Review: King Lear – Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC at QPAC

As I walk into the Playhouse Theatre for King Lear’s Brisbane opening night, I must admit I’m a little cautious.  A successful play that runs over three hours is an enigma.  If any play can do it, however, it’s King Lear, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.  Perhaps I still had Queensland Theatre Company’s other recent production of Waiting for Godot in my mind, but I’m reminded that King Lear is the closest to existentialism that Shakespeare gets.  It’s a play where ‘nothing’ is a central theme, and where the protagonist deals with his own mortality with a tragic descent into madness.  The play is violent, heart-wrenching and devastating.  At least it’s supposed to be.  I’m afraid to say this latest production with John Bell in the lead doesn’t quite hit the mark. Continue reading Review: King Lear – Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC at QPAC

Letters from a Voluntary Exile #2: … and so it goes …

GUEST POST: Nick Backstrom is an actor and writer, formerly based in Brisbane and more recently in Melbourne. He also sings, teaches and directs, though rarely at the same time. Nick’s Melbourne relocation forms the basis of his occasional posts to Greenroom. He would be delighted to respond to any comments or queries made here.

‘Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down’ as the old spiritual goes.  How do we describe these spirituals nowadays?  Negro was the adjective of my childhood, but that’s at least three PC language generations ago. Slave, I suppose, would be the most accurate.  The adjective is important.  But I digress…

My last letter discussed how much more I was enjoying the audition process. This is a new step for me. Tom McSweeney told me as part of a class many years ago – my final year of uni in fact – that my job was now auditioning, and that I should see auditions as a chance to act, and not as a nerve-jangling job interview.  It’s taken me that long for that simple idea to penetrate my admittedly thick skull.  It is, in modern parlance, an empowering idea.

I did a workshop in auditioning last week with Ann Fay of Maura Fay and Gary Davy of Gary Davy Casting (UK). While there were no startling revelations or ideas, it was good to hear the casting experience from the other side and to watch them work with actors and take note of the advice they had to offer.  This was a free event organised by Equity – join the Union, people!

Fired by confidence and renewed focus, I went to my audition the next day for a very minor role in a very large production.  I had three scenes (only one of which was the character in question, the other two for roles I would understudy) and of course, I had learned all my lines, watched the film of the show so I knew the context – better to read the script of course, but not possible in this case – had thought about three possible approaches to each scene, vocally warm, physically warm and raring to go.  The auditions were running about 15 minutes late, not bad in the overall scheme of things.  I went in at about 2pm; I was out on the street at five past.

I was only introduced to two of the three auditioners.  I didn’t even get to do the whole of the first scene.

I had heard the two women at the sign-in table, looking forward to  Hairspray auditions, that would be, and I quote “real auditions.”  The warning signs were all there.

So it goes.

As it was a very minor role, I am certain that they were looking for a visual, and as long as I could do an American accent and remember lines, all the rest was how I would fit into the cast as a physical presence.  So they had indeed seen all they needed to see in those three lines (out of four) that I was able to say.

Still… I felt pretty low afterwards.  The rehearsal notice had said to be prepared to hang around for a couple of hours afterwards just in case. Turned out this was a standard clause for dance auditions.  I didn’t know that and, having hoped I would be asked to hang for a couple of hours, walking along Chapel St with an empty afternoon ahead of me was not my happiest moment.

I have discussed this with my agent and other actors and discover this is a fairy regular experience for a musical audition. Well, I guess it just goes to show that we live in an industry that at times cannot show simple respect for its members, and we accept that as normal.

We live in an industry that at times cannot show simple respect for its members, and we accept that as normal

Also, another city is not a magic remedy for the dispiriting experiences that actors go through.

Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.

Letters from a voluntary exile: Melbourne

GUEST POST: Nick Backstrom is an actor and writer, formerly based in Brisbane and more recently in Melbourne.  He also sings, teaches and directs, though rarely at the same time.  Nick’s Melbourne relocation will form the basis of his occasional posts to Greenroom.  He would be delighted to respond to any comments or queries made here.

Like many before me, and more to come, I have been lured away from Brisbane to Melbourne for – well, more work really. That and a summer that doesn’t last half a year, leaving you living in a slick of your own sweat.

I’ve been here a little over a month.  In a previous sojourn south, made for the purpose, I was fortunate to get the services of a very good agent.  Already I have had two auditions for a major TV series.  They were very different animals to the auditions I had in Brisbane.  Being in Melbourne, of course, means you’re nearer the source.  In practice this means reading for better parts, with better information and talking to the actual directors.  Casting agents do their best, but it is another level away from the person who will make the decision, another degree of separation.

Both my audition scripts were at least four pages of dialogue, involving two scenes.  The last audition I did in Brisbane was eight words.  This gave me a little more to work with.  It also meant I could give the character a journey, and the audition actually felt like acting.  Also I was able to go to the studio beforehand and read the entire episode to give the scenes context.  I felt so much better informed, and better armed going into the audition.

The audition itself was different as well.  It’s still you, a reader and a camera in a room but working with the director, giving you feedback and direction.  I was suddenly aware of a weight of expectation from the director that I have not felt before.  Many times we are told that the directors are hoping you are the person they are going to cast.   For the first time in a film/TV audition I had that sense.  I wasn’t there to fill a quota to satisfy requirements from the State Government for money, I was there because they thought I might be the one they want.

In short I felt in making the move to Melbourne I had taken a big step up in getting worthwhile, well-paid roles on TV.

In short, I felt in making the move to Melbourne I had taken a big step up in getting worthwhile, well-paid roles on TV. Kudos and more power to series such as Sea Patrol which genuinely audition and actually cast Queensland actors in good roles, but they still remain the exception.

