Monday, August 27, 2012

Kate Gaul- The Lunch Hour- INTERVIEWS

Kate Gaul graduated from NIDA (Directing Course) in 1996 and trained with the Anne Bogart SITI Company in 2005. In 2004–5, she was Associate Director at the Ensemble Theatre where productions included The Violet Hour, Kimberly Akimbo and Lobby Hero. She has directed works for Sydney Chamber Opera, Oz Opera, Merrigong Theatre Co, MTC, Company B and Griffin Theatre amongst others. Kate has also written and directed two short films Embrace and Cake.

She is currently the Artistic Director of Siren Theatre Co and is in rehearsal for their latest production, The Lunch Hour by Chris Aronsten.

Kate spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Kate GaulTell me about an early and formative theatre experience Kate?
When I was around 13 years old I saw a production of Dracula at Hobart's Theatre Royal. Bats flew overhead and careered around the auditorium, blood spots appeared on the victims' necks and Dracula seemed to appear and disappear right before our very eyes. I was absolutely captivated – I know it was all happening right there and it was magic. Theatre that transports the audience to another world, theatre that inspires wonder and engages the imagination is my favourite.

Describe The Lunch Hour in seven words?
Ambitious, hilarious, dark, subversive, shocking, silly, human

What attracted you to this play, and indeed, to Chris Aronsten's writing?
The Lunch Hour is ambitious as a new full-length play; the fact that it's a comedy and not many Australian playwrights write black comedy like this. And, it's bold theatrically; the recognisable, flawed characters; Chris's searing world view and the fact that the characters are struggling artists felt very truthful to me.

Tell me something about your collaborative work with Chris in the recent past?
I worked on Chris's play Human Resources which I directed for a season at the Darlinghurst Theatre in 2006. It was three interlinking monologues. The Lunch Hour is a two-act drama for seven actors – that' a huge shift.

Do you feel that you and Chris share a similar world view?
I understand the world Chris presents – the characters are trapped by their own flaws but it's easier to blame outside forces; that we kind of trapped on a treadmill and that dreams become stymied. I empathise with the feelings of isolation the characters experience and their fight for control and I share a similar urge that the theatre is what's real and everything else is a bit monochrome.

What do you love about his turns of phrase, his characters and the tensions the characters experience?
Chris creates very sophisticated word plays where the combination of lines from the characters often creates an alternative/meta story. The characters have rich inner lives so they come out with some brilliant lines and observations – it's a comedy so the one liners are gold. His characters are artists so they have bohemian tendencies, a bit of outsider status while having to hold down "normal" jobs. And the mix of extreme intelligence, mind numbing drudge does conflate to some pretty wild interpersonal tensions and delights – theatrically speaking.

Can you give me a snapshot of the play's development journey so far from concept to stage?
I first read the play at a reasonably early draft. The situations, style and concerns were never in question. But a play with seven characters does require lots of detail in terms of giving clues to the interpersonal relationships – so we had lots of chats about lots of little things to make these connections fool proof. I act as a kind of sounding board; try to find the right questions to ask to release the play or deepen a relationship. So that's been happening for about a year. Then as the production draws closer we talk about casting and the entire enterprise moves into a production phase.

Six struggling artists, one call centre. It's a mundane scenario that many of us are familiar with, what do you feel makes this setting universal in appeal, dramatic and alluring to audiences?
These are human beings with hopes, dreams and fears. Strangely none of the cast have every worked in a call centre. They are rich territory to mine for characters as its a kind of job that lots of different people can actually do. The call centre is where they work – it's not a play about call centres. Why they stay there is part of the story and why they never leave is what it explores. Any bunch of fiery characters looking for an escape will create drama.

Casting is always an intriguing aspect for a new work, tell me something about the difficulty or the joys encountered with casting choices made in relation to the play or/ two of the play's character's?
Well, I decided to have auditions for every role in the play and it was a pretty interesting way to find out how actors respond to the text. It was useful actually to hear some of the speeches over and over in terms of getting the rhythm and content into my head. And as Chris was part of the audition process it was useful to hear what was working and when the text wasn't so clear.

