Sunday, 21 December 2014

2014: Tiring but satisfying


On the set of Sonnigsburg, episode 3.


2014 has been a big year for me. I am tired, exhausted, drained. But there’s also an extraordinary feeling of accomplishment that goes with everything I’ve done this year. More so than most years, I was very focused. I had to be, because I had so many things going on. Having multiple projects on the go, in various stages of development, taught me how to prioritise and how to make the most of my time.

I am often called prolific, but I’m not always disciplined. I like to have multiple projects on the go so that if I’m stuck on one, I can move onto another. Sometimes that just means I procrastinate with one thing by working on another, which might lead to lots of writing but not necessarily good outcomes.

This year there were deadlines: for submissions, for grants, for rehearsals and for production. Deadlines keep me focused. Deadlines keep me honest. Deadlines aren’t always met, but at least when I miss them I’m usually most of the way there. Just give me another week. I’ll definitely have it done in another week.

There were a couple of projects that stalled this year – because of missed-out-on grants, because of other people’s workloads and because of my workload. I’ll pick up a couple of those next year and see what happens. Given how much work I did have this year, it’s silly to gripe about work that didn’t happen. But the projects that didn’t go forward, I’m still invested in them – I don’t want them to just go away.

But the projects that did happen, the goals that were achieved, the development that continued – I am so thankful that I work with such amazing people, continue to be supported in doing what I love doing.

Doctor on Doctor action: spoilers for Who Are You Supposed to Be
Thank you to everyone involved in Sonnigsburg. This has been an amazing learning experience and continues to be. Can’t wait to show it to everyone in 2015, but so happy to be involved in such a great project. And thanks to everyone who has given to our fundraiser, so far.

Thank you to everyone involved in Who Are You Supposed to Be at Melbourne Fringe. It was lovely to finally see the show, after it premiered at Edinburgh last year. It was also great to get so many people along to the show, particularly people who wouldn’t normally attend a Fringe show.

Thank you to those who brought The Riverbank, Once More to life as part of Play Six. It’s so wonderful to be able to step back from my work and leave it to others to bring it to life. (If I hadn’t been so busy, I might have seen a rehearsal, but no such luck.) A lovely little production that I wish more people could have seen.

Thank you to all those who took part in the research reading of A Modern Superwoman at Playwrights Horizons in New York in June. To be able to work with such amazing actors and director on the other side of the world and present it to a select audience was a very special experience. Thanks to those of you who attended and gave me such great feedback after.

Thank you to my producer and director on The Dead End. Thanks for knowing when we should step back and when to regroup and keep going. Thanks for being encouraging. Sorry about the missed deadline.

Thank you to all the great people I met in Los Angeles and New York this year, many of whom I’ve only known through Twitter and Facebook before now. And thanks to my friend Lana, who traveled with me and introduced me to a lot of her amazing friends, too.

Thanks to Augusta, who offered me her spare room on my impromptu visit to Sydney for a theatre binge.

And thanks to the amazing Melbourne theatre community – those who make it, those who see it and those with whom I can discuss it afterward.

I fit a lot of things into 2014, some of which are certain to pay off in 2015. Some of which will continue to grow. This has been a crazy full-on year that won’t soon be forgotten, but I would like some rest now. But I still have to do my day job this week.

And I’ve still got some writing to do before the end of the year.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

My Favourite Theatre of 2014

For the last few years, my Top Ten has been listed in alphabetical order because I see no point struggling any further with ranking art. This year, more than most, any show in my Top Ten could have been my absolute favourite – and they probably were, until I saw the next one in the list.

I saw shows in Melbourne, Sydney and New York this year. I feel very privileged to have seen amazing theatre in all three cities; there are shows from all three places in the list. And I will never forget any of them.

THE TOP TEN

Bernadette Peters – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne


How to describe seeing one of the great Broadway leading ladies from the front row of Her Majesty’s Theatre? Singing some of the most iconic songs of her repertoire, from some of my favourite shows? Making eye contact with me and talking directly to me at one point? Magical.


