forums, the merchandise, the stalls and the food on offer. I wonder though, is it possible to bring about some of that in co-operation between indigenous and non-indigenous artists…I’m talking about actual creative collaborations so that the audiences as well as the artists get the best of both worlds. I will also re-state that our school curriculum (I’m familiar with Queensland’s) does not truly incorporate many aspects of our indigenous culture. The ongoing development of a truly inclusive document is another long-overdue collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous creators/educators in this country. In my opinion.

Interestingly, Local Hero, Alec Doomadgee talked to NITV about an absolutely inspiring scene, which took place informally, between a number of indigenous groups one evening at the festival (don’t get me wrong; these scenes are not uncommon)! What a wonderful way to share one’s culture in a completely different – and more casual – context.

I can’t help but wonder if an organically created performance such as the one he describes could be key. Incidentally, I love NITV’s

“Awakening and uniting through the unique experience and imagination of Australia’s first peoples.”

Now, THAT’S what we’re talking about.

We are actually all talking about the same thing.

Anyway, look, I don’t claim to completely understand every facet of my own complex culture, let alone the nuances of another (though I will stubbornly continue to try)! What I am claiming is that I believe it must be possible to create collaboratively, between indigenous and non-indigenous people, performances for public consumption, of a consistently high standard, from a place of creativity, tolerance and respect, which promote the co-operative process and the significance of keeping each culture alive and well, without said performances (or the responses evoked by said performances) being misread or misinterpreted as racist or offensive in any other way (an important stepping stone for all artists, in any context, surely, is to take on board some criticism. And a sensible realisation for anybody reading any blogs is that the opinions voiced, just as in a critical review, are those of one person only. If you’re not sure what was intended by a particular comment or post, ask for clarification. Most writers will be happy to oblige…most blog authors I know will be happy to have followers and some interaction)!

So. IS THE JOINT CREATING NOT ALREADY HAPPENING? I say yes, yes it is; Sam Cook‘s first festival is testament to this. Just as Rhoda Roberts’ previous festivals have been and just as her decision to hand over the reigns and take on the Artistic Directorship of the Garma Festival, once again seems to suggest that we are in fact, speaking about (around, over, under, in and out of) much of the same subtext.

Ms Cook had to take over the Directorship of the 5 year old Dreaming Festival at short notice when founding director Rhoda Roberts departed for another festival in Arnhemland – the legendary Garma Festival, which has never had an artistic director before. Sam’s program forward says she had “less than a month” to pull it all together and still maintain the festival’s reputation as a culturally relevant event of contemporary and traditional Indigenous culture, which has seen attendances grow from 5,000 in 2005 to 23,000 in 2009.

The Dreaming Festival is indeed a vision accomplished, thanks to Rhoda Roberts, Sam Cook and their creative teams. Should the visiting creative teams, the clans, the mobs, the families from all over the nation and the world, who are generously bringing the vast array of performances, consist entirely of indigenous people? You tell me. My Sam will certainly thank you if y’all tell me to butt out and leave The Dreaming to those who traditionally know best, as he would prefer that I focus on some of the other projects we are currently working on!

So. Really. I mean it. I don’t think I have been overly critical. I think I recognised the pros and expressed what I believe to be a couple of cons. As I have already said, I’m sorry if my POV offends. Perhaps what is viewed by me as lacklustre is exactly what is expected and required by the people responsible for staging/sharing it. Perhaps it IS the most accurate representation of the casual confidence and unique style the Doomadgee Dance Troupe posses as performers (I was happy to note that certain Opening Ceremony performances certainly came across with a little more lustre)! But who am I to say anyway?! Right?! It’s just my opinion, as an audience member. Right.

Now. Are we ready to get on with the sharingcelebrating and recognising of the amazing mix of people in this country and every other; their stories and their traditions? Because I for one, am looking forward to next year’s Dreaming! Bring it on!

