Friday, October 29, 2010


Becky Shaw
Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 29 October 2010 12:21

Becky ShawLeft - Kate Atkinson. Cover - Kate Atkinson and Alex Papps. Photos - Chris Parker

What is the most horrifying thing that can happen on a blind date?

Okay, so you have a horrific image in mind, now treble it. Writer Gina Gionfriddo has imagined a comedy of manners, morals and domestic life surrounding a catastrophe such as this, and it’s almost fabulous.

Becky Shaw (Kate Atkinson) is desperate and dateless, clingy and intense, creative and intelligent, lost and almost found. Gionfriddo’s play was an off Broadway sensation and the writer has earned numerous industry accolades for her writing. Becky Shaw, for this writer at least, has a distinctive Ally McBeal and Brothers and Sisters televisual feel to it. Maybe this is because the playwright also writes for television, including series like Law & Order, Criminal Intent and Cold Case. And just like the growing trend for female television characters; complex, extraordinary and labyrinthine souls constantly shape-shifting with varying degrees of ease, Gionfriddo conceives Becky Shaw as a changeling too.

Becky Shaw is always adapting, largely through the care and love of her closest and most trusted relationships. And as she adapts somewhat awkwardly to her surrounds, somehow she manages to internalize the prismatic effects of her mundane and at times melodramatic suburban lifestyle. And as these episodes transpire, we derive some decent belly laughs along the way.

It is after a blind date goes horribly wrong that we learn more about her secret life. At the time of the play, Shaw is a fragile woman who, to the outside world appears almost unappealing and far too intense, however this belies a more complex and compassionate reading, Becky Shaw is at the brink of metamorphosis. With all the mystery the play contains about her dysfunctional family life aside, it is through the nurturing friendship she has with her work colleague Andrew Porter (Alex Papps) and his psychologist wife Suzanna Slater (Amanda Levy) that Becky is able to reveal deep dark secrets that have long since troubled her psyche. Troubles which we learn have also prevented her from developing satisfying relationships, and most particularly enduring romantic liaisons.

Max Garrett (Daniel Frederickson) is the guy matched up with Becky Shaw, and he seems like a great catch, not because of his mathematical acumen, wealth, status and worldy aspirations but because he is a good person, who like Becky Shaw, is also profoundly, though not irrevocably, flawed.

Presiding above at the apex of this trouble is an ailing matriarch Susan Slater (Judith Roberts), who despite her own shortcomings and failures offers each character some hilarious and quite radical sprigs of wisdom.

This is the Australian Premiere of Becky Shaw and also the first independent production staged at MTC’s Ray Lawler Studio, and it’s largely a fabulously engaging and alluring ensemble work that stumbles at times with the rocky outcrops of pop psychology embedded in the script.

by Gina Gionfriddo

Venue: Lawler Studio, MTC Theatre 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank
Dates: Wednesday 27 October – Sunday 14 November, 2010
Times: Wednesday - Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 3pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $30.00 - $40.00
Bookings: The MTC Theatre Box Office (03) 8688 0800 | or Ticketmaster 136 100 |

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ray Mann Trio - INTERVIEWS

Ray Mann: Multimedia Show
The Ray Mann Trio will be playing live to projections by the band's front man at a unique fringe show. Paul Andrew speaks to Mann.
Ray Mann's posters like this one always get a second look

For soulster Ray Mann the ideal concert experience goes something like this: " It’s  a show where things happen that let you know it really is live, it’s a moment that makes me feel, wow, even the guys on stage didn't know that was gonna happen', [and the crowd thinks] 'I'll bet that didn't happen at their last show, and it won't happen at the next. Yes, I had to be here, tonight, just to witness now.”
It’s this 'now' magic that Mann hopes will be present while performing at the Melbourne Fringe this year. The Ray Mann Trio defines their take on soul as minimalist; pared back, a little less traditional in feel.  Mann defines soul music as, “a place where blues meets gospel meets pop - music of the Lord and the devil all in one. And it's feel good too. Bonus”
“I was in high school when I first heard Al Green's Let's Stay Together'and thought, 'damn! '. When I truly started listening out for it, I discovered soul had always been around me, like those really obvious clues in a cheap mystery thriller: I Heard It through the Grapevine in a raisin toast ad; Stand By Me in the movie of the same name, My Girl in the movie... you get the idea. This music had everything I loved about music in it:  great songs, groove, rawness and vulnerability. I still love other kinds of music -at the moment, I'm listening a lot to Tame Impala and The xx- but it’s always a great soul tune that stops me in my tracks.”
“ I began playing my cricket bat when I was three. My parents tried to replace the bat with a ukulele, but I just ended up using the uke as a cricket bat. I got my first guitar at age ten - a big old classical guitar, and me with my tiny hands, it took a long while to form any decent chords. My real teacher was the radio - I’d learn vocal melodies and guitar chords by ear, and try to play Crowded House covers with only two chords, which, funnily enough, worked for more songs than you'd ever think! “
“As a five-year-old, the first cassette tape I was given and became completely obsessed with was Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. Since then, my listening habits jumped between indie rock to hip hop to jazz. Nowadays, one figure I admire more than ever is Sam Cooke, an artist and an entrepreneur. Here's a guy who is responsible for so many evergreen soul classics, songs recognised today by folks who aren't even into this genre of music.”
 Ray Mann Red Bennies- Season Finished
 Melbourne Fringe Festival
For more of Ray's Poster Art:

The Play About Nothing (TPAN)

"..Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love:
Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues;
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent..."

