Posts Tagged ‘michael beh


A Chat With Michael Beh, Director of The Curators’ Uncle Vanya


Eleonora Ginardi chatted with Michael Beh, Director of The Curators’ Uncle Vanya, before the season finishes in Bardon, Brisbane, on Saturday.



Why did you decide to direct Uncle Vanya?

I wanted to focus on the story of these characters and the facts of what they were going through.  Back in 1895 when Chekov wrote it – it’s exactly the same as today.  This was about love and lost love, and going for love and the feeling of being let down by love, and what is at stake all the time when you put yourself out there.




What was your Artistic Vision?

I wanted to tighten up the play make it a little bit shorter to modernise it without taking it out of the world of Chekov and for that reason we brought it forward to the 20th Century.  It’s kind of got vintage costumes from the 30s, 40s and 50s, and so it is kind of located sometime in the 20th Century, or maybe it’s just lost in the midst of time.  It does not have to be what Russia was as it certainly is not styled in Russia – it’s not Russian then, but it has got a sense of being Russian.  It was wonderful that we were able to get a version of Crazy by – what is her name – Patsy Cline.  So we wanted a version of it to start the show. Peter met with a Russian lady in Brisbane and she translated the song into Russian and sent it to her daughter, who recorded it in New York and sent it back to us.


Well I loved it and Crazy is actually one of my favourite songs.  Why did you choose that song?

The whole point is that Vanya is crazy – crazy in love, crazy out of love, shot two times, missed did not even get arrested, could not even get locked up.


So, was he crazy from the start?

No he is a man going through the feelings that so many men go through.  I think maybe I go through and so many men feel let down by the choices in your life and I think that is something we can all reflect on. 




Can you share some of the process that led you to making directorial choices?

Why did I make those choices,  I asked, what did I give up?  And because I gave that up this is how I ended.  We did this wonderful exercise for a whole weekend where we work-shopped the scenes of the play.  We went back and improvised we looked at the beginnings of all the stories and their characters relationships.  We did “improv’ after “improv” after “improv’ that never appeared on the stage but they fed the stage.  We did other things like a modern dance version one evening but all we did was a modern dance interpretation of the scenes and that really fed Sherry’s work.  So we tried lots of different strategies to unlock the texts to make it not just “talking heads”. I did not want “talking heads” I wanted physical bodies and the other thing I was interested in were montages that were slowly moving, and we have two or three of those in the play where moments/time seem to stop and the moment is extended out a little bit.  I wanted to make it beautiful so audiences could really experience and love the lushness of their relationship.”


I think that is a signature trait of the work you do – that lush and beauty, and aesthetic beauty in it.

What do they say – that beauty is difficult…




Talking Away with heartBeast’s Michael Beh


We caught up with Michael Beh, heartBeast’s AD and Director of a new production of Michael Gow’s AWAY



AWAY opens next Friday February 13th.

Book online.




heartBeast’s goal is “to explore and manifest theatricality to make a difference.” What’s the difference you want to make and why is it important that you do so?

When I began studying theatre I was inspired by my drama teachers at university, and the work of great directors such as the Arianne Mnouchkine, Evgheny Vahtangov, Georgio Strehler and Joan Littlewood.   They all used theatrical storytelling to communicate message to the audience – to create a heightened theatrical experience that is both entertaining and educative, that transports and is magical – and in so doing communicates to its audience about the human condition and how we can all be better people. I have always believed that that is the goal of good theatre. That is my dream for heartBeast and the work we do. It is all about growing as a person to make a better world. If heartBeast can inspire our audiences to take just a step in that direction, than I will be happy.


How did you come to set up heartBeast?

I had done some work as part of Metro Arts Free Range Festival with a group of local emerging artists. Some of them were ex-students of mine. Others were professional actors with various levels of experience who were interested in creating an ensemble of independent theatre makers. They were also interested in mentoring younger actors. Everyone wanted to keep working together and so we did. That was in early 2010 and we then created Beautiful Frankenstein as our first project.


What have you enjoyed most about previous work with heartBeast? 

At heartBeast, we have the freedom to take risks. Because we work in a theatrically heightened way, heartBeast productions can be uber theatrical in their use of physicality, voice, costume, and makeup.   I love the use of lavish and vintage costuming. I have become intrigued by how costume tells story and helps the actor in their characterisation. I also enjoy how we can equally revert to a deep intense realism with a simple scenography.


At the core of this stylistic choice are all the creatives and the people who support us. heartBeast has become like a family. We always have someone new joining us, sharing their experience and knowledge and in this way we make discoveries about others and ourselves as artists. This keeps us moving in the creation of the heartBeast aesthetic and the style of work that we do.


You’ve produced and/or directed more than 50 productions. What led you to the theatre and what keeps you in it? 

