Thursday, 29 September 2011

On Time: three more shows, then Adelaide 2012

Richard Di Gregorio, rehearsing for On Time
"[Richard's] storytelling style and dramatisation allowed the show to be 
meaningful and somewhat philosophical amongst the jokes." 
- Chris Dewberry, Comedy Beast Magazine

If there's one thing that all my previous shows have had in common - productions have happened long after I've written the scripts and turnaround has been really quick. Six week rehearsals or two week rehearsals - or that one time I wrote a play in a weekend for a Sunday night performance. Good times.

On Time has been with me since December, through first draft, rewrites, short film shooting and rehearsals, it's the most time I've spent on a project before its production. And there's only three shows left? Really?

The other big difference is that Richard, Chris, Ephiny and I are already looking at a future for the show - having almost decided on a venue for the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2012. It's always been at the back of my mind that the show would and could tour. And it's always been at the forefront of Richard's mind - already plotting and planning a tour after Adelaide. We're going to film the whole show over these final three nights to send out to promoters and see where we can take this show on the road.

But, yes, sigh - only three more shows in Melbourne, for now. I'm sure it'll be back in its home town one day, but you'll be missing out if you don't come along this weekend. Of course, you all might see us in Adelaide or even Edinburgh - that's the Fringe evolution, right? Melbourne, Adelaide, Edinburgh? Because I know my readership is bigger than Melbourne and Australia - so I really need to bring a show or two to you, too.

Melbourne readers - see you there! Next stop: the world!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

DON’T MISS THE MOMENT: MTC’s 2012 Season

The amazing Robyn Nevin will star in Queen Lear
- Shakespeare's King rewritten for her 
The first thing that struck me about this new Melbourne Theatre Company season – designed by Robyn Nevin, Pamela Rabe and Aidan Fennessy – was how it has veered away from showcasing emerging local writers (Robert Reid, Lally Katz) but has been thoroughly generous with debuting exciting independent directors (Matt Scholten, Anne-Louise Sarks, Alkinos Tsilimidos) on Melbourne’s main stages.

Not so many World Premieres then (Australia Day, Music) but a rash of exciting productions from beginning to end – with two venerable Melbourne writers bookending the season with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (a Neil Armfield transfer from Belvoir) and Ray Oakley’s brand new Music.

Though Australian classics don’t always fill me with confidence, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, always feels like an important Australian work to me – an important Melbourne work, in particular. Ironic then that this production with birthed in Sydney, but exciting to have a Belvoir show transfer to MTC rather than the Malthouse. With Steve LeMarquand, Helen Thomson and Robyn Nevin, the year is off to a good start.

Tribes by Nina Raine gets its Australian debut here, after winning the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play on the West End. Alison Bell and director Julian Meyrick described a fascinating familial portrait, at the centre of whom is a deaf boy who seems to listen more than any of the rest of the family.

Writer Kate Mulvaney draws on her own family history in The Seed, to write a piece on the affects of war on those who go and those who stay behind. A three-hander, starring Tony Martin (Wildside) and Sara Gleeson (the third actor as yet uncast), the premise doesn’t leap off the page – but I am thrilled that Anne-Louise Sarks (The Hayloft Project) is getting her main stage debut and can’t wait to see what she does with this intimate little drama.

2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Play – Red by John Logan – was a show I always regretted missing while in New York last year. And while the production (transfered from London) was a big part of its success, I cannot wait to see what film director Alkinos Tsilimidos brings to the work – especially with Colin Friels in the lead role of Mark Rothko. Amazingly, this is Friel’s MTC debut.

If Australian classics don’t always fill me with confidence, I bristle at Australian political satire – since it’s often too broad for it to make its point. Jonathan Biggins has been responsible for the Wharf Revue at STC the last couple of years, which means he knows his stuff – but I hope this play, Australia Day, doesn’t just feel like a review with more plot. That said, Geoff Morrell is perfectly cast here – but again, this play will be competing with his previous work on “Grass Roots”, which to me was a perfect season of television (and political commentary).

I have not heard of playwright Richard Bean, nor his play The Heretic, before tonight – but a comedy about climate change science sounds good to me. Even better? Noni Hazlehurst in the lead role and director Matt Scholten (The Nightwatchman, Black Box 149) guarantee a brilliant night in the theatre. Scholten assisted Aiden Fennessy on Life Without Me at MTC last year (which was penned by Scholten’s long time collaborator, Daniel Keene), so it’s great that he’s been able to move up the ladder after doing such great work on the independent scene the last few years.

