Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: No More Postcards

Two Princess Leias, a medal and some broken jewellry

Did I ever tell you about the time Carrie Fisher kissed me on the cheek? Stick around, I’ll tell it again soon.

Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia; no getting past that. Except, of course, she did. And then she stepped right back into being her last year. She was the right person to play Leia because she was the right age at the time and she is part of Hollywood royalty.

She was also the right person to have been Leia in retrospect, too. Can you imagine anyone else describing Jabba the Hutt as a “giant saliva testicle”? Anyone else who would bring an audience member up on stage to mount a Leia “sex doll” and whip it away before they get close enough to fulfil their childhood fantasy?

Actors, even those of Star Wars­­­-level fame, go in and out of the spotlight. Oh, you could spot Fisher on screen in the 1980s and 90s, but much of her hard work went on behind the scenes, as a script writer and script doctor. Hook, Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, The Wedding Singer, Scream 3. She had a hand in shaping and fixing those scripts.

She even re-wrote bits of The Empire Strikes Back, because who knows Leia better than Leia herself?

She also did uncredited re-writes on the Star Wars prequels, but not even the genius of Carrie Fisher could save those.

She wrote awards show banter for the Oscars and an episode of Roseanne for her mother, Debbie Reynolds, to guest star in.

And then there was Postcards from the Edge. I think I saw the film before I read the book, but that was her screenplay, too. It was her life. If you can write a movie of your own life and have Meryl Streep star as you, do it. That’s a great film/book about growing up as the daughter of Hollywood legends, and trying to keep it together in a crazy industry.

She hosted a show back in the early 2000s called Interviews from the Edge and I hope someone finds a way to release those for everyone’s consumption, because they were truly hilarious and insightful. The highlights, though, were her interviews with her parents – Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Separately, of course. Genuine and moving and, as you would expect, so very funny.

She was the right person to play Leia because later in life she could write the frankly honest book, The Princess Diarist and her other great memoir, Wishful Drinking. I’ve read Wishful Drinking twice and quote it a lot. Particularly this part about George Lucas, in answer to the question “Did you know Star Wars was going to be a hit?” Carrie wrote:

Yes, of course I knew. We all knew. The only one who didn't know was George Lucas. We kept it from him because we wanted to see what his face looked like when it changed expression - and he fooled us even then. He got Industrial Light and Magic to change his facial expression for him and THX sound to make the noise of a face changing expression.

She turned that book into a stage show which she toured around the world. I saw it from the front row of the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne. Early in the show, her bracelet broke and pieces of it flew into the audience. A few of us scrabbled around on the floor trying to find the bits. After a few seconds, Carrie said: “Oh forget it, I don’t want it now it’s been on the floor.”

I have two pieces of that bracelet. They sit with my two Princess Leia action figures – one from Bespin and one from the forest moon of Endor. Between them sits the medal I won, during a part of the show Carrie called “Hollywood Inbreeding”.

For a while, I just sat there in awe of her. This legendary actor, star of my favourite trilogy from childhood – and probably from adulthood, too. This witty writer. This incredible story-teller.

And then this happened, as she told her story about waking up next to a dead Republican.
Carrie: “Why do they call sex ‘in the saddle’?”
Carrie looked at me, sitting in the front row.
Me: “Because there could be a riding crop involved?” And I made a whipping motion with one hand. Probably the best improvisation I’ve ever made in my life.
Carrie: “Well that says more about you than it does answer the question.” And she was back into the show and I’d had my moment.

Later, though, she started to tell tales of her famous family tree, with its convoluted structure. Her parents both married multiple times and once your father marries Elizabeth Taylor, who was married eight times, you’re suddenly related to half of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

During this part, she asked trivia questions and after our previous encounter, I felt brave enough to answer some of them. I knew most of the answers anyway, because I’m a fan of that era almost as much as I am a fan of hers.

And because I answered the most questions right, Carrie Fisher got down on her knees at the front of the stage and I stood up from my front row seat and she hung a medal around my neck and kissed me on the cheek.

I am writing this through tears, if you were wondering.

I wrote a play that was inspired by that moment, that encounter with a legend and a hero of my childhood. It’s called “You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia” and it’s just a short play about how life never turns out like you expect, but can be amazing in many ways you cannot plan for.

Princess Leia is a key figure in another play of mine “Who Are You Supposed to Be” which is, ostensibly, my Doctor Who play, but it’s really about women in fandom and the heroes they find there. Leia is described as one of the great science fiction characters of all time, lost in an original trilogy where there’s a distinct lack of women – even in a franchise that’s been progressive enough to have had two female leads this past year.

And more Princess Leia than I would have ever expected.

*

There’s no comfort to be taken in the loss of a great woman who was only sixty years old. We’ll get to see more of her in the TV series, Catastrophe. We will get to see the great General Leia on screen in Star Wars: Episode VIII next year.

But we should have seen her in Episode IX. We should have gotten more cameos. We should have heard more stories and more biting commentary.

We have her books and her performances and our own personal memories of her.

But no more memoirs, no more tweeting, no more postcards from the edge.

