02 December 2013

What Melbourne loved in 2013, part 2

Today, my fellow-arts-blooger Jane Howard talks about the inspired ecstacy of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, photographer Sarah Walker talks about sighing in the theatre, and Mike Finch from Circus Oz takes us to New York and wishes that our gloriously subversive local companies had more support.

I'm also doing a series for Issimo magazine that starts today. As a bonus, these ones also include what people are most looking forward to in 2014. And most will also pop up here with the full responses to what they loved.

Jane Howard
Reviewer and arts blogger 
Photo by Sarah Walker

JANE: Over the past year and a half, I am very grateful for Melbourne embracing me as a transient and honourary member of your fine community.

It’s your independent artists that keep me coming back and in love, but in 2013 it was Nature Theatre of Oklahoma that really stole my heart and ran away with it. I was so excited before I went into Life and Times that I was certain the only way my emotions could go was downhill. As the ten-odd hours progressed, though, I became happier and happier, more inspired and more ecstatic. The fact that I got to spend the time with so many of my friends and loved ones from Melbourne’s theatrical community just made it all the better. As we emerged, eyes bleary and mind blown, I knew nothing would be the same.

SM: Everyone who was at Life and Times is bonded for life and will always be tiny bit sad when the cast of a show don't make us a burger. What a magnificent day!

I love reading Jane's blog and being reminded about the arts passion that is created in Adelaide. I'm from there and doubt that I'd have had the career I've had if my theatre expectations hadn't been formed by Adelaide Festivals and Fringes and by companies like the STC (the State Theatre Company in Adels) in the 80s.

But my favourite moment was watching Jane answer the question of a Melbourne theatre maker (cough, Tobias) at the Melbourne Festival and Wheeler Centre's panel "Criticism in the Digital Age".

Sarah Walker 

Photo by Sarah Walker

SARAH: As an audience member, my favourite moment was thirty seconds of The Rabble's Room of Regret. After spending half an hour squinting at the show through the lace veils with which each audience member was draped (and giving myself a headache in the process), my sudden kidnapping and de-veiling by a cast member was a welcome respite. I was shunted into a cupboard, with a thin lace curtain halving it. The lights in the theatre flickered and died.

Footsteps approached and, as they settled, I knew that there was a person standing perhaps 30 centimetres in front of my face. I could hear their breath. I could smell them. The darkness swelled, the silence pressed in on me so that those breaths became loud, immediate. I was so acutely and profoundly aware of the proximity of that body in the darkness; aware of them hearing and smelling me in return. The moment was electric, erotic and charged with expectation. I imagined kissing anonymous lips through the lace, not knowing whether they were male or female. And then a feeble light dawned, and I made out David Harrison's features, skewed and made grotesque by the curtained pattern of flowers. We stared at each other. "You are a very attractive young man",  he whispered.

And then hands dragged me back out and into the party.

Photo-wise, Night Maybe by Stuck Pigs Squealing at Theatre Works blew my socks off. As a photographer, you hang out for the shows where the visual elements come together and just sing, and golly was this one of them.

Mel Page and Richard Vabre created the most extraordinary, enigmatic, mercurial world for that text. As the first scene came up, with those gorgeous shafts of orange and gold light suspended like oil in the haze, I audibly gasped. I continued to make little happy sighing noises whenever a new section of the space lit up. (I think, on reflection, that the creatives in the audience bank probably thought I was totally unhinged.)

Luke Mullins let me walk on the set, provided that I took my shoes off, so I sunk my toes into real grass, peeked through real trees, breathed earth and crushed lawn and smoke. It was such a rich, physical experience, shooting that show. And when it started snowing, I honestly don't think there was a happier person on the earth than me at that moment.

SM: I was sitting next to Sarah the night she gasped. As I was doing the same, it didn't occur to me that that it wasn't completely normal behaviour.

And as for her photos, I use them whenever I can because no one captures the emotion of a moment quite like she does.

And see what Sarah's looking forward to in 2014 at issimo.com.

Mike Finch
Artistic Director and co-CEO, Circus Oz, and self-described itinerant half-wit

Cranked Up. Photo by Rob Blackburn.

MIKE: So many, but to be honest the two highlights weren't in Melbourne! They were both in New York City. Sleep No More is a totally immersive site-specific exploratory theatre piece with a masked audience. A noir take on the themes of Macbeth with the text removed. It’s similar in concept to work I've loved and admired before, but performed on a massive scale and with a level of integrity, design and production I never thought would be thrown at immersive theatre.

Fuerza Bruta (originally from Buenos Aires) is a simply audacious spectacle, with two or three elements I've never seen before, including some moments that only contemporary technology could make possible; looking up through the underside of rolling surf, with bodies suspended.

Both pieces keep the audience on their feet, and both pieces allow and actively encourage full participation, whether it be handling and touching the scenery, right through to dancing half naked in the rain.

Local, but world-famous, Melbourne companies like Snuff Puppets, Arena and Polyglot have this kind of beautifully anarchic, physical, immersive or subversive edge, but can often afford to only work at a certain scale. I'd love to see these artistically innovative, groundbreaking companies fed and supported more, both by audiences and government.

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

SM: It is simply impossible to not love Circus Oz and everything they do from shows to workshops. But, I saw this year's show (Cranked Up) on the night that Rudd ousted Gillard. A friend and I watched ABC 24 on my phone until we had to go into the tent, knowing that the result would be there by interval.

After interval, the show felt different. It was as awesome as it always was, but there was a sense of sadness, a sense that something had been done that goes against everything that Circus Oz believe in and that we'd been unwillingly pushed down the wrong path.

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