Aiden Fennessy not only co-programmed this season, he also gets to direct his own play, National Interest – in a co-production with Black Swan Theatre Company. It’s a personal story about Balibo, East Timor – where his cousin was one of the five Australian journalists killed in 1975. Here is a reflection of a mother whose grief continues for thirty years after her son’s murder, reflected through Fennessy’s recollections of stories told over dinner tables across the years.

While Robyn Nevin co-stars in the first show of the season, she gets to take the lead role in this absolutely thrilling adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear – playing the title role as Queen Lear, in a production developed for Nevin with director Rachel McDonald. One of my great regrets is not seeing Sir Ian McKellan in this role when he toured Australia with it. Nevin in a gender-reversed production should make up for that ten-fold. This is the show I cannot wait to see in 2012.

His Girl Friday, a stage version of the classic screwball comedy of the 1940s, both excites me – I love rapid fire dialogue, large casts and Pamela Rabe – and scares me – I don’t particularly want to see classic films remade for the stage too often. The 39 Steps has a lot to answer for.

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, directed by Jenny Kemp (a director I’ve long admired) with a cast of seven female actors playing seventeen female roles, thrills me because I’ve read the play – years ago – and never thought I’d see it produced. It is so of its time – the early 80s – but feels like it could be a good way to see how far society has or hasn’t come for women in the corporate world.

I’m puzzled by Elling, but I think we’re supposed to be. The character is a misfit, the premise centres around an odd couple relationship – and the show is to be directed by Pamela Rabe, with the same actor she directed in the role at STC a few years ago. But in a whole new production.  Doesn’t exactly leap of the page, though Rabe waxed rhapsodically about the characters and the world they inhabit.

Music by Barry Oakley, starring Jane Menelaus and Richard Piper, rounds out the2012 Melbourne Theatre Company season – a four-hand, chamber piece, infused with classical music, sounds delicious purely from the structure of it.

The challenge of having three people program MTC’s 2012 Mainstage season seems to have been well met. And the “Don’t Miss The Moment” theme is general enough to accommodate this variety of stage shows, whose productions will sing with their eclectic group of directors – even if young, local voices (and some MTC regulars) miss out.

My first reaction? I want to see all twelve. On reflection, maybe ten. I’ll sleep on it.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The December Photo: from inspiration to a Melbourne Fringe show

Keith Gow, Writer. Richard Di Gregorio, Actor.

Look at us. Look how young we look. Look how full of hope and creativity and smiles we are.

We’re in Richard’s office, sitting in front of his Mac, generating ideas for the one man show that would eventually become RICHARD DI GREGORIO: ON TIME – which premiered at the Melbourne Fringe Festival last night.

(And check out the online story which got published in the hours before opening night.)

Richard and I met when Richard was cast in my play, “The Fidelity Act” – part of last year’s Short & Sweet Melbourne. (Thanks to Ephiny Gale for picking my script and to Yvonne Virsik for suggesting Richard, when Ephiny was having trouble casting the part of Charlie. This year would have been entirely different for us without those two people.)

During rehearsals, which began in October, Richard asked me what else I’d written. He asked if I had ever written a one-man show. It’s a great feeling as a writer to have an actor ask for more of your work – whether to find a part already written that they would be perfect for, or to be asked specifically to write something for them.

Richard had never done a one-man show before and I’d never written one. And while there was a part of me that wondered if I could do it, that whole part about a writer being flattered to be asked to write something for an actor won. And on the drive home from rehearsals, I began turning things over in my mind.

Something I learned about Richard really early on – he can tell a great story. The first great story he ever told about his life, during rehearsals, is actually a part of ON TIME. In the script I refer to it as “The Cigarette Story”, but it’s got much more to it than a story about Richard smoking – it’s about the early days of his relationship with Nin, it’s about freezing cold Ballarat nights and it’s about Braveheart. He made an intimate story seem epic. He made a small moment feel big enough to tell on stage.

Early on in the process, when the page is blank, I could write anything. What can Richard do? What is he interested in? What does he want to say? Does he want me to create a character for him? Or, should we play to his strengths – Richard telling stories about his own life?

As we sat there, in Richard’s office, for our first proper meeting – we’d met once earlier at Blue Train for dinner and drinks, but December was when we got down to business – Richard took the above photo. That was the beginning of a brilliant working relationship.

Getting to know him – remember, I’d only met him in October – and getting to know his strengths as a storyteller and other skills he had (very early on, I asked him if he could sing – this became crucial to the show), Richard told me a lot of stories about himself. Enough stories that there could be a sequel, although perhaps with another overriding theme. Or maybe we cherry picked the very best for ON TIME, ones that flow beautifully from one to the next, with some nicely crafted tangents to make a whole show.

