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
-     The Production Company, 2015

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
-     Film, 1977

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
-     Victorian Opera, 2015

Merrily We Roll Along
-          Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

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

Into the Woods
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Melbourne Theatre Company, 1998
-          Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park, 2012
-          Victorian Opera, 2014
-     FabNobs, 2015

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

Updated: 11/7/2015

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.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Inevitability: The rise and the dawn of the Planet of the Apes


I think one of the hardest narrative tricks to pull off is writing a story to an inevitable conclusion. A conclusion that the audience knows is coming. Some authors want you to know; Shakespeare tells us that his two star crossed lovers take their lives in the prologue of Romeo & Juliet. It’s a tragedy and you’re waiting to see how that falls into place.

Prequels suffer a similar pressure; we know what’s coming, but what happens on the way there. And if we're already emotionally invested in the outcome, maybe we won't care about what came before? David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me tells the last week of Laura Palmer’s life; the object of Twin Peaks becomes the subject of the film. The dread comes from seeing what we know to be true come true.

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2011, it had a lot to live up to – The Planet of the Apes is a classic of the genre, as well as having one of the most famous endings in the history of film. In fact, its ending is so well known, people who haven’t seen the movie will still recognise the indelible image of the Statue of Liberty.

But Rise also had a pitfall to avoid. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was not very well received and for good reason – it had no real reason to exist. It seemed to have no purpose and no real point of view. Burton’s film also tries to outdo the original’s twist ending and it is laughable.

Rise and its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are playing toward the ending of the original film – there are seeds planted in the first prequel that will lead to an astronaut landing on the Planet of the Apes, in a film that is due in 2016. And to that end, we are watching a tragedy and the pieces fall into place.

I think that’s fitting for a pair of films that is so critical of modern society and, in particular, our treatment of animals. They are not saying that war can be avoided. They are not saying we can defeat the worst parts of our nature. These films are saying that, well, power corrupts. In fact, even in ape society, they fish and subjugate horses. And there are apes that are in power and apes that want to wrest that power away.

The parallels between the humans and apes in this story are drawn clearly but with subtlety. We are certainly not lectured to. And the filmmakers know that the best way to tell this story is to find a balance; in fact, much of the first act explores the ape society – the mere appearance of a human being is the first significant narrative turn in Dawn. But by then, we are emotionally engaged with Ceasar and his family and their society.

Andy Serkis is stunning in the role of Ceasar, helped enormously by the CGI artists involved in bringing all the apes to life. Well, to be honest, the CGI is so life-like these days, some of those scenes might have been guys in suits. But don’t even tell me if you know. I think maybe they found apes who could act.


Rise was a stunning achievement – a reinvention of the Apes mythology for the twenty-first century. Dawn is an even greater feat – building on what had come before, in Rise, and toward what we know is inevitable. The Planet of the Apes. Set for release in 2016.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sonnigsburg: Day One


Late in 2013, Fiona Bulle had an idea for a television show – and we’re just about ready to start shooting it. Today, though, was a table read of Episode One, with as much of the cast and crew and we could get together on this chilly Melbourne Sunday.

It’s been seven months since Fiona corralled a group of four writers into a room and we started throwing ideas around. Sonnigsburg will be a six-part supernatural drama that is scheduled to air on Channel 31 in 2015. And the writers room was a new experience for all of us. Early on we decided who would take ownership of what episodes – and then it was a matter of pitching the kind of stories we wanted to tell and the kind of characters we wanted to populate the series.

Sonnigsburg is a mystery; a town in the woods that hasn’t been visited for seventy years. Or so the legend goes. Nearby is the town of Mount Sunshine – and it’s there that our main character stops on her way to research Sonnigsburg. Savannah’s ex has called her out of the blue, desperate for help – but when Savannah arrives in town and her past begins to catch up with her, she realises that the residents of Mount Sunshine are haunted by their pasts, too.

Fiona, our creator and Executive Producer, wrote the pilot episode that begins shooting next week in Walhalla – a town in country Victoria that bills itself as “the most haunted town in Australia”. Perfectly fitting for our supernatural drama.