So wrote Shakespeare about relationships in his comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Nothing in this sense is perhaps as a play on the words “note or noting”. Seinfeld is a TV show that became a cult because nothing very much happens in any particular episode and for Melbourne scribes fascinated by the idea of 'nothingness' Pippa Russell and Jessica Marsh it also describes those things seemingly of little importance, things which for someone else might mean something quite significant after all. Small tags on street walls or online social network status updates maybe?
“Back in 2009 while studying theatre arts at Swinburne University my class were producing a slice of true life play I dubbed 'the play about nothing'. I thought that sounded like a great title for a show,” explains Marsh.  Co writer Russell adds, “Yes, and it was such a great idea we decided to make our own slice of life show with that very name for Melbourne Fringe.”
“It’s an in your face, non-linear, improv style production, “ adds Marsh about the play's form and the conceptual aspirations behind this, their first theatre 'event'. “ It’s about delinquent teens and their late night antics.  We say Fuck a lot. It’s a realistic narrative about teenage vocabulary, slang and lifestyle. And it’s true; I’m quite inspired by the word Fuck, just as I’m inspired by young Australian writers and extraordinary theatre companies like 1927 and Phillip Genty”.

As for the improv nature of this work, Russell jests,  “I enjoy making audience members sweat, just a little," while Marsh admits that improvisation is something that sends nervous tingles up her spine, “Impro is something I have never felt comfortable with and thought the best way to tackle this discomfort was to deal with it head on and this has been the main motivation in creating this work,” she reveals.
Both Marsh and Russell are fond of experimental theatre and while studying decided to develop this story about teen friendship a little deeper. Russell reveals that audience members will be interacting with Luke and Marsh whose camaraderie is based around graffiti.
“Luke is a 16-year-old-boy from a middle class family who likes to impress others with rebellious actions. He’s not necessarily a bad person, " Marsh notes, “while Josh is an older teen from the wrong side of the tracks. His origins are unknown, but basically, he’s just a shit head.”
“This story takes place over the course of 12 hours,  it gets quite interesting”, laughs Russell, “it’s a graffiti crew, they tend to get caught up in other member’s sordid affairs. “
& All The Kings Men project
The Locker Room
Season Finished
Melbourne Fringe

The Tiger and Me & The Nymphs

The Nymphs- great posters, great harmonies!

If your idea of mixing it up this Fringe Festival includes blending indie pop with a euro folk feel and acoustic A Cappella female vocals with a saucy 1940’s swing mood, then seeing The Tiger and Me and The Nymphs perform back to back will have you in raptures. Interview by Paul Andrew
Today The Tiger and Me is a sextet, but began life as a duo when Jane Hendry and Ade Vincent recorded six electro folk songs in late 2007 which, originally intended as demos, were eventually released as an EP. 

“There has been a fair amount of experimentation with different styles from our humble electronica roots before arriving at our current sound," Vincent says. "From melodic trip-hop to folk duo, on through cabaret, gypsy and indie to wherever it is we are now. It has a lot to do with the instrumentation we settled on for the album. Instruments like the ukulele and the accordion along with the big sing-alongs give the album that European feel. But we'll keep evolving and experimenting as time goes on. “

“The recent Tiger album launch has been a great highlight. We played the Toff in Town and sold out early in the night. For Fringe, we have jangly guitar solos, frenzied violin, obscure accordion, delicate ukulele, fat bass, thumping drum solos and a host of sweet five part harmonies. We try to strike a balance live somewhere between the raucous shout outs and the delicate ballad. Lyrically we have a few different styles as the song writing is shared. Some of its nonsense, some introspective, some is madness, but there's a lot of the folk tradition of really telling a story. “

The Nymphs will provide a set of four-part harmonies drawing from war time crooners and big band vocal acts from yesteryear including The Andrews Sisters, The Chordettes and The Mills Brothers. And as Hendry’s nymph sisters croon, “it’s part nostalgia, part cabaret and a whole lot of nymph.”

According to The Nymphs member Clare Hendry choosing a band moniker was an on-the-spot decision.
“We were backstage before our first appearance with Melbourne band The Melodics. Suggestions came up quick and fast, including names like the Hairy Harlots and Naughty Nurses, slim pickings, and so The Nymphs emerged, and, it stuck. We like to think we’ve grown into that title.”
We are four singers who wanted to have a whole lot of fun with some killer harmonies too”, she muses, “having all grown up crooning and rhapsodizing to our various parents’ record collections, it really was inevitable, and there’s all the gorgeous vintage dress-up involved, what girl doesn’t want to do that, just got to watch out for getting ladders in those silk stockings!”

The Tiger and Me

Red Bennies- Season Finished
Melbourne Fringe

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2nd Toe Collective- Adam Wheeler- INTERVIEWS

Adam Wheeler edit
Written by Paul Andrew   
Thursday, 28 October 2010 07:52

Adam Wheeler is Artistic Associate with Tasmanian based dance company Stompin', as well as Artistic Director of the 2ndToe Dance Collective - a contemporary dance company based in Melbourne. 2ndToe seeks to "provide young and emerging artists the opportunity to make dance work with professional artists," and opens tonight with their latest production, Something Blew.

Adam Wheeler spoke with Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

2ndToe Dance Collective
You started your dance career with Stompin. Tell us about that and how 2ndToe began?
Yes, that’s true. Since I began dancing at the age of eighteen with Stompin, a youth dance company in Tasmania, I have been interested in choreography ever since.

A group of us formed a little group called Phulcrum and made a piece called I Don't Do Mornings, a work about nightlife and living 5-9 instead of 9-5, which in hindsight is quite funny because as an eighteen year old kid living in Tasmania I had no idea what it meant to party all night. Nevertheless we put on a season to a sellout audience and sparked an interest in making and producing my own work.

When I arrived in Melbourne in 2002 to study at the VCA I had a job that allowed me to run a dance program at St Michael's Grammar, St Kilda. This opportunity helped me to continue my investigation into making dance work and also a growing passion for working with young people. Youth have so much energy and fantastic raw ideas!