Hollywood Inbreeding 101

Sunday, 18 December 2016

My Favourite Theatre of 2016

Picnic at Hanging Rock

I sat down to write this list with some trepidation. I thought perhaps Melbourne theatre had not quite lived up to expectation. I’d had a general sense of dissatisfaction, with a few memorable bright spots. 

But as I started to make my list of favourites, I noticed that our mainstages – Melbourne Theatre Company and the Malthouse – both had strong years. Their high points were among the best of all theatre I saw this year.

This is also the first time in a while I haven’t seen theatre outside of Melbourne. No trips to Adelaide or Sydney this year, though thankfully we got a couple of great Belvoir shows and a Sydney Theatre Company production to remind me to get up there again next year.

One particular highlight of my year was the National Play Festival, which I wrote about. I couldn’t quite figure out how to fit it into my list – with it mostly being play readings and discussion panels. But definitely a high point of looking at Australian theatre this year.

There’s also a bunch of cabaret in my list, more than usual. And, as always, my lists are in alphabetical order, because I am not going to rank art. Too much.

Adrienne Truscott

THE TOP TEN

Adrienne Truscott’s A One Trick Pony – Melbourne International Comedy Festival/Malthouse

Adrienne’s show about critical reaction to her previous show, Asking for It, was unforgettable. For the whole audience, but particularly for me in a haze of Alanis Morissette, Andy Kaufman, Mighty Mouse and the wrestling match. (my review)

Blaque Showgirls - Malthouse

One of the sharpest pieces of social satire I’ve ever seen on stage, Nakkiah Lui’s hilarious take on Showgirls was savage and hilarious. (my review)

Blaque Showgirls

Edward II - Malthouse

Matt Lutton and Anthony Weigh’s take on Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II – tackling history and museum theatre and breaking them both apart.

The Events – Belvoir/Malthouse/State Theatre Company of SA

This was one of many shows after which I was speechless. It was also one where someone from the Malthouse stuck a camera in my face to gauge my reaction. An important play so beautifully realised. Catherine McClements was as good as she’s ever been.

The Events

Lilith the Jungle Girl – Melbourne Theatre Company/NeonNext

With the disappearance of Neon as a festival, I was glad MTC programmed another Sixxter’s Grimm show in the Lawler. This is the kind of work – and the kind of company that our mainstages need to support so we can have another generation of theatre artists in this country.

Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid – Malthouse

It’s theatre, it’s cabaret, it’s Meow Meow and how else can you describe such a big show about a story we all know put in a modern context? Bold, thrilling and entertaining as hell.

The Maze – Melbourne Fringe Festival

I’ve written a lot about this show and I’m going to keep talking about this one audience member immersive piece of theatre for a long time coming, because I want it to come back and it shook me up like no show has for a long time. And I didn’t even have anyone to discuss it with after. (my review, my other review)

The Maze

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Malthouse/Black Swan

A powerful adaptation of the classic Australian novel, with nods to the film and to a piece of Australian folklore. This was contemplative and scary in equal measure. A stunning piece of theatre. (My review)

Purge – Melbourne International Comedy Festival/Malthouse

A show about deleting friends from Facebook, it’s about connection in this era of social media and how people come in and out of our lives so easily – for good and ill.

Zoe Coombs Marr’s Trigger Warning – Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Dave is a frightening creation because he’s just a male comedian telling awful jokes and trying to ingratiate himself with the crowd and laughing just encourages that kind of bloke. And damn, Trigger Warning was an hilarious takedown of misogyny in comedy. (my review)

Zoe Coombs Marr as Dave in Trigger Warning


THE NEXT TEN

The Awkward Years – Melbourne Fringe Festival

A twenty-minute flashback to high school parties – first kisses and vomits and pass the parcel. Amazing what can happen in such a short time. (my review)

Bridget Everett: Pound It – Melbourne International Comedy Festival

I was going to say that Trigger Warning made me laugh so much it hurt, but Pound It absolutely did that for me. Bridget is filthy as hell, with the voice of a rocking angel. Extreme cabaret. (my review)

Bridget Everett: Pound It

Elegy
– Midsumma/Lab Kelpie

The story of gay refugees as related through the work of a photojournalist in the Middle East. Nick Simpson-Deeks’ performance was so layered and the production devastating. A highlight from early 2016 that I haven’t forgotten.

Jasper Jones – Melbourne Theatre Company

This was a great surprise, having not read the novel and having no idea what to expect. A remarkable cast, some beautiful theatrical tricks and the story of a small Australian town and its grief over a missing girl.

Julius Caesar – Melbourne Fringe Festival

An all-female Caesar that was sparse and brutal. A shock to the system. (my review)

Essential Theatre's Julius Caesar

Lady Eats Apple – Melbourne Festival/Back to Back Theatre

Back-to-Back’s most epic work yet, about learning to see thing’s through other perspectives – while sitting in a space some of us were so familiar with and yet we saw it anew.

Lungs – Melbourne Theatre Company

A great play enhanced by a singular production and incredible performances.

Petrasexual – Butterfly Club

My friend Petra Elliott’s show about sex and sexuality is bloody brilliant and so important. See it in Adelaide at the Fringe in 2017.