Cabaret - Broadway
Sam Mendes’ and Rob Marshall’s iconic production of this absolute classic musical has been revived yet again, because every once and a while people need to see Alan Cumming as the Emcee – a role he’s be returning to for twenty years. Seeing the show at Studio 54 in the “Kit Kat Club” cabaret seating was amazing.

Calpurnia Descending – Sisters Grimm, Malthouse
Sisters Grimm’s ode to screen divas and Hollywood bitchery was a next evolution in their development as one of the most exciting theatre companies in Australia. Ash Flanders and Paul Capsis were captivating. The whole show was mind-blowing

The City They Burned – Attic Erratic, Melbourne Fringe

Attic Erratic have been making great theatre for a number of years now – and their production of Fleur Kilpatrick’s The City They Burned, developed closely with director Danny Delahunty, will be talked about for years. Act one’s immersion was powerful. Act two’s intimacy was blistering.

Frankenstein – The Rabble, Malthouse

The Rabble continue to make theatre that is challenging, thought-provoking and troubling. Visually stunning with a sound design that was unnerving, to put it mildly, it also contained one of the most commited performances I’ve ever seen: Jane Montgomery Griffiths as the Creature.


The Glass Menagerie - Belvoir

I saw The Glass Menagerie at MTC a few years ago and Daniel Schlusser’s adaptation/homage, Menagerie, at Neon last year. Eamon Flack’s production at Belvoir this year prompted me to say that I never need to see the show again – because this version was perfection. Every element working in concert with every other like clockwork, and getting to the very heart of Tennessee William’s stunning work.

The Government Inspector - Malthouse

Out of adversity (a cancelled production of The Philadelphia Story) comes a triumphant show about that adversity – one of the most ingeniously theatrical shows the incredible Simon Stone has ever put together. And what a cast!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Broadway

I am a big fan of the film version, but at never seen Hedwig on stage. Nothing could have prepared me for Neil Patrick Harris’s Hedwig on a Broadway stage. So much energy. So much rage. So many sequins. Such wigs. And there’s really nothing to compare to seeing two Tony-award winning performances (Harris along with Lena Hall) the very week they took home their trophies.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill - Broadway

Speaking of award-winning performances, Audra MacDonald won an unprecedented sixth Tony award for her work as Billie Holiday. If she’d never won a Tony before this show, she would have deserved six awards for this show alone. Audra was Billie. That show put us in that bar and grill in 1959. I have no more words.



Sleep No More – Punchdrunk, New York

I wrote about Sleep No More last week, as an answer to the question “What should I see when I’m in New York?” I love immersive theatre and this feels like the pinnacle; five levels of hotel in which to explore, stare, watch, read and interact. To have shared moments with a dozen audience members and a large ensemble of actors; to intimate one-on-one moments with an actor in a phone booth. And you would never see the same show twice. Stunning.

THE NEXT TEN


Green Screen – Sans Hotel, NEON Festival, Melbourne Theatre Company

Nicola Gunn’s meditation on creativity that was built and destroyed in front of our eyes.


Heathers: The Musical – Off-Broadway

No one is more surprised than me that one of my favourite films actually works on stage.

Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday - Malthouse

This show made me smile so much. Verbatim theatre at its finest.

Idina Menzel – Radio City Music Hall

I saw this show from the very back row of Radio City Music Hall, filled with six-thousand (?!) Idina Menzel fans. It was as amazing and as terrfying as that sounds.


Into the Woods – Victorian Opera

The sets might have wobbled but with a brilliant cast in a brilliant show, it’s hard not to get caught up in the many moments in the woods

A Long Way Home

A mix of verbatim & scripted theatre, Daniel Keene has crafted a fascinating insight into the psychology of soldiers returning home.

Matilda - Broadway

Nothing so delightful that sitting in a theatre filled with children loving theatre. Matilda is a triumph on so many levels. It’s fun for everyone.

Neighbourhood Watch – Melbourne Theatre Company

Lally Katz’s script is strong. Belvoir’s production under Simon Stone’s direction makes it stronger, even if it slightly loses its way at the end.