Early on, we decided we didn’t want the show to just be stand-up. We wanted it to be a proper theatre show, even though it has elements of stand-up in it. I still don’t think I’m comfortable with the idea of writing an hour of stand-up material, but collaborating with Richard proved that I could definitely write a one-man show for the right actor.

It might be in the Comedy section of the Fringe Festival guide, but it’s a variety show. There’s stand-up and storytelling, a song (or two) and a sitcom about Time & Space dropped into the middle. And, after finally getting to see the whole show last night (my 9 to 5 job kept me away from rehearsals), it achieves a good balance of humour and contemplation; laughs and reflection. Comedy/Drama – you know, those old standards.

We had a first draft by March and a director (Chris Broadstock) soon after. Then our producer, Ephiny Gale, came on board. And the team was off and running.

Not a lot of changes happened to the script after March. We rearranged where the stories sat in the running order and we changed the tone of a couple of them, one rehearsals had started; when Richard and Chris could see how things flowed and anticipated what the audience reaction might be to the stories and to the – slightly fictionalised – Richard Di Gregorio.

I’m really proud of the work we’ve all done and thrilled with the finished product. I hope many of you reading this can come along and check it out over the next two weeks. And for those of you not in Melbourne, we’re off to Adelaide in March – and planning a little trip to Edinburgh later in the 2012. Look out world, Keith and Richard are ON TIME.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Reflections on when life changes: MTC's Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation: Deidre Rubenstein as a snake,
Roger Oakley as a bed, Kate Cole as an elm tree
Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation is a gentle play which slowly excavates the characters' lives from beneath the most deliberately false of facades - acting. In fact, it pokes gentle fun at the art of becoming someone else by setting the story in a community college in Vermont - far away from the bright lights of the New York stage and far away from what the young character of Lauren (Brigid Gallacher) thinks acting is about.

The danger in play that uses acting as a metaphor - and acting classes and exercises to lend weight to the material - is that it might feel a bit too "inside" for most audiences. Even theatre audiences, who are used to live theatre, might not be aware of these tricks of the trade - how actors learn to be present, learn to trust themselves and each other, how they learn to open up without exposing themselves.

And yet, this show sidesteps that problem quite effectively. Yes, there were definitely some knowing laughs in the audience (pick the actors and a writer who has attended enough rehearsals and participated in enough acting exercises to understand) but I think the characters other lives are deftly drawn in amongst the business of learning a craft.

What I adored most about this production is that on every level from script to performance to direction, things were very understated. There were no large dramatic moments, but a series of very effective smaller moments which - taken together - formed a very successful whole. Somehow, through these various exercises and classes, we do learn more about teacher, husband, divorcee, lapsed (professional) actress and teenage dreamer.

The cast is excellent, with Deidre Rubenstein and Kate Cole as standouts.

*

The ending of Circle Mirror Transformation is also very effective. No spoilers here. But it did get me to reflect on moments my life has changed - both recently and in the past. Sometimes it feels like so many things have happened to bring me to this point in life, but there are one or two moments that I know have had changed the course of my life - even if they felt small at the time.

Thinking particularly of my writing - and I had several teachers in high school that encouraged me to write creatively - the best decision I made early on was to not take up a place at University (in a generic Arts course) but to go to TAFE to study Professional Writing & Editing. It was there I got a taste for performance writing - for film, for theatre - as opposed to writing novels, which is what I expected to be doing as a creative pursuit. It seemed crazy, after University was instilled as the important next step after high school, to give away that place at Monash for a spot at Holmesglen. But I'm glad I did.

More recently, let's say almost twelve months ago exactly, I had a short play of mine chosen for production at Short & Sweet Melbourne. I'd had another piece performed at S&S Malaysia a couple of years before and was involved with a couple of groups that slowly helped me with my writing and networking, but getting into S&S Melbourne last year introduced me to a couple of people who have been a big influence on me this year.

Ephiny Gale directed "The Fidelity Act" and cast Richard Di Gregorio in it and, even as S&S continued, Richard and I began turning over ideas for a one man show he was to star in. Nearly twelve months later and we are a week away from opening Richard Di Gregorio: On Time (produced by Ephiny Gale).

Now my involvement with the Cold Reading Series last year has led to other major connections this year, that's true - but my S&S involvement certainly cemented a quick connection with Christine Husband and Renee Palmer when I met them at CRS this year. And that has led to Three Women, which will premiere in February 2012.