Straight White Men – Melbourne Theatre Company

A show about privilege that’s not so much about Straight White Men as it is about a society that messes with us all. A strong choice by the MTC to make a show that shines a light on much of the expectations we have for a show we see at the MTC.

Wit – 45 Downstairs

For the performance by Jane Montgomery-Griffiths alone.

Jane Montgomery-Griffiths in Wit

OTHER MEMORABLE SHOWS

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Alice Tovey: Personal Messiah – Melbourne Cabaret Festival

Comma Sutra – Melbourne Cabaret Festival

David Sedaris

Disgraced – Melbourne Theatre Company

3 Acts, 2 Dancers, 1 Radio Host

Switzerland – Sydney Theatre Company/Melbourne Theatre Company

War & Peace – Melbourne Festival


PAST YEARS


Sonnigsburg, Episode 6 – One Last Look

Dushan Philips as Ashan in the final episode of Sonnigsburg
It took three years to get everyone to Sonnigsburg and now we’re at the end. Episode six was directed by John Erasmus and written by Keith Gow.

These last five weeks have been an amazing time for cast and crew to finally be able to share our series with you all. Apart from our dedicated Melbourne audience, we have people across Australia watching the series. We’ve also got viewers in the UK, Italy, Germany and the US. (Let us know if you’re watching from elsewhere, too!) Also we have a couple of viewers in Samoa!

I know some people who are waiting to binge-watch the whole series, once it’s online late Monday night. We’d love to hear from people who are having Sonnigsburg days or afternoons. It’s the perfect show to catch up on over the Xmas/New Year break, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Posts on Facebook. Tweets on Twitter. The #Sonnigsburg and #ComeFindMe hashtags have been getting a workout. It helps us find you. It helps you find us. Make sure you tag your thoughts and feelings as you watch or after. For the final episode, hashtag #OneLastLook as well.

The finishing touches have been put on the show over the past few weeks. Episode six was finished less than a week ago – and then we had to do some tweaks to episode five after it aired, which is why it was uploaded to YouTube later in the week.

It's (Not) Always Sunny in Mount Sunshine
I’m really proud of the work we’ve done on the series as a whole and I’m very excited for you to see this final chapter. By the time the shooting draft of this script was written, I’d seen footage from the series and spent a lot of time on set with the actors. They had grown into their roles by the time we shot this episode and the whole production was humming along.

There were a lot of late and cold nights spent shooting this final episode. And a lot of distance travelled. There are scenes shot months apart that fit seamlessly together. And a particular scene where we couldn’t quite get all three actors in the same place at the same time, but it cut together beautifully.

Thank you to everyone who has been watching this tale of a haunted town that’s about trying to put your past behind you, even when it won’t let you go.

The road to Sonnigsburg has been a long one. The road away from Sonnigsburg is a lot tricker. Join us on Monday night for one last look.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 5 – Executive Producer, Fiona Eloise Bulle


Episode five airs on Monday night. It was directed by John Erasmus and written by Fiona Eloise Bulle.

I’ve known Fiona for about eight years; we met online and through mutual friends who obsessed about musical theatre and, in particular, Wicked. We didn’t really get to know each other until a couple of years later, when she founded Cold Reading Series (CRS) in Melbourne and she invited me along to have a short script of mine read.

We were both writers, but we had different goals: I was starting to get stuff on stage and Fiona wanted to make television. But Cold Readings was a great monthly get-together, one of those nights that promises to be a good networking event – and actually was. We both met Glenn Triggs through CRS; Fiona went on to produce his feature film 41 and he’d later co-direct the pilot of Sonnigsburg.

I have met several other collaborators through CRS, most notably after the first public reading of a short play of mine, Like A House on Fire – which you can download from my list of plays. This led to a show I did in 2012 called Painting with Words & Fire.

Fiona and I had lots of mutual friends all along, but the more I made theatre and she made films and her web series, the more people we knew in common. She also worked around the corner from where I worked for a couple of years; I’ve stayed in the same job and Fiona has moved on. But we used to have lunch together and complain about Hawthorn.

Somewhere in the time I knew her, she made a great little short called All the Little Pieces – directed by Jessica Brajoux. This was the first time Fiona worked with Ian Stenlake.

It wasn’t until Fiona tweeted her infamous tweet that I ever really thought about working with her. We have a similar sensibility, though we don’t always agree on the films or TV shows we like. We both love television and think about stories the same way. In the writers’ room, we worried more about how the characters felt and acted more than exactly how the plot went.

In the three years since we started work on Sonnigsburg, we are both better writers and we pay attention to story structure much more than we once did. But our characters and their relationships are central; our stuff isn’t necessarily driven by plot.

As the instigator and inspiration for this TV series of ours, Fiona had the massive task of writing the first episode. We talked about it a lot, but she had to find the way the characters spoke and acted and how they related within a scene before any of the rest of us.

When we divided up the rest of the series, I was lucky enough to get to write the finale – no pressure! Fiona chose to write episode five, which brings the story of Savannah and her search for Jade to a head. It’s dark, it’s unsettling, it’s claustrophobic and there’s some really funny stuff in there, too.

As I said in an earlier post, we all did what we needed to make this TV series work. As Executive Producer, Fiona did a little bit of everything – and kept an eye on the rest of us. She had the final say on each element and even now is working to make this show the best she can.

