Thursday, December 23, 2010

Matt Scholten Daniel Keene - INTERVIEWS

The Nightwatchman

Director Matt Scholten and Daniel Keene share some thoughts about storytelling.

“How do we cope with massive change? How do the dispossessed, those in the most vulnerable parts of our society, our world; how are they going to survive?” These are some the urgent questions posed by Director Matt Scholten while rehearsing Daniel Keene’s evocative play about a family contending with an aging father.

“It’s all very good to talk about this broad sweep of change – our reaction to climate change, to technological change, that kind of thing. But how does the individual inside all of this, how are they going to cope? “, ruminates Scholten during a rehearsal break, the subject of our interview: ‘what is urgent right now, as far as storytelling goes?’

“I guess really the most urgent stories to tell at the moment are the ones that most keenly remind us of our own humanity. How we are with one another. How we are towards one another. Which seems a kind of universal, generic thing to say, but when you really think about those things – feel about those things? – They’re really not that easy. “

Scholten is clearly a director with passion, and importantly, a passion for social change. He first came across Daniel Keene’s work while studying at VCA where he directed Keene’s play All Souls. Keene and Scholten have collaborated ever since. As neighbours in Melbourne’s north who get together fairly regularly for feisty tete a tetes about the zeitgeist, about the meaning of life or in recent months the restaging of The Nightwatchman at St Kilda’s Theatreworks.

Without giving too much away, it's a play about a father who goes blind and how his two adult children gather together the fragments of fond memories of their childhood as they prepare to
assist their father relocate to a nursing home. For theatre goers familiar with the poetic sensibility of a Keene play will know well that a father's blindness is not simply a character's condition, it portends a much deeper blindness. Perhaps something along the lines of the human condition when it comes to seeing things as they truly are, some are better at this than others.

Perhaps it’s this achingly difficult, yet contemplative duality to Keene’s plays that seem to make them regular item on European stages, stories that are at once intimate and universal.

Scholten himself has an inkling about this.

“Why are the plays popular in Europe and not here? Good question, they are still, there is a stillness about them. By this I mean they give the audience space to feel and think and to explore for themselves what is being presented to them. The balance of the play weighs closer to emotional depths within the characters, than the facts of their circumstances. “

“Daniel’s plays feel like the starting point is the internal emotional landscape within us all, then they move outwards to the characters, then outwards again to their circumstances and finally to how their circumstances have arisen. This feels very European in sensibility to me. It’s sort of closer to Beckett in tradition than anything that’s Anglo Saxon or British – or even North American for that manner.”

Keene is nodding while Scholten speaks and remembers an early theatre impression. 

“The first play I ever saw was Bertholt Brecht’s Mother Courage at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. The director was from the Berliner Ensemble, the cast was Australian. I was about nineteen. I was knocked sideways by the experience. The production remains one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.”

Keene admits to long love affair with the work of Samuel Beckett adding, “I don’t write plays with ‘Australian settings’. I avoid the vernacular and the parochial. I’ve never been interested in being an ‘Australian Playwright’; I’ve simply wanted to be a playwright. I can’t choose my nationality, but I can choose my profession.” 

“Urgent now? We’re talking about refugees actually”, reveals Scholten reverting to the subject of storytelling now. “What happens to refugees before they arrive in Australia, to Footscray for example? What happens after they arrive? We want to explore this in a Theatre project next year. So this is the main topic of conversation between us at the moment – other than The Nightwatchman, that is. “

Theatre Works
Season Finished

Photo Credit: The Nightwatchman, photo reproduced courtesy Port Philip Leader

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sonnyboy Morgan - Westside Circus- INTERVIEWS

Once Was Lost....
A new physical theatre work set in a lost and found office is playing at Gasworks Park. Paul Andrew speaks with Musical Director Lee 'Sonnyboy' Morgan.