30
May
10

Cypress Trilogy

Wow. Let me just say that there is quite simply no one in the world like Ms Leah Barclay. Call me biased if you will (Leah was commissioned to write an original soundscape and score for La Ronde, which I think was incredible for several reasons, not least of all because she wrote it in India and sent it to us in MP3 files after discussing once over coffee in Noosa, the multi-faceted design concept for the show before she left the country ( I didn’t meet Leah in person until she flew home for our tech run). You can read more about Leah’s phenomenal creative achievements here

It should have come as no surprise then, that this evening’s installation at Noosa Regional Gallery would be something intriguing, involving multiple art forms to create something spiritual, peaceful and thought-provoking about our local natural environment…and our place in it. 

Let’s be honest here; I didn’t realise exactly what I was attending…nor did I appreciate exactly what it was that I was taking four children under the age of ten to see and experience! 

This is what I should have read before heading up to Tewantin on a cold Saturday (Eurovision) night with four kids (three of whom are probably more at home on the beach or on the footy field than in a theatre or in an art gallery) and a husband just back from a week’s work in Sydney, to experience Cypress Trilogy and Sonic Babylon

Cypress Trilogy 

An evocative site specific performance installation by award winning Australian artist Leah Barclay. The performance will provide a rich tapestry of local history and feature a selection of internationally acclaimed performers including pioneering Korean taegum artist Hyelim Kim and virtuoso guitarist Anthony Garcia. 

TreeLine Program available at http://www.treeline.org.au 

TreeLine is a Sunshine Coast Council arts initiative. Supported by the Queensland and Australian Governments. 

Now what is not mentioned here, though it was well explained in the program, is the amazing work/play of Lyndon Davis and the Gubbi Gubbi Dancers, whom I have been privileged to see perform many times over the last ten years, at schools and at special events across the Sunshine Coast. Lyndon and his dancers opened the evening’s performance with a special performance of their own, outside, against a backdrop of cotton trees and the Noosa River, under an Aurora Borealis of changing lights (actually, there was substantially more pink in the local mix). 

Their stories were their own, those of the traditional land owners and how they lived and what they saw and the lessons they have always learned from their environment (simply from tuning in to their environment and reading the signs). We learned a lot from them in 20 minutes, through song and dance, accompanied by didgeridoo, about the local flora and fauna.

My four-year old daughter’s favourite piece was about the men collecting oysters, opening them and tipping their heads back to enjoy them fresh, while her cousins enjoyed the bird dances: the first about the brolgas seen in our local region and the second, about the eagles, soaring high above the sea, looking for their dinner, of which there was once an abundance because the people knew (through their observation and subsequent teachings) never to kill the leader fish (the “elders”) as they were the ones teachin’ the young fellas where to spawn! 

It remains to me a mystery, why these stories (shall we say, lessons) are not taught to our own kids from the outset. Now I love our Grimm and Disney tales as much as the next girl but the fact that our own traditional oral stories, those from the people of this land, which explain beautifully how this land came about and how we should be looking after it, are sorely lacking from the curriculum and from our households baffles me. YES, I KNOW THEY ARE THERE. I’VE TAUGHT THEM TOO. But they are far from integral. Except in some of the more remote regions of this country, where the lessons and languages of our indigenous people have become a preservation-of-culture educational and community priority and thus, supported by government…or they are supported by government and thus they have become a priority? Regardless, they should, in my opinion, become part of every term’s events and lessons, and not just included as a once-a-year-visiting-dance-troupe-to-tick-the-boxes gig. JUST LIKE THE ARTS. You can try to tell me otherwise but Exhibit A: I took a NINE YEAR OLD with us tonight who had never seen a live didgeridoo performance or a traditional corroboree. As further evidence of our continued dismal recognition of the traditional land owners, I present Exhibit B: Australian Spell Check did not recognise the word “corroboree”. It did not. I just clicked “Add to dictionary”. Thank the supernatural beings who rose from the Earth (and the Queensland Folk Federation and the Jinibara people) that the wonderful The Dreaming Festival is almost upon us!!!

After we had spoken to Lyndon and the dancers, we went for dinner with our good friends, Ben and Kay (Kay was The Girl in La Ronde and Ben was everything we needed him to be backstage. That’s right. Everything) before walking back with triple swirl rainbow paddlepops for desert and to see Cypress Trilogy. 