Today was our first opportunity to get most of the cast and crew together; to meet, hang out, get to know each other a bit better – and have a read through of the first script. It was great to finally hear the whole script being read by our amazing cast of actors.

I’ll post semi-regular updates about the production process here, but you can also follow our Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram. There will be a website soon enough as well.


Sonnigsburg - [Official Teaser Trailer] from GLENN - DARK EPIC productions on Vimeo.

Sonnigsburg will be produced by Rock Bottom Productions and Wrongtown Films with assistance from the Community Broadcast Fund and Channel 31.

Sonnigsburg was created and written by Fiona Bulle, Alex Scott, Meaghan Bell and Keith Gow

Sonnigsburg stars Ann Troung, Don Bridges, Dushan Philips, Maree Shefford, Soren Jensen, Nadia Andary, Gavin Williams, Juliene Vanner, Sam Eddy, Petra Elliott and Ian Stenlake. With Eryn Saunders, Ethan Oppy and Olivia Sprague.

Friday, 4 July 2014

“That was pretty good for a play”; Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES on stage

Above is a quote from one young audience member, even before he’d exited the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse. I don’t know what other experience he’d had with plays; ‘pretty good’ might mean that he wasn’t really impressed with other stage shows he’s seen. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to expect from a one-man version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

The theatre was basically full, mostly of parents and their children – some of whom were delighted by their interaction with actor Guy Edmonds before the show even began. The boy sitting next to me – who would later become part of the play, as a Witch – was talking to his mother about what he was expecting. Or, rather, they were discussing how they thought Edmonds might pull off different parts of the story.

“How is he going to become the witch, do you think?” his mother asked.

“Masks, probably.” He was quite confident.

“What about the mice? How do you think he’ll do the mice?”

The boy thought for a while and figured out that Edmonds might just crawl around on the floor. The answer to how he “does” the mice is what makes the show such fun – and I won’t give it away here, but he uses three different techniques to bring the mice to life, each more thrilling than the last.


For a show that runs for fifty minutes, it’s full of invention that many plays of twice the length can lack. The script and direction are tight. Edmonds performance is so full of energy – as you might expect, but also clever and layered. The twist and turns of his body and voice as the various characters act and interact was precise but also felt spontaneous. There was so much life in a show that could feel like just a technical accomplishment in lesser hands.

I don’t know what children expect when they go to the theatre. I see so much theatre, I come in with baggage – it’s been so long since I’ve read The Witches or seen the film that I really wish I’d remembered it better. But the conversations I overheard before and those I heard after meant that whatever these kids wanted, they got something they really enjoyed.

I expected to have fun. I didn’t expect to be grinning from ear-to-ear from beginning to end.

Australian children’s theatre is some of the best in the world. This production of The Witches continues that tradition. Though the show has already played Sydney and closes in Melbourne this weekend, I expect a tour will come soon enough. Because there are a lot more children across Australia to be delighted by this show.


It is pretty good for a play, after all.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Theatre in New York, 2014

Seeing theatre in New York inspires me. Being in a city with such a vibrant theatre culture is exciting. We may have gone slightly overboard to start with – seven shows in four days, but even the ability to be able to do that is thrilling. We slowed down after that, which was good for our sanity and our theatre-going mood. It’s hard to not want to sample everything that New York theatre has to offer, which is impossible – but still tempting.

Here’s some short reviews of the shows I saw.

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch
It’s true that the reason that this production is so great is that Neil Patrick Harris is perfect in the lead role – and he brings the audience along with him. What makes it even better than expected are the tweaks to bring this cabaret show to a Broadway-sized stage, plus – a masterful performance by Lena Hall as Yitzhak, whose character is fleshed out here like never before.


Violet
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Sutton Foster on stage, but I went into this show blind – having no idea how beautiful it would be, how sweet and charming and just delightful.

