|Written by Paul Andrew|
|Wednesday, 20 June 2012 07:03|
Writer, Director and Composer Chris Aronsten makes his mark with Malice Toward None, four broken characters, three highly evocative monologues, four memorable performances.
Chris Aronsten's triptych follows stridently in the footsteps of the ancient monologue tradition. However it was not the sleight of hand of Euripedes, Shakespeare or Alan Bennett that sprang to mind during the sometime salacious street savvy that underscores Malice Toward None, it was the slightly camp and ever so witty monologuist extraordinaire Ruth Draper. Why? Because it was Draper who famously commented on the art of monologues: Try to look at everything through the eyes of a child.
And it was Draper's witty monologues – in particular the one about having three chocolate eclaires a day – that circled my forgotten memory banks while enjoying the three beautifully drawn characters in Aronsten's highly successful show at the Old Fitzroy Theatre in Wolloomooloo. Perhaps this is because there is a similar childlike sense of wonder in Aronsten's writing, one cached with quotable quotes and comically imbibed with Kathy's shoplifting advice and Kings Cross colloquialisms, Pete's One Arm Bandit rules and rites and regulations and Jane's Occupational Health and Safety rhetoric that Aronsten has unpacked and parodied to evince beauty in brokenness.
Each character is a rather bleak portrait of addiction, greed, obsession and constant craving and each character, in some measure – and with varying degrees of atonement – reflects awkwardly on a wounded past. Kathy (Skye Warnsey) the first in the triptych carries a dog eared feature film script in her back pack along with the spoon and accoutrements of junkie living required for an ordinary day walking hastily along "The Silk Road" between Central and the Cross. Kathy dimly recalls the encouragement and tenderness of her Aunty Jean, the Aunty who always set the table and was always "proper".
Pete aka Pappa Smurf (David Attrill) is losing his mind, and as his logic is on the cusp of dementia, he recalls his earlier life, his earlier world view, a time when life may not have been Walden, but Pete dimly recalls had a small business that did well, a family he loved and a family who loved him. Jane (Ana Maria Belo) is all power dressed and self important, a curious blend of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, the Tigger in Pooh Corner and the Hare in The Tortise and The Hare, as she and her partner join the quest into parenthood and the challenges of IVF. Jane is having a difficult time with her own mother Janet (Jill McKay) who is "as orange as Ayres Rock' and a matriarch with whom she has little compassion – of her mother's quiet obsession with eating carrots, Jane cries in exasperation, "Janet has found God and it's eight inches long."
During my favourite scene of the play, when Jane snaps and falls; a fall triggered by a humble cigarette lighter (no spoilers okay), Jane begins to dimly recall her past, her true relationship with her mother, and something of the truth of the way things really are, understanding that denial is a fool's paradise.
Each of Aronsten's characters inhabits a child-like state and demonstrates a child-like world view – sometimes it is chemically induced and sometimes it is produced by the vagaries of aging and the great accumulation of life experience. It is here in the alchemy of strangeness in the dimmest of recollections in the most remote of the character's memories where we observe as seekers as much as audience members, and witness beauty in brokenness, and perhaps, begin to see the way.
Chris Aronsten's play The Lunch Hour, directed by Kate Gaul will debut at The Darlinghurst Theatre from September 7, 2012.
Malice Toward None
by Chris Aronsten
Director Chris Aronsten
Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre
Dates: May 25 – June 16 2012
Times: Tues – Sat 8.00pm, Sun 5.00pm
Tickets: $33 Adult. $25 Conc. $41 Beer Meal & Show, Cheap Tuesday $21, $34 BM&S
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Oscar Lopez is a Mexican-Australian theatre director. While studying recently, he was awarded the Louise Homfrey Prize for Directing in 2009 and the Hannah Barry Memorial Award in 2011, which allowed him to travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year where he directed and performed in a show based on Shakespeare's sonnets. Besides the classics, Oscar's interests lie in politically charged theatre, particularly documentary and verbatim theatre on which he wrote his minor thesis.
Paul Andrew speaks to Oscar about theatre and Indigo Brandenburg's play.
An early theatre memory?