Once

This was on my list when I saw it in New York in 2012. It had to go on my list again this year, because lightning struck twice. But I arbitrarily decided not to put it in my Top Ten this time, given there were so many deserving shows. Once is that good twice.

Pacific Overtures – Theatre Works

I am so glad I have finally seen this show on stage, even though it will never crack my Top Five favourite Sondheim shows, it was a surprisingly effective production.

OTHER MEMORABLE SHOWS


The Book of Loco – Malthouse

Cock – Melbourne Theatre Company

Children of the Sun – Sydney Theatre Company

The Cripple of Inishmaan – Broadway

Groundlings – Los Angeles

Les Miserables – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

Photographs of A – NEON Festival, Melbourne Theatre Company

Pippin – Broadway

Purgatorio – Attic Erratic/5 Pound Theatre 

The Witches – Malthouse

Favourite Theatre of 2013

Favourite Theatre of 2012 

Favourite Theatre of 2011



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

I'll see you again in 25 years: Twin Peaks returns to the medium it changed


It took a long time for me to accept I would never get narrative closure from Twin Peaks.

I was a teenager when it first aired and I was obsessed with it. As obsessed as anyone could be back in 1991, when all you could do between episodes was discuss it at school or read reviews in the newspaper. And it was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was unlike anything else on television.

It’s not just that the show was cancelled – I was used to that happening, especially as a science fiction fan, watching series after series debut on FOX only to last a season and then disappear. They were looking for their next The X-Files. They never found it. Maybe, Fringe?

It was the fact that the ending was so bleak. So dark. So devastating. Evil triumphed. The town of Twin Peaks, torn apart by the murder of Laura Palmer, tried so desperately to recover – only to be consumed by the darkness that surrounded the town. And the series’ hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, was... well, even twenty-five years later, I’d hate to spoil it for you.

Two years later, I was able to finally see Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me – David Lynch’s prequel film, which was even darker. And cruel. And a revelation. It wasn’t the narrative ending I needed, but there was a small glimmer of hope in there. A story of resilience. And thematic closure, a closed circle. If nothing else.

I introduced a lot of people to the series over the years – mostly because I wanted people to experience the wonder of diving into a story that doesn’t prepare you for where it goes. It’s melodrama. It’s a detective story. It’s a horror film. It’s an oddball comedy. People should experience all of that in one package at least once.

But part of me wanted people to watch Twin Peaks just so we could comfort each other after that ending. And maybe, just maybe, if we found the right clues, we might figure out where the story was headed. And maybe everything would be alright. For the characters and the viewers.

After Fire Walk With Me divided critics and made no money at the box office, there was no real reason to believe the story would ever continue. I continued to discuss the show, once I got online in the late 1990s. I hung out at alt.tv.twin-peaks for years discussing the intricate details of the series and trying to decipher complex theories of what it all meant. I bought nearly every issue of “Wrapped in Plastic” magazine – which contained episode guides and essays about the show.

And once the show was out on DVD and I was able to introduce people to the series in crystal clear quality, Twin Peaks sort of receded into the back of my mind. Like a dream I’d once had and never forgotten. Not many series could withstand the scrutiny I had given it over the years – and the number of times I re-watched it.

When publicists began teasing the Blu-Ray release early this year, talk of a continuation popped up again. David Lynch has often said that he thinks the town still exists and that life goes on there; he’s just not there to film it. It’s a typically Lynchian idea – a narrative that continues without anyone there to see it.

After years of wanting answers and wishing the ending hadn’t been so tragic, I came to see the beauty of that kind of ending. Sometimes having unanswered questions is why things stick in your mind. Had it all been wrapped up, maybe none of us would be talking about it now?

Six months ago, had you asked me if I wanted more Twin Peaks, I would have said no. And yet on the release of the Blu-Ray set, with the ninety-minutes of unseen footage from Fire Walk With Me, I was able to re-enter that world and felt more keenly than I had in years what I had been missing. But it wasn’t that I wanted more, I was just grateful to have another taste of that cherry pie. And the damn fine coffee.

