From the rehearsal room... at MTC

The thing I love most about being a director is no one day is the same. The skills I use in week one are completely different to the ones I use in our final rehearsals. Yesterday was slightly more charged as we were doing a run of the play for the first time and we had some guests watching. It is the most vulnerable time as a director (except maybe for opening night) when the play is unfinished and actors are still finding their feet in the work, to put all the pieces together. Invariably (because there’s still a few weeks to go) actors performances are patchy - they are trying to remember where to stand, what to say, who they’re saying it to and what happens next - the play runs too long, the sound design is all over the place, the wheels of the play feel a little rickety, and someone broke an essential part of the set. Nobody feels particular good after a first run. This time I think I heard, “Well, I’m glad that’s over". The thing is, it is only after the first run, that the play really begins to make sense. This day was no different. The actors looked spent and vulnerable. The observers left the room having thanked me for watching - but I could tell they were nervous; "Is she going to be able to pull it together? They’ve only got 8 more days of rehearsal. What if, it’s a disaster?” Ok, so that might be what’s actually going on in my head. The thing is, after that awful, uncomfortable, vulnerable first pass at the show, things begin to get really exciting. Conversations from week one begin to inform moments in the most nuanced of ways. The idea that we thought was brilliant is thrown out the window to replaced by something far better. Most exciting of all is that, the first run seems to provide cast and creatives with a focus. It might be wobbly, uneven and some parts may not work at all - but everyone has a sense of what we are working towards. Until then it has been an amorphus unknown. Now it has shape. We all have direction. We all take a big breath and I say “Well done everyone. I have notes." I am so often humbled by the people that I work with and their dedication to delivering a high quality product on time. I don’t think as theatre-makers we celebrate that fact enough. There are so many variables that we are working with, much can and does go wrong - but the people who bring it to you are working so hard to realise the work and find a way to share it with you in the most impactful way. That is what keeps me coming back again and again. 

And the great thing is, I know, tomorrow will hold something completely different.

Union House Theatre Launch

I recently gave this speech at the launch of the Second Semester Season of Work at Union House Theatre at Melbourne University. 

I am so excited about this semester and the 23 productions we have.

I am most excited about amount of new and Australain works that are being presented by student theatre groups. 

We also have lots of other comedies and revues happening this Semester with Medley’s (the Med Revue) and MUDCRABS (Melb Uni Comedy Revue Board) and the Melbourne Uni Law Revue are returning to the Union Theatre for the first time in many years. They open tomorrow night in the Union Theatre 

As it is the year of celebrating Shakespeare’s Death – Shakespeare 400 – we also have Midsummer Nights Dream – currently playing in the Guild, Twelfth Night by MUSC in week 11 and 12 and UHT’s own production Macbeth + MacDeath: A coda

This semester sees almost record-breaking presentation of Australian work and new work by students. I can’t tell you how proud and happy this makes me.

In addition to the revues we have:

Open Body’s performative movement piece – Unknown Show Unknown Location tonight, tomorrow and Saturday not to mention THE BOX by Amy Spurgeon and Hanna O’Keeffe performed in week 4.

Lally Katz play – Apocalypse Bear presented by Periscope in week 3.

Nick Enright’s play – Blackrock presented by International House in week 6.

Barry Dickens - Remember Ronald Ryan – presented by Queens College in week 7

Tastings in week 7 with new work by your peers in the Guild

Whose Afraid of the Working Class presented by Four letter Word in week 10.

Turning Back Time Presented by the Chinese Music Group in Week 10.

Raffles on Capris  – a new Music Theatre work presented by Balloon Head in week 11

Contemporary Australian work by Nude in Week 12.

And also in week 12 a new Dance Work by Flare.

Additionally this year – MUSC are presenting Shake It Up - a series of radical adaptations of/departures from Shakespeare texts,

I am so excited that the offering this year from Student Theatre Groups is so Australian Focused and includes so much new work -  devised, written and created by Students.