In three movements, “Dusk, Darkness and Dawn”, we experienced Leah’s superb soundscapes, recorded in the Noosa biosphere, Anthony Garcia‘s guitar and Hyelim Kim‘s taegum, accompanied by live visuals on a multi-layered screen (James Muller’s work). In yet another rich layer, performance artists, Mary Eggleston (The Wife in La Ronde) and Jeremy Neideck, painted by the amazing body artist, Kat Farrar, moved Butoh-like through the space and amongst the audience and the evocative, leaf inspired artworks by Elizabeth Poole and other local visual artists. 

This was truly an interactive* and collaborative work of art – a rich tapestry – each artist giving generously of themselves to contribute to the overall Treeline themes and local contexts of Leah’s Cypress Trilogy. I only wish I was in on what they were doing…I felt like I was looking in; coming across them in a clearing in the bush and crouching, hiding by a Rainbow Serpent stone arrangement so I would be privy to the performance without interrupting their concentration and trance-like delight! 

*interactive. Hmmm…yes, I wish I’d known to download the app via http://www.sonicbabylon.com and become part of the installation (Sonic Babylon). Perhaps the kids would get a little more too, or something a little different again, from walking through the sound garden. I know Poppy would have loved to do that (she is of Generation i: i is for iPhone)! 

The performance inside was in fact, a little alienating and it made me consider, as performing artists and directors and teachers as audience members are wont to do, how else could it have felt more welcoming, to be there and feel a real part of it, rather than an admiring observer of fine art? It occurred to somebody, I think it was Kay, that the entire performance might have been better suited to the Cooroy amphitheatre, a sadly under utilised performance space at the edge of Lake McDonald. 

This is somebody else’s picture of it, during a rare operatic performance. I’m sure it has been used since. For example, my cousin was married there. I think she’s divorced now… 

 

I thought that perhaps the threat of wet weather was the reason for sending us inside after the Gubbi Gubbi dances but I was wrong and the whole thing was indeed intended to be experienced inside the gallery. This made it very easy to supervise four over-tired children, who were most intrigued by the leaf sculptures of all descriptions (one hanging arrangement not unlike the favourite GOMA String Room)! 

Hanging Leaves

N.B. “Hanging Leaves” definitely not the artist’s title 

 

Poppy and her daddy in The String Room @ GOMA

N.B. Poppy and her daddy’s feet in The String Room @ GOMA definitely the more apt title 

Not being a fine arts buff, and by that I mean that in terms of making a habit of attending these highfalutin’ high-end fine art evenings I don’t (I’m all good at opening nights for shows though), I enjoyed and admired the work and I was fascinated by the reactions of the kids (there were five other kids there, who all ran around outside on the cold, wet grass). What I needed was to feel much more a part of it, as I mentioned. Yes, alright, you got me; of course I would have liked to have been body painted again and performed too! But seriously, there has to be a way, or ways, just like in any other live theatrical performance, to bring the audience closer – much closer – to what you are doing as visual artists and musicians. Why should an installation be any less entertaining? Or any less theatrical? I think everybody involved believed that they were sharing a sacred part of themselves and their particular art form (I get that, I do) but I also think that those unaccustomed to theatre or art of any sort may feel it is a little self-indulgent. And maybe that sort were not there tonight. But I hope that sort feels welcome to attend and experience Cypress Trilogy and Sonic Babylon, the Sound Garden and the other Treeline projects that will continue to get off the ground across the Sunshine Coast. I dare say a lot of money has been put towards the overall event and I would love to see the non-subscribers there. 

And I would love to see the kids there, with their parents and teachers, talking about the way they feel and experience their beautiful local environment every day…and what they might do to help preserve it. 

Heartland - My Buderim Backyard

Treeline is a challenging, interdisciplinary and interactive art/science/community event that will highlight the impact of human lifestyle choices on our ability to sustain a healthy planet. Treeline incorporates visual and new media arts, theatre, dance, music, sculpture and storytelling, actively involving participants in the creative process in order to raise awareness of local and global issues through the arts and encourage environmental action. 

 




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