She’s had to make tough choices. She’s had to re-write and restructure and reschedule. She’s had some tough days and weeks and months but the show kept going because of Fiona. It’s as great as it is today because she’s tough, determined and really smart about making television.

She’s even written the theme music for the show. She’s like JJ Abrams. Really.

A lot of people talk about making television. When Fiona said she was going to make a show for C31, I knew she would. So I jumped at the chance.

Fiona is really proud of episode five of Sonnigsburg and I’m excited for everyone to see it.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 4 – A revelation or two

Episodes four through six were directed by John Erasmus

Episode four of Sonnigsburg was written by Alex Scott and directed by John Erasmus.

Just after the halfway point, things are starting to fall into place, not just in the story, but in the middle of production. As shooting continued, we all started to feel more comfortable in our roles both on screen and behind the camera.

I wrote a first draft of Episode 6 in June of 2014 (before filming began), but as I spent more and more time on set watching the actors work, I could see what the characters were really like. As a writer, and co-creator, you never quite know how your characters will feel until the actors inhabit them.

Over the course of the first three episodes, we set up a lot of story and introduced you to our most important characters. There are a couple of great guest stars in episode four, though; characters you’ve only previously heard about make their first appearances. But I leave you to discover that when you watch.

The last major piece to fall into place production-wise was director John Erasmus. He was on board from the start and scheduled early on to direct episodes four and six. Originally, I was going to direct episode five, but when I couldn’t quite make the timing work, John was invited to helm number five as well.

You will have already seen John’s name in credits; he ended up co-directing the first episode and has had final edit on the whole series. But he really dived into production beginning with episode four.

When our original plan to shoot the series in order became harder to achieve, it made sense that we had one director working on the final three episodes of the show. There’s a consistency of vision in these later episodes that is a lot stronger than the first three.

A six-episode series breaks neatly in half; I think the scripts for these next three episodes are better, the actors have settled into their roles and John’s work helps to elevate the material even more.

Much of episode six was shot early in the back half of our production schedule. Much of episode four was shot last. Though, amusingly enough, the final shot filmed for the series was the last frame of episode three.

To be honest, I can see the rough edges of the first three episodes of the series. Beginning with episode four, these rough edges have been smoothed. With three episodes of Sonnigsburg to go, the revelations start to come thick and fast: Where is Jade? What happened to Savannah?

And how does the show look once we finally knew what we were doing? Spoiler alert: amazing.


Sunday, 27 November 2016

A glimpse into another world

Not my photo. I couldn't take photos when I was in this room...
May 2010 on the Warner Bros Studio backlot in Burbank, California.

I was on a private tour and lucky to step into places tourists never get to see.

The Eastwood Scoring Stage, originally built in 1929 and renamed for Clint Eastwood in 1999, has seen the recording of musical scores for such films as Casablanca, The Wild Bunch and Back to the Future.

My guide had to step away to take a phone call and I was left on the stage to take in its history. I chatted briefly to a technician who was setting up for the next recording session.

“What are you setting up for?” I asked.

“Michael Giacchino is coming in tomorrow to score the final episode of Lost.”

Giacchino had won the Oscar that year for his work on the Pixar film, Up. And he was about the record the music for the highly-anticipated final episode of a television phenomenon.

“Are you a VIP?” the tech asked me.

“No,” I said. “I make short films at home. I write scripts but this is the big time.”

“That’s what we’d like you to think.”

And he went back to plugging in cables and running leads across the hardwood floor. Not too hard, though. You could see indents from the endpins of a cello or double-bass.

My guide explained that Warner Bros thought of turning the scoring stage into another soundstage. Eastwood objected; this was his favourite place to record the music for his films.

Warner Bros wanted to replace the floorboards. Eastwood objected; any changes would affect the sound produced there.

I was standing on the Eastwood Scoring Stage of Warner Bros Studios in Hollywood where one of the biggest composers in the world was about to record the soundtrack to the final episode of one of the world’s most popular television shows.

And the tech who worked there didn’t think it was the big time.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? He just saw it as a job. I saw it as a glimpse into another world.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 3 - A Turning Point


Episode three of Sonnigsburg airs this Monday night. It was directed by Alex Scott and written by me.

The end of episode three came to us quite early in the plotting process. It’s the midway point of the series and Savannah’s story takes a turn… but no spoilers here. As we planned the series, we thought of the first three episodes as set-up and the final three episodes as pay-off. Everything that’s been put in place in the first three episodes, starts to tie together after the end of episode three.

The script for this episode, my first episode of television, went through the biggest changes of any of our episodes over its various drafts. It was a big episode in concept; it’s a pretty big one in its final form, too. But by the time we neared production, Fiona wanted a change in the structure.

I will also admit, after years of writing theatre, the first draft was probably a little dialogue heavy. A few too many lengthy scenes of two people in a room talking. The same information is revealed in the final episode, but in a much more visually interesting way.

Some of my favourite series are structured around conversation, but that’s not what Sonnigsburg is focused on primarily. And from a production stand point, given where much of the climax of this episode takes place, Fiona wanted more of the episode set in that same space.