This program developed and after four years it was becoming time for me to move on but I wanted to hand it over to someone I could trust. I had recently met a group of hot young first year dancers from the VCA at a bar who showed a real flare for dancing, art and a good time so I said ‘Heya, come and make some work with me’.

Together the five of us made two works at St Michael's before moving on. Around this time I had been playing with a few different ensembles, developing ideas and toying with the name 2ndToe Dance Collective but nothing really was taking off until the idea of doing a birthday show for my 26th meant the five us began to make one ourselves. We presented a night of solos and duets about things I always wanted at a birthday party. We put the show on at The Laundry, North Fitzroy and had dancers in superhero costumes, jumping out of cakes, fighting in jumping castles, dressed up as giant pin the tail on the donkeys and a whole bunch of cheeky and awkward party scenarios. The show was a huge success and 2ndToe Dance Collective was born.

Where do you feel that your collective fits into the contemporary dance milieu?
We are still very young have only began to create our label and identity but my vision for the Collective is to be at the forefront of contemporary dance practice for young and emerging artists. A platform where emerging dancers, designers, technicians, managers can make work and be showcased and to kick start their careers.

Describe your passion?
Someone asked me recently what it was I loved about being a dancer or director and I said quite quickly the people I get to work with. As we have just finished our last week of rehearsal before bumping into the theatre, although sometimes bloody hard, watching a group of a dozen artists battle it out all for the same purpose of making shit hot dance work is very exciting for me. Sometimes I feel more like a facilitator then a director and know that the skills they are learning now are going to truly help them develop to be important contemporary artists in Australia. All members of 2ndToe Dance Collective have a strong voice and are very talented artists. I love watching people get passionate about expressing themselves.

Who do you count as mentors, heroes in dance?
My prime hero would my first Artistic Director, Jerril Retcher. Jerril was the one who planted the idea of becoming a professional dancer in my head and said, 'Adam if you really want this, we will get you into a ballet class, off to the VCA and to Chunky Move in no time.' At the first opening night for Chunky Move she sent me flowers with a card saying, 'I told you so!'

Gideon Obarzanek is another. Gideon’s ability to continually challenge how we view dance, be part of dance and connect with dance has changed the Australian landscape of contemporary dance and being part of the company and seeing his work has inspired me since the beginning.

Other mentors in my life are Becky Hilton, Brett Daffy, Luke George and my first ballet teacher Maryann Peacock.

Currently I really love Hofesh Shechter's work but really truly, I get a lot of inspiration from all the young dancers I get to work with.

Tell me something about the 2ndToe collective members?
Frankie Snowdon, Tyler Hawkins, Ben Hancock and Madeleine Krenek are the original four dancers that began the collective with me and work as Artistic Associates. James Andrews, Rebecca Jensen and Emily Ranford are all new to the collective and bring fresh and unique ideas to the collective. And Jorjin Vreisendorp from Amsterdam too. We like to call Jorjin our ghost member as she is very busy working with some great companies but remains very connected to the collective.

Tell me about some of the work these individual members have performed recently with the major companies, like Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine?
Jorjin is currently touring Mortal Engine with Chunky Move. Bec and Maddy or working with Jo Lloyd at the moment on a new work and Ben is collaborating with Sue Healy. Tyler and Jorjin performed with Chunky Move on So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year and I myself have been fortunate to have worked with Chunky Move for over the last five years, touring around the country and the U.S. It is very important to me that the collective provides opportunities for these dancers to be showcased and get work.

Tell me about the 2ndToe vision?
My vision for the collective is to have two main streams. The 2ndToe Collective, comprising of the hottest young and emerging talent to be coming out of the tertiary institutions who are working with the hottest young and emerging designers out there.

 Secondly the youth collective which is at the forefront of youth development, creating the next generation of contemporary dance artists. 

We want to make work that is really about who, how and what we are seeing the world today.  Having an honest, raw opinion and presenting this is the format of dance. For example, Something Blew is our new show and it examines the modern relationship from our view as twenty somethings. Other projects in the development are works about the modern family. What we share is a deep connection and ability to solely open out to each other to find real emotion to inspire dance work. 

And your five year plan?
Wow. five year plan, ok. Other than the holiday home and Harley, to be running a centre for youth dance which includes 2ndToe Dance Collective as its ‘centerpiece’ making works annually by a range of different choreographers and tours internationally. The centre offers full time training courses, the youth collective company and courses for teachers and practitioners to further their own personal development in dance training.

2ndToe is based at Theatre Works in St Kilda?
Yes. I have lived in Melbourne for a decade now and the whole time in St Kilda. I love the St Kilda community, bars, cafes and artists. A majority of the collective also live in St Kilda and we want to make work at home. Theatre Works is a great little theatre with an amazing history that has been very supportive of each of us. We want to inject a fresh breath of contemporary art into an already rich community of talented artists. Something Blew is part of the Selected Works program that Theatre Works offers. Theatre Works is seeing more and more dance on their stage and I am happy we are one part of the diverse and exciting work that is presented there.

Something Blew by 2ndToe Dance Collective is now playing at TheatreWorks, St Kilda. Until November 6, 2010.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dry Martinis - INTERVIEWS

The Dry Martinis and the Cigarettes of Doom

Paul Andrew talks to David Backler of The Dry Martinis about..well..drinking..

Throughout the ages the martini has been a perfect muse. British playwright and consummate gentleman Noel Coward wouldn’t be caught dead without a full Martini glass while dressed in a black tuxedo, Australian author Frank Moorehouse wrote an entire memoir based upon a lifetime of intoxicating martini experiences and American writer E.B White described the cocktail most eloquently as “the elixir of quietude”.