Presenting work that uses our own voice and investigates our own culture is so important. To quote David Williamson (he makes a very valid point) the “Social and political realities of the moment – what’s going right or wrong with our society and why. It’s a hugely important source of information about ourselves and if we kill it off by using stories from other cultures and other times, then we are killing of possibly the most exciting and penetrating truths about ourselves. Truths that we sorely need."

Many of you are relishing your time in student theatre to and are using every opportunity to positively exploit your unique and privileged situation. You are perfectly placed to do what the rest of the arts industry finds impossible – never again in your lives as theatre makers, producers, writers, composers, designers, musicians will you have the freedom, support and finance to develop your own voice, find your tribe - experiment with them and have the support and mentorship to be able to do it. History tells us – just look at our extraordinary student theatre Alumni - that many of you are future leaders in the arts industry – sure you wont all do theatre, but your time here shapes you and it is here that you really begin to define your adult identity. I believe each and everyone of you will go on to be a leader in some way shape or form and as leaders, potential leaders and reluctant leaders I want you to think about this…

What stories are you telling both on stage and off – and how is that narrative shaping you and the world around you? Is this a story that you want to be a part of? Does it align with what you want to say about the world? If it doesn’t how do you change it?

Is the theatre that you are a part of or leading representative of the diversity you see in lectures every day? If not – why not? As leaders in your creative endeavours you have a choice to actively change and challenge the status quo. I have had the pleasure of having a little bit to do with Richard Frankland, who is is one of Australia’s most experienced Aboriginal singer/songwriters, authors and film makers. He is also the Head of Curriculum of Programs at the Willin Centre at the VCA – he speaks about changing the shape of the door. That it is the responsibility of the dominant culture to change the shape of the door so other cultural groups can actually access the dominant culture. I think this is a really simple way of articulating a complex idea. It is our responsibility as the leaders of a project to make our work accessible. Expanding the metaphor, It is arrogant to assume those of other cultures will know how to knock. And shifting the shapeof that door, may be as simple as posting an audition advertisement in a different place, it may be a simple as stating on your audition notice that this is something that people from all cultures and experience levels are free to audition. I can attest that when I have engaged in this way, my work has immediately become more rich, my conversations about the work and the world that we live in more complex and the world I represent on stage more like the one I see every day on the train. As leaders – and you are all leaders – what are you doing to change the shape of the door? What are you doing to broaden the scope of what defines our dominant culture. With political fear mongering at it’s height it is incumbent on all of us to be inclusive, to challenge ourselves and to change the shape of the door.  Who is not at the table?

Failure and Critique

Failure

 she was regarded as a failure: loser, underachiever, ne'er-do-well, disappointment; informal, no-hoper, dead loss, dud, write-off.

Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally recognised leader in education, creativity and innovation at a TED talk in 2006, said:

“Kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original -- … And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong."

Ok, so I'm over it. I have read one too many unforgiving, harsh and downright offensive reviews! 

I feel to be an artist you need a fair amount of sensitivity. But this sensitivity is an absolute liability when reviews come out. I have witnessed (and have experienced myself) the embarrassment, shame and humiliation after a ‘shocking’ review. I am more than happy for people not to like my work – to not get it – to find it difficult, confronting, meh or just plain boring – they have every right to their opinion. And all power to them. I am putting my work out there for them to receive however they will. I do believe however that a reviewer has a responsibility – not only to the audience they are writing for but to the artist whose work they are trashing. I am not suggesting a review cannot be negative or critical but I am suggesting that respect for the integrity behind the art making and a contextual understanding of the work inform the critique.

    I am haunted by my failures. Haunted by the mistakes I have made and the public humiliation I have felt from “bad reviews”.  However the shame and guilt I feel about these failures is always countered by the knowledge that I have learnt the most from these moments of debacle, collapse and disaster. Failure has sent me down a rabbit hole of investigation. I have asked myself some really hard questions and come out the other side a better theatre-maker for it.  And on reflection I recognise the learning happens in the doing. - in the preparedness to fail, in the risk-taking and the simple act of actually staging something.