There's a strong sensibility at work in the play and often casting is a process of finding those actors who "get" it. That was certainly the case with this play. The play also explores some treacherous territory in terms of sexual identity and ethnicity. There's some coarse language and a few "adult concepts" explored as well as a mix of theatrical styles. So the actors needed to be robust, imaginative and rather cluey about a few things to be in The Lunch Hour.

lunch_hour_intTell me about the setting and mood of the play?
The literal setting for The Lunch Hour is a call centre. However our theatrical interpretation of that leaves us with a much simpler gesture than straight-up realism. The play explores a number of theatrical styles and moods but I can't say much more than that without giving a lot of the theatrical fun of the production away. The soundscape is partly real world sounds and theatrical manifestations of these. There's music too, but to say much more would require a spoiler alert!

Tell me about the character Catherine?
I like Catherine. She's 40 years old. She's described as "acts insane, and is" – a beautiful description. She's got a kind of manic energy and desperate take on life. It's like she lives in a kind of David Lynch film on speed.

And something of a character who is less appealing perhaps?
None of the characters are unappealing – they are all very human.

Tell me about your take on the direction of the play?
The challenging aspect of directing this play will be getting the use of time right. The text is carefully structured so that every gesture – verbal, physical and psychological is acting in a kind of score. Creating truthful characters is always our mission – having them operate in the playwright's score is a pleasure to achieve. The play crosses a few styles as I've indicated. There's a fight. There's a dance. There is drama, situation comedy, farce and comedy, comedy, comedy – all in the timing as they say.

What is your favourite line(s)?
"Enter Catherine. 40. Acts insane, and is."

"You know you're a lesbian when you bring your own lunch..."

What is the most satisfying and exciting aspect to working on a new work like this Kate?
The most satisfying thing about directing a new play is that no-one has ever done it before. It's a really journey of discovery and the audience take that journey too as no-one has ever seen it before. It's very, very hard work but very, very satisfying to have been part of the first team to bring a play to the stage.

The Lunch Hour by Chris Aronsten, directed by Kate Gaul, opens at Darlinghurst Theatre, September 7, 2012. First Published Australian Stage Online, 27 August 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Circus Trick Tease - INTERVIEWS









Art Starter:Circus Trick Tease

Teasers by name and teasers by nature, Circus Trick Tease are one feature act at the infamous Gangster’s Ball this September. Performer Shannon McGurgan let’s a few tricks out of the bag. “One ‘trick teaser’ is Mr. Plonk picking up female audience members,” snickers McGurgan, “continuing with a magician’s sleight of hands.” Another is the love triangle, which takes a decidedly queer twist on the traditional. And another yet again, is a narrative-driven circus show – Gasp. McGurgan is a circus performer and acrobat who trained the troupe in specialized acrobalance skills. He started in gymnastics and moved professionally into circus beginning with The Circus Arts School in Atlanta Georgia and culminating ten years later as one of the first graduates from The National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne.

”Malia has a background in ballet, much of her career has been as a fire performer,” McGurgan explains, “including training in Samoa and New Zealand in both art forms. Farhad grew up doing gymnastics in his home country of Iran and wasn’t tied to any formulaic structure so he performs amazing skills, freestanding headstand on a bottle, a trick rarely done by Western trained performers. Farhad has toured for a decade with circuses around the world.

“Miss Tinkle and Mr. Plonk run the circus, they are a couple too. It’s a typically dysfunctional relationship seen in most marriages that have outlived their usefulness. Unfortunately, they feel that need to stay together in order for the circus to survive, a metaphor for soooooo many relationships perhaps. Miss Tinkle drinks for solace, Mr. Plonk has the veneer of a “sensitive” man, but, his real agenda, all the crying and fawning, is to get down your pants, any pants, he’s not too fussed.”

See the Circus Trick Tease at The Gangsters Ball in Sydney, Saturday 1 September at Metro Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday 8 September, Forum Theatre, and Brisbane Saturday 15, The Tivoli.

Paul Andrew

Drum (Aug 21, 2012) Inpress (Aug 22, 2012) Time Off (Aug 22, 2012)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Jeff Dunham - Controlled Chaos- INTERVIEWS







Before The Terrorist

The man responsible for bringing Achmed The Terrorist to the collective conscious, Jeff Dunham chats to Paul Andrew about how it all began.