For converts like them, it’s known as Martini lore, that inescapable sense of occasion that arrives with this most mysterious and arcane cocktail of all, a slow tango of gin and vermouth. 
Musician David Backler remembers his most vivid martini memory: “ I was running down the  back streets of Shanghai after a cabaret gig and found myself fleeing into a local  bar to escape the millions of people who had gone crazy while looking for shelter from a wild tropical typhoon. 

A man sitting peacefully at the bar turned to me and spoke very softly, 'if you have plans for the night, you had better change them now.' Yes, Martinis are all about the total moment.”

The Dry Martinis are Dianne Heywood-Smith and David Backler. In recent years these tangoistas  have trekked continents far and wide with their elegant long stemmed cocktail glasses, witty cabaret and physical theatre performances in tow. "As genres go, it’s a vaudeville-noir mystery thriller." Backler says."Protagonists Shanghai Lil and Hurricane Harry are on a quest to find a precious diamond and they enjoy a few dry martinis along the way. They encounter spies, double agents, assassins, ballroom dancing, bad service, a haunted house and mysteriously, a fate worse than sobriety.”
The Dry Martinis have been mainstays in backstreet speakeasys throughout Asia and South America during the last four years. Melbourne martini aficionados will know them well from recent gigs at The Famous Speigeltent.

According to Backler himself, The Dry Martinis are also rather gifted souls when it comes to the Tango Argentino. In Buenos Aires he and Heywood Smith are rather “reputed and respected” as genuine "milongueros"  and have performed at famous clubs including Confiteria Ideal, Bar Sur, Almagro, La Cumparsita and Milonga del Mundo.

And no Dry Martini show would be complete without well, a few desert dry martinis. As author and celebrated wit James Thurber once said, “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough" or as Backler himself likes to put it: " I love to have a Martini, but one or two at the most, you see, three I'm under the table, four I'm under the host.”

Melbourne Fringe Festival Show


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Robert Lepage- The Blue Dragon- INTERVIEWS

The Blue Dragon
Playhouse, Arts Centre

Theatre Review

Canadian Robert Lepage is a leading exponent of multimedia and cinema inflected theatre. The Blue Dragon is his latest offering and it teases out a slender thread from the close of his 1985 production, The Dragons’ Trilogy.

As Pierre Lamontagne departs the trilogy, he leaves behind the xenophobia of his homeland to study art in communist China. We meet him here twenty years later in contemporary China, where ancient art, values and philosophy are losing their grip as east and west merge, as communism fails, as borders of belief dissolve. We learn he is in the midst of a deep ennui.

Symbolically, the blue dragon rules Chinese astrology and in Chinese myth it is often a metaphor for spring. And it is the blue dragon Lamontagne has tattooed on his flesh that forms the central motif of the play, a provident and mystical force at the outset of middle age as he tries to rekindle love. The tattoo is a reminder of the pain one endures in the search for beauty. It is a talisman too. It consoles him, it becomes his moral compass.

Performers Henri Chasse, Marie Michaud and Tai Wei Foo weave together a mesmerizing cinematic assemblage, part calligraphy, part choreography, part drama that reveals an artfully conceived take on an old theme, romantic love without the caprice of youth. It is a simple story line beautifully evoked as a series of dissolves, vignettes and cross fades. The question posed, how will this modern family adapt, as ancient values pass from deadly winter towards spring?

Season finished

2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival
The Blue Dragon
Robert Lepage

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates/Times: Fri 8 – Sat 9 Oct & Mon 11 – Tue 12 Oct at 8pm, Sat 9 Oct at 2pm, Sun 10 Oct at 6pm
Duration: 1hr 45 min no interval
Tickets: $75 - $25
Bookings: the Arts Centre 1300 182 183 | | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 |

Status Update- Peta Brady- INTERVIEWS

Status Update
Theatre Review
La Mama
It’s a common enough anxiety, meeting up for real after developing an online love interest. What makes a meeting like this really challenging is the degrees of fiction manufactured along the way.
This fabulous two-hander is a modern tragedy written by Peta Brady. Status Anxiety is also a dueling internet chat room, rich with wordplay, rapier wit, sexual themes, lies and deception. The play opens with a status update. We observe as Adam (Peta Brady), the online persona of a woman pretending to be a man woos “his” love interest Coral (Danielle Carter) . We follow their enthusiastic exchanges, in-jokes about murder mystery novels, repartee about a shared passion for death poems, reflections on friendship. When Coral suggests they meet, the cracks begin to appear in their perfect virtual match.
They decide to meet in Bewtopia, a virtual world where their fantasies can run amok, where their intimacies are played out as intellectual musings, erotic postings interposed with uncertain inner monologues. This chat room fare is riveting, a litany of fictional poses, gendered posturing and elegant sexually charged prose with occasional coarseness. These inner reflections reveal each of the characters flaws and deepest fears. 
It makes for fabulous theatre as we sit by, voyeuristic, omniscient, hovering as their palpable and idyllic romantic liaison sours and Eden, in the guise of Bewtopia, becomes a warzone.
Pete Goodwin’s soundtrack is evocative. Director, Sue Jones brilliantly conceives these postings as choreography, turning chair bound internet chat into a chorus line of characters.
Season finished

Suzanne Sandow

Photo: Danielle Carter and Peta Brady from Status Update

By Peta Brady. Director: Sue Jones. Performed by Peta Brady and Danielle Carter. Sound: Pete Goodwin. Lighting: Bec Etchell. Design: Belinda Wiltshire/Nick Casey. Dramaturg: Catherine Hill. La Mama (Vic) Sept 23 – Oct 10. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Britney Spears: The Cabaret- INTERVIEWS

