Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Denton Chikura - Two Gents Productions - INTERVIEWS

Denton Chikura
Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 20:37
Award-winning, London-based Two Gents Productions has embarked on their first tour of Australia, having received enormous critical acclaim for their explorations of Shakespeare's classic plays through the eyes of modern Zimbabweans, blending a fresh cultural perspective with physically engaging and intimate performances.

One of the Two Gentlemen, Denton Chikura, speaks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Denton ChikuraDenton, your earliest and most vivid memory of Shakespeare?
Reading and then re-reading Hamlet again and again for my 'A’ level English literature. Completely went over my head. It’s pretty humbling that after 3 years of performing Hamlet, a lot of it still does.

What continues to astonish and inspire you about the depth and breadth of Shakespeare's works?
How lucky Shakespeare is. He doesn’t have to endure dreary days in the corner of a rehearsal room with a pushy director and needy actors ripping apart his work. As a new writer I envy the bullet proof vest death affords you. If you could pull this off without having to die…well. That said, his writing is pretty solid.

Do you have a personal fave Shakespeare play?
It has to be Two Gentlemen of Verona because it’s the one I’ve come to know inside out back to front. I know half the text – because I’ve got to perform it, and though shoddily written I’ve come to love it. I’ve also had the privilege of watching Tonderai really grow into the role of Proteus and develop immensely as an actor. Though we’ve performed that show over 200 times, I never tire of watching him. He makes the show for me.

Two Gents is actually three people – tell me about your crew/backgrounds and the fabulous story behind your company's inception?
Arne had just worked at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and had fallen in love with protest theatre. As a Shakespeare graduate the notion of applying that aesthetic was not far. Two Gentlemen of Verona by Two Gentlemen was all that was needed to get the creative juices flowing. He found me and Tonderai in London where we’d been based for a few years. We both immediately bought into his vision and started rehearsing wherever we could find space. I remember rehearsing in Arne’s living room, a first preview in my living room and a first showcase in front of about eight people. Fortunately one of those people was Oval Theatres Ben Evans who after a journal of notes told us he’d book our show. The rest is history. 

Tell me about the most formative experience you had when your company went from the wings of obscurity and captured the popular imagination ?
The performances we did at the Globe were a real turning point for us. We’re a touring company and thus have spent most of our time as a company on the road. We’d been plugging away on the fringe, regional and rural touring scene, and had garnered some success on the European Shakespeare festival circuit. But because we hadn’t done all of that of that in London it was almost like it hadn’t happened. After the Globe people were like "where’ve you been?." We weren’t prepared for the reaction to it all but should have known that we were going to do well – our show honed over 3 and half years in front of the most toughest audiences, a commission to perform that show in our native tongue to a home audience, add that Globe stage and you get a home run. It was epic.

How do you describe the Two Gentleman of Verona?
Scattergun. Riotous. Hilarious. Triumphant. Moving.

And Kupenga Kwa Hamlet?
Brave. Sparse. Emotive. Hilarious. Sad. Tragic.

Why these two plays; the politics, the state, the stateliness, the secrets perhaps?
With Two Gentlemen of Verona it was all about the title – Two Gentlemen of Verona by Two Gentlemen.

Because Two Gentlemen had done so well, we thought we’d tackle something a little more challenging for our next project. They don’t come much harder than Hamlet. Clarity had been a bit of an issue earlier on with Two Gent’s as it’s rarely done – we figured most people roughly knew the story of Hamlet thus would be able to fill in the blanks that you inevitably get when two people attempt to perform such a sprawling behemoth of a play.

Tell me about the contemporary settings for each of these plays?
We’ve set the play in Zimbabwe but have kept the characters names and locations. It’s still the same play really – just with a healthy dollop of Zimbabwean song, accented moves and instantly recognizable Zimbabwean figures. Oh, and done by two actors.

Is there a Zimbabwean expression that you feel sums up/encapsulates the Two Gents concept?
A celebration of doing without.