It led to one of our biggest production days and perhaps the biggest in terms of cast; every character is in this episode and they all appear in and around the town fete and school play.

The first draft of episode three was completed in March 2014. Some additional dialogue (a voiceover) was written in September this year. This episode is a pretty big deal for me personally, and a key turning point of the series’ narrative.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Bijou: A Cabaret of Secrets and Seduction


Paris in the 1930s. We are in a bar, sipping drinks, entertained by a pianist alone on stage. In walks Madame Bijou (Chrissie Shaw), the self-described Queen of the Demimonde. A woman regaling us with stories of her life and her pleasures.

The small Butterfly Club space, with its red drapery and upright piano, along with a couple of cabaret tables feels even more intimate than usual. Shaw, a 72-year-old theatre veteran, strides through the audience from the back of the house and we are transported.

The show flits from experience to experience in Bijou’s life, mostly focused on the men she knew at eleven and thirteen and eighteen and twenty-one. Some of these tales are bawdy; some are unsettling. Shaw’s character work through Bijou’s life is the show’s strength; we feel her adolescent uncertainty and the boldness she would gain as an adult.

Throughout the show, Shaw sings songs from the period – songs by Erik Satie, Emile Spenser and Kurt Weill. Alan Hicks plays piano and is an occasional sounding board or foil for Bijou.

There are genuinely moving moments in the stories and songs, but unfortunately the show lacks a strong narrative shape. The details in the show about the period and Paris and Bijou’s young life were evocative from moment to moment, but didn’t add up to much.

Follow your dreams, enjoy your pleasure and love is nothing but trouble. All interesting snippets of ideas, barely fleshed out.

“The mirror lies, much better to look in the glass,” Bijou says, as she contemplates another glass of wine. And I take another sip of mine.

This cabaret of secrets and seduction is full of both, but disappointingly unfocused.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 2 preview


Lily (Maree Shefford) in Sonnigsburg, episode two

Episode two of Sonnigsburg airs tomorrow night and premieres on YouTube the following day. It was written by Alex Scott and directed by Alex Scott & Meaghan Bell.

The episode introduces the character of Lily, the town doctor – who was mentioned in episode one. She’s played by Maree Shefford.

After filming episode one, we started shooting episodes two through six, based on actor availability and by location. Given our small budget, we couldn’t keep our cast together for too long, so our original plan to shoot the series mostly in order couldn’t be sustained.

Ian Stenlake (Stingers, Sea Patrol) had to finish filming all his scenes by early 2015. He only makes a cameo in episode two, but all his scenes from later episodes had to be shot long before the bulk of the series was done.

After all the introductions in episode one, episode two allows us some time to get to know these characters a bit better; dig into their pasts and the history of Mount Sunshine.

We released a sneak peek scene from episode two on YouTube:


And you can still catch up on episode one:


Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel to be notified as soon as episodes are posted. There will be a special sneak peek scene each week for the following episode.

Sonnigsburg created by...

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Madwomen Monologues 2016: Six Seasons Strong

Baggage co-founder, Christina Costigan in Butter

This past week, Baggage Productions has presented the sixth season of their annual showcase of women writers, “Madwomen Monologues”. Each year, they present two programmes of solo acts from female writers in different venues across Melbourne. Their latest season was presented at the Butterfly Club, their first appearance at that space – with full houses every night.

The two programmes this year were presented twice each, on alternating nights – and on Sunday night, there was a Madwomen retrospective, a collection from the past five years.

What has impressed me about “Madwomen” is the relative strength of their seasons. Collections of short plays presented as a season of theatre can be a good way to encourage works from new and emerging writers; but often this means a quality is wildly variable. Baggage has an ability to curate collections of short plays that are mostly quite strong. This year is no exception.

Tania le Page in The Last Supper

I started with Program Two on Thursday night, a collection that crossed genres from comedy to satire to science fiction. The short monologue lends itself to comedy better than drama, I think. Easier to make people laugh in a few minutes than to move them, but this is not a criticism. Program Two was comedy heavy.

Checkmate, by short play aficionado Cerise de Gelder, is about obsession and an addiction with checking things. Lauren Bailey catches the audience’s attention within seconds and keeps them laughing but mesmerised the whole time.

Sucking the Marrow out of the Limelight and Other Mixed Metaphors is a sharp satire about finding ways to please and pleasure yourself, by Baggage co-founder Christina Costigan.

While the one rule for this collection of monologues is that they be written by women, there are a small number of male performers scattered throughout the program. Jack Matthews gives an intense performance in Cindy Tomamichel’s Apocalyptic drama, Flick the Switch. Proving that you can make science fiction and drama work in the short monologue format.

Director Natasha Broadstock brought her signature over-the-top style to Niki na Meadhra’s One Moonless Night. The highlight of the night for me was Hashtag, about a mother coping with three children, one who has selective mutism; Lucy Norton’s work with the puppet and embodying the kindergarten teacher was a real stand out.

Program One on Friday night was a much more dramatic affair, though it started out with a slight comedy about an old woman and her husband’s ashes, in Hayley Lawson-Smith’s Smuggled.