Sleep No More
This show, on the other hand, had a lot of expectation to live up to. Everyone I know who had seen it, loved it. And a version of Macbeth set in a noirish Hitchcockian hotel that is a total immersive experience for the audience – that’s exactly my kind of thing. It was actually better than I expected. From quiet moments of exploring rooms by myself to the wilder banquet room scenes – to the intimate one-on-one moments with an actor in a closet or a phone booth. Unforgettable.


Pippin
I love Diane Paulus’ work – her production of Hair from a few years ago still ranks as a theatre-going highlight. The thing about Pippin is that the show is very messy; there’s some great songs, but the script wants to say things and quite often it come across as heavy-handed. This production makes the show work. This production makes me think more highly of Pippin that I ever have before. And it’s the circus that makes the show fly.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Farce is not my thing. There’s a lot to enjoy about this show, in particular Jefferson Mays’ playing multiple roles with relish. But the songs are most unmemorable – and there’s really only one song/sequence where the show was firing on all cylinders for me. But if you like a ridiculous farce and amazing costumes, this is the show for you. It wasn’t the Best Musical of the year though, was it?

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Only a couple of days ago I wrote, “If Audra McDonald had not already won six Tony Awards, she would have deserved six Tony Awards for this performance alone.” Though every aspect of this show (direction, production, performance) is note perfect, it is also deceptively simple – Audra is Billie Holiday in the last few months of her life, performing in a South Philly bar. That’s it. But what perfection that performance is. Often you can see the seams of a performance on stage. Not here. Audra becomes Billie.


Heathers
I have a great love of the film version of this 80s high school satire, which I still think is far more biting than any of its imitators since. I went into this musical adaptation with a lot of hesitation; maybe I could enjoy it, but how much? I thought it was great. I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. There is some really clever changes, some awesome songs – and really solid performances. And I was so happy to be front row centre and briefly part of the show. Big fun!

Idina Menzel at Radio City Music Hall
She opens with Defying Gravity and closes with Frozen and in between gives an eclectic performance of songs – from an Ethel Merman medly to a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. Her stage persona is relaxed and silly and fun, which I honestly didn’t expect. She swore. There was a boob slip. And she kept going like the powerhouse performer I expected. And all at Radio City Music Hall. The unplugged version of For Good was another highlight.

If/Then
On the other hand, this show which stars Idina Menzel, is an utter mess. I guess it was written for her and built around her and it’s worth seeing for her performance alone, but – it makes me despair. This show is going to run and run on star power, but most of the songs are bland and most of the characters are cardboard. And given the show’s pedigree, it should have been so much better.

Cabaret
A remount of a twenty-year-old production. But when the production is this good, why not do it again and again? Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s “Cabaret” is perfect, especially with Alan Cumming as the Emcee. Design, costume and most of the performances make this a production for the ages. The less said about Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, the better.


The Cripple of Inishmaan
I love Martin McDonagh’s writing and it was great to see Daniel Radcliffe playing cripple Billy. The script is sharp and funny and the performances were full of the energy that McDonagh’s text needs.

Broadway Bares
Half-naked people singing songs with cameos from Broadway stars to raise money for charity! How can that not be a good time? It was a good time.

Julie Klausner @ Joe’s Pub
I hadn’t heard of Julie Klausner – podcaster and comedy writer – before we booked tickets to see her cabaret show. My friend Lana has been listening to her podcast “How Was Your Week” for a few years – and I’m glad this show popped up on a Monday night while we were in New York, because Klausner is the exact brand of oddball, biting and hilarious that I love on a cabaret stage.

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There are 40 theatres that constitute Broadway. After three visits to NY, I have now been in 20 of them – some multiple times. I don’t think I saw one actor across all three visits, but I did see a different Michael Greif production each time: Next to Normal in 2010, RENT Off-Broadway in 2012 and If/Then in 2014.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Five projects: why I'm only now writing my second blog post of 2014

Where does this lead?
I never have enough time to do everything, but so far this year, I’ve used all my spare time to do the things I want to do. I’m balancing several projects at different stages of development. It’s mid-April, though, and my first blog post was this week – about spoilers and Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”.