What a difference a few months and one single announcement makes. Twin Peaks is returning to television in 2016, fulfilling Laura Palmer’s prophecy that she would see Dale Cooper again in twenty-five years. And I couldn’t be more excited. A story I never thought I would see continue is coming back to television; a medium it changed so radically when it first aired. If we are in a new golden age of television now, Twin Peaks ushered it in.

I’m nervous, of course. Returning to fictional worlds can be disappointing (see the Star Wars prequels) or unforgettable (the Before series). But I bet David Lynch and Mark Frost are only willing to return now because they can see a way back in. They have found their way through the dark woods and know how to tell the next chapter in the Twin Peaks story.

Twin Peaks was ostensibly a soap opera. I can imagine the 2016 iteration being something more akin to the adult dramas that populate cable networks these days. Back in the early 90s, complicated ongoing narratives weren’t something that viewers were used to. Now, if a series doesn’t have a story that is laid out over an entire season, viewers change the channel.

Lynch/Frost’s TV masterpiece was always ahead of its time – and that’s what doomed it. Maybe, more specifically, it was twenty-five years ahead of its time and 2016 will be its year.


I’ll see you in the trees.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Life in Living Colour, and What Happens Next: Melbourne's Mainstages 2015

It’s September and there are still some great shows to be excited about at Melbourne’s mainstage theatres. But it’s also that time of the year for us to look ahead – at what they have planned for 2015. Marion Potts presented Malthouse Theatre 2015 on Tuesday night. Brett Sheehy unveiled Melbourne Theatre Company 2015 tonight.

It’s like theatre Christmas. Some expected faces and some wonderful surprises.

Here’s what I’m most excited about (in order of first performance):

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, directed by Sam Strong
Starring Colin Friels, Luke Mullins and Julie Forsyth. Excited to see Strong direct Beckett and for Mullins to be on the MTC stage.
From March 21



Meme Girls by Ash Flanders/Marion Potts, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo
Pretty much Ash Flanders trawling through YouTube videos, right?
From April 8

Timeshare by Lally Katz, directed by Olive Butler
Set in a timeshare resort that’s situated on the International Date Line, it’s enough that this is by Lally Katz.
From April 23

The Waiting Room by Kylie Trounson, directed by Naomi Edwards
The combination of intimate drama and epic scope makes me excited already, as does seeing the MTC nurture female directors and lift up shows from their Cybec reading series into production.
From May 15

North by Northwest by Carolyn Burns (based on the film), directed by Simon Phillips
The Hitchcock film I’ve watched the most times, I’m excited how they will find a way to stage this – as well as find an actor who could even come close to Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill. But if anyone can do it, Phillips can.
From June 1

Birdland by Simon Stephens, directed by Leticia Caceres
I love Stephens’ writing and Mark Leonard Winter (Thystes) is a magnetic performer. This looks thrilling.
From June 6

Love & Information by Caryl Churchill, directed by Kip Williams
Churchill’s work just isn’t produced very often in Australia – and certainly not her recent work. I’m excited to see this 2012 play of hers, starring Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman and Alison Whyte.
From June 12

The Last Supper by Reckless Sleepers
Dinner in the Grand Hall of the Nation Gallery of Victoria. A banquet and the last words of the famous and the infamous.
From  July 1

I Am A Miracle by Declan Greene, directed by Matt Lutton
I loved Greene and Lutton’s previous collaboration, Pompeii LA and this one is presented in partnership with Opera Australia. Not to be missed.
From July 18

Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, directed by Leticia Caceres
Starring Susie Porter. Dorfman’s play is incredible and I cannot wait to see Caceres’ take on it.
From July 18

A Social Service by Nicola Gunn & David Woods
I’ve been hearing amazing things about Gunn’s work for a while now and after seeing Green Screen at NEON this year, I’m eager to see more of her work.
From August 11

The Weir by Connor McPherson, directed by Sam Strong
This is a tough play, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Sam Strong. With Nadine Garner and Greg Stone in the cast, I couldn’t be more excited to see this production.
From August 14

Antigone by Sophocles, adapted Jane Montgomery Griffiths, directed by Marion Potts
Starring Emily Milledge. One of the great plays with this team? How can it go wrong?
From August 21

Betrayal by Harold Pinter, directed by Geordie Brookman
Brookman’s work always excites me and he’s working with Alison Bell and Nathan O’Keefe on a Pinter play. Yes, yes, yes.
From August 26

They Saw a Thylacine by Justine Campbell & Sarah Hamilton
I’ve been a big fan and supporter of Sarah’s work for a while and I was so thrilled to see this show, first presented at Melbourne Fringe in 2013, being elevated to the main stage.
From September 15



Buyer & Cellar by Jonathon Tolins, directed by Gary Abrahams
You had me at “starring Ash Flanders”.

