Saturday, April 30, 2011


Tim Stitz- LLOYD BECKMANN, Beekeeper.

Written by Paul Andrew
Saturday, 30 April 2011 10:15

Tim Stitz is excited that his play; a collaboration with writer Kelly Somes, LLOYD BECKMAN, Beekeeper has been selected for inclusion on the VCE Drama Syllabus. Paul Andrew gets some insight from the playwright about the one of the necessities an author of autobiographical work must eventually face; what to include, what to leave behind.

It is often said that smell is the primary sense to trigger memory – is this your experience Tim?

For me smells do illicit vivid memories and flash backs. They can take you back to a specific day, space and time whereas some smells conjure up abstract feelings of place and raw emotion. Freshly cut grass, the smell of coffee brewing and freshly baked bread give me the warm feeling of being comfortable and at home. 

I don't know if it's the smell of the Queensland dirt I remember but the combined feel and smell of the rich, red soil up there in south-east Queensland really takes me back to playing with my cousins on the farm midst the paw paw trees, bee boxes and then running to the Granny Flat for Grandma's potato scallops.

The smell of Grandad's honey extracting shed is also very iconic in my memory and a smell that I wanted to portray in the work. When we were doing research for the show Kelly and I were up at Hot House Theatre's 'Month in the Country' initiative in Albury/Wodonga (a residency program) and visited some beekeepers up there. We walked into a shed in Chiltern in northern Vic and I turned to Kelly and said, "this is it, this is the smell... can we recreate this for the show?"

So the smell of sweetness and honey is used in the show but it's not exactly the smell as I remember it (although sometimes when the lemon-scented gum is in full blossom you can catch the exact whiff I'm talking about!) I think all of the senses can illicit powerful memories in their own way. A piece of music can trigger an immediate and very visceral response in me – shivers up the spine, tears welling in my eyes. 

An artwork can do it for some people, a film, a photograph. That's what I love about art, it connects to us in such dynamic ways, and often is quite dependent on our mood at that particular time.

Tell me a little about the background to this collaboration between yourself and Kelly Somes – sharing insights must have been fascinating and difficult at times too?

Kelly and I met when I was working with a mutual friend and artist Talya Chalef at the VCA (she's currently living it up in New York City at Columbia Uni where she's doing her Masters – and incidentally she also took that iconic red chair in the field photograph - her photography is stunning).

I was in Talya's graduation piece (she was doing Animateuring and Kelly was one of the directing post-grads in the same year). Kelly and I got talking and she then directed me in Still a Hero at La Mama in 2006 and because of her own work interest in memory and grief I approached her with my concept for Beekeeper. 

Our initial chats about our grandparents and our relationships with them rendered so much excellent material, in particular for the Grandson character in the piece. She was also able to meet Lloyd himself which certainly added to the development of the script. He charmed her as he does anyone he can bend the ear of.

"Based on a true story" – how do you yourself pitch this autobiographical play Tim?

It's been hard for me to pitch and write copy about the work itself. I guess because it's so close. The work is autobiographical and it's very much a mediation and picture of me at a certain time in my life. 

The Grandson character very much feels like Tim in his mid-20s – discovering my adult identity, seeing my grandparents beginning to decline and slip and I felt that a lot of my contemporaries were experiencing a similar feeling, especially to do with aging.

Writing process, what did you love most about writing the work, and how many drafts did you write, distill?

I'm not at all used to being called a playwright. I suppose because the work is very much a devised beast, almost a verbatim piece that Kelly and I came at from the position of theatre-makers vs writers. 

The starting point was the audio from hours of interviews I'd recorded with Lloyd. In particular the stories of his early days of beekeeping which were/are so full of rich imagery of an older Australian, rural life. 

So much of the initial characterisation and impersonation of Lloyd's voice box came out of these tapes (I have a good ear for mimicry – I was always better at hearing music and playing it on the piano/oboe than sight-reading!) I transcribed bits that I thought would work theatrically and took them to Kelly.

We then had to edit things down and diffuse them throughout the work, and understandably the interviews were very conversational and true to form Grandad went off on regular and often confusing tangents. 

We've tried to keep a flavour of these diversions but we also needed to help the audience by moving the story along. We also had workshops with objects, sounds, music and smells that allowed us to devise material in and around the verbatim material. This was actually the hardest part of the process.

How to place the Grandson in the work? We toyed with the idea of getting rid of the Grandson character altogether and a couple of audience members from the early development showings offered this feedback. 

I did do a little bit of 'writing', sitting down at my computer and tapping out stuff, but it was very much free-flowing prose and only a little of it made it into the final script. It did however help us clarify the inter-generational placement of the work and the feeling and motivation of the Grandson character.

And indeed, editing autobiographical material, how did you decide on scenes to use and scenes not to use – by way of example perhaps?

Yep, this was a task. How do you condense a life into 60-minutes, especially without trivialising? And interact with all the issues the Grandson character is keen to explore? Early versions of the script featured my Grandma in the piece. 