Theatre is - as is most drama - about big dramatic moments. But sometimes, it's little things, small decisions or fateful meetings, that turn out to have a huge effect on our lives. Circle Mirror Transformation finds a way to make small moments lifechanging.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

You Can Take A Picture: Meeting Alan Ball and TV as (bad) influence

Alan Ball (writer, director, Academy Award winner) and Keith Gow (fan)
It used to be cringe-worthy to say I was inspired to become a writer by the television I watched. I was a voracious reader as a child and I was exposed to theatre and was a film buff as a teenager, but the lasting narratives in my life were television serials. Often soap operas. But TV was a constant with me as a child. It's where my lasting love of continuing stories comes from.

It's no coincidence then that one TV show I could point to as a great influence on me - when I was studying writing and had to articulate what made me love long-form television narratives - was Twin Peaks. It was soap opera and detective series and Gothic melodrama of the highest order. And it was one of the very early examples of feature film auteurs putting their stamp on the small screen.

I used to say Twin Peaks was my favourite television series. And certainly in the context of TV shows that changed the face of TV - and my opinion of the medium, David Lynch and Mark Frost's cult television series remains a great influence. It made me see what TV could do. Unfortunately, it took television a long time to catch up and prove it could keep doing it.

At some point, I started thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as my favourite TV series - mostly because it combined the high school drama with vampires, werewolves and never forgot the heart of the human drama. When I saw Joss Whedon speak in Melbourne (and got his autograph), I was almost struck speechless - though I did thank him for Buffy and asked him his favourite Sondheim musical.

Tonight, I saw Alan Ball speak about his career. I was enamoured with American Beauty after its release and captivated by Six Feet Under from its premiere episode to its very final episode five years later. Later, his series about the Fisher family and their funeral business became my favourite television series of all time - and now I've met its creator, too.

He talked of growing up in a small country town, of writing plays in New York, taking a job on Grace Under Fire so he could start a proper writing career, moving onto Cybill - and finding himself feeling like he was on the assembly line of a factory. No wonder American Beauty is about a writer trying to find passion in his life again.

After winning the Academy Award for best original screenplay, he was taken more seriously as a writer by other people (though he insists his views on his own abilities never changed) and this led to his creating Six Feet Under - a show for whom HBO had a single note on the pilot: can you make it more fucked up? He was up to the challenge!

The Q&A with Alan Brough was illuminating and the talkback section beckoned me, though I remained shyly in my seat. Luckily, someone else asked about the final montage of Six Feet Under and Alan talked about writing the script, then choosing the song ("Breath Me" by Sia) and then shooting with the song in mind.

Afterwards, he was signing DVDs - but all I wanted was a photograph. And I got one. And I got to thank him for Six Feet Under - one of the most profound and moving television shows I've ever watched. He seemed quite appreciative of the comment. And for the rest of the night, I was floating on air.

Television is in a golden age right now. Six Feet Under helped to usher it in. Mad Men has probably taken up its mantle as my favourite show on air. But Six Feet Under remains my favourite television series of all time. Meeting Alan Ball can't make me love that show any more than I already do, but maybe I might try watching True Blood again?

Or do my other favourites-of-all-time - Twin Peaks and Buffy - cover the supernatural melodrama genres well enough?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

News from the world of Keith

It's been an amazing - and ridiculously busy - week. I won't ever talk much about my day job here, but it's also gotten insanely busy just as one of my shows opens and the other opens in less than two weeks.

THE WOODEN LEG season of short plays at The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond had an amazing opening night - full house and some great feedback from the audience after. I've been to all three performances so far and I think the show is getting stronger and stronger every night. I particularly love the intimacy of the three spaces and how that is helping tell all three stories. The audiences are quite confronted by "You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia" - especially as they circle the actors, like people surrounding a schoolyard fight. And of particular interest is the moment when Paul throws Tom against one wall - forcing the audience to move or get crushed in this great moment of physical theatre. (I was on that wall opening night, so it seemed staged. Last night my mother was against that wall - and it was fun to see her reaction!)

My other play, "Sibling Loyalty," is easier to enjoy - it's a lot more lighthearted, even though it's a pitch black comedy. There are more obvious laughs, even if the subject matter is pretty serious by the end. (That said, "Leia" elicited a lot more laughs from the audience last night - of which I was very glad!) The space "Loyalty" plays in is even more intimate and on opening night, Brad had to climb over audience members to come into the room - and find a small amount of space to perform in. I always love sitting front row to watch shows. In this case, it's very close quarters for everyone involved and everyone watching.

The Wooden Leg as a group has come together quite quickly, but we're all so thrilled with what we've been able to achieve in such a short amount of time, we'll be sticking together to see what we can achieve with more time at our disposal. To that end, we'll be having a post-production/look-to-the-future meeting this week to see where we head next.