From October 30

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sonnigsburg: Day Twelve

Today, we completed principal photography on episode one of Sonnigsburg.

After twelve shooting days, we’ve filmed in Walhalla, Croydon, Richmond, Hampton, Highett, Ashwood, Maribyrnong, Glen Iris and Belgrave. We’ve posted heaps of photos to our Facebook page – both behind-the-scenes shots and stills from the show itself.

And the little bits of footage I’ve seen cut together looks amazing. Our director, Glenn Triggs, has done an incredible job directing the episode – and now has the fun of editing it together.

I’ve been involved in a handful of short film shoots before, but nothing quite on this scale. And while production happened on episode one, the scripts for episodes two and three went through a few re-writes. Don’t worry, actors – those scripts will be released to you soon. I know you can’t wait to see what happens next!

I do have to apologise to some of the actors, who were intent on being as surprised by upcoming scripts as viewers will be of the show itself – but I blurted out several spoilers on set, forgetting who knows what about upcoming stories. It’s great to have actors so enthused about what’s coming up. I think Ann Truong (Savannah) is our biggest fan so far. And I keep giving things away! Sorry, Ann.

As always with low budget filmmaking, we must all jump in and do what’s necessary. While Fiona Bulle is overseeing everything, Serenity DeAngeles and Gordon Boyd have taken on several roles each behind-the-scenes. You’ll see their names in the credits several times.

The twelve days of shooting have been spread over five weeks, to accommodate everyone’s schedules – both behind and in front of the camera. A couple of days of principal photography were directed by Alex Scott and myself. With the amazing support of all of the crew, in particular our Director of Photography, Bernard Winter, I was able to direct a couple of key scenes from the pilot.

Scenes that included smoke machines, lighting effects and crawling under Fiona’s parents house in Ashwood – directing is definitely glamorous. And I’m looking forward to doing more directing as production on the series continues. I definitely think that building up experience as a director will help me become a better writer, too.


Principal photography on episode two will begin in September. Keep an eye on the Sonnigsburg page on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

It Takes Two (or more viewings): INTO THE WOODS and a Sondheim Check List


I have seen three different productions of Into the Woods on stage – and I am well acquainted with the DVD of the original Broadway production. By the end of this year, there will be a feature film version – and then I can write an article comparing the five witches I’ve seen: Bernadette Peters (DVD), Rhonda Burchmore (Melbourne Theatre Company, 1998), Donna Murphy (Public Theatre NY, 2012), Queenie Van De Zandt (Victorian Opera, 2014) and Meryl Streep (feature film, 2014).

Well, no, I probably won’t do that. Each of them has their strengths and a couple of them have no weaknesses. Just as the productions overall have things that work brilliantly and other parts, not-so-much. And it’s hard to compare the lavish original, to the Public Theatre production that was staged in Central Park, to the more sparse version that Victorian Opera put on this past week.

Into the Woods is one of my favourite Sondheim shows, probably the favourite – though I have a lot of affection for Sweeney Todd, Company and A Little Night Music. I’ve only ever seen Sweeney Todd on stage once, a pro-am production in the northern suburbs of Melbourne in the late 90s. As well as the film, which – I’m glad Sondheim liked it. Oh, and the original Broadway production on DVD.

But A Little Night Music I’ve seen on stage three times: Melbourne Theatre Company (1997), Opera Australia (2009) and Broadway (2010). I haven’t seen the film version, starring Elizabeth Taylor. (And how could I possibly compare the Desirees I’ve seen? Pamela Rabe to Sigrid Thornton to Catherine Zeta Jones? I couldn’t and won’t.)