The aging aspect of the work was very much wedded to the experience of watching her go into high maintenance care, then decline and finally slip away.

We had a story that Lloyd told of how she would go around to all the chemists in the local area and get them to make up scripts of Panadine Forte for her. When she was admitted to hospital with liver failure (and a bulk of other ailments) the truth about her addiction became apparent. 

That material was so rich but in the end, despite her vital role in Grandad's and my life, we decided that the play would be more focused as an exploration of inter-generational inheritance along the male line of the family, stretching from my great-grandfather Wilhelm who migrated to Australia from Germany, to Lloyd, then to my father Clark and then to me. And what happens when there is break in the line, such as my dad's untimely death?

The fascinating thing is that Grandad lost his own father (although much earlier in his life – he never really knew him). It was all well and good for me to ask about the factual family history but as soon as I asked about what it was like to not have known his father, and then to have lost his youngest son, I didn't or couldn't get the responses I wanted. I learnt the reality is that I will never get the response I wanted or needed at the time. This is the inter-generational difference and something that I'm much more at peace with than I was in my mid-20s.

Is there a scene you were very fond of or attached to that you needed to cut – if so tell me about this scene and how you edited it from the final work?

Probably some of the Jean, Grandma scenes. There was also a somewhat salacious story that was in earlier drafts of the script, one that Grandad had recounted to me, but had asked me to turn the tape off for. The story of the 'randy farmer' as we called it but eventually we cut it. I just didn't fit in the work comfortably and wasn't something that Lloyd would have easily revealed to a Granny Flat of strangers. Still, it was storytelling gold!

What was your response recently when you found out the play had been selected for inclusion ino the VCE Drama syllabus?
We were all very pleased. Especially too because it meant it would be published by Currency Press in association with La Mama (the birthplace of so much new Australian work). And Currency have done a fantastic job on the playscript. You can purchase it via the Currency website or at any good bookstore. 

A generation - perhaps generations of students - will now learn about the intricacies of beekeeping and something about your family story too- how does this feel?
Great. Pretty edifying really. It does feel a little overwhelming that 400 VCE students will be writing about our play for their Year 12. I've been in other Year 12 Playlist shows before and my colleagues from Melb Uni and who are drama teachers occasionally mention how they've just marked an essay that discussed my characterisation and performance in a play. So many more critics... 

Tell me something about your research into autobiographical writing for this work Tim -or work (s) you know and love already that provided some insight and background for the writing?
To be quite honest I've not read nor seen a whole lots of verbatim theatre works (I'm looking forward to seeing the Laramie Project 2 at Red Stitch). I've read lots of autobiography and I am often drawn to that section of bookshops. Political and arts figures in particular. 

I remember loving the autobiographical works of Primo Levi when I was studying at Uni and the one theatre work I read Seven Stages of Grieving by Deborah Mailman and Wesley Enoch has also been an inspiring work. 

There's a lot of autobiographical films that have influenced me and that I love. In particular the story of poet and novelist Janet Frame in Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table - that is an astonishing film. I'm also inspired by filmic and theatrical works that bring out the bitter sweet aspects of life, the funny and the shitty things in life.
Why did you decided on a play rather than a memoir or autobiographical fiction form?
Because I'm a performer and not a novelist. I've worked on a lot of new Australian work for the theatre and it seemed natural to use this theatrical toolbox to craft the story of Lloyd. I was ready to get my hands dirty as a theatre-maker. It's certainly wet my appetite for making and producing new work. 

What has been the most revealing aspect to this work for you as a writer so far?
The personal nature of the work and the fact that the photos on stage, in amongst the audience, are of my entire family. I'm sometimes quite overwhelming by the generosity and support of my immediate and expended family (and friends). We toyed with changing names and distancing the play from reality but it just didn't ring true for me. 

I guess the play won't be everyone's cup of tea (or Four X) and that can be said of family members and general public audience members. Yet there is a universality in the themes the piece plays with and that's the main reason we've been encouraged to continue developing and presenting the work to new audiences. 

And as an actor?
It's always very confronting to have immediate family in the audience, especially when I might mention them as a character in the play. I was very nervous before the first showing at which my mum, brother and sister came to. The nerves are sure to re-emerge when we present the show in Brisbane when the man himself comes along (and my wider Queensland family). 

It must be said though that the work is very much crafted by Kelly and I, from our perspective and we've used the autobiographical aspects of the work as a jumping off point to explore the larger themes and issues brought up in the play. 

Is there one personal favourite quote that continues to astonish you Tim?
Not really a quote, but something my Dad wrote down as a philosophy when he was very ill, only weeks before he died. 

"Make realistic goals and be prepared to change your attitude, relish small things, live for the moment, have a great sense of community and immerse yourself in good relationships and always accentuate the positive in people never ostracise" vintage Clark Stitz

It is also an insight into shared masculinity- the wisdom shared
between older men and younger men, between all men perhaps. What do you care most deeply about now in terms of male-to-male intimacy Tim?
I will always treasure the moments I share with Grandad and my Dad. Losing Dad when I was 16 meant that I've come to really appreciate the here and now, and grabbing the opportunity to share time with the ones you love. It can be a fraught relationship though. I love seeing Grandad when I'm up in Brisbane and when he comes to visit, but it does require a huge amount of listening and concentration. 