I went to see a performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in Oxford, England when I was 12. The performance was outside, on a little islet on a river. The actors swung from the trees, Oberon and Titania drifted down the river on a beautiful swan-shaped boat. It was the first time I really saw how magical and captivating the theatre can be. It's my favourite of the Bard's comedies.
Your studies and training?
I graduated last year with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Theatre Studies and Creative Writing from Melbourne University. While studying I also did short courses at VCA and St. Martin's Youth Arts Centre. It was at St. Martins that I first started directing during my year-long creative ensemble. I also spent six months on exchange in Paris studying Art History and Jazz/Ballet. I have also worked with Platform Youth Theatre in their Provokateur mentoring program.
A wisdom you recall from that time?
Everything in the theatre means more, symbolizes something greater than itself. That is a beautiful and terrifying thing.
Is there a particular playwright that continues to inspire you?
I am a massive Shakespeare fanatic. I can read or watch his plays anytime, it's like listening to music.
Tying Knots in seven words?
Two same-sex couples want a wedding.
What motivated Indigo to write the play?
In Indigo's own words: "Years ago I heard a report on Triple J about how young males 15-19 are most likely to attempt or commit suicide. Particularly those in rural areas and it's believed that confusion about sexual identity is a significant factor. Basically, kids are killing themselves because they see being homosexual as a dead end, a death sentence. I can't make the real world a better place but I can write plays that suggest there's a better more fair world on the way. That's why my plays have positive gay role models and I've written this play Tying Knots about gay marriage."
Tell me a little something about one couple?
Jo and Kate are deeply in love. Jo is a surgeon and Kate is an architect. They both work full-time and are very career oriented. Jo is vivacious and fun, always enjoys a laugh. Kate is tenacious and determined: she provides Jo with a bit of grounding in the relationship. Jo has long dreamed of a beautiful white wedding, and is really the driving force behind the idea of having a double wedding. Both of them feel very passionately that marriage should be a right for everyone.
A favourite line in the play?
"It's not about the wedding, or the dress or any of those things. It's about civil rights."
How has the play influenced your own way of thinking?
I have really been inspired to examine marriage and what it means to different people. It has made me realize that marriage is a beautiful thing. It isn't necessarily right for everybody but it should be a legal right for everyone.
What makes a play like this so vivid now?
I think change is really on the horizon. We are in the midst of a charged political debate. I think this play will really speak to audiences on a personal, intimate level and make people realize that by not allowing equality towards same-sex couples, the Australian government is sending a message that discrimination against the gay and lesbian community is acceptable. I hope this play inspires people to change that attitude.
And your personal experience of same-sex marriage?
It's interesting that in Mexico City, where I was born, same-sex marriage is legal, and yet Mexico is a hugely conservative, catholic country. It seems odd to me that in a society as secular as Australia, this should still be a religious debate. I feel personally very strongly about this issue: it affects me and many of my friends. I look forward to the end of this discrimination.
How will this play appeal to La Mama audiences?
I think La Mama audiences are very open: to new ideas, to new ways of making theatre. I think this play tackles a controversial issue and utilizes theatrical conventions in interesting ways. I think La Mama audiences will respond to the freshness and dynamism of this production, as well as its relevance to current topics.
What's happening for you this year?
After the season I am moving to New York to study with Atlantic Theater Company and undergo a 10 month internship with Tectonic Theater Project.
Tying Knots by Indigo Brandenburg, directed by Oscar Lopez is now playing at La Mama Theatre, Carlton. Until July 1, 2012
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
|Written by Paul Andrew|
|Friday, 08 June 2012 07:50|
Phillip Kavanagh is the winner of The Patrick White Playwrights' Award, a $7,500 prize for an unproduced script, for his play Little Borders. Phillip Kavanagh is a Sydney-based playwright from Adelaide. Little Borders is his first play and was written as the creative component of a Master of Arts thesis at Flinders University. It received further development through PlayWriting Australia's National Script Workshop. Phillip was the 2011 recipient of the Colin Thiele Creative Writing Scholarship, awarded by Carclew Youth Arts. He is currently completing a Graduate Diploma of Dramatic Art (Playwriting) at NIDA.
Tell me a little about your research and study objectives at Flinders University and in particular your award-winning play Little Border's.
