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