I just made that up – but in a nutshell that’s exactly what we do.

Two Gents productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Kupenga Kwa Hamlet opens in Perth Feb 26, 2013, before touring to Wollongong (from March 5), Parramatta (from March 12) and Canberra (from March 19). Visit

Top right – (l-r) Tonderai Munyebvu and Denton Chikura. Photo – Gorm Shackelford

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Howard Arkley - Interviews with Curator Jason Smith and Author Dr John Gregory - INTERVIEWS


Australian Artist Howard Arkley is the subject of a new book by author Dr John Gregory and a major retrospective exhibition
currently at the AGNSW celebrating his unique brand
of pop art - from epic Day-Glo iconography to trippy
expeditions into the mundane wonderland of suburban
bliss. DRUM's Paul Andrew speaks to author of 'Carnival in Suburbia' Dr John Gregory and Curator Jason Smith.

According to exhibition curator Jason Smith, it was
Arkley’s great love for popular culture and mass media, that formed the prima materia for his life's work. Everything from the vibrant loud colourful and narcotic fuelled club scene, to eighties post punk celebrities like The Cramps or Nick Cave, to television or indie film culture. 

“If these were the signs, materials, forces and
phenomena that conditioned us, that shaped our
world”, urges Smith, “then I think Howard's response
was - 'ok, I'll re-condition things myself and celebrate,
subvert and reassess.” And Arkley’s tool of choice, the

One of Arkley’s artistic influences was US artist and activist  Keith Haring(May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990), who visited Australia in 1984, painted wall murals in Collingwood and clearly made an impression on Arkely's early work.

Unlike Haring who looked into the spectrum of 1980's street culture Arkley was enchanted by Middle Australia, by suburbia, in particualr suburban architecture, this provided him some of the richest source material. 

“Throughout the 1980s and 1990s [Arkley] cast the suburban home
in a range of recognisable styles but luridly coloured
decorative schemes. His suburban exteriors focus
attention on suburbia as the contemporary landscape
and the habitat of most of the Australian population. He
sought neither to satirise nor denigrate suburbia, but to
reflect its complexity and understood that behind the
homely, ordered façade often lurked a dark side to the
domestic. Arkley’s homes are alternatively nostalgic,
celebratory subversive and brooding.”

One work, his Fabricated Rooms, which he made
for the 1999 Venice Biennale, says Smith, offered a
particularly Australian vision of the contemporary
world, but obviously had an international reach.
“Howard's Venice work was hailed for its conception,
execution and ambition. He was a very well read
artist and understood, wrote and talked about his
art-historical ancestors, so the history of modernism
and transitions between minimalism, pluralism,
modernism and postmodernism were factors in his
thinking and his work of course - he created a very
distinct visual language.”

Smith has put together an exhaustive survey
encapsulating both the artist’s depth and breadth of
vision as well evoking his inspirational talent.
While many artists in the 1980s and 1990s were focusing
on the minimal or the melancholic, Arkley chose colour
at its most vibrant. 

"He was an excellent and essential antidote to Melbourne’s obsession with black. Many artists who were either peers or students recall Howard's generosity of spirit.
Sadly Arkley died from a heroine dose upon returning
to Australia from Venice in 1999. But after Howard died, a
huge amount of his studio material came to light."

“Making sense of all that, and integrating the new
insights into his work that resulted, was a very strong
motive”, explains author art historian Dr John Gregory
about the motivation behind researching and writing
his paean to Arkley - Carnival in Suburbia: The Art of
Howard Arkley
. “His insights about suburbia and its
cultural meanings still dominate in most people’s view
of his life’s work. And yes, I do believe that’s a very
significant aspect of his work, but, who knows, in the
future he may be seen as just as significant for the links
between his art and music or popular culture. I do think
he will continue to be seen as a significant artist of his

Gregory first met Howard in 1990, and wrote the book as
a way of acknowledging how much he deeply considered concepts and ideas. “I also wanted to complicate
the view proposed by several writers and by Arkley
himself, that his suburban houses are ‘just like ours’
– by stressing their plainly artistic character, their use
of graphic line and colour, and so on. 