I am slowly getting out and about and seeing theatre and meeting theatre makers.  I have an audition coming up for a role in a major production.  Of course, we miss more auditions than we get, but you’ve got to be in it to win.  I’ll let you know more, as more happens.

Love and mercy to you and your friends.

WTF! It’s another theatre festival!!

GUEST POST: Lucas Stibbard makes theatre, sometimes as an actor, sometimes as a director/facilitator, sometimes as a teacher and, memorably, once as a stage-manager. He has done so for himself as well as for companies such as Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company, State Theatre Company of South Australia, La Boite, Metro Arts, DeBase Productions, Hothouse Theatre, Kite, Queensland University of Technology, the Aboriginal Center for the Performing Arts, the Queensland Arts Council and Windmill Theatre Company. Lucas is one-quarter of the Escapists whose shows include Attack of the Attacking Attackers!, boy girl wall, and the in-development Revenge of the Revenging Revengers!. Lucas studied at USQ. For context, some of his favourite shows have been – Gatz (Elevator Repair Service), Anna Karenina (Shared Experience), C-90 (Daniel Kitson), Roadkill (Splintergroup) and 11&12 (Theatre des Bouffes du Nord) – so if you didn’t enjoy those you probably shouldn’t trust his (highly subjective) reviews. He is partial to cardigans, gin and his wife.  Follow him on Twitter @LucasStibbard

WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL at Brisbane’s The Powerhouse

Is there anything the Powerhouse doesn’t want to take a crack at? Comedy Festival? Check. Queer Film Festival? Check. Jazz Festival? Check. Cabaret Festival? Well they did put on something that looked suspiciously like one when the real Cabaret fest moved … anyway point is, adding to the litany of cultural extravaganzas offered by the Brisbane Powerhouse we have the World Theatre Festival, or WTF if you want to look edgy and impress the kids (it’s almost swearing ooooohhhh!).

Starting last week and continuing its programming till Sunday, the Powerhouse is playing host to a number of exciting acts from around the country (ok here and Melbourne) and around the world (well, the UK).  So I guess you could call it the “Theatre from here, Melbourne and the UK festival,” but it doesn’t have the same edgy-ness, does it? Continue reading WTF! It’s another theatre festival!!

World Theatre Day Goes Digital Again

This is the second year in which theatre lovers around the world have used online social networking apps to hook up, promote theatre, and have a generally good time celebrating the art form we all love.  World Theatre Day is held on March 27 each year, and last year Brisbane companies joined in with gusto.  This year, the global organisers are hoping more groups and individuals will come on board again for what turns out to be a very long day of celebrations.

In March 2009 NZ and Australia were among the first in the world to begin the global party on the stroke of midnight.  As the day extended others joined in from round the world and posted up images, audio files and videos via the WTD Tumblr.  This year there’s talk of Skype-hookups and live streaming of improv performances, even a bit of  invisible theatre on a couple of contentious political issues right now; someone wants to have a crack at internet censorship in Australia, for example.  Now that we all have smart phones, this is a distinct possibility.

The WTD blog site is the hub of all this activity, and it’s here that you can find ideas for your group as well as to read the history of World Theatre Day, which is sponsored by the International Theatre Institute (ITI).  By the way, it’s a tradition to have the WTD address (which is written each year by a prominent theatre person) read out before performances, alternatively to be posted in foyers and company bulletin boards on the day, or just generally acknowledged on theatre’s ‘one day of the year.’  Last year’s was written by Augusto Boal.  You can read Boal’s address on the ITI page.  I think Augusto would have approved of all this global networking – especially the invisible improv and political theatre that some UK and Aussie groups are cooking up.

This year a WTD Facebook page had over 500 800 fans the last time I looked. Why don’t you become one as well, and pass on the word via your own networks.  It would be wonderful to have theatre in Queensland well represented on Saturday March 27 for World Theatre Day.

Of course WTD has a Twitter stream @WTD10 and a hashtag #WTD10 if you post there.

The organising group had a ball last year in our own necks of the woods, enough to want to see the online celebrations of WTD continue, so we dipped our toes into the Google Wave app for our initial meetups earlier this year.  The upshot is that we as the dealers give you the ideas and the forums to publish, but you’re the pushers – you get the word out and do what you do in your own way.   Check out the blog, the FB, Twitter, and let us know what you are planning.  It’s even better if you integrate WTD into something you’re already working on; everyone is flat out, and the idea is not to do something additional, but to mark the day and share your celebrations.

Over to you!

PS   You can read a bit about how I got involved in a post on my own blog Groundling from last year.

Theatre conference? You want to be in Cats or something?

This post was contributed by Xanthe Coward, a COE09 conference delegate. Many thanks also to Xanthe for her live-tweeting during the sessions. You can catchup with all the hashtagged contributions to the Twitter stream by searching for #coe09

Why are doing a theatre  conference? Why are you doing theatre? Do you want to be in Cats or  something?!

Last weekend Brisbane’s !Metro Arts played host to 100 independent theatre practitioners, including professional and emerging  playwrights, performers, directors, producers and promoters from all over Australia.  In what turned out to be a particularly conversational 3 day program !Metro Arts, in cooperation with Jute and Playlab, set about challenging the definition of what it is to be an artist in the independent theatre sector in Australia, and asked, “How will it – and you – survive?”  The question in the block-quote above was put to one of the delegates by a friend, and it seems to sum up the attitude of many of the broader population who aren’t aware of theatre – apart from the blockbuster musical –  or who don’t really understand how and where else this thing called theatre gets made.  Last weekend, however, pedestrians on Brisbane city’s Edward Street, as well as visitors to New Farm’s Powerhouse might have noticed that theatre is something that attracts an extremely eclectic crowd. Continue reading Theatre conference? You want to be in Cats or something?