Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Edinburgh #7: Three weeks until opening night...

It's less than 48 hours until the finish of our Indiegogo fundraiser for Edinburgh Fringe. I'm still amazed at the generosity of family, friends, colleagues, fellow artists and strangers for all they've donated so far. We're so much closer to where we need to be now - posters have gone to print, costumes are being bought and assembled.

I'm starting to plan the annotated script that we're giving away as part of the fundraiser. Jen, Cameron and Emrys are ready to get into the nitty gritty of the final few weeks of rehearsals. (Being the creative fellows they are, Emrys directed a production of Twelfth Night last weekend at Stratford-Upon-Avon, in which Cameron appeared as Feste.)

This morning I woke to find that the Australian Times - a newspaper for expat Australians published in the UK - has listed Who Are You Supposed to Be as one of the Top Australian acts at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Number #7, in fact!

It even appeared in print:


We've had a bit of publicity at Doctor Who sites, blogs and in the Edinburgh Press. See the almost exhaustive list here.

Last weekend, while the boys were off in Stratford, Jen was doing a lengthy vlog-cast (?) interview about fans, fandom, crowdfunding and the show! See it below:



Meanwhile, I've been sending out press releases, trying to set up more interviews, planning a possible tour of the show post-Edinburgh. Maybe Manchester. Hopefully London. And more into the future...

And, of course, trying to get everyone to support the show at Indiegogo or by buying a ticket! Spread the word. Only 44 hours to go on the fundraiser. And three weeks until opening night!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Modern Superwoman in Adelaide: Five.Point.One's Reading Sessions


five.point.one presents... 
A Modern Superwoman by Keith Gow

August 4, 7:30pm. Bar open from 6:30pm. Holden Street Theatres, Adelaide.

Starring Sophie Bruhn, Claire Glenn, Matt Gregan, Roger Newcombe, Caitlin McCreanor

Directed by Tiffany Knight

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Adventures in theatre: Sydney Edition – The Maids, Angels in America

THE MAIDS


Cate Blanchett and her husband, playwright Andrew Upton, have been the Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company since 2009. Just before Blanchett retires from the role of AD, while Upton keeps running the place, I thought I should see a show they have both worked on – an adaptation of Jean Genet’s “The Maids”. Directed by Benedict Andrews, one of the finest stage directors working in Australia today.

I had heard of the play, but didn’t really know anything about it beyond the basic premise. I had heard great things about the production, but one clear dissenting voice, but mostly I was excited to finally see Cate Blanchett on stage. The bonus was getting to see Isabelle Huppert opposite her – and Elizabeth Debicki almost steal the show as the maids’ “mistress”.

The play is about two maids who plot to murder the woman they work for. It’s a black comedy – and this production is riotously funny – and very black indeed. Not that you could tell that from the immaculate and colourful set – the mistress’ bedroom, filled with large bunches of flowers and a rack of clothing spanning the width of the stage. A bedroom that is otherwise surrounded by glass walls.

The genius of the production is that while you might choose to focus on the almost slapstick work of the actors on stage, a large, imposing screen hangs above it and onto that screen is projected close-up of the actors: harsh images of their faces, sometimes distorting them, sometimes exposing the clear devastation of events. One minute it’s an hilarious farce and the next, you’re confronted with a discarded pair of shoes, a twitching hand or a face that tells a story without blinking.


Blanchett, Huppert and Debicki are incredible, not a single one outshining another. Huppert’s accent was sometimes a little too thick to be clearly understood, but oftentimes the emotion or the action spelled it out clear enough. Blanchett, who has lit up the silver screen for so long, is an absolute powerhouse on stage. It seems so ridiculous to say that, but since this was my first time seeing her live, it was so exciting for me. Debicki is having an amazing year, since she’s also starring in Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” – and proving she is the equal of Blanchett and Huppert is an incredible achievement.

I don’t remember the last time a production has made me laugh so heartily and consistently from beginning to end. Well, almost to the end. Because as this dark comedy reaches its climax, it gets blacker and blacker until the final blackout. And the three women took three bows. Well deserved.

*

ANGELS IN AMERICA

Where should I begin? 1994. The show – both Millennium Approaches and Perestroika - premieres at the Melbourne Theatre Company under the direction of Neil Armfield at the Playhouse – and I missed it. I wanted to go. I wanted to find someone who was willing to spend seven hours in a theatre with me. I wanted to have that experience. I was studying writing at the time. I’d never heard of such a thing – such an epic play, such an event.

Cut to 2003. Angels in America premieres on HBO as a six-hour mini-series. This was before I started using torrents to download TV shows, but it’s one of the last times I remember sourcing a video taped copy of something after it aired in the US. Video tapes? Remember those?

2013. Belvoir Theatre in Sydney produces the whole thing, the first professional mainstage production in Sydney since 1993. And I got to see the entirety of this epic of 20th century playwriting on stage for the first time. And it did not disappoint.

I do still wonder how I would have reacted to this as a naive nineteen-year-old. Almost twenty years later, the piece – which is set in 1985 – has lost a little bit of its power but none of its intelligence and wit. 

Audiences are still witness to virtuosic performances and theatre magic, even if it’s done in a tongue-in-cheek style. The appearances and disappearances of characters are done in a low-fi way. The angel ascends by climbing a step-ladder. But the power of he text still evokes a time and a place – and tells a story of identity and gender and sexual politics that still remains vital and relevant today.