Long before YouTube sensation Achmed The Terrorist, ventriloquism had a history of representing the dead. Ventriloquism – the art of throwing one’s voice – is as ancient as theatre. Originally a religious practice named Gastromancy by the Greeks, these strange voices from the stomach were believed to be the voices of the un-living. Modern Ventriloquism was popularised in the US during the days of Vaudeville in the late 19th Century when performers like The Great Lester made a character – a puppet dummy crafted from wood – utterly believable. It was Edgar Bergen, who comedian Jeff Dunham – as a student of The Great Lester – recounts transformed one of Vaudeville’s one-trick ponies into a radio sensation, his infamous character Charlie McCarthy, the girl crazy smartarse whose shows were aired from 1937 to 1958.

Dunham was aged eight when he and his mum went browsing in a toy store in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. “What do you want for Christmas?” asked his mum, and the loner schoolkid snatched a Mortimer Snerd doll from the shelves, “I want this,” he shrieked.
As Dunham recounts of that formative childhood experience his mother was less than impressed. “Why would a boy want a Mortimer Snerd dummy for Christmas?” Dunham explains that Mortimer Snerd was another Bergen dummy and cites Bergen as “the” artist who “revolutionised ventriloquism into the modern comic medium we know today.”

And just as Bergen changed a vaudeville sideshow into a modern form of comedy, Dunham is widely accepted as having propelled the craft to its outer limits. His irreverent cache of comic characters; the gothic Achmed “I keel you” the Terrorist, his gay wayward son AJ, Bubba J the Southern yokel, Walter the dry pensioner and the Mickey Mouse/Kermit/Bugs Bunny-inspired Peanut have almost become household names. “I wanted to do something different with each of these guys, and the Monster Show was born, in time for Halloween.

“What type of monster would Walter be,” Dunham asks me. I tend to see Walter’s character as fairly monstrous as is. “Something Edgar Allan Poe?” I guess. “Frankenstein,” he reveals. “Walter is Frankenstein but without the two bolts on his neck or the green shading. Universal has copyright to the two bolts and green shading.

Dunham reveals he never sets out to make a particular character. “Walter was a character I imagined having a small role, maybe for three shows. I didn’t think anyone would be able to put up with his dark dry humour. I was wrong. AJ was the same. There was a show when Achmed mentioned a son, and I thought I could make a son character, once again for a few shows; he’s been around for a while now too. We were lucky with timing; four appearances with Carson on The Tonight Show between 1990 and 1991 gave us a sort of legitimacy. There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when one appearance with Carson sealed your fate, your career was made.”
It was in 2005 and 2006 when Dunham’s 20-year career of performing in comedy clubs took centre stage at Comedy Central. “These appearances coincided with the rise and rise of DVD sales and YouTube. YouTube has become the perfect medium for us.”

See Jeff Dunham's Controlled Chaos at Brisbane Convention Centre Monday 13 August, Sydney Entertainment Centre Friday 17 and Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena Tuesday 21.
The man responsible for bringing Achmed The Terrorist to the collective conscious, Jeff Dunham chats to Paul Andrew about how it all began.

Paul Andrew
First Published - Drum (Aug 7, 2012) Inpress (Aug 8, 2012) Time Off (Aug 8, 2012) Drum Perth (Aug 9, 2012)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sally McKenzie - A Hoax - INTERVIEWS

Written by Paul Andrew   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 07:50

Sally McKenzie is an actor, playwright, director and filmmaker. She has performed with nearly every major theatre company in Australia including La Boite, MTC, Nimrod, Playbox, QTC, STCSA, STC and many more. As a playwright, her plays include Scattered Lives and i dot luv dot u. Her arts documentary debuted on the ABC in 2008 and social documentary A Woman's Journey Into Sex will be completed this year and distributed locally by Icon and internationally by Off The Fence.

Sally McKenzie spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew about her current role, Ronnie Lowe, in Griffin Theatre's production of Rick Viede's,  A Hoax.

Sally McKenzieDescribe 'A Hoax' in seven words?
Ambitious writer contrives hoax and creates monster.