I have worked at professional, independent, university and secondary school levels in making theatre. I was inspired to make theatre that makes a difference by my own teachers. As a director, my favourite place is in the rehearsal room, working with artists to make discoveries. I especially love the capacity for possibility that courageous actors have.


I am also entranced by the liminal space that is the wings – that transition place from real world to theatrical world – our truth place. This sounds like a paradox but it isn’t. I have learned so much about what it means to be a good person through the exploration of story, philosophy and relationship in the theatre. It is the place where I feel most alive.


Your upcoming production is the Michael Gow play, Away. What made you choose to stage this work? How will another production of Away make a difference?

It has been a number of years since Away was staged in Brisbane. It is a classic Australian work that pulsates with a heightened reality infused with mythic poeticism. I love good story telling. I love Shakespeare. I love exploring the essence of being Australian, of place, identity and meaning. Away is a journey play about redemption, about dealing with tragedy, about loss and love and living. Away has all of that in it.  


When I reread it I was overwhelmed by all of this and by how relevant Away is to today’s audiences. Instead of Vietnam we have Afghanistan and Iraq, with parents grieving for sons lost in battle. Instead of equal rights for women, we have the issue of equal rights for gay people, refugees and other disenfranchised groups. We still have husband’s and wives struggling with how to communicate, listen and understand each other. And sadly, we still have parents losing their children to the ravages of cancer.


Through all of this, Away engages contemporary audiences in our humanity. Perhaps it will encourage people to be a little bit kinder, a little bit more understanding, a little bit more reflective about who they love, why the love and how they love.


What do you think is the difference in young people’s lives once they bring Drama into it? When new artists come to heartBeast, what is their approach and what are their skills? Is there anything you would like to see more of?

I believe that young people who seriously engage in Drama are opting for a journey of self-discovery. It is not easy work. You have to want it badly. It is not a place for ego and the trappings of celebrity. I think if that is why you want to explore drama, then you are wanting it for the wrong reasons. This is the expectation that I have of any new artist who comes to heartBeast. I expect them to stay the distance, to be reliable, and honest and contribute to the ensemble – they are immediately a part of the heartBeast family. They are encouraged to dive in deep straight away. As we work together we discover more and more of their skills. In the past we have asked different members of the company to do skills sharing workshops with each other. Thereby we keep developing our own theatrical language and way of being, doing and making.


Talk us through your audition process.

Our audition process is very simple: two contrasting monologues that we will explore through redirection and improvisation. We have done group workshops when casting a number of people. We always talk a lot, chat about the company, what the artist is looking for, to see if we are a good match.


What form does your creative process take? Can you talk us through that? (Can you talk about what the differing roles entail, as you take on production or direction or design? Which is your greatest passion?)

This is a huge question. Focusing on directing – I am inspired by the fusion of heightened realism and theatricality, especially as created by the Russian Theatre Director, Evgheny Vakhtangov and his style of Fantastic Realism. I am very interested in actor’s manifesting plakative, physical work that is driven by a strong interior life. By fusing the link between the two, we strive to create an organic, heightened performance.


In order to do this as an ensemble we engage in a number of rehearsal tactics – from book work and table reading, to games, exercises, workshops, the detailed exploration of voicing and physical action choices. Different productions require different methodologies. I encourage the actors to play. We do not set anything until we are very close to performance. I do ban the use of the word ‘blocking’ but we engage in ‘sculpting’ moments, transitions, actions and reactions.


This exploration of a fantastic style bleeds into the design of the show. I am particularly interested in costuming that is aesthetically wonderful, supporting the manifestation of character, enabling the actor and working with a simple scenographic set design. I like to create a space that allows the actor to make strong physical choices and is not cluttered by a filmic realism that demands furniture and all the physical manifestations of reality.  


Johancee Theron is Meg in heartBeasts AWAY


What will we take away from any heartBeast production?


Joy. Creativity. Story. A great night of theatre. A shared experience, generously given by a wonderful ensemble of local artists.


What would you like to see more of, in the Australian theatrical landscape?

I would like to see more of our own stories being told. There are so many stories of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents that are not being told – about who they were, there struggles, their triumphs, how they engaged with the land and with each other that we need to remember and manifest. In this vein, heartBeast is currently researching the stories of the history of Fortitude Valley in preparation for a dynamic new work for 2016.


Theatre making also needs to be made more affordable for small to independent companies. In this way, the savings can be passed on to audiences. heartBeast always tries to maintain low ticket prices. This is one of the reasons that we do not work in expensive theatres. Our home is Trinity Hall, a beautiful heritage venue in the heart of Brisbane. It is close to public transport and enables a wide variety of audiences to attend. It used to be a rehearsal space for QTC and TN Theatre, so it resounds with theatrical ghosts. It is a wonderful place that transports us and our audiences into a total world of drama.