Toxic Tale

Everyone loves a fall from grace. Cue Britney Spears.  According to Melbourne based Writer and Director Dean Bryant the once upon a time Queen of Pop Pulp with an uplifting back catalogue and her vast array of human foibles is the perfect biography for “a jukebox musical. “
Bryant is one part of the two parts well known in musical theatre circles as Bryant & Frank . His journey from Numurkah High to off Broadway has a distinctive The Boy from Oz ring to it, and with a modest slew of successful stage shows and two Green Room Awards to his credit,  Bryant is  busy working on Broadway, finalizing the casting for the Canadian and New York seasons of Priscilla: The Musical.
It is while discussing the difficulty in procuring a decent cafe latte in Manhattan ,  the joys of casting an eight-year old for the Priscilla spectacular and his new jukebox musical script about to open in Melbourne that he fondly remembers a favourite teacher, “ My high school drama teacher was a primary influence on my writing.  “ She was into doing musicals well and we got to do the cool ones.  I loved Evita and Miss Saigon and all those musicals that came out on audio cassette then. Gradually I moved up to Sondheim and new work while study acting at Perth’s WAAPA, shows like How To Succeed In Business without Really Trying;  that script is so tight, so well written!”
It was at WAAPA where Dean Bryant met fellow student, and long term Musical Director collaborator,  Matthew Frank.
 “ The personal connection was easy. We started going out two days after we met.  He was already a composer, and I adored his music. He had moved on from his writing partner, and in a fit of desperation asked if I’d give it a go.  I think I’d written a poem for the local newspaper when I was eight.  Matty wasn’t overly hopeful but then we locked onto a good idea – update the prodigal son parable to Sydney, imagine the son fled his country family because he’s gay.  We work shopped it at WAAPA in our final year,  staged it at Chapel off Chapel in January. Prodigal was picked up by producers, won a Green Room Award and went to off-Broadway two years later. “
,“It seemed like we probably should keep writing together,” Bryant continues.”  We have a great work vibe– fed by our personal relationship – we don’t have to schedule particular work time because we can have ideas at any time of day or night.  We also love the same type of theatre, can direct and music direct, are both trained actors and singers.  And he’s funny too.”
This year the pair added a second Green Room Award to their mix for Once We Lived Here.  A story loosely based on Bryant’s own biography .
“I started writing it nearly a decade ago straight after Prodigal. My mum’s mum died when she was 14,  she became the surrogate mum to her siblings, they lived on a sprawling farm in bushfire territory.  It fascinated me, and the story grew from there.  It took forever to get it on, but was a blessing in disguise because the show became what it needed to be over this very long germination.  The music was inspired by a need to find a “country” way of singing that wasn’t really country music – kind of folksy.   “
“Britney?”,  replies this writer with a laugh, poised in perfect pitch mode, “ the jump off is that Britney has decided to get back to her roots by stripping back her songs to just piano, talking about her life. She’s taken a lesson  the cabaret greats – Liza Minnelli, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters and tells her story in the cabaret form.  It starts out riotous, as she can be both vacant and canny. Things go wrong, and you begin to understand what it must be like to be at the eye of a ridiculous media storm and really be just a silly, funny, sad 27 year- old girl. “
He adds that the Britney script evolved out our collective fascination for confession, “ I use the skills that we’d learned over years of developing entirely original musicals and applied it instead to the cabaret jukebox musical genre – taking existing songs  and treating them as if you’d written them yourself .
“ I’d honed these skills helping shape the ultimate jukebox musical Priscilla. The interesting dynamic of the show is the sending up of cabaret confessional that audiences love– I met this boy,  then I did this in my life and my mum said this and so forth- and applying it to the most famous girl in the world, as if she’s just any other girl.  I mean, it would never happen would it Britney chatting one on one to one hundred people in a cabaret setting, so it’s delightful to go with this fantasy.”
 “ For me the idea is that we are just as responsible for Britney’s downfall as she is: we are desperate to make and break our celebs,  we live vicariously through them, then destroy them at our whim and never, ever even think,’What if I was going through that myself? ‘
“ I once read that Britney is the perfect celeb for our times – she is an empty vessel that will represent whatever anyone wants her to – but I think she’s bucking pretty hard against that right now."


Venue: The Loft, Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: October 6 - 24, 2010
Times: Wednesday to Sunday at 7.30pm
Tickets: $35 Full, $30 Concession (+ Transaction Fee)
Bookings: (03) 8290 7000 |

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Optimism- Pieter De Buysser- INTERVIEWS

Pieter De Buysser edit
Written by Paul Andrew   
Wednesday, 13 October 2010 21:15

What happens when a convincing optimist and a committed pessimist decide to work together? An optimist and a pessimist walk onto a stage? No it’s not the start of a joke, but rather the theatrical presentation of the quirky social research project An Anthology of Optimism created by Belgian writer, philosopher and theatre-maker Pieter De Buysser and Canadian writer and maker of eccentric performances Jacob Wren. Paul Andrew chews at the bones of philosophy together with Pieter De Buysser.

Jacob Wren and Pieter De BuysserPostmodernism was steeped in melancholy, what do you feel this production says about where are we are right now in philosophical terms?
I’m not sure if this singular production is enough to say something about where we are right now in philosophical terms, but of course I wouldn’t mind if our show could contribute to taking a step beyond postmodernism.

I agree with what you say, postmodernism was steeped in melancholy, a melancholy and sort of sometimes cowardish confession of weakness, but at the same time postmodernism brought probably a profound insight and understanding of tragical essence of human behaviour. An important and very often repeated concept in postmodernism was the idea of an era of “mourning”. I’ve always been very sensitive to that as well as to the undeniable tragical character of human beings, not in the least because it’s in the experience of the tragic that the best slapstick can emerge.

