Asides: On Writers and Writing and Sanctuaries for Ideas

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David Burton

When I was in year seven, I went to the Brisbane Writers Festival to meet John Marsden. I had never heard of a writers’ festival before, but I was instantly bewitched. It was its own perfect type of theatre. The bounds between audience and artist are a pre-packaged intimacy, having already spent hours together alone, with the writer whispering to the reader in their own private tongue. It’s a special, introverted community, a sanctuary for intellectualism and ideas.

As you may be able to tell, I was rather taken with it all.

Many years on, I’m working behind the scenes, as BWF’s Associate Producer. This means I’m part of the programming team, producing hundreds of events that happen in the hot spot (the 4th to the 8th of September), and all year round.

I’m one of dozens of cultural artists who are in a gap. My background is in playwrighting. I’ve grown up from ‘emerging’ and am some way from ‘full-time established’ and am in the ‘weird in-betweeny bit’ (some industry jargon for you there). Many artists venture into a programming or cultural producer role during this time. It’s rich with its own rewards. Continue reading Asides: On Writers and Writing and Sanctuaries for Ideas

Witness Relocation and Me

David Burton

I asked David Burton if he would write a piece for Greenroom on the recent experience he had with the Witness Relocation workshop held as part of QTC’s Greenhouse Program. Dave very generously agreed to do this and to share his thoughts on the writing process involved with the NY dance drama company.

On day four of a two week workshop experience I was getting itchy. I’d been brought in to write – but write what? Dan Safer, the artistic director of New York dance theatre company Witness Relocation, was anything but itchy. He was relaxed, at home and full of humour. But by the end of next week, we had to make something out of this group of fifteen strangers. I was the ‘writer’, Dan was the ‘director’, Kaz (also from the company) was in charge of tech design, and everyone else were ‘performers’. These labels were immensely slippery. It was really more like a messy pile of creativity, with Dan at the top, poking his head out and looking around. Continue reading Witness Relocation and Me

Review: Loco Maricon Amor – The Danger Ensemble at Metro Arts

Loco Maricon Amor is a tragic love story. But it’s also mind-bending, funny, shocking, colorful, brutal and undeniably surreal. We meet Salvador Dali: famed Surrealist painter and respected God of the visual arts (Chris Beckey), who is married to the beautifully glamorous Gala (Caroline Dunphy). But when Dali crosses paths with Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet and theatrical artist (Thomas Hutchins), the two fall rapidly and passionately in love. A doomed love triangle ensues. Think you’ve seen it before? Trust me, you haven’t.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Loco Maricon Amor demands respect. It’s a 100-minute marathon of song, dance and theatre and it’s beautifully energetic.

Loco Maricon Amor deserves respect. It’s a 100-minute marathon of song, dance and theatre and it’s beautifully energetic.

Director and designer Steven Mitchell Wright has led his troupe of performers and co-devisers to an astonishing destination. I’m having trouble thinking of another piece of theatre that has made me feel quite the same way. Continue reading Review: Loco Maricon Amor – The Danger Ensemble at Metro Arts

Review: The Harbinger – La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse

Image: Kathleen Iron – Photography: Al Caeiro

It seems the Dead Puppet’s Society’s success was written in the stars. In just a few years they’ve leap-frogged from independent stages to their first main house production. During that time they’ve managed to build an unmistakable aesthetic and style, and (I would guess) a sustainable audience as well. Their latest outing, a revised mainhouse production of The Harbinger for La Boite Theatre Company, is almost a guaranteed success.

The Harbinger was part of La Boite Indie last year. I attended that show as well, and while I appreciated the mastery of the puppets, the show had a lot of problems. I was pleased to discover this version of the show is very different. It has similar genetics, but it’s almost an entirely new play.

It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch.

Chased by an anonymous and dark figure, a young girl (Kathleen Iron) takes shelter in an old book shop. It’s owned by local curmudgeon Old Albert. The girl is amazed at Old Albert’s books (objects that are no longer found in this decaying world), and pesters him for stories.  Slowly, Old Albert’s past unwinds itself, and we discover the romance at the heart of his bitterness. As with the company’s past works, it’s a a dark and predictable fairytale. But the real joy of these shows is, of course, in the puppets.

Old Albert is a gigantic puppet, handled by four actresses, led by Barbara Lowing. Old Albert spends the majority of the play sitting in his wheelchair. He is the absolute star of the show. While he’s no doubt a spectacle, I found him extremely difficult to connect to. His head (from what I could see) was only moveable at the neck, jaw and eyelids. Old Albert is called upon to express many nuanced emotional states, and his size and mechanics seem to restrict him from doing so. I found myself looking to Barbara Lowing, placed just behind the head and providing Old Albert’s voice. I’ve worked with Barbara extensively before, and found her performance to be predictably astute and generous.

Old Albert is the pinnacle of an absolutely sumptuous and gorgeous design. Led by David Morton and assisted by Noni Harrison (costume design), this is a beautifully defined world. This play is consistently wonderful to look at, supported by rich lighting and sound. (Provided by Whitney Eglington and Tone Black Productions) Co-directed and co-written by David Morton and Matthew Ryan, the staging is frequently ingenious and surprising, and is completely integrated into the design.

