Anthea Patrick (Interview 24)

Anthea Patrick has taken some time off from a busy rehearsal week to chat about her current project, Andrew Bovell‘s Speaking In Tongues which opens soon for Antix as part of the Metro Arts Allies program. We start with the background stuff – Anthea is Brisbane-born, bred and educated, though new to the Brisbane indie scene – so I’m keen to find out more about one of the newest emerging artists in town.

Anthea’s parents were dancers, though she admits to being somewhat ‘uncoordinated,’ so she found herself going to drama classes as a kid. She remembers her teachers there and later with great fondness: ‘They encouraged us to be the leaders of our creative ideas and gave us confidence in pursuing the art form.’ As a teenager she went to youth theatre at the Villanova Players, where she got the chance to devise, direct, and to be involved in as many different parts of theatre as we wanted. ‘The older kids were leaders for the younger ones.’ Later, at QUT, where she graduated in 2003 with a BCreative Industries, Anthea found the ‘golden nuggets’ she received from lecturers like Mark Radvan – with whom she studied directing – of enormous help. ‘I had done a couple of horrible productions for the youth theatre at Villanova earlier on; I struggled, just working on instinct but, as I got the opportunity to learn and do more, things started to go well.’ After graduation, Anthea founded herself directing mainstage productions back at Villanova Players. ‘It gave me the opportunity to direct a team.’ She notes that a major part of directing is ‘managing creative minds.’

Managing creative minds – what’s that about? ‘Really, it’s managing the huge amount of trust they give you and the burden of fulfilling that. It’s very easy to get tired and that is the moment when you can really confuse people. The thing I try to avoid is confusing people. Understanding characters and design is pretty complex. As a director I always feel nervous before rehearsals begin; it’s the responsibility.’

Anthea is the artistic director of Antix, a new company on the indie scene in Brisbane. ‘I created the name Antix when I had to come up with a name to get an ABN. Back then I had this little dream that I would make it a place where actors and creatives could develop and then present. Of course, I was too young,’ she adds, ‘and I didn’t know how to make a company happen.’ As the years passed, Anthea found herself coaching and teaching more and more. ‘The dream of producing and directing wasn’t happening. I got a bit lost there, so I gave myself a good slap in the face and said if I want to do something, I’d need to get moving. I wanted to learn more about directing.’ She did her research and found herself one of 11 international students at RADA in London doing their short, intensive directing course. ‘That experience really grounded me and opened up my thinking; I’ll be forever glad I had the opportunity.’

Anthea explains that the best thing about that RADA course, apart from the quality of the instruction, was to be surrounded by mature people who were as passionate about theatre and as keen to learn more about it as she was. She saw lots of shows in the month that she was in London. ‘Whilst there seems to be so much more opportunity in London, it doesn’t necessarily mean everything that’s created is wonderful.’ She goes on, ‘out of 15 or so shows, there were only about 3 that I thought were any good.’

That visit to London changed her perspective; ‘I was convinced then how good Brisbane theatre really is, especially the independent scene. Maybe it’s because it’s a smaller pool and with not much work with the bigger companies you have to be confident and good and make the opportunities. Independent artists are constantly challenging and testing one other. Reputations – the stakes are higher – and everyone knows everyone else.’

The hardest thing about being an emerging artist is figuring out how to move forward. What is the next step?

‘I guess it’s the same anywhere and everywhere you go. It probably comes down to maturity, and you need to experience disappointments and stuff ups to learn how to approach established artists and ask them to mentor you.’

I’m keen to hear more about the kind of theatre Anthea and Antix are seeking to produce. ‘I have no limitations in terms of genre. What’s important is producing good theatre and sourcing the potential ingredients – good script, good actors, good design, and using audiences and valuing their contribution.’ She adds, ‘I do like telling local stories for locals. I love the Australian voice in a play, but I like Brisbane stories, and I would like to find local plays to produce.’ She continues, ‘Antix’s mission is to create theatre that can’t be done in any other form; the live experience is essential. Theatre has limitations, of course. It can’t create the kind of reality that you do in film – the audience needs a task – a challenge to be complicit. Theatricality – the theatre I create is I think is that no one element can exist without the other; if you took away the lighting or the sound or the set design, it wouldn’t be right or finished. And, of course, there’s the audience – the synergisers.’

Antix’s Current project, Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell is currently experiencing a revivial of sorts in this country: at Griffin in Sydney a couple of months ago while, just last week, the play opened in Adelaide for STCSA. Now it is Antix’s turn. I ask Anthea what she thinks is its attraction for directors and audiences in 2011? She admits that she didn’t know it was being done elsewhere in this country, but that she was aware of a recent London production with John Simm. She refers to Bovell’s latest work, When the rain stops falling  ‘which made everyone go “oh, we want more Bovell” and so they ‘rediscovered’ him.’ However, Anthea had  been thinking of doing Speaking in Tongues for years. ‘I had been thinking that, whilst it was kind of old, it represented everything I love about theatre, and that was the play I should do.’ Only after committing to doing it did I realise others loved it. ‘I am sure it won me getting Tony Brumpton as sound designer; he wanted to do it too,’ she adds. Anthea’s cast includes husband Dean Patrick; Peter ScadissiZoe de Plevitz, and Ngoc Phan, a WAAPA graduate – in her first Brisbane role.

I ask her what’s exciting her about working on this project. ‘Well, Speaking in Tongues is extremely well written for a start. There are nine characters and each is the protagonist of his or her own story. It’s an interwoven, tangled play and so it has a lot of mystery to keep the audience on their toes.’ ‘It might be a bit daggy to say this,’ she laughs,’but the play is true and honest and about marriage and relationships that have existed for a long time. When you have been together – my husband and I have been together for 10 years now – it’s so close to home, and every one involved in the production is feeling this.’

And how does she work with her company? ‘My goal as a director is to create an atmosphere where synergy is possible. That requires a balance of knowing creatively what you are aiming for and being open for whatever happens. In that process of ‘ballooning out’ it’s important to know how to tune it so it does go in the right direction, but is also broader and better than yourself. The tricky part is identifying when there is something amazing happening and encouraging that conversation.’ Sounds good!

Feeding the Inner Artist

What are you reading now? A recommendation, The Clan of the Cave Bear part of an old series. It’s all about early humans without the faculty to think in spoken language; it’s all sign language. I thought it would be boring since it’s not dialogue driven. It’s turned out to be unexpectedly interesting.

What are you listening to? Imelda May – I really love that old school stuff. She has the jazzified sound, but every song is slightly different. I play drums in a jazz band, and I like quirky things in music. Bob Doro. Too Much Coffee Man is very good jazz.

What is your favourite art form? That’s hard to answer. I really love playing in a jazz band – it’s fun but I also love dance and I quite miss it. I wish I were a better singer. That comes back to being a musician I guess.

Where and when are you most creative? My golden hours are the daylight hours … when I can have a good daydream, a quiet time to sit down and read a script. You can’t force a creative idea but when it comes, it feels like a flick on my brain and sticks there for several reasons. I guess it’s when I have the head space to daydream and not try and force something to happen.

How do you wind down? Coffeeing and my husband cooking and me sipping wine, when we cook together and share each other’s day. We get to share the funny and the tragic things that happened and just sitting down and eating something together – cooked with love!

Get all the details on Antix production of Speaking in Tongues on their Facebook page for the event.