School For Scandal


School For Scandal 

heartBeast Theatre

Trinity Church Hall

12 October – 26 October 2013


Reviewed by Meredith McLean


heartBeast’s latest production to grace Church Street’s Trinity Hall is a night of scandalous schemes and ludicrous banter. But the show appeared monumental in the cozy building. As Micahel Beh, the Artistic Director, said after opening night with thank yous and champagne, “We always say we’re going to do something small next,” but this is never the case with heartBeast theatre.


heartBeast School For Scandal


The space was transformed into an arena stage for School For Scandal. The changing lights brought an intense focus to the show. One of the most astounding elements to this production are the costumes. A whole team of talented ladies were the tour de force behind this visual splendour. I’d never seen attire of the 1770’s so loud and bright in my life.


heartBeast School For Scandal


The play is loaded with history. Not only the history of the original Sheridan text, but the parallel narrative of Vivien Leigh’s actual scandals behind the stage.


Talk of lesbian lovers; adultery, mischief and true love mingle together in this burst of colour.


The absurd, ritualistic qualities of the show can be confronting at first glance. But as the show progresses the chortling characters and their bizarre greetings, and their unique way of speaking becomes part of the intrigue.


heartBeast School For Scandal


It’s always wonderful to see these self-funded thespians grow. This production certainly was a ballsy challenge. But from the depths of their own pockets, heartBeast transformed Trinity Hall, every single aspect of it. The lighting, the sound, the costume, even the draughty breeze trailing through the door felt naturally part of the ambience. As if it were put there just for the play.

heartBeast’s School For Scandal continues until the 26th of October. Go there, listen to lies and lovers, and see School For Scandal yourself before the month is out.



Beauty is Difficult

Beauty Is Difficult

heartBeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble

Trinity Hall

7th July – 28th July 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Image by Gerry Nicholls.

In the busy, funny little ways that life likes to pull us it had me in such a grip that I hadn’t seen a play in a while. Starved for some theatre I waited hungrily for the opening night of Beauty Is Difficult to finally come. The night was cold, the coffee was warm and Trinity Hall had been transformed. Already a wonderfully eerie pool of echoes the church now lit up with purple stage lights and hazy smoke.

Admittedly I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this daring project. To call it a “play” is far too simplistic for Michael Beh and heartBeast’s endeavours. What you are drawn into is a living, breathing production of memories. The stage clutches four universally recognised, beautiful femme fatales of theatre in its illusive hand like puppets as their stories compete for the crown of beauty. Phedre, Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Hedda Gabler.  Their memories and passions interact and project with iniquitous men who phase and form to the desires of these women.

If you’re not familiar with the women and their stories never fear. The playbill does well to explain their origins. The plot is not quite linear but neither is it nonsensical. It felt to me a circular motion of progression. The story works like many cogs ticking in spirals until the explosive ending. It does draw its conclusion after an hour and a half with no intermission. Which is about as much as anyone should sit still for. I feel this is a vice of the creators. The production is their baby and it’s always hard to eliminate or shave off scenes when you have created them. But I think some lines could have made greater impact if they were solitary rather than being repeated in numerous moments.
I was sad not to meet those responsible for the stage. Jason Harding’s light design gave the smoke filled hall a raw wickedness. It felt like everything has been positioned just for me. The devilish silhouettes of Hamish Nicholson, Steve Pearton and Jason Ward Kennedy backed up against the far wall lined up perfectly with the lighted streams of smoke. They melted then stood tall again like the horizon of a highway on a hot day. Making the lines they delivered even more haunting under the lights.

After the show I was lucky enough to speak with Jason Ward Kennedy. The man who said “Thanks, mate” when handed a drink was polarising to the shaded creature I saw on stage. His efforts to transform from a sweet admirer of Karenina to the cruel friend of Hedda Gabler were both different, but nothing like the affable Jason I got to speak with. Being one of the newer additions to heartBeast’s wonderful family he beamed at me when saying, “…it’s only on and upward” for heartBeast now.

Image by Gerry Nicholls.

Beauty Is Difficult is definitely one of heartBeast’s more exotic productions. The movement consultant for this show, Warwick Comber, brings an erotic pulse to the timeless tango. Not only completing daring feats in the ballroom but taking a dance and making it almost murderous. There is a vampiric quality to the cast. They interact upon the audience’s vibes. They become subdued when we are pensive. They thrash and yell when they can tell we are alert. Even in the awkward stage mishap of a chair breaking they become comical and jovial when they feel our laughter.
Playing on that sense of intimacy even with a large audience is a murder mystery quality that sizzles right form walking in the door. No one knows who will have “an arrow through the heart” because beautiful actresses represent all four of the women. However, someone has to take the fall in this strange purgatory and no one will know until the final death waltz. So prepare yourself for heartBeast Vicious Theatre Ensemble’s night of passion, fear and beauty.