And though I’ve been to see some amazing theatre this year – so far the highlights have been “Neighbourhood Watch” at Melbourne Theatre Company and The Rabble’s “Frankenstein” at the Malthouse – 2014 has been mostly focused on writing. My writing and collaborations. Productions and pre-production. Applications and workshops and improvisation.

I’ve never really believed in writers’ block. I always have more projects that I’d like to work on than time in the day, week or year. Ideas that have bubbled away in the back of my mind for months and years before I’ve committed words to a page. Sometimes I can’t make the small things work. Lines or dialogue or scenes. But I tend to always have ideas waiting to be realised.

And the list of projects I want to get to next grows ever-longer. For example, there’s a new play I want to write – but I don’t think I’ll find the time this year. Uncharacteristically, I wrote the first few pages of (working title) “Asylum” just to get those first few images and ideas onto the page, before putting it on the back-back-back burner. And turned to all the projects that are in full swing.

The Dead End

A feature film script that is still in its very early development stages. I’ve been working on this project with a director and a producer since last year, but after beating out a very rough first draft last year, we’ve decided to step back and take a different approach to the material. There are elements of that script we want to keep, but we want to devise a different story altogether.

For a long time, I put off writing a feature film script. There are two or three in the bottom drawer, that shall never see the light of day. But they feel like training, while The Dead End will be the marathon.

The House of Goodbyes

I’ve been playing with this idea with actor/producer Wallis Murphy-Munn for a while and this is the year we decided to get the ball rolling. Though we’re keeping the details of this project close to our chest, we do have some really great actors on board to help us workshop ideas and characters around our central conceit and concept.

A couple of weekends ago we spent a full day with six actors and lots of improvisations based around the premise I gave them and some vague character outlines. Then I let them go and they worked magic. Excited to have finally kickstarted this one.

Sonnigsburg

A six part TV series I’m developing with writer/producer Fiona Bulle and Alex Scott and Meaghan Bell. Channel 31 are interested in looking at the pilot, which is scheduled for filming in July. But for the first four months of the year so far, the four of us have developed the characters and story in a “writers room” model – which is a new way or working for all of us.

Film and theatre are all very collaborative, but plotting a TV series around a table with three other writers – pushing each other to make it the best it can be, is really exhilarating. If I was working on a project like this by myself, I expect it would have taken a lot longer to get to this point – and be nowhere near the shape it’s in now.

Casting is soon and then I can talk more about what the show is about – and maybe give you a sneak peek at some footage we’ve already shot.

A Modern Superwoman

2013 saw two readings of this work – one in Melbourne and one in Adelaide. This year will see a third research reading much further afield, and plans are afoot for a full weeks’ workshop later in the year. The team that’s been assembled for this project is amazing, but there’s not much more I can say about what will happen next. But it’s been at the forefront of my mind for much of the past twelve months and will continue to be for the next twelve months.

Who Are You Supposed To Be?

After its debut at Edinburgh Fringe last year to great reviews and solid audiences – and a short successful run in London a few months later, this show will have its Australian premiere at Melbourne Fringe in September/October. We’re currently searching for a venue and planning marketing strategies. And I’m going to settle in sometime this weekend to do a little bit of a re-write, having learned things from the two previous seasons – and knowing that some pop culture references are very well dated a year later.

I’m really excited about bringing this show to Melbourne, with Edinburgh/London star Jennifer Lusk being joined by the wonderfully nerdy Rob Lloyd.

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I could talk about a short play, another full-length play, a short film and another TV series idea I’ve had. But these are all mere figments, compared to the five projects above.

As always, thanks to my collaborators, who keep me passionate about projects, even when the work seems difficult and the future still hazy.

It’s nice to be busy, but boy am I glad for this four-day weekend. Which, sure, will be filled with writing and re-writing and a Sonnigsburg meeting – but at least I’ve got time to sleep in and make my second blog post for the year.