But I want to tell other stories then simply touching “ecce home consolation tearjerkers” or funny disasters. I consider myself more as an inventor, and if my work helps to finally leave postmodernism behind in a clever way, I mean without betraying the fact that 20th century stories brought us reasons to mourn, It would be great but it’s not my starting point. I’m not in the logic of revenge of a new era on the old era, because that results mainly in the repetetion of the same logic that structures the old era’s.

I’m maybe more fundamental: I try to invent another logic, I aim for a more radical shift of paradigm, one with humour, imagination and where sharpness of the mind doesn’t exclude a certain wisdom. And the end of that all: to realise that there is no end. There is just the continuous call for rebellion, creation and invention. Maybe if I was asked to describe how I see the next step after postmodernism, I would use words as vitalistic mourning, sunny disasterknowledge, and yes, the concept we propose in the show: critical optimism.

Is this anthology a series of artful adaptations on philosophical tenets - skepticism and idealism perhaps?
No not at all. I think the contributions we receive seldom start from an explicit philosophical point of view. Of course they are philosophical, but not in the strictly technical sense that works with notions like skepticism and idealism. The contributions are almost all of them very personal, imaginative texts, drawings, pictures or whatever. So they are certainly not philosophical in an academic sense.

I have the feeling they found their origins more in the daily practice of the contributors. And even the question if they are art or not is not relevant to me. I think it’s more an anthology of testimonies, of objects, stories, songs, in which people from all different kind of backgrounds testify about their view and way of dealing with the question of what critical optimism in the 21st century could mean to them, knowing that it was very often optimism that was the cause of the biggest catastrophies, and knowing at the same time that it’s impossible to continue without a certain spark of optimism. And this counts as well for the bigger historical/political scale, as for the most initimate personal level.

Somewhere in between optimism and pessimism is a paradox, it this where hope resides?
Indeed there is a paradox, but I hope it’s not hope that resides there. I work on it for that’s where action can start.

I hope we can do without hope. Hope is dangerous drug. I like Kafka in one of his letters: “there is hope, but not for us”. I don’t consider that famous quote as just an other black joke, I see it as very liberating: let’s do it without hope. It’s hard. I work on it. To avoid hope is not so simple. Still every morning I can catch a glimpse in myself and then I have to say to myself “Kill it!”, and once that job is meticulously done, finally I can start to work.

'Tender' is a word that appears in media responses to this production - tell me about two examples of the tenderness you perceive in this production, and how this tenderness is revealed to us?
Difficult, so often as with the most precious things, they die when you try to name them.

I’m afraid these moments are resistant to words but yes maybe they are crucial in the show. It’s something that emerges with the audience, we can feel that very well, when every single person is thinking and doubting and thinking about themselves, that’s where it happens. I think Jakob and I come unprotected on stage and maybe that vulnerability is contagious. But honestly I don’t know and it’s difficult to speak about.

Tell me about the original letter you sent inviting artists to participate in this production?
Jakob and I had very, very long talks and the letter was the first thing we did together. We really wrote it together, so that was a long process at the beginning of the creation of the show, a period in which each of us have deepened our positions, doubts and wishes. The writing emerged really from the the meeting between Jacob and I. We are more or less the same age, we have more or less the same experiences in theatre and we have more or less the same political and aesthetical concerns, but knowing that we are very, very different. I probably have a more natural optimistic impulse, Jacob a more pessimistic one, and at the same time we both refuse to be caught or pinned down by that primary inclination.

What do you love about anthology as a form?
It’s a simple and straightforward way to document a practice or a way of thinking. It gives an audience and an artist room to wander and to freely use it. “An anthology of optimism” consists of two things: the show and the website, the website is the anthology strictly spoken, it presents all the contributions we received until now. The performance is a performance in which only a few contributions from the anthology are integrated, these can change from night to night. To make a performance, simply presenting the anthology would miss the essence of making a performance in theater.

The website can present the documents of the anthology better than any book, show, video or whatever. But we are making a performance and we have our reasons to do this in theater. The documents we received give us the occasion to think, tell, wander, play and discuss out loud together with the audience, live - and open for who’s there every single night. That's what singles theater out from film and literature. The anthology in terms of the collection of contributions and documents is for us once on stage simply the instrument we use to play, think, invent and try every night again.

How did you go about ordering this anthology?
The contributions we use in the show we select them on purely theatrical/rhetorical reasons: we switch from text, image to music contributions in order to make a good show. With a good show I mean a show that hasn’t done all the thinking for you. We make a composition that displays different ways of thinking and invite people to interact instead of to lay down and let it roll over you.
On the website we put simply every contributions we receive, as long as it is an honest contribution and the result of some thinking.

How would you describe the dance between a pessimist and an optimist?
A dogflight. Certainly not a candidate for a beauty-contest, but it has the wisdom of doglike cynics, and the lightness, imagination, and sense of danger and exploration of a pilot. A dogflight.

Is this a show where optimists and pessimists can find some common ground?
Refusing all hope I can say that we work on that every night - again this show paves indeed the way for dogflights.

AN ANTHOLOGY OF OPTIMISM opens at the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio, Wed 20 October 2010

Monday, October 04, 2010

Dean Bryant- Britney Spears: The Cabaret INTERVIEWS

Dean Bryant edit
Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 01 October 2010 17:59

Dean Bryant is the scriptwriter to Mathew Frank’s fabulous musical direction in the prodigious musical theatre pairing known as Bryant and Frank. Their newest theatre foray Britney Spears: The Cabaret is
a " juke box musical"; an up close, personal, unplugged moment with the pop starlet herself,  played by her uncanny look alike, new diva on the block Christie Whelan. Paul Andrew manages to catch Dean Bryant for five minutes on Broadway.

Dean BryantWhat are you doing in New York right now?
I’m rehearsing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with the Broadway cast – we’ve just finished our fourth week of rehearsals in the Hilton Studios on 43rd street. We open in Toronto in a month’s time, then on Broadway at the Palace Theatre next March.