Little Borders was written as the creative component of my Masters thesis at Flinders University. In addition to writing the play, I wrote an exegesis exploring the research that informed it, and the process of creative development. In the end, the exegesis was about twice the length of the play itself.
What was great about this environment is that my supervisors, Associate Professor Robert Phiddian and Dr Jonathan Bollen, gave me free reign to write whatever I wanted to. However, knowing that I would need to justify every choice I made, and that the research component would be so crucial to the end product, had a profound effect on my creative process.
The sociological bent of the first half of my exegesis, investigating the proliferation of gated communities in the Western world and the climate of fear and anxiety they reflect, hugely informed the world, discourse, and characters of Little Borders.
I was then lucky enough to receive Faculty funding for a development of the play with Director/Dramaturg Corey McMahon and actors Elena Carapetis and Craig Behenna, and further development through Playwriting Australia's National Script Workshop with director Iain Sinclair and Dramaturg Leticia Caceres.
The work that was done in these developments formed the focus of the second half of my exegesis. In reflecting on these developments, I was able to make further headway on the play, in response to this critical reflection. It was an interesting way of working, and I found the academic research greatly informed the creative process, and product.
The play has a satiric tenor – what do you adore most about the satirical?
For this play, a satirical tone opened up so many possibilities for both the subject and its theatrical treatment. I was able to revel in the grotesqueness of the characters; they are joyfully horrible. But at the same time as mounting this satiric attack-exposing the absurdity of these powerful, privileged characters being crippled by fear of victimization-I was able to bring the play's menace to the surface. For me, the play is at its most interesting when the satire is almost forgotten, and we're compelled to feel just how palpably real Elle and Steve's fear is.
It underlies an allegorical reading for the play's setting. The borders are drawn around their suburb, but they also extend and contract. As the borders allegorically extent to the edges of the country, Elle and Steve grow to represent a nation in fear of invasion from a menacing, threatening Other (sic). As the borders contract to the personal space, they surround Elle and Steve as individuals, incapable of sharing the extent of their crises even with each other, as they each escape to the private sanctuary of soliloquy.
Describe your play in seven words?
A satiric thriller about fearing the world.
The Macbeths as upwardly mobile Australian DINKs.
How did the idea for Little Borders come about?
Several years ago, my family home in Adelaide was knocked down and rebuilt. The suburb was once a new development, built onto what had originally been swampland. Over the years, the house had begun to sink; the kitchen was slightly lower than the adjacent rooms, and a crack ran through the length of the ceiling. Despite the suburb's swampy foundations, our street was pristine. It was quiet, lined with trees, and curved alongside a man-made lake. People jogged. They walked their dogs. They smiled at strangers.
While our family home was being rebuilt, we moved to a rental property in a nearby suburb. The house was on a main road. We woke up at night to the sound of motorists loudly hammering their horns. My brother and I started walking to the corner store barefoot, in board shorts, to buy frozen peas and schnitzels.
We came home one day to find the house across the street sealed off by police tape, with hazmat-suited officers wandering in and out. The same prostitute kept making conversation with me at the bus stop. She was very friendly-and liked that I was half-Maltese, as she herself was born in Greece and was planning to return there later that year – but it was still a bizarre culture shock.
When we finally moved back to our rebuilt home, I remained fascinated with the idea of suburbs that are geographically close, but socioeconomically divided. I overheard our smiling, jogging, dog-walking neighbours talking in racially incensed language about the new residents of the housing commission homes down the road, reminding each other to lock their cars at night.
At the same time, both major political parties were battling it out over the issue of asylum seekers, with each leader attempting to court votes by promising a stronger brand of xenophobia than their opponent. From both sides, the message was clear: Boat People are approaching fast, they pose a threat to our national security, and the only rational response is mass panic.
I became interested in exploring how these notions of class difference and fear of outsiders clashed with the image of Australia as an egalitarian nation that celebrates its multiculturalism. At some point in my research, I struck upon the idea of setting the play in a gated community, which gave these issues potency, etching them into the physical world of the play. It was from this point that Little Borders really started to take shape.
The play's title is so evocative?
When I first pitched the play in my research proposal, I did have another title in mind, and it was very much a working title I was looking to make redundant. I cringe at it now. Good Fences. "Oh, like the poem. 'Make good neighbours.' " Yeah. Yeah...
