Season(s) 2012: the new and the independent ftw

Last night La Boite Theatre announced its 2012 or ‘twenty twelve’ season on their fresh look website complete with a maroon coloured (Queensland?) splattered torso – not quite sure what that’s about but, as with the new-look QTC logo (below) your guess as to meaning – if you need that kind of thing – is as good as mine.

The other big house in town, Queensland Theatre Company announced its 2012 season a few weekends ago. Artistic Director Wesley Enoch launched 2012’s mainstage productions along with new logo and website. I was at QTC’s launch but couldn’t make it to La Boite’s despite their generosity of an invitation which, I understood, was a pretty hot ticket – as was QTC’s for their launch. Theatre goers in town are clearly keen to see what the two ADs have in mind. Continue reading “Season(s) 2012: the new and the independent ftw”

Shakespeare in the open air – a tale of three festivals

Brisbane Shakespeare Festival: Twelfth Night

Over the past couple of months I’ve been to three Shakespeare shows in public parks around south-east Queensland. Spring has sprung and it seems we can’t wait to get out and enjoy the best weather the new season has to offer in tandem with some of the works of our favourite playwright.

The first of the three was the annual Brisbane Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare (BSF) on Oxford and, since last year, by the lagoon at Sandgate. The BSF is a week-long romp which is now entering its 5th year. The production – this year BSF presented Twelfth Night – is one part and, arguably, the centrepiece of a whole range of Shakespearean-related activities. The organisers are clearly feeling confident about the continuation of the Brisbane Shakespeare Festival, and have called for ideas for the 2012 festival on Twitter.

My second outdoor Shakespeare production this season was the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble‘s (QSE) production of The Merchant of Venice in Brisbane’s Roma Street Parklands. This was for a very small audience indeed – probably 100 or so at a time. This close proximity of audience to actors enabled a more intimate experience of text in action than did the spectacle of BSF and USQ. The QSE also put the audience under the rotunda and away from any nasty rain that could spoil things as it did for the third company, USQ’s Shakespeare in the Park Festival. Continue reading “Shakespeare in the open air – a tale of three festivals”

Talking About What’s Good

UPDATE: This is the post Talk About What’s Good that started it all from my Twitter/World Theatre Day/2amt friend and theatre man Travis Bedard in Austin, Texas. If you tweet you’ll find him @travisbedard. Read it for the juicy prose and the kickstart that has seen some of us take to the keyboard. If you want to mention what’s good about your theatre you can tweet it with the hashtag #tawg

I’m picking up on a meme from a couple of Twitter friends and theatre colleagues who’ve suggested that talking about what’s good about your local theatre mightn’t be a bad thing given the often excessive amount of snark one encounters in this business. The rationale as Gwydion Suilebhan, a DC-based playwright puts it, ‘the meta-idea (or the idea behind the idea) is that if we we do that, we’ll be less snarky and miserable and mean to each other. Also, by accentuating the positive, we’ll encourage things we like.’

Gwydion admits to struggling a bit since he spends a lot of his energy on his blog in ‘analysis and rabble-rousing and fomenting revolution and agent provocateur-ing.’ I thought I’d give it a go as well since I’m as guilty as the next at criticism.

What’s good about theatre in SE Queensland – a personal list

So, without being Pollyanna-ish here, in no particular order – I just kept typing as they thoughts came – are the 50 things I like about theatre in SE Queensland right now. It took a while to get going but then it started to flow. Over to you. Do your own somewhere in the inter webs or add what you like here. Pass it on …