A couple of other plays didn’t quite live up to their potential, I thought. Slight Denial and Gilmore Girls hinted at an interesting story that didn’t quite emerge. Naming the Baby showcased a lovely performance by Kathy Lepan-Walker but the script didn’t have the confidence of its convictions.

Gemma Flannery’s wild performance in Diane Worswick’s Tits Mainly was the comedic highlight of a dramatic night. But program one ended on a dramatic one-two punch of Bridgette Burton’s Proprioception and Sara Hardy’s The Tree Hugger.

Proprioception, in particular, proves that you can truly devastate an audience in ten minutes, with a top-notch performance by Phoebe Anne Taylor under Natasha Moszenin’s direction.

The retrospective night was interesting, because I’ve seen most of these plays before – a couple at previous Madwomen nights and others in different incarnations.

It was really great to have the opportunity to see some of these plays again; short plays usually live for one season and then disappear.

Tania le Page’s performance as a hitwoman in Cerise de Gelder’s The Last Supper is truly unforgettable and a great opening to the retrospective. Therese Cloonan’s The Gentleman in Room 7 is utterly heartbreaking every time. And Jane Miller’s Due Diligence is so strong.

To cap off the night and the season is a truly stunning performance by Wallis Murphy-Munn playing Miss Transgression in Lesley Truffle’s Memoir of a Trollop. It starts off with a song and quickly gets out of hand, but Murphy-Munn is in complete control of us.

It’s to Baggage Production’s credit that they go from strength-to-strength every year. Here’s to many more!


Wallis Murphy-Munn in Memoir of a Trollop
Disclaimer: I have worked with and known many of the writers, performers and directors in this season; many more than I’m usually comfortable with when reviewing. But there were so many people involved and I really wanted to celebrate the anniversary and the retrospective.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Two years' work… The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 7

Sonnigsburg, episode one by Fiona Eloise Bulle

Episode one of Sonnigsburg airs tomorrow night on C31 (Digital 44) in Melbourne & Geelong and on Channel 44 in Adelaide. It was written by Fiona Eloise Bulle and directed by Glenn Triggs & John Erasmus.

So much happened between the start of principal photography and the end of production. I’ll probably talk more about that in the coming weeks as the series airs.

The bulk of episode one was finished shooting first, though the final version of the opening sequence was shot only a few months ago. We learned a lot from shooting episode one. Having seen footage from the premiere, the writers were able to keep the actors’ performances in mind when working on the next drafts of their scripts.

We could also see parts of episode one that needed to be strengthened; a pilot episode does a lot of work to set up the characters and the world and we could see things that didn’t quite work. Scenes were re-written and re-shoots happened later in the process. Episode one was a learning experience for everyone and as production progressed, we got better and better at knowing what we were doing.

Production for the rest of the series was based mostly around locations and actor availability. With a cast the size of Sonnigsburg, it’s not always easy to get the actors you want, where you want, exactly when you want. Sometimes that meant re-writing scenes or setting them somewhere else. Sometimes it meant shooting most of episode six before episodes two through five.

Early in 2015, we launched a crowdfunding campaign throughIndiegogo. We raised $10,000 to cover some costs we’d already incurred – hiring equipment, buying equipment, paying for food and we were set for a little while longer. We got contributions from all over the world including from writer/producers of US TV shows like Chicago Fire and Angel.

We crossed the $10,000 barrier just before the deadline by a generous donation from Quest Payment Systems, a local tech company – ie. my actual day job. It was very heartening to have such strong support from people who had only heard me talk about my creative pursuits. Can’t wait to hear what they think on Tuesday.

One of the major issues that reared its head during production was the fact that the Federal Government was cancelling C31’s broadcast licence. For a long time, it looked like Channel 31 would cease airing on December 31, 2015. Could we meet that deadline? There were times when it didn’t look possible; and if it was possible, it would have been a rush.

Thankfully, the transition from free-to-air to online-only was given a twelve-month extension and everyone on Sonnigsburg breathed a sigh of relief. We had another year to finish off the show and make it the best we possibly could.

Principal photography finished in January 2016 and post-production began soon after, though in some ways it had been happening all along. We had wrapped all of our cast members by then, but as editing continued, we knew – if we could manage it – some reshoots were necessary.

Then there was special effects and music and colour-grading. There was so much still to be done.

Reshoots were done not so long ago. Insert shots even more recently. Episode one’s credits were finished last week and the episode sent to C31 and Channel 44 only days ago.

Work on the other five episodes continue, but we’re excited for you to see the finished product of episode one.

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Come find me. Come find us. Watch Sonnigsburg.



Saturday, 12 November 2016

On location... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 6


Walhalla

After a table read of the first episode script (Sonnigsburg: Day One) on July 6th, 2014, production officially began with a two-day trip to Walhalla the following weekend.

Walhalla is a picturesque town in country Victoria, with fewer than twenty permanent residents. It’s a perfect setting for Sonnigsburg because it’s so visually interesting; nestled in the hills, trees all around, one road winding all the way through. All the buildings look authentically old-fashioned, even if they’ve recently been built.
Warrandyte State Park, thanks to Parks Victoria


It’s not so convenient to shoot in, though. It’s a two-hour drive from Melbourne and there is no mobile phone coverage up there, which makes it difficult to co-ordinate a film crew.