"I don’t disagree with the idea that the familiarity of his suburban imagery is a key part of their appeal, but I also wanted
to get people to think a but more deeply about exactly
how those images look. And I was also interested in
breaking down the notion of his work as some sort of
direct reflection of his drug taking.”

"Punk was a key influence in the late ’70s/early ’80s
especially. Influences included usual suspects like
Warhol but also other US artists like Ed Ruscha. And he
was always looking at design magazines like Domus,
and books on modern furniture - Memphis and so on.
And as for his drug use – it is actually one of the issues
often over-emphasized in discussion of Arkley."

“Obviously", asserts Gregory, "the altered states Arkley experienced were clearly influential on some of his works, such as the images of cacti, or his Zappo Heads, but the fascinating thing there is how organized and precise his art always was. An enduring memory of mine is watching Howard transform himself
from the rather all-over-the-place character he seemed
in everyday life, into an incredibly meticulous craftsman
when he had the air-brush in his hand."

INTERVIEW with Jason Smith, Curator

PA: Australian art history has a big handful of artists who paint suburbia(Jeffrey Smart is well-known figure),  other well-known artists representing suburbia?

JS: Well, for a start, all artists have a different take on suburbia.Historical figures include Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith, Brett Whitelely (interiors particularly)and Jenny Watson.

What distinguishes Arkley's works are their geometry, balance of abstraction against representation, and his totally idiosyncratic colour and patterning.

PA: Tell me of Arkley's early career?

JS: Arkley held his first exhibition, White Paintings, in 1975 at Tolarno Galleries, established in St Kilda by Georges Mora. Several of the works in this retrospective were part of that first exhibition: A piece called Nerve; Operations, notch, trim; Seltsamer and Inventory. 

In this early phase of his career Arkley drew on the histories and traditions of twentieth century modernism, minimal and abstract art to develop a personal and distinct visual language.

Arkley's notebooks and sketchbooks of this period are filled with
notational experiments and thumbnail drawings in which he develops the compositional precision of the large scale paintings. The paintings reveal his preoccupations with rigid or fluid linearity, uniformity, solidity, and all-over sprayed grounds; thinness and thickness of line; thegraphic and emotive distinctions between freehand or ruled lines; thehardness of blacks, greys and silver; density and lightness, and the
graduation of tone from black to white; and the field of light between black and white.

From around 1979 Arkley's painting entered a new and radical phase ofcolour. Ornamentation and abstraction merged with Arkley's continuing interests in patterning, mathematical order, furnishing fabrics, architecture, the modernist grid and the wider Australian feminist movement in works like Ornamentic, Science and Vortex recalling as they do the geometry of flywire doors, coded formulae and the patterning of Amish quilts. Feminism and its revaluing of subjects and practices relegated
derisively to the 'decorative' or 'domestic' corresponded with Arkley's developing interests in the inherent aesthetic value of decorative scheme and the highly individual and arbitrary nature of taste.

PA: His major themes?

JS: His major themes are the domestic, suburbia,
the abstract world.

PA: Street Art influences?

JS: Arkley used his tool of choice - the airbrush - from the time he was a student. There are fascinating convergences in time and subject matter between Arkley and the American Keith Haring for instance (though Haring didn't use the airbrush).

PA: Arkley transmuted the humdrum mundane nature of domesticity and conjured profoundly magical vibrant icons. Was this due a great love/great dream for Australian suburbia or a mocking ironic twist?

JS: The architecture of the suburbs provided some of the richest source material for Howard Arkley's art. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Arkley cast the suburban home in a range of recognisable styles but luridly coloured decorative schemes. Arkley's suburban exteriors focus attention on suburbia as the contemporary landscape and the habitat of most of the Australian population. Arkley sought neither to satirise nor denigrate suburbia, but to reflect its complexity. He understood that behind the homely, ordered façade often lurked a dark side to the domestic. His
homes are alternatively nostalgic, celebratory subversive and brooding.