    So whether you are reviewing, tweeting, posting, commenting, consider: 

    • The months (often years) invested to stage a piece of work.
    • The nature of collaboration – the fact that this product is the result of hours of input from a whole host of unseen creatives.
    • The compromises the team may have had to make, willingly and unwillingly on independent and main stages.
    • That most of the creative probably aren’t being paid very much.
    • That each creative has gone into the process with the best intentions, with integrity and above all to communicate something to you.
    • The ephemeral nature of theatre and the fact that documentation of it is exceedingly difficult – a reviewer’s words are the written legacy of that work for history to judge.

    Theatre is not always good. The conflicting influences of collaboration, space, time and a weird alchemy, means sometimes it works and sometimes doesn’t. And sometimes all the pieces independently are ‘right’ – but the thing just doesn’t work. Sometimes you don't agree with what the piece is 'saying'. But that is no reason to humiliate the artists involved. Talk to the ideas. Talk to what you liked and what you didn't like. Write about the productions failures, where it missed the mark. Personal attacks just aren't fair.

     The mere fact that Melbourne’s stages are so full of such strong creative output is testament to the strength and resilience of its artists in spite of the unpredictable, moody and spiteful critique they receive.

    I’m not reading any more reviews  (my own or those of others). I’m not going to let myself continue to be exhausted and disheartened and afraid of the judgement and ridicule from short form critique. I am going to continue to embrace my failures (or my opening for future learning” – Balies, S.J, Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure) and by doing so create something. It might not be wholly successful - but at least I can take comfort in the fact that I have set myself the goal of stumbling across something truly original – and that can only be found by being prepared to fail.

     “….ask yourself this question: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? If you really ask yourself this question, you can't help but feel uncomfortable... Because when you ask it, you begin to understand how the fear of failure constrains you, how it keeps us from attempting great things, and life gets dull, amazing things stop happening. Sure, good things happen, but amazing things stop happening... The path to truly new, never-been-done-before things always has failure along the way. We're tested. And in part, that testing feels an appropriate part of achieving something great. Clemenceau said, "Life gets interesting when we fail, because it's a sign that we've surpassed ourselves."

    Dugan, R. (2012, March) Glider to humming bird drone [video file] Retrieved from

    http://www.ted.com/talks/regina_dugan_from_mach_20_glider_to_humming_bird_drone.html?quote=1440

     

    From the rehearsal room...

    As I write, I’m sitting in the rehearsal room for Macbeth at Sydney Theatre Company - the actors are on break. We are halfway through week four and this incredible play is still revealing its secrets, posing challenges and making everyone work very hard. But as I have been watching, I’ve been thinking about the privilege of assistant directing. To be able to sit in on another directors rehearsals, to watch them work, watch them sort out problems, to (if you’re lucky and have a director who is generous) make suggestions. Actors get to watch each other work all the time and so much is learnt from watching fellow artists and reflecting on their practice and ways of coming at things. It is no different with directing, we just get to watch each other less often. So what is this rehearsal room like? Well, the director is open and generous, but he is also very softly spoken – so the room has a quiet, throbbing intensity. He is incredibly detailed, very precise and each moment is thoroughly interrogated. It’s very exciting to be a part of - and if I’m completely honest, combined with a creative team par excellence, a little intimidating. Especially in my first week - I don’t think I said two sentences.

    People often talk about alchemy when creating theatre – the right ingredients, the right time, the right place and an ‘intangibleness’ which makes everything cohere in surprising and profound ways. Alchemy seems an entirely apt word for this production. A world of prophecy, ambition and murder - of double-speak and a cold and murky hell. I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining a wonderful surprise … but I leave you with what I just wrote down in my notebook…

    Not only is the configuration of the theatre literally reversing the order of things, this play will literally appear, a phantasmagoria - and we won’t be entirely sure how we arrived there – and as quickly as it appears it will be gone again and we will be left with Macbeth exposed, alone and completely detached. The magic of this production exists in its staging.

    ......

    Blog entries coming soon....