Much of our other outdoor filming happened in Warrandyte State Park. We spent a lot of time there, along with nearby Cresco Park scout camp filming in bushland and old mine tunnels. Fiona knew where a lot of these locations were from a childhood playing in those tunnels, several of which are now less accessible because of concerns about safety.

Warrandyte

We weren’t permanently outdoors, though. Much of our story takes place in Mount Sunshine’s pub, the Miners’ Arms – which we shot at Station 59 in Richmond. The Mount Sunshine Bed & Breakfast interiors were filmed at Victoria House Motor Inn in Croydon; its exteriors played by SacreCouer, where Fiona went to high school. Our town library was filmed at BoundWords in Hampton. The Mount Sunshine police station was filmed at the Eltham District Historical Society.

And a lot of friends and acquaintances helped us out with houses and apartments for our characters to live in; the most impressive being Frank’s (Ian Stenlake) house that features in episode one. Later in the season there will be glimpses of places outside Mount Sunshine, which we filmed in Melbourne and St Kilda. But I might discuss those things in more detail as the series airs.

Victoria House Motor Inn, Croydon

We are so grateful to the people of Walhalla, in particular the owner/operators of Walhalla’s Star Hotel – which is the exterior of the Miners’ Arms. But we owe a lot of thanks to local businesses who allowed us to come in early mornings or after hours to make our show; it wouldn’t feel like our Mount Sunshine without their help.

Bound Words, Hampton

Ian Stenlake under Fiona's parents house in Ashwood

Walhalla's Star Hotel

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Characters and casting… The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 5

Ann Truong, auditioning for the part of Savannah in Sonnigsburg
We wanted to create Australia’s first supernatural drama. Back when we started work on Sonnigsburg, there really hadn’t been any prime time supernatural shows on Australian television. Since then, we’ve seen the first season of Glitch and the premiere of The Kettering Incident. Instead of being first, our show is joining the zeitgeist. Rural towns haunted by their pasts.

There was another key element that drove us to make some decisions early on – we didn’t want our cast to look like the rest of Australian television. We wanted to make sure we didn’t cast only white actors. We didn’t want all our characters to be straight.

When you make a decision like this early on, it informs the creative process. You write characters that reflect a wider Australian experience. You tell stories that look new and feel different.

Writers never want to feel like their characters or stories are ticking boxes, though. You want story to be paramount; but you also know that television doesn’t reflect the faces or the sexualities you see in your own life.

Making your lead character a woman isn’t particularly revolutionary in Australia; we’ve done pretty well in the decades since Prisoner. We’ve got the Miss Fisher Mysteries, Janet King, The Wrong Girl and The Kettering Incident. And over the past few years, there seems to be a push to put women front and centre on television worldwide; it’s in Hollywood feature films where the lack of gender diversity is most stark.

Then we decided to make her gay. Was there a gay lead female character on Australian television before we started work on Sonnigsburg? I don’t think so. Janet King existed on Crownies and then got her own show in 2014. Australian television was changing.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few years about diversity on stage and on screen. #OscarsSoWhite was the most prominent; tackling the lack of diversity in Academy Award nominations. Both Hollywood and our local industry have done surveys on diversity in front of and behind the camera and it’s staggeringly one-sided.

There’s arguments made about having to train up the next generation, but the Sonnigsburg writers room felt like – as least as far as casting was concerned, the answer was colour-blind. We would audition people from any background for our lead roles. And though, in one case, we wrote a Sri Lankan character into our script, we were still open to changing his ethnicity, if it came down to it.

Much of our casting process was driven by one other factor; we wanted to work with actors we’d never worked with before. We weren’t saying no or never to casting actors from previous projects, but making the choice to broaden our horizons was important for us creatively. It’s very easy to work with the same people over and over; looking to bring in new voices is important.

When we started the process of casting, we took a kind of surgical approach; we didn’t cast a wide net by posting audition notices. We approached some actors we knew but hadn’t worked with and invited them to audition. We also looked at casting websites to find actors we’d never met and never heard of.

As with any casting, some decisions are easily made and some are much tougher.

The first audition we held was with Dushan Philips, for the role of Ashan. It was held in our writers’ room, which was at an office in Port Melbourne in an industrial area. Dushan must have wondered what he was getting himself into, venturing to that place at night. We’re so glad he made the trip, because he made a great impression on us. It was such a relief to start the audition process with a win.

Dushan Philips auditions for Ashan on Sonnigsburg
Sonnigsburg has a big cast. We wrote the role of Alfred for Don Bridges, a legendary Australian character actor. We invited Ian Stenlake (Sea Patrol, Stingers) to take part as Frank.

But at the forefront of our minds, as it would be, was casting the lead role of Savannah and her ex-girlfriend Jade. We knew what their characters were like, but not what they looked like. They weren’t fixed in our minds yet.

We auditioned lots of women; some for both roles. After a couple of weeks, we had some tough choices to make. We had a lot of great actors to choose from. We narrowed down our lists and had “second round” auditions to test chemistry. We needed a Savannah and Jade that worked together. We needed a Savannah who would feel like good friends with our Ashan.

