Posts Tagged ‘shake and stir

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

18
Oct
13

Statespeare

 

Statespeare

Shake & Stir Theatre Co and Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse

16 October – 17 October 2013

 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

Does Shakespeare really sucketh so much?

 

Is Shakespeare still relevant? It’s the first rehearsal for the year 12’s Performance Task and Lachlan and Nerys know that with their knowledge of The Bard they cannot fail. Their allocated group members Jay and Rob don’t know the difference between Shakespeare and Schwarzenegger.

 

As this mismatched foursome battle it out on the drama room floor they surprise and shock themselves as they gain a greater understanding of Shakespeare’s most famous plays including Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello,The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet.

 

STATESPEARE is part of the 2013 Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival. The Festival gives high school students the chance to compete against other talented Shakespeare fans for the chance to be part of a live Shakespeare stage show. The general public is encouraged to come along to the finals and see the students competing for this exciting opportunity.

 

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Tomorrow (Saturday) is the final day of the QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival! It’s competition day! Get there is you can!

Sat / Competition Sessions 1–4

Session 1 / Duologues 9am
Session 2 / Dance, Music, Photography & Design 11am
Session 3 / Scene Part 1 1pm
Session 4 / Scene Part 2 3pm

 

(each session runs for 90 mins)

 

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At first I balked at the plot of this show. The blurb claimed to keep Shakespeare relevant to adolescents and more specifically, Year 12 students. That in itself is fantastic but what about the audience that isn’t a year 12 student stressing about their O.P.? Is the show still relevant for them? Fortunately, I can say that it is.

 

Whether you’re a student, a drama teacher or a general theatregoer, the quality of Statespeare is remarkable.

 

The performers; Ross Balbuziente, Judy Hainsworth, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij were all fantastic in their own roles. These four were the original cast. They each seemed made for the part.

 

But credit should go to the two writers of this production too. Nelle Lee, current artistic director of Shake and Stir Theatre Co. originally brought this script to life in 2009. It’s a refreshing take on the “school setting” you might find in a lot of theatre.

 

But she must thank her co-writer as well. He’s been around for a while now. Most people are aware of his work these days. He had biting wit and a great sense of iambic pentameter. Yes, I’m talking about Nelle’s friend William Shakespeare.

 

You don’t need to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy the show. Nelle Lee and the team select all the best scenes for you, and demonstrate them in humourous and chilling ways.

 

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What I loved about this production is that they actually explain some of the dialogue and scenes in an entertaining way. No one will admit they had no idea what Demetrius in Midsummer’s Night Dream for example might be talking about, but then we don’t have to, after the cast comically demonstrate what’s going on in a modern setting.

 

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This show proves that Shakespeare is relevant for today’s students, and anyone who cares to enjoy a good show. If this were a Senior Drama Performance Task it would easily receive an A+.

 

28
Aug
13

Tequila Mockingbird

 

Tequila Mockingbird

shake and stior theatre co & QPAC

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

22 August – 7 September 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

The creative powerhouse behind the smash hit, sell out productions Animal Farm and 1984, return in 2013 with a new Australian play.

 

Directed by Michael Futcher and featuring a cast of some of Queensland’s finest actors,Tequila Mockingbird visits themes of racial prejudice, the perversion of justice and the consequences of alcohol abuse, all in a uniquely Australian context.

 

After a woman is attacked in a remote Australian town, the racist underbelly rears its head as the community targets a young Indian Doctor who has recently relocated to the area. Only one local man possesses the strength to uncover the truth and defend the accused in the ultimate fight for what’s right but first, he must take care of other matters, a little closer to home. 

 

Don’t miss this bold, brave new work examining a darker side of Australian culture lurking just below the surface.

 

mockingbirdcat

 

There are so many reasons to love shake and stir but first, before you keep reading, book your tickets for their Tequila Mockingbird or you’ll miss out! This is a heart-smart and thought provoking contemporary take on the Pulitzer Prize winning classic novel by Nelle Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Kids, if you haven’t read it you’ll want to, after experiencing this production. This is a company consistently bringing us cross-curricular current political and dynamic work – it’s literally breathing new life into old work – and from what I can see, they’ve pretty convincingly cornered the market. If you’re teaching at a school that hasn’t booked them yet, do it. If you’re at a school and your teachers haven’t booked them yet, bug them until they do.