PA: What do you feel about Arkley's link/references
to pop art (Popism?) in Australia and overseas?

JS: Popular culture and mass media - in all their myriad forms - was THE source material for Arkley. If these were the signs, materials, forces and phenomena that conditioned us, that shaped outr world, then I think Howard's response was - 'ok, I'll RE-CONDITION things myself and celebrate, subvert and reassess'. My speculative quote, not his.

PA: When Arkleys work was gathering momentum in the eighties and nineties, there were a handful of artists working with colourful media or popculture references (Juan Davila for example) who attracted some degree of notoriety. There seemed to be a larger number of Melbourne artists working with muted monotones melancholy, black and minimalism. What do you feel?

JS: Yes, he was an excellent and essential antidote to Melbourne 'black'.

PA: What do you thinks Arkley's personal philosophy was regarding the world in the midst of great social and cultural change?

JS: That art made us more complex, productive human beings and that it could enable change beyond the art world.

PA: Is Melbourne a quintessential element to Arkley's work or is it a more universal insight into Australian suburban experiences?

JS: Both

PA: Arkley's works ebb and flow between abstraction and realism ?

JS: Howard was a very well read artist and understood, wrote and
talked about his art-historical ancestors, so the history of modernism and transitions between minimalism, pluralism, modernism and postmodernism were factors in his thinking and work of course. But he sought for himself a distinct visual language.

PA: Can you cite any of his student's, proteges or peers who were inpsired by Arkley's art career?

JS: Many artists who were either peers or students recall Howard's generosity of spirit and his unwavering encouragement of his practice. His closest peers, at various times, were John Nixon, Jenny Watson, Tony Clark, Peter Tyndall, Juan Davila, Elizabeth Gower, Callum Morton. His students include Kathy Temin, Anne-Marie May, Andrew Macdonald.

WHO: Howard Arkley
WHAT: Howard Arkley
WHEN & WHERE: Until Sunday 6 May 2007, Art Gallery
of NSW, Domain

First Published Drum Media, NSW 20 March 2007


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rumour Has It: Sixty Minutes Inside Adele - Naomi Price- INTERVIEWS

Naomi Price Rumour Has It

Irrational Thinking

Rumour Has It: Sixty Minutes Inside Adele is no joke, nor is it a mere jukebox musical. Creator/performer Naomi Price runs Paul Andrew through the thematic depths of the show and the power of music in general.

Self-professed “curvy cabaret redhead” Naomi Price makes it perfectly clear at the outset; while she lapped up every nuance of Jersey Boys, she is not a great fan of the jukebox musical. “Rumour Has It is not a jukebox musical about Adele,” she asserts. “It’s a cabaret… It’s sixty minutes inside Adele”, she adds, “[and] is obviously partially named after one of her most well-known songs. My colleague Adam [Brunes] and I thought it was the ideal title for the show because we are deconstructing celebrity and rumours throughout the piece – so many Adele rumours. The other part of the title came from our slightly naughtier side, where we wanted to highlight that this is something of an exposé on her life, but that we want to do it in a cheeky way.

“Why a cabaret about Adele? I suppose for me personally her music speaks to me. Her songs have punctuated monumental moments in my life, and I can still remember where I was when I first heard them, and what was happening in my life. I connected with her raw emotion and her ability to so eloquently describe painful or difficult situations.“

Price is honest about her method. “I wish I could say that we spent a long time developing and considering our approach to this character, but essentially my co-devisor Adam and I sat down with a bottle of wine and I started to talk in this ridiculous and really broad Cockney accent. I would say the worst things I could think of on a wide variety of topics, and if Adam cried out loud with laughter, then those were the lines that ended up in the show. It was such a fun creative process in that regard. We realised early on that the show could very easily become a complete piss-take with a lot of cheap shots at obesity, at vocal nodules and at working-class mentality.” She adds the big “‘owever” in her best Cockney. “It was a dear colleague of us asked us a very important question: why? We realised that just singing her songs and making people laugh wouldn’t be nearly enough. It was then that we delved into the heart of the piece; we pored over biographies, we watched countless indepth interviews and eventually, truth-be-known, we came up with something quite depressing. I think the show as it stands now is a combination of the ridiculous, outlandish humour and moments of absolute poignant truth.”