In the end, we cast Ann Truong as Savannah Haskin. She impressed us from the first moment we saw her, finding the right mix of emotions for a character who is sometimes hard to read. And we were so lucky to find her; she is amazing in the role and, not surprisingly, she’s worked on a lot of other projects during the long production of our show.

Sonnigsburg may not be Australia’s first supernatural drama or the first with a gay female lead character. But it was important for us to make these decisions early; to help us tell the story we wanted to tell and reflect the diversity we see in our everyday lives.

Petra Elliott auditions for the role of Savannah before being cast as Jade
Soren Jensen, auditioning for the role of Norman in Sonnigsburg
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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Directors (and learning new things)... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 4

Ian Stenlake as Frank, episode one of Sonnigsburg

I was recently asked about the challenges and benefits of making an independently produced low budget TV series. It might be easy to say that everything was a challenge, because with a small amount of money, everything is a bit harder than when a show is fully funded. On the other hand, it also made us think about how to make things work with no money. It forced us to come up with creative solutions in how to depict large scale events that were baked into our plot.

It was great that Fiona encouraged us, in the writers’ room, to tell the story without worrying too much about how we were going to make it work. In some cases, though, we did find fixes in storytelling terms to make production easier. Other times we had to change locations or which characters were in certain scenes, based on actor availability. Having no money and limited resources is a challenge, but in some ways it’s a benefit. It makes you think more creatively.

The other benefit of doing everything ourselves is that it allowed us to try our hands at new things. Director Glenn Triggs has made a number of movies, but the first episode of Sonnigsburg is his first episode of television. Director John Erasmus had mostly worked as an editor and director of photography before directing three episodes of this series.

Two of our writers, Alex Scott and Meaghan Bell, directed two episodes of the show, because when else would they have an opportunity to direct television, if not on a series they helped create? We all got to learn things about pre-production, production and post that we hadn’t known before.

While I was originally planning to direct episode five, based on my own schedule, I had to back out of that commitment. I still had a chance to learn a lot about script editing, giving feedback and collaboration in script writing. I was committed to making the scripts the best they could be; if that meant I needed to re-write or be re-written, then that happened. If another episode needed a polish, I was happy to lend a hand.

I even ended up directing parts of episode one. Having a second-unit director is not unusual on feature films, but in this case it was a matter of scheduling and I was free to help out. I have a lot of experience working with actors in theatre, I just had to get my head around where the camera was going to be. Thankfully, we had director of photography, Bernard Winter, on board. His work on Sonnigsburg is outstanding; we might have had a small budget, but from a visual perspective, you cannot tell. The show looks amazing.

So even for someone inexperienced in film/television directing, the support from cast and crew made my first experience directing television very smooth.

Working in independent theatre and film/television, we all learn to pitch in and do whatever needs doing. Ferrying actors to and from set. Buying lunch for the cast and crew. Helping to set up or pack down lights. Last minute re-writes. Press releases. Producing. Directing. Background acting. Everything that needs doing gets done when we’re all committed.

Getting to learn new things while on the set of your own TV show, that’s a challenge but a huge benefit.

By June 2014, we had the first episode written by Fiona Bulle. We had our director in place. We wanted to start shooting in July.

In May, we started the process of casting. That’s the next step on the Road to Sonnigsburg.

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Concept Trailer... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 3


Elliott, Fiona, Tobi & Serenity - shooting the concept trailer

I was going to write about our cast and crew today, but I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. There was months of writing before we even considered casting; though we did talk about directors early on. We also talked about the mood of the show and the tone. As I said in my post about the writers’ room, we thought of Sonnigsburg as a Horror TV show.

But we soon decided that we’d rather the show felt creepy, unsettling and spooky, rather than scary or horrifying. Strange things that wouldn’t make sense. People waking up in odd places. Children who would appear benign and turn out to be… something else.

During our first couple of months of writing, we applied to the Community Broadcast Fund (CBF) for some money to go toward the production. We wanted some money to start the project with, to cover food for the cast and crew on set, to pay for filming permits and to hire equipment. We discussed crowdfunding early on, but for CBF we had a deadline to hit. And quickly.

As with any time you apply for funding, there is a lot of paperwork involved. How much money do you need? What are you going to spend it on? Who the hell are you? We explained a bit about the show, told them we wanted to make six episodes and listed all our qualifications.

Then, in a matter of days, we made a test trailer. A sample of what we could shoot, how the show would eventually look and the tone it would take.

We got our friend, actor Tara Haughton on board to play the lead role. Also out in the woods, Tobi Johnson, who had appeared in two of Fiona’s previous projects, including “All the Little Pieces” – a short film.

Fiona directed, Serenity was 1st AD, Gordon Boyd was on set for lights and Elliott Klein was there for sound. SFX was later done by one of our writers, Alex Scott. The crew was starting to take shape, even in this early stage of development. There were a lot of long days ahead, but in February 2014 we had some footage and some hope we’d get a little bit of money to help us along the way.

And here it is, the original Sonnigsburg concept reel that convinced C31 and the CBF to fund our little production to the tune of $10,000.

This is the first time this test footage has been seen outside the small crew who were on board the team at the time and people at C31 and CBF. Thanks again to Tara and Tobi for helping us out in the very early days. Enjoy.