Tim O’Connor (Interview 20)

Tim O’Connor is Brisbane-born and bred. It’s clear when you hear him talk that he loves this city. He tells me it’s the place he always wanted to be and to remain. When he was growing up he went to see shows at QPAC, La Boite, QTC and Harvest Rain where, in time, he would go to Saturday afternoon drama workshops at their Sydney Street Theatre premises in New Farm.

After school and done with study, he became Harvest Rain’s volunteer dogsbody, the box-office boy who ‘ … hung around until they gave me a job. I was an 18 year old bum who got work experience, bided my time and found myself in the right place at the right time.’ Eventually, he became Harvest Rain’s Artistic Director at the age of 22; it is the position he now holds.

During the first few years of the 2000s, Harvest Rain was in a period of transition. The Parkin Brothers had taken over the theatre arm from the church who owned it at the time. ‘It was one thing for them to run a church and another to run a complete separate business which had become bigger than the church itself. I don’t think they realised what they had taken on. They had to give up their ownership and I took over. I was the last man standing.’

I ask him what a very young, fledgling Artistic Director thought he could do with that particular company at the time. It turns out his ambitions for Harvest Rain then are pretty much a continuation of what they are for the present-day company: to continue the development which they have largely realised over the past 10 years – to make it a pro-am and eventually fully-professional company.

At the core we believe in doing theatre that is attractive to family and to creating theatre that anyone can come and enjoy – theatre for the masses if you like.

‘I came in and enhanced what was already there,’ but Tim wanted to expand from the old programming model of 3-4 shows a year. He began directing the company towards musical theatre because ‘… that is my clear, passionate love. I had a vision that the company could be big. I wanted to do lots of shows, to tour, to develop a training program and maybe even develop outside Brisbane. In the last 10 years I have taken the company that way.’ Continue reading “Tim O’Connor (Interview 20)”

We Sat In the Dark: 100 Voices Needed

Empire Theatre Construction
Image via Wikipedia

Toowoomba’s wonderfully restored Empire Theatre is celebrating its centenary this year. Built in 1911 as a silent-movie theatre, it burned down in 1933, was rebuilt and re-opened the same year in the art-deco style which it retains today.

The Empire flourished over the following decades until it fell into disrepair during the 1970s. It came close to being razed to the ground but, due to the foresight of concerned city residents and then-Mayor Ross Miller, the theatre was saved from destruction and re-opened in 1997.

The Empire Theatre precinct contains the beautiful 1600 seater ‘main-room’ with the famed ‘bomber-light’, a flexible studio and the adjoining Church theatre. It is the largest regional theatre in Australia, and is known and admired especially by visiting artists from around the world. The home-made biscuits and fresh flowers in dressing-rooms and foyer spaces are touches provided by the Friends of the Empire, an entirely voluntary group totalling nearly 700. The Empire really is a community hub for the performing arts on the Darling Downs in southern Queensland and a source of great civic pride.

As part of the Centenary celebrations the Empire Theatre Projects Company is collecting audio, video and photographic memories of the theatre from people of all ages for a project called We Sat In the Dark.

The curated project – a visual and oral history – will then be exhibited and shared with the wider community as part of the Theatre’s Centenary Celebrations.

Members of the public are now invited to submit their memories of the Empire Theatre by Friday 3 June to be considered for inclusion. Click here to submit your memory. The Empire will be in touch if yours is selected for inclusion.

If you are in the city do get along to the TRAG (Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery) where the theatre is exhibiting memoranda – programmes, photographs, posters and costumes – from across the years.

Review: Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness – La Boite & Sydney Theatre Company @ The Roundhouse

Images by Al Caeiro

Do you long for subversive comedy and theatre with a capital T? Regret the loss of sensation from our stages? Do you love the freakery of the side-show? If you are not troubled by the sight of  pustular eruptions and blood-letting – indeed, if you find that kind of stuff hilarious – then, ladies and gentlemen, step right this way. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson for La Boite and Sydney Theatre Company could be just the transgressive tonic needed for jaded theatre palates.

