Life’s Good: Nelle Lee (Interview 19)

Life is very good right now for Nelle Lee,  producer-actor, writer and one of the artistic director triumvirate of the very successful independent theatre company, Shake and Stir.

She and the rest of the company are on the first leg of their national tour of Statespeare and, earlier this week in a special ceremony, she was awarded the University of Southern Queensland‘s Young Alumnus of the Year Award and Faculty of Arts Prize. We catch up at Jilly’s coffee shop, just round the corner from Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre where Statespeare is playing this week.

Nelle arrives in a flurry, a bit late from an interview with a local television crew. It’s good to see her so energised and happy and confident. We eschew the contents of Jilly’s famous wicked-cake case, settle on coffee and start to talk. It’s been a while since we did this – apart from quick ‘hellos’ in theatre foyers across the years since her graduation from the Theatre program at USQ in 2004. It seems there hasn’t been a spare moment for her since then. Shake and Stir started (in a part-time way) in 2006, but has been going flat out since 2008-09, she tells me – not bad going. She’s modest about her achievements: ‘I have a lot of people to thank.’ She’s not yet 30, I think, and she can already claim to have a huge career hit on her hands with the theatrical start-up company that is Shake and Stir. The company gets no government subsidy or philanthropic money, and is entirely self-supporting.

Shake and Stir employ over 20 actors a year with 8 full-time positions. All actors are paid at above-Equity rates.

In addition to their mainstage performances in Brisbane and on tour – they do not have a home theatre base – Shake and Stir also run teacher professional-development workshops and after-school and holiday classes for kids either in-school or at Brisbane’s Old Museum. Whilst the focus of their performance work is on introducing young people to Shakespeare, they are also keen to do the same for other classic works. Their production of Animal Farm (another school syllabus favourite) is programmed for production later this year. But for now and for the next four months as they tour Australia, it’s Statespeare which was commissioned by the Festival of Cairns in 2008 and which has been hugely successful for the company ever since. Continue reading Life’s Good: Nelle Lee (Interview 19)

Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

Prologue:

This is not a Shakespeare production. It’s a play about the problem of studying Shakespeare’s plays in high school or, as the programme has it, ‘Studying Shakespeare sucketh.’

Statespeare, written by Nelle Lee with material from a range of Shakespeare’s plays, is all about the relevance of the works for kids who are dragged, often kicking and screaming, to study the plays – or bits of the plays – as the syllabus demands. The premise of Statespeare is that the plays are hard, studying them really doth suck and that people who like Shakespeare are most probably drama nerds or losers. At one of yesterday’s schools’ performances I heard an audible gasp from a few quarters in the audience at a line about Drama not counting for an OP score. There were clearly some Drama geeks (old and young) in the house. PS tell me it isn’t so – about Drama not counting for the OP!

For a good 40 or 50 years now – and probably well before that – Australian school kids have been introduced to the plays in the Shakespeare canon via small, touring companies of actors. I remember the Young Elizabethan Players – the ‘Young Lizzies’ – when I was at high school. They were all serious in black before it became de rigeur in theatre circles, and we duly fell in love with at least one of the young male actors in tights – I think they really did wear tights back then. Then came the famed Grin and Tonic 1.0 (recently 2.0) and now there’s Shake & Stir theatre company. Continue reading Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse