Tell us about The Blue Marquessa. The Blue Marquessa came about when applications for the Street Theatre's Made In Canberra program opened. I hadn't done a theatre show in a while, so I was keen to apply, but didn't really have a show in mind. So I took a different angle, and decided that rather than pitching an idea for a show I would bring together the artists that I would be the most excited to work with, and see what we would create together. I loved the idea of picking artists who I thought were doing great work, but across any art form.
What have been some of the challenges of working with such a diverse group of artists? The main challenge has been the different angles that we've all been coming from. We work in different mediums, but more than that, we work in different styles, looks and we like different things. However early in the process we brought up director and dramaturge Gail Kelly from Melbourne, and she has been amazing at keeping us on track and helping us collate our ideas into something that really reflects us all.
How is the show structured? The show is based on a cabaret or variety performance, with an MC running the show and a “band” playing all the music live, and a series of different acts. However it is more than a variety performance, it is a cohesive ensemble show, with ensemble numbers, characters interacting within other people's acts, and interrupting or helping out. It's also very interactive and hands on. It's okay - no audience volunteers, but the action is happening around, on top of, above the audience, so it will be a very immersive experience.
For the uninitiated, what is multi-art or cross-art performance? The beauty in this kind of performance for the audience is that you get everything a variety show has to offer: the spectacle of circus, the beauty of dance, the entertainment of comedy and banter and the emotional journey that music offers.
How do you classify your work as an artist? With circus in particular that’s a question we often ask ourselves - are we artists, or entertainers? Often I would classify the work I do as entertainment - thrills, spectacle - but it's shows like this where I get to do work that I think of as art. […] I like my performance with a bit of dark comedy, a hint of the macabre but with real old-fashioned spectacle and at least a moment of real honest beauty. If I can make a performance with each of these components then I think that’s a great work.
Highwire Entertainment presents The Blue Marquessa at the Street Theatre from Thursday December 2 to Saturday 4 at 7pm & 9pm nightly, as part of Made In Canberra 2010.
It's Alice Springs in the year 2039. A fish falls from the sky and lands at the feet of Gabriel York, a young man in the middle of a search for his missing, and probably dead, father. This is strange enough in itself, except that eighty years earlier, his grandfather predicted that in 2039 fish would fall from the sky - heralding a great flood that would overcome the human race.
Thus begins When the Rain Stops Falling, the most recent play from writer Andrew Bovell.The play has received endless acclaim both domestically and internationally since its debut in Adelaide in 2008. This month Canberra audiences will finally get a chance to experience the beautifully funny, sad and cryptic production before it ends its run in Alice Springs in only a few weeks time.
Most notably, the play has received grand reviews for its stunning audio and visual production. Bovell wrote the script in collaboration with and simultaneously to the set design by Hossein Valamanesh, lighting by Niklas Pajanti and piano score by Quentin Grant.
"In the early days, we all sat around together and did a lot of improvising", explains the play's director Chris Drummond, a week out from the show's Canberra debut. "Andrew was in the middle of all of that – he took our ideas and went and turned them into a play. It's an unusual production in that a lot of it existed before the script did. But we wanted the set and the score to do more than just interpret Andrew's play – we wanted the script, the music, and the design to be one big conversation. My role in it all was to be the conduit to weave it all into one clear, coherent production."
Bovell will be familiar to most as the writer of Speaking in Tongues, his most successful play to date, adapted in 2001 for the film Lantana. Undoubtedly, some audience members will come to the show with Lantana as the only yardstick against which they will judge When the Rain Stops Falling. However, Drummond downplays any expectations people may have when seeing a production directly linked with such a lauded film.
"To be honest, I can't say what's actually going on in people's heads", he admits. "Ultimately though, regardless of any expectations, I think they'll notice the similarities, and in that respect, all comparisons will be very favourable. In all Andrew's stories it takes a while for the pieces to fall in place, and this is the case here also."
Speaking of film, I push Drummond to speculate on the chances of When the Rain…ever being made into a film. Speaking in Tongues performed incredibly well prior to being turned into Lantana, however with the swag of awards When the Rain... has picked up, along with productions of the script being produced in Auckland, London, New York and Germany, it's fair to say that it has met, if not surpassed the success of Speaking in Tongues.
"I think that one day it will definitely become a film. As a theatre director I've never considered asking Andrew about it, but I know he's been approached from a number of people. For the moment I don't think he's ready to do it because he's got other projects that he's focussing on. But one day, we will see it."
The play's aforementioned production across the globe speaks strongly to the universality of its messages and themes, and the skill of Bovell in communicating these in such a uniquely Australian context. So often Australian art – predominantly cinema, theatre, literature and music – suffers from the catch-22 of either being branded as overly influenced by its North American or European counterparts, or conversely being “Australian” to such a degree that its international appeal is limited. When the Rain… however, has defied this tradition by addressing themes and messages that are universally appreciable, doing so in a beautiful, uniquely Australian setting without having recourse to the kitsch, tacky elements of Australian “identity” that (we think) endear us to foreign audiences.
"There are certain things that Australians will appreciate more, in particular with regard to the geography", Drummond says. "Australians understand that you can go to the Coorong and have only three families living in the space of 90 km, and that in such a huge, vast area you will still only run into people you know. In Europe, they don't appreciate the reality of that – they think it's just coincidence. However the themes, the stories and the characters are all universally appreciable, and that's the play's strongest drawcard."
