Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Benedict Hardie and Tim Stitz- INTERVIEWS

A Theatre Renaissance

Paul Andrew reckons Melbourne's going through an independent theatre renaissance, and with the amount of stellar shows on offer it's hard to disagree. Here he talks to Hayloft Project's Benedict Hardie and actor/ playwright Tim Stitz.

“Bach, Apocalypse, Albatross, Roxette, Sci-Fi, Reproduction, Satire”. Hardie is quick to précis the Hayloft Project's latest drama, Delectable Shelter. The group are hot right now, contributing to Melbourne's lo-fi, high-impact DIY-theatre renaissance.

Self-professed ‘theatre renegades’ The Hayloft Project embody the spirit of DIY indie theatre now, with 11 nominations at the 2011 Green Rooms, it is safe to say this self- directed crew riding the current wave of indie theatre production is making an impression.

Benedict Hardie, one creative in the many-voiced Hayloft stable, has an early theatre memory of the Bard that suggests the tenor behind their cache of hard-hitting award-winning theatre hits:“It was in school when I saw a production of As You Like It which climaxed with a wrestling scene. It was the first time I'd ever seen a live body slam. Subconsciously, I lost my shit.”

Hardie's proud to be a part of the 2011 Theatreworks program, one of Melbourne’s established stages of independent theatre, he explains the attitude behind the renegade veneer: “We value our independence. There may be economic constraints, but there also great creative freedoms for a company like ours. The process is: secure a performance space, move in and do whatever we want, then, ride off into the sunset. Its fun, and we've never repeated ourselves. We all have big appetites for theatre and are always looking to sink our teeth into the next big challenge.”

“The Hayloft Project was founded in 2007. Our work – including Spring Awakening, The Soldier’s Tale, Platonov, 3xSisters, The Only Child, B.C., Yuri Wells, The Suicide, Thyestes and The Nest – has garnered critical acclaim, a Sydney Theatre Award, Green Room awards, Melbourne Fringe awards and sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney. We are an ensemble committed to shaping an Australian theatre culture that reflects and engages with our changing society, collaborative theatre-making practice committed to new forms, voices, narratives. Our aim is to create intelligent, passionate, visceral theatre that lives long in the memory.”

“What I set out to write was a comedy about personal values and prejudices, in light of the changing global distribution of power. I figured the best way to write a play in which the dramatic action comes from what people think and feel about the world, was to kill every other human being on earth. When there are only five people left alive, planning a new civilisation, suddenly the beliefs and values of those individuals carries monumental significance. And from the most serious subject matter, we draw out the best comedy.

I also wanted to make something that was funny with cool music.”

Like The Hayloft Project, the Green Room award -winning playwright/ actor Tim Stitz is another familiar indie theatre face about town, his autobiographical play Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper devised with collaborator Kelly Somes, premiered at La Mama in February 2010, recently securing a coveted place on the VCE drama syllabus to be included at La Mama in May as part of it’s school education program.

“I'm not sure it’s a groundswell per se. I believe Melbourne's had a remarkably sustainable and energized independent theatre scene for some time now, at least in the past 10 years I've been watching and participating in it. The sector is such that artists and companies tend to come and go somewhat and there are of course 'the stayers' - stalwarts such as La Mama, Theatreworks, fortyfivedownstairs - as well as the companies and individuals that use the indie scene as a stepping stone to work on larger Melbourne, interstate and international stages.”

“The recent speight of indie companies such as Hayloft, Mutation, Grit Theatre, Four Larks, Groundswell Division, Winterfall, The Rabble- the list goes on- have all been bubbling away in their own way for a few years and they aren't just full of 'emerging' or 'fringe' artists. It did feel that 2010 was a watershed year in the way that these newer companies rose to prominence and there are a number of other companies bubbling away presently that will feature more largely in the coming months and years. “

“That said, small companies such as Ranters, Eleventh Hour, Red Stitch, Store Room, Stork, Outcast Theatre, Born in a Taxi, and to a certain extent Melbourne Works and Ilbijerri have been part of the landscape for much longer, with and without ongoing funding. I feel that the city could in fact use a few more indie venues, perhaps even a transfer house that accommodates the very best of indie theatre in Melbourne. “

“Malthouse's Tower program is able to provide opportunity to a select group of companies and individuals – a mouth-watering residency model and simple remounts - but I think that the city could do with more opportunities, venues and support structures.”

During the years La Mama Artistic Director Liz Jones has witnessed talents like The Hayloft Project and Tim Stitz enchant and captivate with imaginative scripts, engaging storytelling, compelling acting and go from strength to strength. Perhaps it was 1967 when the spirit first sparked, a time of revolution and countercultural politics when Betty Burstall had the vision to found a home for independent theatre in Carlton, being mindful and alert to the difficulties and ‘economic constraints’ still felt decades later by latter-day  indie’s like Stitz, Hardie and ensembles like the Hayloft crew” It been a joy” Jones says proudly from 'the home of independent theatre', “and the exciting thing about working at La Mama is that after my 38 years here life is still as exciting, from day to day, as it has ever been. In fact in 2011 our artists are buzzing and our audiences are cheering! I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

WHAT: Delectable Shelter ( image top- Hayloft 'ensemble') / Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper ( image above- Actor, Tim Stitz)

WHERE & WHEN: Theatreworks 31 March to 17 April/La Mama 27 April to 15 May



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