Describe the play's web of characters in brief?
Anthony AKA Ant: Social worker by day, ambitious fiction writer by night. Currah AKA Mirri: transforms from ambitious naïve teenager to media-hungry hoaxer. Ronnie Lowe: ambitious tough-talking literary agent. Tyrelle: ambitious African-American journalist. Commonality – all characters are ambitious.

Being mindful of spoilers, can you tell me about your character Ronnie Lowe?
We all know a Ronnie Lowe. She's the tough kid opportunist with a nose for making money. She's the straight-talking take-no-prisoners type who takes on the world and is used to winning. She lives to work. She calls a spade a spade. Her humour is like her taste in champagne – dry. She appraises the fiscal potential of Brand Currah and runs with it.

What excites you about the role of Ronnie Lowe?
Even though women represent 50% of the workforce, it's very rare to play a powerful woman. Female playwrights often become preoccupied with the biological clock. I have thanked Rick for realizing this female Kerry-Packer role and director Lee Lewis for giving me the opportunity to play it.

What has challenged you the most with this role?
The play's given circumstances. They're extreme. But then again – so's life.

What is your favourite line in the play, why so?
'Fuck me bare-back'. It's a line that can be used without any context.

One of the conceits of the play is that of 'a dark past' – does Ronnie have a dark past too?
Ronnie is a tough-on-the-outside rough diamond from 'new money' stock. She talks about her husband fucking her best friend but maybe she fucked the best friend's husband first!

It's a long run Sally and the staging of 'A Hoax' is a little unusual – can you tell me a little about this, why so, how so?
To address the 'long run' idea first. I wish it were longer. Love 'long runs'. The play unfolds over a duration of time and in a series of hotel rooms. Director Lee Lewis and designer Renee Mulder have conceived inspiring solutions to this staging challenge.

Tell me about the strangest thing that happened during rehearsals?
There's a section in the dialogue where Ronnie uses the word 'condescension' when she means condensation. In rehearsals I kept saying condensation instead of condescension. Strange...

Sally what seized you most of all when you first read Rick's script?
The situation, the comedy, the characters, the observation of the 'dark side' of human nature.

Tell me something about the wellspring of images that sprang to mind on your first few readings?
Readings highlight the text. So my initial reactions focused on that. So pragmatically, as a point of reference, I was probably making comparisons to Australian playwrights that I have performed. I was also seeking to nail the inherent style of Rick's play.

What do you love about the language in the play?
The text is 'heightened realism' in that it is sharp without 'ums' and 'ahs' (leave that to TV soaps)! It demands a committed muscularity.

What do you love about the humour in the play?
Its audacity.

What do you love about the social setting of the play?
Theatre foyers and foyer conversations are the milieu within which part of my world revolves, so the world of the play is one I can relate to. The air kissing, the meaningless foyer-chat. The looking everywhere but at the person you're shaking hands with after judging that they aren't helpful in accelerating your career. I exaggerate to make the point but you get my drift! I love that it's a contemporary work that deals with contemporary issues that have global significance.

Can you give me an example of the humour, a scene, a line of dialogue perhaps?
The humour is eclectic. There's initial-response humour: 'Life is like a big dick – hard'. There's dry humour: 'They've even got Foxtel'. 'How fancy'. And there's character-specific humour: 'As a biracial homosexual from a working class background, and someone, might I add, who has been ridiculed enough for some of my more outré mannerisms... Your stories touched me'.

Do you feel or know that Rick has been influenced by a particular playwright for 'A Hoax'?
A line from David Williamson's Money and Friends comes to mind: 'It's an eco-thriller. Chemically induced dwarf-outcasts come in from the desert to replenish their gene pool by kidnapping tall girls'. Compare this one of Rick's lines: 'This girl learned to read by staring at the printed version of interview with the Vampire while the audio booked played'.

Both writers demand the committed muscularity I cited earlier. I've spoken with Rick and know that he's not particularly familiar with David's work, however, having played a range of Williamson women, I identify similarities, viz., the heightened text, the heightened context, the chronicling of the social mores of our times. Oh, and both writers use the word 'fuck' a lot – an endearing quality!

A HOAX by Rick Viede, directed by Lee Lewis is now playing until 1 September, 2012. For bookings and further details:

Image credit:–
Top Left and below: Sally McKenzie in 'A Hoax'. Photos – Brett Boardman