We chat about heartache, about torch songs that capture the popular imagination, and what it is about music that provides us with consolation, when everything seems against us. “In fact one of the lines in the show concerns why music is so amazing – it can take us to a single breath, a place, a moment,” she explains. “That’s why, I believe, people connect so deeply with music, because we associate so much emotion and memory and experience with the songs we hear. And that’s not necessarily about raw emotion. That can be as a result of impacting lyrics, or a hypnotic musical riff, or shared experience. Music is divine. It transcends natural, rational thinking and transports us to other places or moods in an almost supernatural way. And then, sometimes, music is just bloody good fun.”

WHAT: Rumour Has It: Sixty Minutes Inside Adele
WHEN & WHERE: Friday 8 February to Saturday 9, Chapel Off Chapel (part of Stage Art Xposed), Melbourne VIC
Paul Andrew

First Published - Inpress (Feb 6, 2013)

Monday, February 04, 2013

The History Boys - Actor John Wood - INTERVIEWS


Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 06:39
Australia’s much-loved veteran actor John Wood stars as Douglas Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, opening at the Sydney Opera House this week.

Taking a break from rehearsals, he talks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

John WoodAs the interview begins actor John Wood seems somewhat distracted. Perhaps it is the January heat, I think.

Wood is currently rehearsing for the role of Douglas Hector; the English General Studies Teacher with roving ‘inappropriate’ hands in Alan Bennett’s feted 2004 play The History Boys. He has just finished another long summer’s day in what sounds like an airless rehearsal room. Wood is pleased there is a gentle afternoon breeze wafting outside when we settle into the interview, “That’s better”, he croons with relief.

I quickly learn that Wood, one of Australia’s most recognised actors of stage and screen, is also a gifted raconteur. When I ask him what happened in rehearsal room during the preceding eight hours he seems to forget whatever it is that has been distracting him and recounts the proceedings of the day in vivid detail.

“Singing in French, today, yes, I have been singing in French. I have been teaching the boys, all highly intelligent boys, poetry. It’s a wonderful piece of writing this play; Bennett has such a great sense of the written word, but singing in French, and that is really hard for such an Aussie boy like me. In fact the play is a complex play, it’s what I call a hard learn, so many layers of dialogue to learn, layers upon layers, singing in French, poetry, answering the deluge of questions posed to Hector by his students, Hector is one for inspiring the students with poetry, learning the layers of banter, the asides by the students, all wonderfully written, amazingly written in fact, but a hard learn.”

“And it’s a delightful rehearsal room”, he continues, “large, roomy, filled with light, highly polished parquetry floors, it is a place that has a few stories of its own to tell I suspect, it is good for what we are doing, this play is as physical as it is witty. And the windows overlook a school yard, I was watching the schoolchildren playing games, scrambling along monkey bars, and,“ he pauses reflectively, “I found myself thinking that I should be spending more time with my grandchildren.”

It is no surprise that Wood is so seized by the schoolyard just beyond, young school students in the early years of learning; their days of innocence. The History Boys is a play also set in a School, Cutler’s Grammar School; a fictional Grammar School in Sheffield in the North of England during the early 1980’s, albeit older students well into their adolescence. And as the play unfolds it charts the journey of these students, years after the monkey bars and games of innocence are over, the hormones slam dancing as they set upon the brink of a great tomorrow, frantically preparing for their Cambridge and Oxford entrance examinations.