And today, what happened?
Today I flew to Toronto for the day to cast the eight year- olds who are in the show. It was a massive travel – it’s only an hour away by plane, but you need to check in hours before, being an international flight – so I ended up being in transit for nine hours and in auditions for three hours. But kid auditions are fun, they’re so funny at that age.

What else is unfolding?
Besides rehearsing Priscilla, another cabaret show I wrote for Hugh Sheridan (Packed to the Rafters), Newly Discovered, is playing a night in the Snapple Theatre on Broadway as a benefit, in the hope of a season next year in the US. Hugh played a season at the Sydney Opera House a few months ago. I’m also casting a musical for the Melbourne Theatre Company next year, my directing debut for them.

What do you love about Melbourne and New York?
Well, they’re both built on a grid – so I love that they’re easy to get around. I live right in Collins Street, in a 1925 converted art deco building, so that’s kind of like a mini Manhattan when I look down the street.

Well the vibeyness of New York is pretty hard to find anywhere else in the world. The coffee is appalling here, though we found a recipe at Starbucks (double shot espresso with steamed milk on the side) that is almost like a really mediocre flat white. I love Melbourne city – the cafes down the alleyways, the run around the Tan, eating at world-class restaurants like Press Club, Ezard etc, the proximity of all those beautiful theatres.

What theatre did you do throughout your schooling years ?
Highlights were doing Evita at Wesley College, where I popped in for Year 12 – I decided I wanted to get into law at Melbourne Uni one day before final year started, so my parents rang around the private schools to see who had room – I got them to ask what musicals each school was planning and chose Wesley based on that. Doing How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at WAAPA in our final year was a lot of fun – it’s so well constructed. And Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War was great for my year – playing all those different characters – and probably influenced my revue-style of writing more than I’d really realized this just then.

Tell me about your WAAPA training?
Singing, dancing and acting from 8am-6pm 5 days a week.

I went there to be a director, though went into the performing course because John Milson, the head of the course said that doing that would be the best training I could get in terms of understanding how musicals worked. He was right.

Was there a particular instance that inspired you to write for musical theatre?
Listening to my partner Matt’s music and hearing how good he was, is! I had never personally thought of writing musicals before meeting him. What inspires me now is seeing good theatre of any kind.

Who do you count as inspirational forces in your life?
John Milson was a huge influence – he was a big supporter of my ability, especially regarding directing and later, writing. And his love and knowledge of musical theatre was inspiring. My parents, who raised me to think I could do anything – except once my mum said I sang flat and I think I’ve been scared of singing flat ever since. Aubrey Mellor was great in pushing the Australian side of our writing voice, which culminated in Once We Lived Here last year.

Perhaps the biggest influence has been Simon Philips, who commissioned Virgins, brought Matty and I into the MTC as Assistants, then Associates on their musicals, Urinetown, Spelling Bee and Drowsy Chaperone, and me onto Priscilla.

These jobs have all been great, but the invaluable part has been seeing him work up close – his sense of humour, constant focus, kindness to all people, unflagging energy – and of course, technical skill at directing. Plus he really likes to eat and drink well, so rehearsals always have a pot of gold at the end of the day.

Tell me a potted history of your own Directing work?
I first directed my family in a 15 minute short film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe set on our farm. My little brother, Mikey, who is now a rock musician, had to play Lucy – he was actually quite good, but shudders when that video is pulled out now. Proper directing started with Company at Melbourne Uni (when I was studying law) and then I moved onto The Last Five Years, which played 45 Downstairs, Stables and toured NSW over a period of three years, on and off. I directed my own shows Virgins and Once We Lived Here and in the last year have directed cabarets, drag shows, educational shows, etc.

What do you love about Directing?
Solving problems, making emotional sense of a scene, helping actors have breakthroughs and go further than they thought they could, shaping the arc of a show, finding visual solutions for furthering the story, using lighting to make sense of the pace. What’s particularly exciting is working with the best artists – the designers, the actors, the music staff, and creating a coherent whole.

Once We Lived Here won you both a Green Room award?
Yes, we started writing it nearly 10 years ago, straight after Prodigal. My mum’s mum died when she was 14, and she became the surrogate mum for her brothers and sisters, and she lived on a farm. I was fascinated by that idea, and the story changed and grew and became something else entirely. It took forever to get it on, but that was a blessing in disguise because the show became what it needed to be over a very long germination.  he music was inspired by a need to find a country way of singing that wasn’t really country music – kind of folksy. We did at least five workshops over the development, with tons of different actors and ideas of how it should work. It came into focus last year when we work shopped it with Esther Hannaford in the lead – she was the actress who could make the very difficult central role of Amy work – she was so inherently vulnerable that her constant hardness in all ways was understandable. We were so thrilled when she won the Green Room for Best Actress. It was a once in a lifetime performance.

Was this production where you discovered your Britney talent Christie Whelan?
Christie worked with Matty teaching kids and she was apparently a riot in the staff room. I can imagine, as I’ve never eaten a meal with her without nearly spitting out my lunch. She is wicked, funny and has a great eye for human foibles. We asked her to do Esther’s sister in the workshop and that character worked for the first time – chiefly because she’s a beautiful girl who can be equally gawky, so you could believe the story of a bookworm turned A-list party girl. I love Britney Spears songs, and was/am fascinated by her journey, thought Christie could be brilliant and thus began the journey.

Spoilers about the show Britney?
There’s no spoilers about this show, it’s not possible, don’t we all know everything about Britney there is to know? The surprises are in how we present the life story material and shape her songs to fit that biography. The big surprise is that you end up desperately feeling for her and empathising with her too.