One such theme is the ability to acknowledge the link between past and future; the realisation that the past must be used as a lesson in order to change the world for the better. "That particular theme definitely struck me and has resonated strongly with me throughout the play's life" Drummond says. "The play was written in the post-September 11, War in Iraq era. It was a pretty despairing and depressing time. The play responds to that despair, and stresses that the pattern of life must be changed in order to not repeat history; to respond to the past and live a different life in the future. It's very eloquent in conveying that, in a way that only Bovell can accomplish"
When the Rain Stops Falling plays at the Playhouse from Wednesday November 10 to Saturday November 13. Tickets available from the Canberra Theatre Centre.
Canberra Youth Theatre’s new production is a site-specific performance installation in the National Library of Australia. In Retrieval there’ll be no sitting still in theatres; instead, you’ll travel deep into the library, encountering dark nooks in a heroic quest.
“The story is that the audience is called to go into the building and retrieve as much knowledge as possible before the building is completely destroyed by moths. It becomes almost an individual spiritual journey for the audience as they enter eight spaces across five floors—some of them publically inaccessible spaces that no one has been in before,” explains CYT’s Artistic Director Karla Conway.
The performance has been fully devised by CYT actors and was an 18-month process in total. It’s interactive and features hybrid performance elements, including original music composed by Cathy Petocz.
“It’s been a 360-degree turnaround from what we thought we were going to create through to what we are going to present. We created a new narrative for today, exploring our inability to sift through the clutter of life to find what’s important and preserve it—be it knowledge, family, global events or climate change” Conway says.
“Something you can really read into this are issues around social injustice and what results from a lack of justice, over-consumption and waste. All those things have fed really beautifully into the narrative of a quest for knowledge before it is all gone.”
It seems like dystopian stuff, with the style of thought provoking sci-fi you might associate with Doctor Who. Conway says that in the development of Retrieval they did draw on many cultural references, and although the Doctor was one of them it certainly wasn’t central.
The partnership with the National Library has been a dream come true for CYT.
“At the library they have been absolutely fantastic—I can’t even begin to describe how open they’ve been to letting us take over their building. Every time we throw around some wacky idea they just jump on it and say yes. We’ve been able to really dream creatively and bring that to fruition, not be hampered by realities or restrictions. They’ve been with us every step of the way, they understand what we’re trying to achieve and we’re all really excited about it.”
Conway reminds us all that it’s not just for young people.
“For me it’s the spectacle event of the Canberra theatre calendar this year, so I think everyone should come. A broad audience from eight to 80 will enjoy the story we have to tell, and it’s an important message. Learn how to stop living in a bubble, stop over consuming, realise we’re a global community and come together to make a difference locally, nationally and globally.”
Retrieval runs from Friday November 19 to Sunday December 5 at the National Library of Australia, Parkes Place.
When I landed this assignment I smiled. I had met Paul J Murphy two years ago at my local (more like he approached us and started joking) and much jocularity has occurred since. His previous incarnations involved stand up comedy and getting high with a Cessna’s joy stick in his hands, but now the Canberra-based Murphy is taking his first turn as writer and producer and appearing in his second acting role. He’s working in conjunction with writer and Director Brad Diebert and Hero Films International, and together they are the first locals to produce a commercial film release in 40 years.
In association with SilverSun Pictures, Hobby Farm is set in 1970s outer Sydney. Julian (Murphy) is rewarded by the crime boss (Gerard Kennedy, amongst greats as Travis McMahon and Vince Sorenti) and sent to the Hobby Farm for R&R. The farm is an underworld pleasure palace of drugs, gambling and sex slavery and Julian is taken aback by the brutality, bringing his own demons back to light. He aims to make things right, redeem his past and save the day, all set to a wicked score by Andrew Giddings (Jethro Tull).
Murphy filled me in:
What to expect? Hmm. It’s a serious, dark drama, so we lightened it up with the action scenes. There’s shoot-outs, classic cars, babes and high stakes poker. The old Kenmore Asylum at Goulburn was a creepy but excellent location to shoot.
The story’s inspiration? Hmm, I’m still unsure, I just wanted to make a cool movie about a bad guy going good, a knight in shining armour sort of thing, with me as the hero.
What’s best about film making, besides groupies? I am still to get the groupies. It’s a lotta fun to make movies, from writing the story, casting, the challenges of production, balancing everything and putting it all on the line. It’s tough - in 2008 we won the “Best International Drama” category at the New York International Film & Video Festival and still had competition to release since then.
Plans? Well, there’s many possibilities with big names here and in LA. But so much gets planned and never made that only once distribution has begun can you count your chickens.
Your hobbies? Mine is expensive and can’t be done half-heartedly. Flying - I love to fly. Also computer games, but since I can’t write code, I make films. Best of all - friends, cracking jokes and bad impressions of Arni.
Distributed by Cameron Miller through Verdict Entertainment Group, Hobby Farm will see its premiere at the Metro Boronia Cinema, Melbourne, on November 17. It then opens to the public in Melbourne on November 18 and Adelaide on November 21, and can be seen at Limelight Cinema in Canberra from December 2. Check out www.hobbyfarmthemovie.com.au