“It’s a story we can all relate too”, says Wood of the play’s setting, “we were all at school once and we spent a good deal of our young lives there and so much happened when we were at school. So I guess there is a certain nostalgia appeal to the play. People can reflect about the things they did and didn’t do, the things they did very well, those small and those big successes.People seeing the play can relate to some of the things the characters in the play do and say, yes, I remember I did something like that and I did it very well, I’d forgotten that.“

We chat about Alan Bennett plays, his consummate skill with characterisation and in particular the role of Hector and what Wood finds challenging about this particularly complex Bennett character.

"Well to be honest there were a whole raft of things I didn’t understand about Hector when I first read the script and now with time I have to assume that he is a closet queen, someone who has never come out, perhaps this is due to the era when the play is set, the social habits of the time, the institution he works in, he has simply never done anything about his sexuality. Of course the irony is that the students are all very open about their sexuality. In one scene Hector has a male student riding side by side on the pillion seat of his motor cycle, and it’s the sort of thing you, a teacher, would never do with a female student, so at first I found all this stuff quite baffling. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced. And the same can be said of all the open homosexuality and bisexuality of the boys in the play. I never came across that when I was at school.”

“It’s all so witty,” adds Wood, “yes, witty is the best word to describe the mood of the play, it’s hilarious actually, so well written as I said before. The boys are so precocious and all of them are so very clever, and they do make jokes and many times it’s about their sexuality. I think this is what makes the play so funny.”

We discuss Hector’s roving hands, his cheeky pillion passenger antics and the series of difficult “run ins” that ensue with the impatient headmaster (Paul Goddard). “They have a fractious relationship at best; the Headmaster doesn’t agree with Hector’s teaching methods and wonders if he is actually doing any good for the boys at all. Feeling up the boys isn’t part of the agenda. I think what is interesting is that the boys, long into their lives will probably never remember someone like the Headmaster but they will always remember Hector, perhaps this is because he is constantly challenging the students, always testing them.”

Wood speaks highly of his fellow cast as he reflects on what must have been a momentous ”hard learn” rehearsal day in suffocating January heat. “Yes Paul Goddard is doing a wonderful job in the role of the Headmaster, another hard learn and another highly complex character, as are Heather Mitchell and James Mackay in their roles too, not to mention the younger cast, the boys bounding around the rehearsal room like the school kids next door, a great cast of younger talent, all highly intelligent actors playing intelligent characters, eight young frisky testosterone charged actors playing eight frisky testosterone charged roles.”

The History Boys by Alan Bennett, starring John Wood, opens at the Sydney Opera House this week

Briefs - Review- Sydney Festival 2013- INTERVIEWS

Written by Paul Andrew   

Monday, 04 February 2013 21:06 
BriefsBrisbane’s brassy, brash and brazen boylesque crew Briefs turned Parramatta’s Perdu Spiegeltent inside-out and upside-down during this year’s Sydney Festival.

The all male, all hip, all raucous circus have fabulously fused fantasy, burlesque, gender bending politics, aerial acts, strong man skills, lap prancing, chorus lines and frou-frou feather fan dancing into a scintillating, scantily-clad, pulsating, alchemy of camp.

Brief’s Hostess with the Five O’clock Shadow and Mistress of the Quick Change Shivannah aka Fez Faanana is a consummate MC, part gifted storyteller, part trans activist Shivannah dazzles audiences with her witty double entendres, wondrous wardrobe malfunctions and staged foibles while unrelentingly regaling us with hilarious tales of her/his countless pointless hours at Ipswich Centrelink, St Vinnie’s Chic,the endless hoopla of funding applications to The Australia Council and  rapier sharp “wilderbeast” drag queenpersonal asides. Her/his presentation is as much Briefs biography as it is showbitchship. It’s side splittingly priceless.