And Matt’s musical arrangements of the Britney back catalogue?
There’s a couple of really witty musical arrangements that Matty has done – Oops, I Did It Again as a Sweet Charity-esque striptease, Toxic as a rhapsodic love song and Womanizer as a character song about taking K-Fed to task.

The Green Room Award - how does that feel, and does the Green Room thing really help a writer?
It feels great – it’s fun to speak in front of people! It was nice after so many years of work on the show to have it rewarded. Yes, it looks good on Australia Council applications, bios and on our shelf at home.

Looking back; Prodigal, Virgins, Once We Lived Here and Britney Spears; The Cabaret tour up till now; how do you see your musical theatre journey so far?
Perhaps we’ve become more sophisticated in honing our skills, but we still care about the same basic thing – telling truthful stories about real humans in interesting and witty ways. Basically we want to make audiences laugh and cry. In a way they hadn’t expected.

What shows have you seen in New York?
La Cage was funny and moving, Memphis, though about interracial marriage, made me see how dumb it is that we don’t have gay marriage, Promises Promises had the most athletic and skilled Broadway dancing I’d ever seen. Next week is full of highlights though – Next to Normal, Angels in America and American Idiot.

What's next?
Priscilla does Broadway, Officer and a Gentleman, a new musical adaptation, a couple of cabarets, the MTC musical. You just never know what’s gonna happen.

What are you determined to do in New York before you head home?
Go boating in Central Park.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret plays at Chapel off Chapel, October 6 - 24, 2010. Further details»

Benedict Hardie- LIfe Without Me- INTERVIEWS

Benedict Hardie edit
Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 01 October 2010 18:01

Benedict Hardie is an actor, writer and director and Associate Artist with Melbourne's award winning Hayloft Project. This month he debut's with the Melbourne Theatre Company, playing the role of Tom in Daniel Keene's Life Without Me.

Benedict spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Benedict HardieWho what when and/or where first inspired you to become an actor. Tell me about this?
I don't think there was a stroke of lightning, it's just the thing that makes the most sense for me to do, somehow. I have energy to give to acting and theatre. Seeing acting not as role-play but rather as a gift you give may have been a turning point for me somewhere.

It's also a great way to meet chicks.

Where did you study, and what are you most grateful for during this time of study?
Acting? At VCA. I also studied Economic and Social Science at Sydney University.

I am grateful for the selfishness that study affords you.

Or forgiveness perhaps.

I am also grateful for being able to spend time around other artists, pedagogically and as peers. I have been taught by artists who are also some of the most beautiful people I've ever met.

You are an Associate Artist with the Hayloft Project. Tell me about this role, how this project began, the recent past, and what’s happening now?
The Hayloft Project was started by Simon Stone, whom I knew through VCA, and Simon invited a group of us to join him in the company. We are a group of artists who love theatre and make it. I have been involved as a director, writer, actor, producer, set builder, film-maker, administrator, programmer, and shadow in the corner.

We're currently having a great run with Thyestes at The Malthouse, and I'm also working on a new adaptation of a Maxim Gorky text that we're calling The Nest, to be seen at The Northcote Town Hall in December.

This is your MTC debut, how does this feel right now and how did you go in the audition/s?
This feels lovely right now. I am working with a phenomenal and inspiring group of people, on a new play by a playwright I've long admired and now have the pleasure to know, and I'll be performing a full season in a beautiful new theatre. I am also getting paid to do this, baffling though that fact is.

The opportunity to audition was quite unexpected as I don't have much of a "profile". I seized the opportunity by bribing the director with cash.

Only way to do it.

Tell me something funny that happened during rehearsals?
Everything Brian Lipson does is hilarious and wonderful.

And Kerry Walker.

And the others, yep, they're all funny too. Mind you, we have (inexplicably) a lot of cakes and sugary things in rehearsal so the giggles may be chemical.

How would you describe the play Life Without Me in seven words?
hotel lost

Tell me a little about Tom’s back story, his life before the play begins?
The circumstances are: Tom is married to Ellen, they've been together since they were kids, and they've come from interstate to this hotel. This is all anyone (including me) needs to know. And that he pushed her off the swings once.

What are you loving about this character Tom?
Character is an elusive notion in Daniel Keene's writing. If you come with the agenda of playing his scenes in a certain way, you'll swiftly kill them. What I love is Daniel's repeated refusal to allow us as an audience to feel we really know a person. But really we do know them. But we don't really.

Like in life.

You know?

And what are you loving about Daniel Keene’s newest play?
It's beguiling. There's a rabbit hole thing with a dolly zoom thing going on. You could sit back and take it at its broadest as a farce, but if you sit forward I think you'll find it beautifully difficult to be with.

It sounds quite philosophical in it’s premise, what are your thoughts on this?
Every good playwright makes the mistake of writing a philosphical play sooner or later.

Early in his writing life Keene was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s plays, are there any Beckett nuances in Life Without Me, and if so, can you tell me about these?
Daniel's writing indicates a deep feeling for rhythm and cadence. His text does more than divulge a story and depict characters, there are unpredictable sensate impacts - akin to those in poetry and music - moving through his words. It sounds very real and feels very "other". I think that is why people cry Beckett.

What has been your most memorable acting role so far?
I lip-synched The Monster Mash at school assembly in first grade.

Most memorable and inspiring theatre experience recently?
I'm particularly proud of The Hayloft Project's Thyestes. There are many things I love about theatre held within it like a flame. And it points towards exciting new places.

What does the future hold for you?
I plan to write and devise a lot of plays, direct a few, and be an actor when people will let me.

What do you feel is most urgent right now, as storytelling goes?
Stories that, relatively speaking, help us know less and feel more.

Life Without Me plays at the MTC Sumner Theatre, as part of the 2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival - October 9 until Nov 21, 2010. Further details»

Life Without Me rehearsal photos by Pam Kleeman