It certainly spoke to the discourse of the play, but it was too contrived for me to ever want it to be the actual title. In my research proposal, I stressed that this point, mentioning the title in one breath and brushing it away in the other with a reference to a film of the same name, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. In the end, the title was actually coined by my partner, Corey, who worked as the dramaturg and director of the first creative development. He started listing off several alternative titles that made me cringe a lot less, and as soon as he said Little Borders a light bulb went off. It speaks to the plot, to the satiric allegory, and it also has a nice ring to it.
In the National Script Workshop, Iain really wanted me to consider the title Two Doors Down, because the characters say those words ... quite a lot. But I couldn't get the thought out of my head that, every time the characters said that phrase, Ron Howard would speak in voice over, "Hey! That's the name of the play!" So Little Borders stuck.
Is it based on true life characters – or are Elle and Steve composite characters?
The characters very much began as satiric constructs. They're manifestations of a fear of crime and Others, although these Others are in a state of flux – they are, at various points in the play, their Muslim neighbours, a barking dog, and the man and the woman who live two doors down. The first scene, in which Elle and Steve justify why they deserve to be a part of the community, and why they need the protection offered by the walls, shows the things they place values on – the things they see as signifiers of cultural sophistication. It's from this façade of preside that masks overwhelming fear that the characters were drawn.
Tell me something about the two characters Elle and Steve?
Elle begins the play in a state of heightened paranoia. Although Steve shares her fear to some extent, he begins by assuming the role of protector. As the play progresses, we see that he doesn't fit this alpha-male role in the slightest. For all his blustering machismo, when he is faced with any real threat, he is crippled with impotence. He spends the play battling with what he thinks it means to be a real man, versus the reality of who he actually is. The biggest conflict between comes from Steve slowly succumbing to the fear that consumes Elle from the opening scene. Amongst this, they also harbour secrets from each other that set each of them on separate journeys for much of the play.
A walled community is the conceit of the play?
The idea of physically walling yourself off from the outside world in order to protect yourself from it was infinitely fascinating to me. The more I read about gated communities the more perplexed and intrigued I became. It gives such a concrete metaphor to the idea of border protection in a larger sense, but it also suggests the modern age of fear of crime, of how we are all compelled to engage in whatever means necessary we can manage in order to ensure our own safety from an endless list of potential threats. By drawing a clear line between Us and Them, I was able to play with the fear of having that line breached, and the possibility that the real threat might be lurking very close to home.
Winning the Patrick White Playwright's Award, how does it feel?
I feel really humbled to be in the presence of such fantastic past winners. When Polly Rowe [Sydney Theatre Company Literary Manager] rang me to tell me I'd won, I think I said 'thank you' about twenty eight times. It was a very nice phone call.
And, I hope this award will lead to a production of the play in 2013. I think the development process has been instrumental in achieving a script that I'm happy with, but now I really just want the play to be seen by an audience. I think, for my own professional development, the experience of seeing how my work is received in production will be essential to my future practice as a playwright.
Tell me about the funniest thing that happened during the development of Little Borders.
I'm not sure if funny is quite the right word, but I did fall violently ill during the National Script Workshop. My brain was in overdrive for the first week, and I wasn't sleeping, so I ran myself into the ground. On the Friday, I woke up with a migraine and called in sick. From there, I got progressively worse until I couldn't move without needing to vomit.
My partner had just flown back to Adelaide, and rang all of my Sydney-based relatives to see if anyone could come help me. My Uncle Tony came to my hotel with fresh food, drinks, and Tulsi tea. I also rang for a doctor who sent hotel staff to purchase a ridiculous number of medications for pain, congestion and nausea. He also lectured me about fluid intake. In the end, I only missed one day of the development and spent my weekend in bed. I think I still have the doctor's receipt somewhere. I should really find it and to claim half the cost back on Medicare.
Your NIDA course, how is the course aiding – or indeed challenging – your writer's development?
The course is fantastic. I've learnt so much in the past few months, not only about the history and possibilities of the theatrical form, but also about my own creative process. I think this is something I'll never stop learning about, and it's an incredibly challenging thing to get my head around, particularly when it's not working.