Salon Perdu’s all silk, all smoke, all mirrors, all post-absinthe haze is the ideal big top for this brand of high camp, highly hirsute happenings. From the “genuine” strong man with a bloody great blade Johnny Domino, who cuts a fine figure in bright faux spandex cut off tights and ironic uber macho Hipster styling; all real no simulation feats of awe inspiring physical strength, Token Native aka Natano Faananais absolutely breathtaking as he dances the silks replete with his personal Samoan twists and turns down to, or rather up to, the aerial grace incarnate of local Westie boy and the Las Vegas 2011 Reigning King of Boylesque Captain Kidd (Mark Winmill) who puts a whole new slant on highly strung and awesomely well hung.

Judging by the mirth unleashed by the Parramatta crowd last Friday and the gleeful glints in gleaming eyes it comes as no surprise that Briefs are fast becoming the must-have dazzling daring darlings of the International Festival Circuit. After a hit season at the recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sydney Festival and a string of pearled performances in Brisbane, Adelaide and regional centres in recent years Briefs are proving that while their underwear is scant (and ever-so-slightly soiled) there is absolutely nothing brief about their zeitgeist appeal.

2013 Sydney Festival

Venue: Salon Perdu Spiegeltent, Parramatta
Dates: January 18 – 27, 2013
Tickets: $40
7.30PM (90 MIN)

First Published Australian Stage Feb 4, 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Mapmaker's Opera - Kevin Purcell - INTERVIEWS

Written by Paul Andrew   

Friday, 01 February 2013 10:38
“That’s a great idea for a Musical”. If you’ve ever entertained this thought you have probably also imagined – or completely ignored – the measure of conceptual logistics involved in making the dream a reality.

Paul Andrew speaks to entrepreneur Kevin Purcell about how he is coping with turning an enchanting book about the indomitability of the human spirit into a magical Broadway Musical.

Kevin PurcellYour personal fave musical Kevin?
OK, that’s tough, because there are a number of musicals I adore. For different reasons: My Fair Lady for structure and skill of adaptation; The Light in the Piazza for bringing back music with an emotional core; and Marguerite (original version) for the score by Michel Legrand (a songwriting genius).

Your musical journey so far?
Both my mum and grandmother were passionate about musical theatre and my grandmother was a fabulous pianist and the best piano teacher I had. After winning a couple of major orchestral conducting prizes, I ended up working for many years in London and other places for Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber. At some point after that, I got side tracked into working in tertiary music academia in Australia which was/is a precarious and difficult environment that to my way of thinking has been hijacked by management-academics who have not an iota of understanding about the requisite needs of music education.

I’m equally passionate about opera as well as musical theatre, and would like to conduct more opera in Australia.

How do you describe The Mapmakers Opera in seven words?
It’s a love story for all time.

Tell me about Sofia?
Sofia, our lead female protagonist, has a wonderful journey arc from free-spirited, independent young woman to becoming a person who ultimately stands by her principles in the face of intense family pressure and the social mores of her community.

Adapting The Mapmakers Opera from a book into a stage musical?
The journey started in 2008 with the acquisition of the underlying rights to the novel, The Mapmaker’s Opera, by Spanish/Canadian author, Béa Gonzalez, which has been published in seven languages.The book is essentially a love-story between Sofia Duarte, a young woman from Mérida, and Diego Clemente from Seville, Spain. The story is set in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, on the eve of the Mexican Revolution in 1909.

The book deals with several issues of importance to us as musical theatre writers: subjugation and indenturing of indigenous people (essentially as slaves), the decimation and extinction of species of flora and fauna; and on a more positive note, the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of tremendous adversity.

Adapting the novel, musically speaking, allowed me to create a whole new way of incorporating both Spanish (Flamenco) and Mexican musical idioms into a Broadway sound. It’s been such a huge challenge, but ultimately really satisfying.

Maintaining an indomitable spirit will ring true for many and what do you feel are other aspects of the musical with universal appeal?
The story deals with all the universal themes of love, passion, greed and how the actions of just one person can change the world.

Why a musical?
The book is consciously written like a three-Act opera (the originating author is a complete Wagner opera fan!). It simply sings on every page – and I get to use all those wonderful Spanish and South American dance rhythms!