Times change, people change. The text has changed. Tony Kushner’s programme notes allude to some of the changes he’s made to Perestroika, still wrestling to get Part 2 right, where he says Part 1: Millennium Approaches appeared fully-formed twenty-two years ago. I’ve seen the mini-series and read the text of the script. I know some sections and scenes Kushner suggests are optional. And Kushner has strengthened Joe’s story, though in such a way as it is hard to notice as an audience member; apparently there’s more there for the actor to hook into, while Joe’s ending is still left as ambiguous as ever.


This production, under the auspices of director Eamon Flack, was emotional without being devastating. It was exciting to watch Millennium Approaches, even from the back row. It was thrilling to watch Perestroika from the front row, some of the actors only an arm’s length away. Perestroika is messy but understandably so; the characters’ lives are turned upside-down, they are grappling with changes they cannot comprehend. Personal, emotional and societal changes that upended communities dealing with the AIDS crisis in 1985.

It’s a pity it took me twenty years to see Angels in America on stage, but there’s no way to change that now. It’s not like the show is produced very often in its full, unadulterated glory. But then, sometimes shows this powerful need time to find the right director, the right actors and the right time to bring it back. This production has found all of those elements.


This great work is on at Belvoir St Theatre and transfers to the Theatre Royal in Sydney on July 18.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Jumping the lowest bar: Passing the Bechdel Test on stage

The Bechdel Test was first described in the comic strip, “The Rule” in 1985. A female character says she only watches films that satify the following three requirements:

1.       The film contains at least two women
2.       Who talk to each other
3.       About something besides a man.

The rule is supposed to be a low bar to get over. But it demonstrates effectively how often Hollywood fails when it comes to representing women on the big screen.

This blog post includes a lot of great graphs on the number of films that pass the test. And this site is a user edited guide to specific films and discussions of which rules films pass – and which they  fail. Sometimes there is disagreement.

Films and theatre are different mediums but I decided to put the theatre I have watched and the plays I have written to the Bechdel test.

As I mentioned before, the Bechdel Test seems like an easy one to pass. It doesn’t suggest how important the women are to the film or the story. It doesn’t suggest that the women are interesting or relevant or strong or multi-layered, just that they exist and talk to each other about something apart from a man. Films could pass this test by having a cameo appearance by two women saying hi to each other.

How does theatre compare? Some of the conventions of theatre make analysis tricky. The recent On the Bodily Education of Young Girls by Adena Jacobs and Fraught Outfit had a stage filled with young girls and women – but it is essentially dialogue free. In Angela’s Kitchen last year, Paul Capsis plays all the members of his immediate family – including his mother and grandmother, who interact during a large dinner scene starring the whole family. For me, both of these shows pass the test.

One-woman or one-man shows are typical stage endeavours. As are two-handers. It’s very unusual for films to have casts this small, but on stage it happens a lot. A female monologue about anything apart from a man still fails the test. A male and female two-hander, even about the subject of gender politics, fails – even when the female character talks to her mother, because the mother is unseen. But I’m not sure that’s exactly the spirit of the Bechdel Test.

Putting aside comparisons between the two mediums, using those three rules, 50% of the shows I’ve seen in the last twelve months pass the Bechdel Test. At last week’s Sunday Sessions at Belvoir St theatre in Sydney, playwright Tom Wright discussed analysing the plays of all the mainstage theatre companies in Australia every year – and his overall impression is that most years only 20% of shows pass the Bechdel test.

For comparison, of the Top 20 user-rated films at the IMDB, only three pass the test – Schindler’s List, The Godfather Part II and Pulp Fiction. But barely.

*

Penny (Renee Palmer) talks to herself in Like a House on Fire
but passes the test in Painting with Words & Fire

If you’ve seen any of my plays or read this blog for a while, a lot of my work is dominated by female characters. But how does my writing stack up against the Bechdel Test?

I have five full-length plays. Three of them pass the test. The fourth is a two-hander, one man and one woman. It’s the play I alluded to above – one about gender politics, where the woman is seen to speak with her mother, but her mother is on the other end of the phone line, unheard. The fifth play is a one-man show. Three of five. 60%.

I have twelve short plays that run between five and twenty minutes. Only three of these pass the test. 25%.

One other features two female characters who do not talk to each other. Three others are female monologues, which – when combined – actually produced a show that did pass the test, Painting with Words & Fire. But as monologues, they are three women talking to themselves.

Of all my short plays, the casts are usually two or three only. One has four characters – two men, two women; the women do not interact at all.

*

The Bechdel Test is a simple proof that women are almost invisible in feature films. While the graphs linked above might suggest about half of all films pass the test, remember how little it takes to pass. Passing the test doesn’t mean women are well represented in that film; the only reason Pulp Fiction passes is that two women discuss tongue piercings and fellatio. The Godfather, Part II and Schindler’s List pass based on one scene each.


In theatre, I think it might be more clear if a work passes or doesn’t pass. We don’t have extraneous characters; either there are two female characters who interact or there are not. Characters aren’t on stage for cameos, they are always important parts of the work. And yet, the percentage of mainstage theatre company works in Australia still puts the number at 20% pass. To me, that is a major failing.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Edinburgh #6: VIDEO - Director, writer & cast

Jennifer Lusk, Cameron K McEwan, Emrys Matthews and I discuss Who Are You Supposed to Be? amongst other geeky loves.



Our Indiegogo campaign is still running - any support is greatly appreciated!