06 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 2

Today, it's photography, Q&As and a reminder to see The House of Yes before it finishes.

Sarah Walker

Photo by Sarah Walker

Sarah: My moments were both at the Malthouse and both involved high school students.

I recently shot a secondary school workshop for Malthouse’s Suitcase Series, where kids took Angus Cerini’s normal.suburban.planetary.meltdown and worked on it in drama class, adapting it and developing short sections for performance. Each school was presenting a couple of scenes to the other schools, and the levels of excitement and anxiety in the room were stratospheric.

Most of these kids only had about six lines and were going to be onstage for three minutes tops, but they were all so incredibly nervous and exhilarated to be performing. A girl walked past me, gabbling to her friend: “Of course I’m gonna do my very best, but right now I’m so nervous I think I might die”. The girl was, I might add, dressed as a cow. I loved that.

And then seeing the way these kids took a text and adapted it, added things that they felt were relevant and important and worth saying; that felt so empowered. One of the groups added a scene with a character being on the internet and getting pop ups: “Hey man, do you want a bigger penis?”. A boy from another school got offended, asking them where they drew the line of what was appropriate, and then suddenly, 50 high school students were having this engaged, intelligent discussion about censorship in art, and how theatre needs to be able to look at the dark side of life as well as the light.

On the one hand, I wanted to take them all to see The Rabble’s The Story of O and watch their little brains melt, but I was also so impressed at their thoughtful engagement and willingness to listen to each other’s points of view. Grown up theatre could learn a lot from them.

As a photographer, I get a massive art boner for lighting used well, and Am I during the Melbourne Festival was a fantastic reminder of the power of light. I saw it at a matinee with several school groups, which meant that I got a constant whispered commentary on how “totally awesome” the dancing was.

The set featured a huge bank of lights on the back wall, with some incredible DMX triggering to create patterns. The show started very dimly, mostly side lit, with the occasional shimmer from the light bank, until Shantala Shivalingappa finished a monologue and for just a second, every light on the set blazed on at full in this huge flare – hundreds and hundreds of lights beaming on, sending this rush of heat into the faces of the audience, and every single person in the space just let out this huge involuntary “Ah!”. The students behind me burst into a shocked sort of laughter; I just sat there grinning. There was something so primal, spiritual even, about that moment – humans in the dark being awed by the light.

SM: Every photo that Sarah publishes. It’s as simple as that. There’s no one who captures the essence of a moment like she does. She's made Melbourne look at theatre photography as seriously as we look at every other element of theatre

Stephen Nicolazzo

Stephen: Two of my favourite moments of 2014 come from The Rabble: Frankenstein at Malthouse and Death/Deadly/Dead for the Melbourne Writers Festival (also at the Malthouse). These works were exhilarating experimental queer feminist works that were striking in their visual and visceral power. The Rabble’s extraordinary ability to appeal to the darkest cesspools of one’s imagination and realise it on stage is something to behold, and I find the growth and detail of their visual playgrounds so engrossing and satisfying to experience. They speak through the image. A hard task, but one they tackle with gusto. I love them. So much.

Also, I adored Uninvited Guests’ I Heart John McEnroe at Theatre Works. Clare Watson (director) is a magnificent joyful artist and this work was a total nostalgic celebration. It was sublime. The cast and crew were all firkin top notch, and who the hell doesn’t want to see a pregnant Kath Tonkin play Madonna? Joyous theatre. Still think of it today.

And one more, please … Adena Jacobs’ Hedda Gabler at Belvoir. Fucking astonishing. Fucking gorgeous. Fucking Ash Flanders. Imagery I won’t forget. That is all I can say.

SM: Stephen’s show The House of Yes is on at Theatre Works until 13 December.  Go. Book now. Its dark camp freaking twincest is fucking wonderful.

I’ve watched Stephen’s direction for a few years. He’s developed a style and a directorial voice that’s totally his and he doesn’t compromise on what he wants to make and see on the stage.

My favourite moment. There were moments of Dangerous Liasons where I hurt from laughing, but it has to be coming in a tiny bit late to The House of Yes and seeing Josh Price towering in the dark complaining how hard it was to be a mother; I was totally in that world in seconds.

Keith Gow
playwright, blogger

Keith: After having my mind blown by Sisters Grimm’s Calpurnia Descending, I attended the post-show Q&A where Ash Flanders, Paul Capsis and Peter Paltos answered questions from Malthouse Associate Artist Lally Katz and the audience, who ranged from young teens to subscribers in their seventies.

Post-show Q&As are a strange beast. I always have questions to ask, but rarely ever do. Most of the time, when I leave a show, I want to think about it some more (or a lot) before I discuss it with anyone. And questions from random audience members very rarely help me with my own thought processes. I used to try booking tickets for the right nights, but now if I’m at the Malthouse or Melbourne Theatre Company on forum night, I count myself lucky – or I hightail it out of there.

One of my other favourite shows of the year was Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday – but I had to spend time thinking about that. I had no time for listening to possibly facile questions about a show I flat out adored.

One of the other notable Q&A sessions I attended this year was for The Sublime at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I was hoping the audience might ask tough questions about a problematic play. It was mostly simplistic questions and unenlightening answers. None of the troubling subtext was questioned or challenged.

Occasionally I’ll hear an answer I wanted to hear or appreciate that someone else in the audience had a wholly different response to mine.

What I loved about the Calpurnia Descending Q&A was getting the sense of how overwhelmed and overjoyed the audience were by the show and the creatives were by the response to the show. An older audience member got completely lost at the video-game sequence, but appreciated that younger attendees might have appreciated that more. The school kids in the audience loved the video-game sequence, but also connected with the opening scenes because they seemed “more real”.

One audience member commented that the second act felt like “tumbling through the Looking Glass”. Creator and actor Ash Flanders responded, “It’s like tumbling or Tumblr.com” – which it really, really was.

Obviously, I like to talk about the craft of theatre with other theatre makers. Sometimes listening to questions from random audiences doesn’t illuminate my experience of the show at all. But what I realise I do love about Q&A forums is the possibility of getting a glimpse into other people’s experience of a show they’ve just seen – especially after we’ve all just had our minds blown!

And speaking of getting insights into how other people see theatre this year, I’ve really loved Fleur Kilpatrick’s blog School for Birds – particularly her own post-show Q&As with random audience members.

Her interview with Cameron Woodhead, dissecting his thoughts on her show The City They Burned was brave and insightful – and a brilliant way to continue an artistic discussion, which so many of us think ends with the closing of a show or a critics review in the newspaper.

And, last but not least, Fleur’s podcast with Jana Perkovic, Audio Stage, was another highlight of Melbourne theatre this year. We have such vibrant work happening all around us and this insight into local theatre history was extraordinary in parts. I hope we hear more of Audio Stage in 2015.

SM: Keith’s play Who Are You Supposed To Be was part of the Melbourne Fringe this year. I totally loved being surrounded by fellow Dr-Who-obsessives who got every joke and reference, and I was so happy to see Dr Who show that let a women be the Doctor and challenged some of the gender issues that exist in fandom.

Here's more of Keith's favourites on his blog.

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