But the head of our course, Jane Bodie, is incredibly supportive and inspiring, and there is such a strong sense of collegiality amongst all of the writers. We're all there to bounce ideas off each other and swap writing as we go, and if we're struggling with something, chances are someone else is struggling with the exact same thing, so we're all there to support each other through it.
What words of advice would you proffer a young or new playwright writing their first play?
One of the most useful things I've found repeated by a number of our teachers this year is "writing a play is hard." There is something incredibly comforting in this thought. It gets me through writing a bad first draft when I need to, because I can remind myself that the first draft is only one step in a bigger process. And, even when it's tough, it's worth persevering, because eventually it will fall into place.
I think the other piece of advice; advice that I keep needing to remind myself of at the moment, is to return to what excites you about the play you're writing, and let that excitement feed into the work. Hopefully, it will become infectious.
Patricia Cornelius (The Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellow) and Phillip Kavanagh (The 2011 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award Winner)
Photo by Grant Sparkes-Carroll
|Written by Paul Andrew|
|Friday, 08 June 2012 07:49|
The winner of The Patrick White Playwrights' Fellowship was announced at a special event at Sydney Theatre Company on Friday 18 May, 2012. Patricia Cornelius was honoured with the year-long $25,000 Fellowship which is designed to acknowledge one individual for their commitment and dedication to Australian playwriting throughout their career.
In 2006 Patricia Cornelius won the Patrick White Playwrights' Award with her play Do Not Go Gentle. Other plays include The Call (Melbourne Workers Theatre, Griffin), Love (Hothouse/Malthouse) Fever (co-written, Melbourne Workers Theatre), Boy Overboard (ATYP) and Who's Afraid of the Working Class? (Co-written with Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves and Irine Vela for Melbourne Workers Theatre).
Paul Andrew speaks to Patricia Cornelius.
An early theatre memory?
I rarely went to the theatre when I was growing up. Very occasionally I went with a neighbour to a big extravaganza like Oklahoma and I marvelled at them, I remember, I thought they were so grand, the music and the big sets and I think I found them quite joyous.
Then again there were very few joys growing up in the 50s. In year 12 I went with girlfriends to the city and saw Hair and it blew me away. So courageous and out there. I remember afterwards three rather daggy but exalted girls screeching Hairrrr at the top of our lungs as we walked down Bourke street.
What had a greater impact on me was later again when I was at Rusden State College and doing drama and had gone with other students to see a play in a weird and dark space that wasn't a theatre some place in Carlton, in an old factory space. I was afraid. I was so out of my depth and yet captivated by the actors who moved strangely as if possessed and I felt mesmerised and totally bamboozled by it but learned that there was other glorious way for the body to express.
Is there one playwright or play that continues to inspire you?
I can still recite the opening of Jean Genet's The Maids. I once played Claire and the play sits with me still. It's a delight. It's treacherous. It is a wonderful work for actors. It is a fantastic work to hold dear as a playwright. What you see is never what you get. The layers and complexities in character and in the story take you into deep and difficult places and yet it's never ponderous or heavy.
Did you have a teacher or mentor early in your career that helped you immeasurably?
It took awhile for me to find my footing as a playwright. I was shy of announcing myself as such for a long time. When I worked with Melbourne Workers Theatre, I met many playwrights and other theatre practitioners and they became great collaborators and friends.
It was a time when we met and talked and argued and got drunk on the wonder of making new work. I rely on them still to read or listen to my work at its early stages in the knowledge that thankfully, and sometimes, unfortunately, will give me honest and critical feedback. It's so important to find colleagues like these when you write for the theatre, to find like-minded artists who share a common understanding of the theatre as a place of both the joyous and the miserable.
You are a co-founding member of Melbourne Worker's Theatre?
I was a co-founder with Steve Payne and Michael White. Steve and I had worked together as actors at Arena Theatre Company and he introduced me to Michael. We met and talked about the kind of theatre that would match our political concerns.
We wanted to create works that would address the attacks on trades unions and works that were about giving voice to the marginalised and the working class. We wanted to do this but without being an agit-propagandist company. We wanted the stories to be rich and vibrant, and contradictory and complex. We wonderfully wanted a lot. I wanted to make theatre that was punchy, that was contemporary, and that was about stuff that got ignored and yet was filled with dramatic and powerful stuff.