I wish I was closer so I could call around more often or take Grandad for a roast lunch and a beer. That's the stuff I get frustrated about not being able to do regularly. And although I may not have been able to share my emotions with Grandad in the same way that I do with others in my family (or friends or my partner) I appreciate all that he is and has been throughout his life, for better or for worse. 

I'm also really glad that men's health and especially mental heath has been given more air-time of late. Groups such as Beyond Blue and Reach are doing incredible work and I only wish this sea-change had occurred earlier.

Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper, performed by Tim Stitz and directed by Kelly Somes plays at La Mama Courthouse until May 15, 2011.

La Mama Courthouse
27 April – 15 May 2011
349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC
Wed & Sun 6.30pm, Thurs-Sat 8pm
$25 Full / $15 Concession
Bookings via the La Mama website or 03 9347 6142
Selected as part of the VCE Drama Playlist

Tamarama Rock Surfers at The Old Fitzroy Theatre
9-25 June 2011
129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo NSW (crn Catherdral & Dowling Sts)
Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
$33 Full / $25 Concession
$40 Beer, Laksa and Show (BLS)
Cheap Tuesday – $21 Full / $29 BLS
Bookings: 02 8019 0282 or via

Brisbane Powerhouse – Turbine Studio
20-24 July 2011

119 Lamington Street, New Farm Qld
Wed – Thurs 7.15pm, Fri 7.15pm + 9.15pm,
Sat 2.15pm + 7.15pm, Sun 2.15pm
$25 Full / $18 Concession, Group (8+)
Bookings: 07 3358 8600 or via

The Smell Of Beekeeping

Posted by Paul Andrew in Art And Design, Entertainment

Paul Andrew talks to Tim Stitz about his autobiographical play, being part of the VCE Drama syllabus and the mellifluous smell of beekeeping.

There are two very distinctive voices in your play ‘Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper’. Tell me a little about them.

The first is that of Lloyd, the grandfather who interacts with the audience and recollects his lifetime of beekeeping. The other is the grandson, who is grappling with the family’s past, his grief and the experience of watching his grandparents ageing.

Tell me a little about your research for the play – and what is an apiarist exactly?

An apiarist is a person who works in an apiary, essentially a collection of beehives. I did a lot of research on the wonderful and mysterious world of bees and apiarists, and got a lot of information from Lloyd himself.

There are seminal works such as the Hive and the Honey Bee, as well as various beekeeping journals and online content. Like so many things, when you scratch the surface of an art or craft or science such as beekeeping you could spend the rest of your life exploring.

Tell me something that continues to fascinate you about apiaries and apiarists?

That bees pollinate approximately a third of all the food that humans eat, so if we don’t look after our bee populations we’re pretty much screwed.

I also love the ye olde image of beekeepers being the early conservationists. They would take their hives into people’s farms, orchids and state forests and have their bees pollinate the blossom flows. This still happens, and now we even have beekeepers in the CBD and suburbs. I love that so many different cultures and peoples have found ways to collect (or rob) honey from bees – from Egypt, to Greece, China to Australia.

Smoke and bees, tell me about this strange relationship – and did you learn about this from your grandfather?

Yeah, Lloyd instructed me about how smoke pacifies the bees. I’ve learnt recently that the bees smell the smoke and believe that a bushfire’s on its way, so they hunker down and try and ride it out. It does seem to slow them down, pacify them.

At the heart of the play is a story about cross-generational relationships?

I’m fascinated the ways in which we inherit things across generations, directly and indirectly. And this is not just genetic, familial traits but the way our behaviour is shaped by our family and kinship networks.

I suppose that was an initial reason to explore the territory of the play. Who is Tim Stitz? Where did he come from? How have I become the man I am today? And in that period of adolescence and ‘becoming a man’ what happens when the natural role model for this, my dad, is no longer there?

Your play is now included on the VCE Drama syllabus. What plays does it sit alongside, and how does this feel?

It’s sitting alongside other solo-shows and productions at Red Stitch, MTC and Malthouse, which is exciting. I do like the fact that VCE students can have such a great variety in the work they or their teachers choose to attend.

You can go and check out a Bell Shakespeare show as part of the syllabus but also go to little La Mama and see an intimate show where the performers as so close you can smell them and even be spittled on by them. I love the fact that the playlist encompasses work from the larger companies and also the rich independent sector we have in Melbourne.

When you smell honey now – what do you remember?

Buttery white toast with honey strewn on top, and the extracting shed which was full of old, strange equipment and was certainly grandad’s sanctuary.

Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper is playing until May 15
La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Thurs – Sat 8pm, Wed and Sun 6.30pm
Tickets $25 full, $12 concession
9347 6142

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