14 December 2013

What Melbourne loved in 2013, part 13

O, Yes! Today, we talk to three people from The Rabble's Story of O, a show that's getting a lot of screaming happy love.

Before this show, my first thought of Story of O was the 70s soft porn film version, that I'd only ever seen the poster for. I assumed it was something about orgasm. I was aware of the book, but had never read it. Before The Rabble's show opened, Dana Miltins (who was Jacqueline) told me that I had to read it. HAD to. Turns out it wasn't in any second hand book store I looked in ("Am I looking in classics or the curtained off section?"), so I gave Kindle some money.

I'm so glad I didn't read it as a teenager and I don't recommend it as a piece of literature, an arousing bed-time fantasy or even a good read. I gave up trying to imagine how this book could become a feminist piece of theatre.

But they did, and now my first thought of Story of O will always be this astonishing production.

Emma Valente
Co-Artistic Director, The Rabble

EMMA: Watching the long rise of an illuminated rectangle (did it take ten minutes?) in Einstein on the Beach and realising that I've been quoting Robert Wilson without knowing it. There was some kind of bum-numbing ecstasy in that moment; a collapsing of several histories, a single image fluctuating through many meanings. Quite perfect.

Eating burgers on the floor of the ANZ Pavilion (top floor of the Arts Centre) during interval at Life and Times and feeling like I was at a sleep over with all my friends. Then, after a quick nap during the last hour of that show, opening my eyes and realising aliens had landed. A beautiful left turn, a chocolate brownie, a joyful day at the theatre.

M+M. This production wrecked me. The agony – an event unto itself. An incredible cast and a formidable design team. Special mention to Nicola Andrews and Nik Pajanti who produced one of my favourite lighting designs of the year – complicated simple states – colouring in with a renaissance highlighter.

NEON. I think i'll remember this year for a while. It felt like there was some kind of definitive movement which extends well beyond NEON and the companies that were programmed this year, but can be exemplified by MTC's enthusiasm and exuberance for the project and the sense of community that started to grow like moss in the walls of the castle. Nothing was censored – no one said no – though some of us were close to the edge, some of the time. This year things shifted around.

What Emma is looking forward to in 2014 at issimomag.com.

SM: I often sit and wonder what a director is doing. But not with Emma*. I see her worlds and understand exactly what she, and co-creator Kate Davis, are doing. She doesn't have to explain anything to me. I watch her work and I feel like I was part of the process.

Emma's also a lighting designer. The colour she achieved in opening of Room of Regret: it was like breathing in gold air that had somehow managed to rust. And that every room in that labyrinth design changed mood and tone together.

* Or with Robert Wilson. I love that she was quoting him without knowing it. These are both directors who understand that you get rid of the useless words to really communicate.

Emily Milledge
actor, music theatre performer

EMILY: My favourite theatre moments this year, as a performer, are definitely those in a tiny cupboard with a rather scared, confused or very willing audience member in Room of Regret

Rarely do audience and actor get to meet in this way, and it's safe to say that people never (I hope) meet in real life for the first time in a dark, mirrored cupboard with soil on the ground. 

Actor–audience member relationships aside, the experience of meeting another person in this kind of weird intimacy and shared self examination was quite profound. What you're asking of yourself and the other person in that moment is to jump straight to a visceral and felt  truth that is literally staring right back at you. Let's do away with traditional introductory "Hi, my name is ..." interactions; stick yourself in a cupboard with someone for a minute and you'll come out knowing oodles of things about them!

As an audience member, my favourite moment was Olympia Bukkakis's karaoke moment in Summertime in the Garden of Eden. (I've just brought up "The Animal Song" by Savage Garden on YouTube now to reminisce that moment.) So hilarious, just amazingly hilarious, perfection.

SM: I noticed Emily in Gaybies and loved her in Room of Regret, but her performance as Natalie Story of O blew me away so much that I keep calling her Natalie. She was on stage with Dana Miltins, Jane Montgomery-Griffiths and Mary Helen Sassman – three performers who amaze and seduce me every time I see them – yet Emily was the one I kept watching. With hardly a word, she showed everything we needed to know about this teenager and why she wanted to be just like O.

What Emily is looking forward to in 2014 at issimomag.com.

Gary Abrahams
actor, director

Photo by Guy Little
GARY: 2013 was the year I really noticed the status quo shifting. Suddenly my colleagues and friends were the ones making headlines, moving into the top jobs, and generally beginning the transition from the old guard to the new. People who I had witnessed struggling, evolving, growing and, at times, failing over the last decade were now appearing on the mainstages, in major festivals, in positions of leadership and basically kicking goals all over the place. 

It kind of forced me to own up to the fact that I had grown too, that I was no longer an "emerging" artist, but an artist who had been practising and working steadily in some form or another for over a decade! The players sitting behind the desks of the big intimidating theatre companies were now people I had trained, studied  worked with. It's pretty exciting to get to that point. Scary too.

Nicola Gunn, Adena Jacobs, Daniel Schlusser, Ash Flanders and Declan Greene, Sam Strong, Anne Louise Sarkes, Tim Stitz ... I'm just name dropping now. Many more too. Many wonderful actors and dear friends too, working non-stop.

I think I find/found it so kind of poignant because entering this field, it's drummed into you that so few people succeed and the work is so scarce and it's all really a pipe dream. Yet I'm witnessing this delightful and inspiring shift in the paradigm. I know it'll last a while, then plateau, then the next generation will take over sooner than I'm prepared for. But it's just nice too witness for now.

So 2013 as a year in theatre was that sort of year for me: contemplative, confronting, career focussed.

On a personal note I had a blast working with The Rabble on Story of O for NEON. Such divine people; everyone who was involved in that show. And we got to do such dirty, dirty things with each other! It was an honour to get to be a part of NEON, but everyones already gone on about that so I'll leave it at that.

I enjoyed bingeing on stuff during the Melbourne Fringe. They saw a thylacine really stuck out for me. It stayed with me, even now I can think back on it and I'm transported to the place I was in as an audience member.  It's funny the shows that do that. We don't really have a choice about what sticks, and what vanishes.

I'm looking forward to many things in 2014. All my friends work at MTC, Malthouse, Belvoir.
But I'm also looking forward to re-finding my groove. I've got a number of projects lined up, things I'm fired up about. I get to be a practising theatre artist. How fucking cool is that?

SM: When reading Story of O, I wasn't sure if Gary was Rene or Sir Stephen, so I imagined him as both. It helped. I also knew Jane was playing whoever Gary wasn't, so I was really imagining a mash up of the two of them. It was strangely comforting.

It's hard to even think what else the O cast have done this year. Gary's Rene wasn't what I imagined; it was so much more. A combination of heart and heartless and selfish generosity that made complete sense – and showed us why O made that choice for him.  And there was the ice cream.

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