  1. the sense that here is a place where you can learn about and create theatre if you want to with some of the best anywhere in the world;
  2. the growing confidence of the critical mass of artists in the community;
  3. several generations now of artists – seniors right down to those in training;
  4. the entrepreneurship in the theatre community – think Shake and Stir, Grin and Tonic, Harvest Rain, 4MBS Brisbane Shakespeare Festival;
  5. the big heart, dedication and imagination of groups like QSE and their prison project;
  6. 40 years of Queensland Theatre Company and its heritage ;
  7. the fact that I met my husband when he auditioned me for a role;
  8. Joe MacColum my first theatre mentor and inspiration;
  9. getting to know the first Artistic Director of QTC Alan Edwards on stage and off – another inspiration;
  10. that a theatre company really can feel like another home – QTC for me;
  11. my platinum MEAA (Equity) card for 38 (so-far) years membership *preen*;
  12. the incredible feeling of excitement and solidarity that happens during a warmup before a performance;
  13. La Boite Theatre’s greenroom corridor couches;
  14. Bessie the Bottle Tree in QTC’s courtyard;
  15. QTC’s ongoing commitment to education and young people, and especially TRW – bringing young theatre artists together for over 40 years, and stronger than ever – if this year’s was any indication;
  16. the whole South Bank precinct in Brisbane beside that river …
  17. the beautifully-restored, fully active 100 year old Empire Theatre in Toowoomba, Australia’s largest and best regional theatre;
  18. the Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) my city’s developing professional theatre for the quality of its work and its commitment to the region;
  19. the Toowoomba Regional Council who put their money where their mouth is in supporting the theatre for their region. Their support of the new 380-seater black-box theatre currently in the planning stages is a case in point.
  20. Lewis Jones (former AD) who got the EPC off the ground and running and, with its first-ever fully professional production of David Burton’s April’s Fool managed to score a national tour in 2012;
  21. Jeanette Wedmaier and Claire Christian, two superb young women who are now the creative and administrative powerhouses of the EPC;
  22. Libby Anstis, surely the best General Manager of any theatre company in the country – what a woman;
  23. the people I have worked with over the years on various theatre Boards and advocacy committees who are there because they understand that life without the arts would be no life at all, and they want to make a difference;
  24. Wesley Enoch and David Berthold ADs of Brisbane’s two biggest companies who, despite the pressure of their positions, manage to be highly-energised, focussed, interested, and charming as they go about their work;
  25. the Meet the Artists and Talkbacks that are now part and parcel of theatre seasons;
  26. the take-up of social media and online communication to continue the conversation and develop audiences;
  27. the excellent standard of professional acting – mind you, there is a large pool of superb actors available;
  28. the independent theatre in Brisbane in all its roughness, excellence, diversity, aspiration and passion and, maybe, for the lifeblood they infuse into the big houses;
  29. the independent artists in Brisbane for their talent, grit, determination and their fabulous ideas;
  30. theatre advocates like Zane Trow and Paul Osuch who are tireless in speaking up in their very individual ways at every opportunity and everywhere about theatre;
  31. the Brisbane Festival which just keeps getting more interesting;
  32. the way the theatre community is talking to one another via social networking and carrying on the conversation outside the ‘heritage’ media which just doesn’t get it … wait, this is not going to run off into snark …
  33. the fact that our federal and state governments actually do support the arts financially. If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over from  my US and UK theatre colleagues it’s to not take this one for granted;
  34. co-pros with national companies – spreading the work and the talent around the country.
  35. the small but fascinating Performing Arts Museum in the Tony Gould Gallery at QPAC;
  36. the new degree in music theatre – a practical, conservatory-style training for the profession – at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music … at last;
  37. the sense of change and optimism in the air;
  38. all the Shakespeare being done here – lots of it and so differently;
  39. the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award (for now);
  40. the climate we enjoy for outdoor events and the development of Shakespeare Festivals in parks and green spaces all over;
  41. QTC’s Young Playwrights’ Competition;
  42. our universities for their performing arts courses and for the quality of the teaching there;
  43. former students of mine – the graduates of the USQ Theatre course – artists and technical production folk who seem to be everywhere and doing such quality, wonderful work;
  44. the supportive nature of the theatre community of artists in our neck of the woods;
  45. the feeling of celebration at opening nights, and just hanging out;
  46. Brisbane Arts Theatre, the city’s oldest and arguably best amateur company – moving with the times and reinventing the way quality amateur theatre can contribute to the wider theatre community;
  47. Metro Arts – hell yes! What a wonderful crucible this is. Liz Burcham and Dan Evans are extraordinary people and inspirations;
  48. the Out of the Box Festival. I only wish this had been around when my kids were little (sadly, this wonderful festival has – of 2012 – lost its state government funding);
  49. the increasing appearance of the #qldtheatre hashtag on tweets;
  50. the terrific support for this blog which started in September 2009 and the generous individuals who have contributed to it via submitting to interviews, reading, commenting, via links and general love/encouragement;
I’ve stopped here only because I want to get this post out there and maybe generate some more of the same. I’m sure I’ve left stuff out and that there are lots more …


Review: Ruben Guthrie – La Boite Theatre at The Roundhouse

My local bottle department practically gives away the booze. Pop in any afternoon of the week and there’s almost always a tasting going on – handy little refreshments for drivers heading home after a hard day. The specials are stacked up in tempting piles round the shop. When I remark on the week’s ‘buy one, get one free’ deals, the cheery guy behind the counter tells me that there’s a wine mountain ‘out there’ and that “Someone’s got to drink it.”