But don't be surprised if you see another Wooden Leg show before the end of the year.

*

RICHARD DI GREGORIO: ON TIME is less than two weeks away from opening as part of Melbourne Fringe. The short film pieces are almost done, all the practical stuff like hiring equipment and last minute arrangements with the space are mostly dealt with. We're still looking for a lighting tech to crew the show, but I think that's close to being confirmed, too.

I've also been taking every opportunity to hand out our business cards which Ephiny had printed up for the show - they look great and are very practical. I'm getting lots of great feedback on using business cards as advertising, too - since most shows use postcards or flyers, which often get chucked or disappear into bags never to be found (until after the production). Business cards can go in wallets, diaries, mobile phone cases and are easy to find and reference.

Will be talking a little bit more about the show closer to its arrival. But excited for it to open and thrilled to see the finished product myself!

*

SHORT & SWEET MELBOURNE announced their script shortlist for their November season and one of my short plays was chosen! The final program will be announced in a week, so cross fingers that by next weekend there will be another production of my work under way.

Now you see, I thought with The Wooden Leg show closing, I'd be able to slow down - but no! Well, it depends who is directing my piece for S&S as to how involved I am in that production. On the plus side, it's a monologue for a female actor, so there will be many actors to choose from in auditions - and it's far easier to organise rehearsals for one actor than many.

*

And when I say I was looking forward to slowing down, what I meant to say was - spend more of my time focusing on THREE WOMEN, which we're still aiming to do in February 2012. Things are coming together well for that show, too - with a production designer on board and finally finding a space that's within our budget and suits our needs. Will post more once our next meeting is held - which is proving difficult as we head into Fringe Fest season.

*

Alan Ball: film about death, show about death, show about the undead
And today I'm having a lazy day... sending emails about possible future shows, etc. Which is relatively lazy. Tonight, Richard and I are off to see Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood) speak with Alan Brough about his career. Can't wait!

Then, off to celebrate Donna (Maria in "Sibling Loyalty")'s birthday.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Wooden Leg: Dress Rehearsal Day!

I took some photos during the rehearsals/run-throughs before the dress rehearsal today because at dress we ran the shows one after the other to see how the night flows and I didn't want to distract actors with a camera. Flows really well. Here's one shot from each play. Opens Wednesday at Owl and Pussycat in Richmond.

Book now!

Paul Knox as Thirty-Five, Tom Carmody as Fifteen in
"You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia"

Brad Williams as Brendan, Donna Pope as Maria in
"Sibling Loyalty"

Paul Knox, Wallis Murphy-Munn and Petra Elliott in
"Immersed" by Hayley Lawson-Smith

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Shooting Everyone! Making the intro for "Richard Di Gregorio: On Time"

Keith Gow, actor (alleged)
Look at that pained expression in my eyes. That's the writer in me wanting to run away from the greasepaint make-up and the indignity of standing out in public - having people stare, even as I hid behind this mask of character. Or, you know, I hate having my photo taken even when I'm unrecognisable!

There's definitely a frustrated actor in me wanting to get out, but usually I leave it up to the trained and the professional. Today, I shot a cameo for the introductory sequence for Richard Di Gregorio: On Time - on sale now! End plug.

(If anyone out there knows about the character I am playing, can you keep that to yourselves, thanks :-)

In fact, most of the people already involved in the production are taking part in front of the camera for this introduction to the show. Producer Ephiny Gale, Director Chris Broadstock will be front a centre for a line or two - as well as Richard's partner, Niniane LePage, and Chris Broadstock's mother, Joan. Nick Brien (who starred alongside Richard in The Fidelity Act last year - written by me, directed by Ephiny) joined us today to help round out the cast of characters.
Richard explains to Nick the next shot

We shot on and around Chapel St, close to The Space Dance & Arts Centre where the show will be staged in Sept/Oct. I was on location for about five hours, while Richard, Chris (and Richard's cousin, Tony - professional photographer and cameraman today) went a little longer, trying to get the last shots before they lost the light.

Nin had to leave early but before she did, she applied my make-up - which meant I had to do a little travelling between there and where we actually shot my scene. I was trying to make it from point A to point B in back streets, but Richard was intent on getting people to look at me! I am hoping I was unrecognisable enough, even though I could feel the quick glances and stares as we made our way down Chapel St in my car and then on foot. This is the exact opposite of what writer Keith likes. But I think the actor inside me kinda liked it.

You can see Richard on stage, as well as Ephiny, Chris, Niniane, Joan, Nick and myself on screen at Melbourne Fringe from Sept 23rd to Oct 2nd. Two weeks and six days to go!