Sondheim’s shows are so rich and dense, so much detail to see and discover – I was even noticing things in Into the Woods yesterday that I don’t think I’d seen before. I suspect that comes down to actors stressing things in different ways. But it is all there to be discovered, even after watching numerous productions and the DVD multiple times.

After last year’s Sunday in the Park with George and this year’s Into the Woods, Victorian Opera is doing Sweeney Todd in 2015. I’m excited to see a full professional production of that on stage. But even more exciting is the couple of lesser-known and lesser-seen Sondheim works that have popped up in Melbourne this year: Pacific Overtures at Theatre Works this past February and later in the year, Passion at the Arts Centre Playhouse.

With those smaller works - and Magnormous’ 2010 staged readings of other obscure Sondheim work, I am close to completing the Sondheim set.


Shows by Stephen Sondheim

A list of productions, films or DVDs I’ve seen of Sondheim’s work

Saturday Night
-         Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

West Side Story
-          Film, 1961
-          Regent Theatre, 2010

Gypsy
-          TV Movie, 1993
-         The Production Company, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
-          Her Majesty’s Theatre, 2012

Anyone Can Whistle
-          Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

Do I Hear a Waltz?
-          Unseen.

Company
-          Unseen on stage. (I know!!!)
-          Broadway production 2006, DVD
-          New York Philharmonic concert, cinema & DVD

Follies
-          The Production Company, 2008

A Little Night Music
-          Melbourne Theatre Company, 1997
-          Opera Australia, 2009
-          Broadway revival, 2010

Pacific Overtures
-          Theatre Works, 2014

Sweeney Todd
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Pro/am production on stage, late 1990s.              
-          Sweeney Todd in Concert 2001, DVD
-          Film, 2007

Merrily We Roll Along
-          Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

Sunday in the Park with George
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Opera Victoria, 2013

Into the Woods
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Melbourne Theatre Company, 1998
-          Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park, 2012
-          Victorian Opera, 2014

Assassins
-          Broadway, 2004 (bootleg video)
-          Melbourne University, 2012

Passion
-          Arts Centre Melbourne, 2014

Bounce/Road Show
-          Unseen.

The Frogs
-          Unseen.

Anthologies

Putting It Together
-          Broadway revival 1999, DVD

Sondheim on Sondheim
-          Original Broadway production, 2010


Monday, 21 July 2014

In the context of rational madness: THE BOOK OF LOCO


How do you tell a life in 90 minutes?

How do you give the audience enough context to tell even one story from a life in the same amount of time?

The Book of Loco is a semi-autobiographical monologue by Alirio Zavarce, covering what he terms “rational madness” – bizarre things some of us accept because we don’t (or can’t) know any better. It’s all about context.

In the context of Zavarce’s “book of loco”, a notebook he carries around to keep track of the stories of his life, we get to know him quite well. Depending on how semi this autobiographical show is.

Did he really get pulled over by customs officials over a reinforced suitcase? Did he really get interrogated on another return trip over the “convenient excuse” of his mother’s cancer? Did his marriage really collapse on September 11, 2001?

The Book of Loco is theatre, of course. It’s a performance. And it’s very theatrical. The set is a large stack of boxes. But inside those boxes are the stories of a life. Some of the stories are whimsical. Some of them are terrifying. Some are just awful.

But Zavarce and his director, Sasha Zahra, keep things moving – and keep the audience on edge by having Zavarce interact from even before the lights go down. Even that is a trick. The lights go up on the audience several times during the show. The line between performance and real life is thin. Just as the line between rationality and madness can be.

The show isn’t just about one life, though. It’s about stories and the context we hear them in. So in a show that also touches on terrorism and plane crashes, this show had a whole new context on Friday night – after having listened to the news all day about flight MH17 being blown up over Ukraine. We all come to theatre with our own life stories to inform us. But sometimes we come in with the same story in the front of our minds.

The Book of Loco, after the events of last week, was both upsetting and exhilarating. In any context.


The Book of Loco plays at the Malthouse Theatre until August 2.