If you are a tad squeamish, never did understand all the fuss over Monty Python or, if you like a nice neat slab of realism all wrapped up at night’s end, then stay away; this one is not for you. If, however, you throw caution to the wind and your curiosity eventually leads you to a seat ringside, be warned. You are going to be whirled away by theatre in full outrageous, imaginative flight in the equivalent of a wild fairground ride. There is no stopping and no retreat once the carnivale capers begin and you are invited via the seductive tones of the mysterious, caped and moustachioed Edward Gant (Paul Bishop) to witness his tales of wonder.

Our host and master of the small troupe introduces his Players: Madame Poulet (Emily Tomlins) ‘Little’ Nicky Ludd (Lindsay Farris) and Sgt Jack Dearlove (Bryan Probets). This lineup of Victorian era fringe-dwellers are to be our tale-tellers for the evening. By the way, buy a programme; their backstories are worth the price alone.

The stories the Players enact are the stuff of melodrama: fantastic, grotesque confections like the tale-tellers themselves – but they are marvellously, awe-fully funny too. There are also hints of ripping yarns, nursery tales and Kipling but I’m not going to spoil a minute of the fun ahead of you by spilling the pearls on this neo-Victorian romp. Trust me though – Tennyson it isn’t.

The play reminded me of a couple of books I had as a child. They were full of oddities and cruelty and I’m not exactly sure how I ended up with them – some aunt or uncle with a dark sense of humour, perhaps. Coles Funny Picture Books contained morality tales and creepy poetry where naughty children are whipped (for heaven’s sake) by machines, and family pets die to save the kids – and, and they were ILLUSTRATED! You just never forget some things! These weird and wonderful books were the stuff of the high Victorian age, and had emerged from the fevered brain of Edward William Cole who set up and ran a huge Book Arcade in marvellous Melbourne in the 1880s. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness has the same kind of very English (and perverse) 19th century sensibility – laced with dirty bits. Despite all the excesses and the cruelty, at the heart of this fable is romance – a lovely pearl just waiting to be set free. You’ll understand when you see the show.

The production, which is directed by Sarah Goodes in her debut for both companies, is spectacular in the real sense of the word. Costume designs by Romance Was Born are just plain dazzling and the best we’ve seen in town for a long time. However (picky time here) I wish the crew had been a bit more motley and moth-eaten, given they’re a travelling troupe of whimsy tale-peddlers. They look like something from the glitzy Venice Carnivale rather than a down at heel bunch somewhere in Victorian England. Renée Mulder‘s clever set design – a fantastic contraption with a nod to steam-punk – and the lighting design by Damien Cooper mesh beautifully together. It looks terrific.

The four-member acting ensemble are uniformly excellent. I’ve always felt Emily Tomlins had an inner clown just waiting to be let out. This play gives her free rein to play across the comic range from gentle, tragic heroine through outrageous freak to a toy bear abandoned in the nursery. She’s a joy to watch. Bryan Proberts is made for this kind of crazy, physical comedy; he doesn’t miss a beat here, bringing a sureness of touch and an aura of melancholy that reminded me of the great Buster Keaton. Who knew he could also play the trumpet? Newcomer (to Brisbane, anyway) Lindsay Farris has a gift of a role as Ludd – the former boy-actor turned radical. He gets to play some wildly funny characters with gusto. And it is Paul Bishop’s ringmaster figure who prowls the performance space spinning these yarns of lost love and loneliness together. His top-hatted, cloaked Gant is a gentle, sad, pot-bellied magician in stripes and, it turns out, the biggest romantic of all. They’re all in top form.

The cast of characters inhabited by Messrs Probets and Farris and Ms Tomlins is vast. I won’t spoil the delight you will undoubtedly have on introduction, but I will just say that my favourite (probably Neilson’s scariest creation for actors anyway) is the Phantom of the Dry. Once met, never forgotten.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness plays its Brisbane Season at The Roundhouse until 12 June. Details on sessions and booking from the company website.