Musician Lee “Sonnyboy” Morgan has performed alongside a who’s who of celebrities including the likes of Midnight Oil, Yothu Yindi, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Paul Kelly and Guy Sebastian, but right now he is “ecstatic” about joining up with a mob of young indigenous artists from around Victoria who are making circus with a difference.
Morgan  rehearsing now for an acro-action packed show about the comings and goings of an imaginary Lost and Found office and as Musical Director for the show he is responsible for a energetic band of young musicians from Songlines Aboriginal Music; his primary concern; to create the Circus’s uplifting musical “pulse".
“My role is mainly to facilitate a ground base for the indigenous youth from Songlines to express their musical ideas, to help them each to open up the creative flow that comes freely when the right support and the right guidance is in place. It was challenging at first but it’s all come together in the last few weeks, they’re an amazing crew.”
Lost & Found Artistic Director George Filev explains that alongside the musicians are the circus performers themselves; talented members from Westside’s own athletic youth troupe Behind the Wall and the visionary film students from the Collingwood Alternative School who have made a cinematic stage ‘backdrop’ about inner city living.
“Each of these students has  a varying range of skills expertise, are all aged between 14 and 25 years of age and come from diverse community and economic backgrounds, so it was vital to find a concept that could bring everyone together.  Westside is a ‘social circus’ after all. The main aim is to help young people build confidence and wellbeing , to create positive relationships to promote self-expression, teamwork and leadership skills, as much as valuing the acquisition of circus skills, film skills or the musical expertise that Lee is fostering.”
Morgan adds that it’s the pulsating original music they are recording that helps draw these performers together, that levels out the differences. He provides a highly animated story of the “funky and sweaty” rehearsal room over the past weeks, about the dancing and specific challenges Westside Circus faces, like getting students to show up for practice in the first place and getting them to conscientiously lose their mobile phones for the duration of rehearsals.

“The music mood varies," he reveals. ”We have created a landscape of sounds; some poignant and surprising, some mysterious, others mundane, calm, introspective quirky amusing. Much like life really.”  Morgan gets particularly emotional while recalling the spoken word collaborations devised for the show, “They are very pensive, immediate with a very melancholy edge to them. They’re beautiful.”
He continues to explain the Lost and Found Office theme, why its so vital.
“It works so well because is something that everyone can relate to, everyone has lost something valuable at some point in their lives. What inspired us was the ethos of holding near and dear to us the things that really matter in our lives; like family, friends and the people we love. Not just things that are material things like possessions. We may loose something we might think is important to us but at the end of the day if we have love and strong energies around us such as family and dear friends - our clan- then this is what truly matters.”
Lost & Found
Gasworks Art Park. Wednesday 8-12 December

For more information:

Monday, December 06, 2010

George Filev-Westside Circus- INTERVIEWS

Westside Circus

Lost & Found

Written by Paul Andrew   
Monday, 06 December 2010 19:46

Set in an imaginary Lost and Found Office, this Westside Circus event is a concept that anyone who has ever lost something can easily relate too.

Combining theatre, song, acrobatics and circus training with pulsating original music presided over by Musical Director Lee “Sonnyboy” Morgan, Paul Andrew speaks to George Filev, Artistic Director, Lost & Found, Lena Cirillo, Executive Director of Westside Circus and 'Jordan', a member of Westside’s Behind The Wall Troupe and performer in Lost & Found.

Westside CircusHow do you describe your role George?
GF: I am the Artistic Director for the show. My role is to develop and direct the overall creative vision for the show. I liaise with all three creative teams (Collingwood Alternative School CAS, Songlines and Westside Circus BTW troupe) and communicate the direction of the work to incorporate the film, sound and performance elements into a cohesive structure.

I actively participate in rehearsals to assist participants in developing their skills and create material to be used in the scenes of the show. I consult with all production staff and key stakeholders to keep things on track so that the show is produced within budget limitations and ready for opening night. I do a lot more that is outside of the scope of my role but I love what I do and I have a lot of fun doing it.

What do you love about your role?
GF: I love making new work and seeing that work being performed. I also love working with the youth sector and helping them develop and grow their potential through working in the arts. The challenges I face with this particular project involve galvanizing the three disparate groups who rely on one another to inspire and create work with the common theme of loss and discovery.

Describe Westside Circus’s role?
LC: To use circus and physical theatre to cultivate innovative artistic expression and make a tangible positive difference to the lives of young people from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

Describe the circus in seven words?
LC: Imagination, Inclusiveness, Fun, Respect, Growth, Integrity and Courageous

Something of the Circus’s back-story?
LC: Westside Circus was founded in 1996, when Youth Worker Debby Maziarz received a grant of $5,000 from the Department of Justice to purchase stilts and juggling balls and deliver a circus program for young female offenders at the Sunshine Juvenile Justice Unit. The program was hugely successful and with more requests for workshops Debby invited her friend and fellow performer Andrea Ousley to help her teach circus skills to young women at the Niddrie Secondary College, the University High School and the Don Bosco Youth Centre. After this time Westside Circus was supported by local councils

In 2002 the Westside Circus left Council and became incorporated. In 2004, they moved into a venue in Fitzroy in inner Melbourne which allowed the organisation to blossom. Today the Westside Circus employs 6 office staff, up to 20 circus trainers and delivers over 80 circus projects Victoria wide each year.