La Boite’s latest production, and the last for their 2011 season, is Ruben Guthrie by actor, writer, director Brendan Cowell. In the course of the play Ruben’s Czech girlfriend Zoya refers to Australia as a beautiful ‘alcoholic country,’ and Cowell’s play points its considerable critical armoury right at our culture’s denial of the problem. Someone’s got to drink it after all. Whilst the play is pretty gut-wrenching at times, it’s also wickedly funny. Cowell’s shredding of the ethics of the advertising industry is satirical writing at its best. I think it’s his best play yet.

If this corker of a social satire didn’t make you laugh so much you’d weep. Ruben Guthrie is a tragedy about the fall and fall of a talented young man whose health, career and relationships are ruined by booze and drugs. Ruben creates ad campaigns but wants to be taken seriously as a writer – cockiness masks his insecurity. Ruben’s lifestyle where the ‘caine is freely available and grog flows to inspire creativity, celebrate, commiserate and, well, just because you can, see him sucked under. He loses his girlfriend at the start of the play, gets the wake-up call and decides to go on the wagon. Brendan Cowell’s Writer’s Note speaks of the year in which he gave up alcohol not just because he knew he was drinking too much, but to see what it would be like to go without. The experiences he had, the ‘run-ins’ with his ‘baffled’ friends and family who couldn’t understand his denial of ‘the great drink’ were the inspiration for this play.

David Berthold directs a fine, unvarnished production that takes full advantage of the theatre’s architectural space – we’re back in the round, by the way. Mr Berthold admits to admiring the play greatly, and it’s not hard to see why. Mr Cowell’s witty text flows from the compassion at its heart, and its dialogue springs off the page. Berthold has orchestrated its rhythms and thematics with confidence and sensitivity. The play also needs a gutsy company to have it work the way it needs to, and the director has cast it beautifully.

Caroline Kennison

Ruben Guthrie has a dream team ensemble headed by Gyton Grantley who is on stage as Ruben for all but a few seconds of the action. Mr Grantley’s performance is quite superb; it’s assured and powerful, and his Ruben utterly charming and heartbreaking. He is wonderfully supported by Hayden Spencer as Ray his boss, by Caroline Kennison as his mother Susan, and Kathryn Marquet as Virginia his AA sponsor and lover. New faces Lauren Orrel (Zoya) Darren Sabadina (Damian) and John McNeill (Peter) are terrific as fiancée, best mate and father respectively.

Design by Renée Mulder is stripped back and suggestive of a boxing ring right down to its bright blue squares. It’s absolutely perfect for the no-holds-barred slugfest which is the play. Jason Glenwright (lighting) and Guy Webster (sound) complete the design team with meticulously detailed lighting, composition and soundscapes.

The production is wonderfully theatrical and performative; the audience is brought into the action as Ruben addresses us as fellow meeting attendees. The cast sit around the perimeter of the square within the round and watch the action, setting and striking furniture and props, coming and going into the ring for the ’rounds’ that play out over two acts. Yes, there is an interval where you can get a drink. You are invited to bring it back into the theatre if you wish. As an aside, I asked the bar staff whether sales had been up or down during the season. They indicated rather discreetly that they hadn’t really noticed a difference. You could, however, feel a real tension in the room as Ruben agonises over the temptation of drinks forced upon him by friends and family. I don’t mind admitting my own inner voice was screaming, ‘Don’t do it!’

Don’t miss it. This is an excellent realisation of a very good, contemporary, and very Australian play.

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell plays at The Roundhouse Theatre for a limited season. Catch it between the time you’re reading this and its closing performance on 13th November. Details on the company website.

Images by Al Caeiro
Main Image: Gyton Grantley and Kathryn Marquet