Tell me about the two residencies coming up?
Utterly wonderful! Surrounded by so much talent and people with a complete commitment to the creation of new Musicals, and the advancement of the artform. It’s great to be in the same space as writers who have won everything from Tony Awards and pretty much every other major songwriting award in America.

CAP21 is a major hub for the development of new work in New York City. Goodpseed Opera here in Connecticut (they refer to the actual theatre as ‘Brigadoon’) is the home of American Musical Theatre – by way of interest, they originally developed Annie and look where that went.

Work schedule is pretty gruelling. We have to turn out new work every day and present it at 7:00 pm in the evening and also, on Saturday evenings, we present the best of the week’s work to producers and industry professionals from the Broadway community.

What do you feel is unique or extraordinary about what you are doing?
We’ve taken a whole transmedia approach to the creation and development of this project. This means different aspects (different parts of the storyworld) in different forms, will all eventually become available across different outlets, as well as it also being a fully-fledged Broadway musical.

What have been some of the major challenges getting a commercial musical like this up and atom in Australia?
There has been a complete and utter lack of support for the appropriate and structured development of ‘commercial’ musical projects in Australia, as opposed to the enormous audience appetite for well-produced new musicals that we in Australia import from all around the world.

An example of this is The Australia Council’s new Musical Theatre Initiative (10M over 5 years) which deliberately excludes ‘creative’ or ‘development’ funding – and is applicable for only production. This is meant to be the “next stage” of their previous, rather perfunctory and misguided, seed-funding initiative for creative development. 

I don’t understand in Australia why it is assumed, erroneously, that new musicals can be developed without a lengthy process of actual writing time, followed by ‘pizza’ readings, table readings, workshops, re-writes; then more readings and workshops, and then and only then, maybe a staged reading or semi-staged production to properly evaluate the work, on its feet, with real production values.It takes years and years.

By way of comparison in the United States, the development of new musicals is a highly valued industry. It is a creative business like any other: highly competitive with the search for, and acquisition of, new talent and projects at a premium. The old broadcasting adage, “Content is King” is equally true for musical theatre.

Interestingly, the one challenge we have not faced in developing the project for the international market is that it is Australian made. We’re very pleased about that.

Why are there these types of challenges and development hurdles in Australia?
Because we lack depth in musical theatre entrepreneurs and theatre producers. Professional Australian producers such as John Frost and Louise Withers et al can’t do everything for everyone. They do enough. We also don’t give enough support or credit to companies like Magnormos in Melbourne, who have almost single-handedly waved the flag for Australian Musical Theatre writers for over a decade.

The other reason – and we’ve actually been told this by un-named Arts funding body in Australia – is that if the project is not an “Australian story” it is not prioritised for funding. This type of insular, cultural cringe factor is not helpful. On the international musical theatre stage – no one cares! Either it’s a good story well told, with universal appeal, or it’s not. End-of-story.

And your creative team?
Victor Kazan (Book/Lyrics) – British-born Screenwriter and Playwright. He’s an inspired wordsmith (I think he’s a genius). If you have ever watched the Australian film, Dalkeith, you’ll know what I mean.

As for producers, a director and other design team folk, this is all currently a topic of hot negotiation over here in the USA. I’d really love’ to tell you who they are right now, but I’m not allowed. Sorry.

Your vision for the residencies and the stage you have your sights set upon?
I don’t know a single Australian writer who doesn’t want to have their work first produced in Australia. Let’s face it, we’re proud to be Australian and want our own audience to see it first, but I don’t think it is going to happen. But we’ll try.

Almost inevitable now that the work will premiere in the USA at a LORT theatre in a 1st class production.

And the ideal outcome?
That the show finds a home, and that the audience ultimately responds to characters in the story as people about which they can care and recognise in themselves.

Visit to listen to a selection of music, read about the story, and for Kevin's blog on all things to do with the creative development of this new Australian Musical.