Westside Circus now delivers three distinct and engaging programs. Westside Circus Public Program provides training and performance opportunities for 3-25 year olds and entry into the very special Westside Circus Community. The Community Program is making a lasting difference to the lives of individuals and families in newly arrived, refugee, CALD and indigenous communities and youth at risk. The Express Program is designed to further the practice of circus through dialogue, exchange and the development and presentation of original new works.

And the youth troupe Behind the Wall?
LC: The youth troupe plays with a language of improvised circus and ensemble work that entertains. They respond to one another on stage in a way that is both brave and vulnerable. Their performance incorporates movement as well as circus skills, and they connect with and support each other with a sensitivity which produces a rich and surprising performance.

The BTW youth troupe of approximately fifteen young people aged 14 – 18 years (initially drawn from the youth class) have been creating and defining an original performance aesthetic.

Jordan: "Since I joined Westside, I’m a different person now than I was when I joined. My mind has changed, my spirit has changed, and I’ve discovered myself, so to speak. I’ve developed so much more confidence, so many new skills, so many new friends; it’s a whole new world that it has opened up to me."

How did the Lost & Found concept come about?
LC: In 2009 the Westside Circus completed two very exciting collaborations which have provided the inspiration and framework for this project.

The first was collaboration with published author Martine Murray who worked on a children’s book This is Sami, which is currently being considered for commercial publishing. Martine facilitated a series of workshops and consultations with newly arrived and refugee children and their mothers and from this creative process, Martine discovered the story that she wanted to tell. The story was about Sami, his sister and their mum and their discovery of an empty tent over their backyard fence. The families, who are new to Australia, are all experiencing loss in a different way. The discovery of the tent creates a new opportunity for this family as they fill it with the most unlikely things.

The second collaboration was with Collingwood Alternative School and the City of Yarra. Westside Circus trainers worked alongside 15 at risk young people to develop a short film that aimed to challenge negative perceptions of youth in public spaces. Cirque Du City is a 50 minute film which captures the raw energy and intriguing aesthetic of the participating young people.

The concept was developed further with the involvement of Songlines in collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Association (VACCA) to produce the music element. Westside Circus had in the past conducted outreach programs to work with children from VACCA and it was decided that their input would be of great value to the show.

The strong sense of ‘Loss and Discovery’ explored in these projects gave me the starting point for this new performance work. I decided to call the show Lost & Found and set it in an office setting where the performers are characters within this office. Each character that works in the office of Lost & Found has a role and the energy and story of each role will depict each scene.

Searching and longing is something that we can all relate too?
The VACCA group is finding new skills by being given access to professional recording equipment and support from an accomplished composer and musician from Songlines. They are searching and discovering beats and loops to create music that will fit with the energy of differing scenes.

The CAS group have been taking video footage of things like going through lost and found draws, items appearing and disappearing from shot, found objects and being lost in the bush, just to mention a few.

The BTW group have been exploring how to incorporate the concepts of the show with circus. One example of this has been to structure a tumbling scene where lost of found objects are passed by performers as they come close to each other in the space. This scene depicts hunting and gathering of objects.

And this production is quite a large undertaking too?
GF: True. There are between twenty to thirty young people involved in producing this work. They are assisted by a team of creative’s including myself and a guest choreographer (Trudy Radburn), a circus director (Luke O’Connor), a musical director (Lee ‘Sonnyboy’ Morgan), a costume designer (Amanda Fairbanks), a production manager and lighting designer (Dori Bicchierai), the office support staff at CAS, Songlines and Westside Circus and the support of the Newsboys Foundation, Besen Family Foundation, Gasworks Artpark and the City of Yarra.

Tell me about the diverse range of young people in Lost & Found?
The backgrounds of the youth involved in this project come from diverse social, economic and cultural environments. There are people who come with languages other than English, Aboriginal backgrounds, at risk ‘students’ and people with social, emotional, behavioral learning difficulties. I have witnessed this project inspiring students to get involved and work towards a common goal. They have seen excerpts of each other’s work and this has helped them connect and contribute to the show. They have been creative with ideas and actively participated. They have learned new skills and looked within themselves to relate to the theme of the show. They have been having fun and learning.

Tell me something funny that happened during the rehearsals so far?
Seeing an Acro Balance routine being depicted diligently when one of the cast members is missing from rehearsal. A lot of miming in space of where someone’s arm or leg might be if said cast member was actually in attendance.

Westside Circus presents Lost & Found at Gasworks Theatre, December 8 - 12, 2010. Further details»