 

With Nelle Lee’s razor sharp recontextualisation of the original story, in the hands of Director, Michael Futcher and brought to us by one of my favourite combinations of talent on stage, not to mention the same gun creative team, shake and stir have done it again.

 

Futcher’s light, precise touches are evident throughout, particularly in the little moments of conversation – a pause, a glance; a response that is recognisable and completely human, however horrifying to some of us – and in the flow of the plot, despite dramatic beat changes, punctuated and highlighted by light and sound (Jason Glenwright and Guy Webster), that make us stop and think (out loud, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic front rowers!), “WOW!” These guys really get it. In fact, in each of shake and stir’s mainstage productions (Animal Farm and 1984 preceded Tequila Mockingbird), I’ve wondered whether or not they are selling themselves short by focusing on education instead of world tours (in fact, I’ve asked them about it!), but HOLD ON. STOP. WAIT JUST A GODAMN COTTON-PICKING MINUTE.

 

How lucky are we that this company focuses on education, and on getting it right for students and teachers?! AND IN JUST FOUR WEEKS?! I know, that’s impressive too, right? The secret? Look, I don’t know, I’ll ask them next time we talk. Maybe they don’t actually sleep. But they are also OLD THEATRE SOULS in new, agile, energetic bodies and minds that can’t stop because they LOVE IT. We see that quite clearly, which makes it a joy to experience anything they do. You think I’m raving? Damn right! Have you booked your tix yet?

 

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Beneath the towering paper walled set, we are introduced to some teeny tiny characters – Australian not American  – all running from something, but only to begin with. They grow and seem to fill the space…until a violent street verdict makes a mockery of the jury’s decision and what was considered a fair trial for an Indian doctor, new to town, accused of assaulting a young girl, and they disappear again. A blatant Bundaberg reference, thrown neatly into the doctor’s opening lines, gets a few gasps and we realise that with this production these guys are here to do business. It’s not just a new take on To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s something else entirely.

 

Strong performances, and thankfully no stereotypes, and truly delightful in her wicked, trashy ways, was Barb Lowing, like Disney’s stepmother to Rapunzel in Tangled, all bark and all bite. Mother knows best? Terrifying! To balance this dastardly character, and prove once again her versatility and formidable talent (yes, remember you were blown away – but not surprised – by Lowing’s masterful performance in The China Incident?), she draws out two other contrasting characters, the self-righteous neighbour, and the friendly kitchen-fail publican. I always remind students to take note of Lowing’s performances; she’s all class, even when her characters are anything but!

 

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Bryan Proberts takes on the Atticus Finch figure, a Sydney lawyer who’s dragged his son out of his Sydney school before he sells any more pot at school. Hang on, that sounds familiar! But here, on the Sunshine Coast, I guess the easier transfer was to Maroochydore SHS! Ha! Isn’t it great to reconnect with old friends on Facebook?! You know who you are! The son is Charlie, played by Nick Skubij (he also plays Dan, the non-committal mate who props up the pub’s counter), and their relationship is beautifully discovered. It’s a nice role for Skubij, who totally gets the bored teen and plays for long enough around the edges of it so that the maturity and strength of character we see towards the end comes as no surprise. It’s beautifully measured.

 

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Ross Balbuziente gets gruff and grubby, as the recently retrenched outback bastard who shows us how not to treat a girl. He’s frightening and revolting, and entirely recognisable. And not just from a stint in Mt Isa. Nelle Lee is the victim in a relationship she is clearly at odds with; we feel like shouting to her, “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! HE’S NO GOOD FOR YOU!” and Shannon Haegler the new doctor, in rough-as-guts Stanton (but sadly, it could be any Aussie outback town) that has, proudly and defiantly, only one type of rice. And that’s white.

 

There is nothing to fault in any of the performances, nor in the design, context or text itself, which I’d love to see on the page. Hello, Playlab? Tequila Mockingbird is indeed, “a new Australian play” in its best form, from our boldest, most confident young company. I hope you see it before Election Day a-hem September 7.

 

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.

 

 

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