Image by Gerry Nicholls.


Vicious Salon: stillness

Meredith McLean went along last week to check out heartBeast’s latest initiative:

Vicious Salon

“In the theatre there should be neither naturalism nor realism, but fantastic realism. Rightly found theatrical methods impart genuine life to the play upon the stage. The methods can be learned, but the form must be created. It has to be convinced by one’s fantasy. That is why I call it fantastic realism. Such a form exists and should exist in every art.”

Evgheny Vakhtangov, Theatre Director

There’s a push of new force happening in the Trinity Hall on Church Street. Some fuel this push with a simmering passion while others nurture it like a mother over-seeing her young. Vicious Salon is the result of the sinews and limbs that make up the body of heartBeast, the not-for-profit theatre ensemble in Brisbane.

A very excited Michael Beh, director and core member of heartBeast’s vicious faction, greeted me. He made me excited to be seeing the reading of Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall. The performance had the effect I was hoping for. It commanded me to sit on the edge of my seat watching two actors, Anna O’Hara and Peter Crees, fall into chaos on stage. But they wouldn’t be in this void of stability if it weren’t for the playwriting of Brad Birch.

Birch’s script examines office culture, love and madness. The language is honest often times leaving me feel like the words were taken from my mouth. There were volleys of the C word which some of the audience confessed to disliking while others accepted it. I have sworn on my part not to use the “R word” (Meaning review, but don’t repeat it!). This isn’t an “R Word” for a very particular reason. Because at the heart of Vicious Salon no matter how vicious the words are from actors and writers mouths the performance is not a finite piece to be graded. It is an exploration of someone’s creation where both actor and audience alike can learn.

The name it self refuses all misgivings. Michael explained to me it was a comment on life. “Life is vicious. A kiss can be vicious. A tear falling down a cheek can be vicious. A smile can be vicious. The trickle of water in a stream can be vicious.” It’s an observation I’m sure many can relate to. In contrast to this poetic examination of the modern, “salon” comes from a deep root of theatre in history. Nothing like the “hair salon” middle aged ladies in their graying stages may refer to but salons in the 17th and 18th centuries when people would gather to laugh, learn and refine their craft in theatre. This clash of modern and historic all pools together for a warm-hearted night of discussion in the shadowy hall on Church Street.

Enjoying bruschetta and white wine I started to feel almost philosophical as we gathered in a circle to pick at and pull apart Birch’s work. The minimalism of the performance had many haunting analogies. Using the shadows as a backdrop and tumbling pages of the script on the floor to set the scene the theme of analysis rather than sell-out performances was evident. Many people forming the circle would have gone home satisfied with this deeper connection to a play while others gravely looked onto the social implications at hand.

Greg Goriss, the production manager associated with heartBeast, made clear he was not blind to the state of theatre around him. He questions the Queensland government’s default “You have QPAC, what more do you want?” response towards the theatre community’s concerns. But QPAC doesn’t offer this more honest level of communication between theatre-goers and the actors. For some this idea of speaking in depth with those involved in a performance over drinks and snacks is an alien concept. Goriss reminded me there is a difference between community theatre and underground theatre, and that underground theatre needs more attention than it is receiving at this time.

Undoubtedly this is true which is why I was delighted to see what Vicious Salon was achieving. Both Peter Crees, a co-founder of the project, and Anna O’Hara who had come aboard last year beamed as they put in plain words what it was the salon sessions accomplish. O’Hara reveled in her previous work with Michael Beh quoting a prior performance she had done as “a collaboration between Michael and Shakespeare”. The ways, in which Vicious Salon and heartBeast for that matter function, is to nurture someone’s craft. Especially for actors fresh out of any acting schooling she explained.  Michael Beh agreed, “We’re trying to build our little theatre family, and were happy to take in new people.”

This concept blossomed a few years ago when Beh found himself in a teacher position above Peter Crees as the student. I easily recognized Peter’s talent to revolve and capture the space of a stage and Michael must have seen it as well because soon their collaboration became a project, and that project became heartBeast. The company has done many shows ranging from contemporary like A Beautiful Frankenstein to an upcoming historical recount in the Anywhere Festival called Mother Country.

Brad Birch’s work also demonstrates a diverse but artistic choice in the company’s line up of performances. Based in Wales he has the caliber of a Writer in Residence position at Undeb Theatre as well as many prestigious commissions and programmes to his name. The blends of things such as the archaic and modern, well written but still budding, observant yet creative all link in with the purpose of Vicious Salon.

More of these Vicious Salon events have been lined up for June, July, August and September so far. Hopefully many more of these will follow, and I will be one in a crowd of those attending.