And what is most satisfying to you now about the Melbourne Worker's Theatre on reflection?
The most important thing was to be part of a company that shared the same ideals. We wanted to make a theatre that mattered. You'd think that would be what most theatre companies wanted but it's not.
Often theatre companies make or present theatre that doesn't matter to anyone. What matters is if their subscription audience is happy. I don't get it. To think on what matters is difficult. To think on how you make theatre without becoming didactic (mind you I love a bit of didacticism nowadays) is the challenge.
The other important thing about being part of a company like MWT is the commitment to making the play work. It's economically driven in that the company was poor and could only invest in a small number of works in a year and they had to succeed, everybody pulled together to make them work, and mostly they did. This kind of commitment is rare now. New works needs nourishment and persistent attention to make them fine.
How has your long-term involvement in MWT served you well Patricia?
I did a kind of playwrighting apprenticeship with MWT. It gave me great support to deal with huge and irregular problems with plays that would travel to different workplaces and to audiences who spoke languages other than English, and who were not necessarily polite when they had their lunch interrupted.
The performances had edge, they also had to have an authentic voice and to hit the truth about the experience of working class life or we would've been hissed and booed and sent on our way. I write mostly for theatre spaces now. If only the audiences could be moved enough to hiss and boo.
I have just finished reading your 2009 play The Call, and was mindful of your background while reading it, such a passionate story about finding Islam. What do you adore most about that play now on reflection?
The Call was inspired by the plight of David Hicks. I wanted to write about this rather ordinary man who dreamed of himself as an adventurer who wanted to be part of something that asked something of him. I was interested in the call.
The call to adventure, to the exotic, to the unknown, to God, anything that might get you away from the tedium of the factory floor and domestic life. I also felt, like so many, that David Hicks had been dealt a mean and backward blow by our government and wanted to examine that as well.
Tell me about something that is vivid for you now?
When you write a lot of plays you notice there are certain preoccupations that emerge in the works quite often. One I know, a simple but quite important one to me, is the yearning that we all have for a life that is more vibrant, more satisfying and more decent. I think that yearning is sometimes beyond articulation, it is more a sense that there's more to be had and if only it could articulated it could be achieved. I think that the world does not allow its people enough, give us much scope to dream.
I still write with a class consciousness but there are many things that I think need to be said about Australia. This is the country I live in and there are many things that are crap about it. I want to face up to how crap we are. I don't want us to be crap. The most important concern is to address the unrelenting prejudice against Indigenous Australians and to disturb the continued view of ourselves as decent white people separate from our Asian neighbours.
As a politically mindful artist, what fuels your discontent right now, and how can this be changed for the better?
Theatre is the place to unsettle people. It's the place to bother them. It's about drama, it's about conflict, feeling threatened in terms of what you think. It should scratch at you. It should provoke. And as much as that seems uncomfortable, I believe that it's the very stuff we love about theatre. We like to be agitated. To be entertained is great but to be entertained and thrilled or shocked or rocked or disturbed is just wonderful.
Tell me a little about the work you are developing now?
I'm am just about to finish the first draft of a play called Big Heart and it's looking at cultural and other forms of identity. I can't talk about it properly yet. It's too fresh.
Winning the Patrick White Fellowship is such an honour – what does it mean to you Patricia in terms of your career so far, and how does it assist you with your passion for and commitment to assisting and mentoring other industry professionals?
The fellowship is a wonderful acknowledgement of my work. It feels absolutely amazing to gain an award which honours Patrick White, the playwright. When you discover how difficult it was for him to have his plays produced it is somewhat heartening. It's what we know too of Dorothy Hewett and others who struggled to have their works put on. It's heartening because one can so easily feel that what they write is of no value, that it's not popular or just plainly not good enough when really it has always been a struggle. We don't honour our artists enough and we don't support them. We still suffer the boring old cultural cringe and choose the tried and true works from Broadway and London before we consider our own. We're stupid sometimes.
Patricia Cornelius (The Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellow) and Phillip Kavanagh (The 2011 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award Winner)
Photo by Grant Sparkes-Carroll