The five local actresses (yay!) are a tightly synchronized ensemble that deliver fantastic performances. Kathleen Iron is comedic and cute as the young girl, and plays off Lowing well. The remaining three cast members (Niki-J Price, Anna Straker and Giema Contini) are given full voice in Old Albert’s memories, where smaller and equally spectacular puppets come out to play. Price and Straker are particularly accomplished as the young, doomed lovers.

There are some core problems at the heart of The Harbinger. The piece lacks enough forward momentum to keep an audience fully compelled. The tension of the piece is reliant on the anonymous and dark dystopia outside, personalised by a cloaked figure. This is terrifying at first, but the stakes are never raised, and as the play goes on it is barely mentioned. So we come to rely on the young girl’s curiosity to keep us interested. Her suspicions are occasionally dark, but these threats are never realised, and so lengthy interactions between her and the enormous puppet seem to repeat themselves and lack direction. It’s a shame, because a thrilling narrative is all that’s stopping this show from being a truly wonderful night out.

Nevertheless, you should go see it. It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch. It’s another exciting development in the growth of the unmistakably recognisable Dead Puppet Society.

The Harbinger plays at The Roundhouse. For session times and dates, check La Boite Theatre’s website.

Review: Home – Nest Ensemble and La Boite Indie at Roundhouse Theatre

Just to the left of centre, but endearingly universal, sits Home, the new production from the Nest Ensemble, and the latest addition to the La Boite Indie season. There are many astonishing parts to the production, not least of which is that Home is the second outing for the Nest Ensemble in the last six months. It was only in May that they premiered Eve as part of Metro Arts Independents. For those that see both, it represents an interesting discussion about the difference between the two venues and their indie programs.

Home premiered last year with Metro Arts. I didn’t catch it then, but I’m grateful to see it now. The premise is simple. Margi Brown Ash tells us stories from her life as an actor, wife and mother. She travels to Egypt, New York, Sydney and Brisbane. At the heart of every tale are questions of belonging. These are stories you want to hear. Continue reading Review: Home – Nest Ensemble and La Boite Indie at Roundhouse Theatre

Review: He’s Seeing Other People Now – Metro Arts | The Independents at Sue Benner Theatre

Image: Katy Curtain and Norman Doyle – Photography: Amelia Dowd

In a city that looks remarkably like Brisbane, cameras are watching your every move. Riots are escalating beyond control. More and more people are disobeying curfew. In an unremarkable cinema, a political (or pornographic?) film is shown to an ideologically divided crowd. It’s the beginning of an evening that will spin out of control.

This is the world of He’s Seeing Other People Now, written by theatrical rising (and shooting) star and actress Anna McGahan. This is Ms McGahan’s first work as a playwright, and it’s directed by well-known local emerging director Melanie Wild.

Overall, the play is dangerously under-developed. The ideas and characters that are presented here seem half-formed and often superficial. Navigating the expositional landscape is difficult. I think the central premise of the play is that the citizens aren’t allowed to touch, but I’m still uncertain.

Unfortunately, Ms Wild’s direction does little to help the audience out. The two performers are asked to play a variety of characters. Some are recurring, others don’t appear more than once. Figuring out who is who is a confusing process. In addition, the staging means a small and two-dimensional performance space. What should be a physically tense hour ends up not packing a punch.

But all of that out of the way, this is a play you should see. I need to admit a bias here: I’m very good friends with optikal bloc, the team behind the projection design. This bias unfortunately means that you may interpret my following comments as disingenuous. I promise I’m being sincere when I say that this is one of the slickest audio visual designs a Brisbane stage has seen in years, let alone for an independent theatre program. The transitions between scenes are sublime and are the hi-light of the production.

The lighting design from Daniel Anderson is beautifully under-stated and intelligent. Phil Slade’s compositions are predictably accomplished and lush. Jessica Ross’ design binds these elements together into a seamless technical package that is simply outstanding.

Norman Doyle and Katy Curtain, the two performers, do their best with what is given to them. Katy Curtain does particularly well to find fantastically comic moments for her characters that give life and badly needed energy to scenes. Barbara Lowing and Lucas Stibbard provide well-performed, funny voice-overs.

There’s a strong theme of meta-theatricality running through the play that I can’t really comment on without spoiling wonderfully surprising elements of the show. The show’s attempts to didactically link its themes to reality lack a clear direction and purpose. I will say this: the final five minutes of this show are worth the ticket price alone. It’s ambitious. Successful or not, it’s sure to be a conversational landmark within the theatre industry for years to come. He’s Seeing Other People Now is sure to start an interesting debate about the limits and purpose of meta-theatre.

Go and see this show if you like to be surprised and you’re part of the Brisbane theatrical community. Being theatre-literate isn’t compulsory, but it certainly helps. If you’re a theatre student, you should absolutely see this piece for its important and unique contribution to new Queensland works. The play’s deficiencies are compensated with a short run time and exquisite technical design. He’s Seeing Other People Now will certainly be talked about.

He’s Seeing Other People Now by Anna McGahan plays at Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre till 21 July. Details on website.