Breaking the Castle

Before going into rehearsal for Breaking the Castle, writer/actor Peter Cook had a conversation with Street Talk – a blog created by The Street Theatre, Canberra

 

YOU HAVE CREATED A CAREER ACROSS THE STAGE, TV AND FILM – CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PLACE AND EXPERIENCE OF THEATRE FOR YOU IN THE MIX?

Theatre to me is the most alive medium. It is hard to beat the feeling of being on stage in front of an audience. Further to that the rehearsal process throughout a theatre production is extremely satisfying. It is hard work but it’s such a creative and explorative experience – finding a character, constantly finding new meaning in the text, exploring the relationships between characters in the world of the play – all these experiences are joyful. Then you get to find all these things again in front of an audience, and you’re using whole self -intellectually, emotionally, physically – I find theatre very rewarding.

YOU ARE PERFORMING IN THE ROLE OF DAVID, A MAN WITH SIGNIFICANT ADDICTIONS WHO HAS TO FIND HIS WAY BACK INTO THE WORLD. TELL US MORE

David is a man who is looking for connection in the world. He finds himself in the midst of a crisis that has slowly been creeping up on him his whole life, and he has found coping mechanisms that are not healthy choices for him. He finds himself at a point where he is suffering from serious mental health issues, substance abuse problems, professional upheaval, and a disconnection from his spirit.  Maybe he has lost a sense of who he is, or maybe he never really  knew and all of these internal and external crises culminate into this kind of  explosive cocktail of events that he can’t seem to control and he’s then faced with a decision about whether or not he wants to confront himself, his past and his demons and find a new way to be in the world.

TALK TO US ABOUT NEGOTIATING ALL THE DIFFERENT WORLDS IN THE PLAY? HOW WILL THEY BE CREATED?

A lot of this will come down to the director and the design team. Imogen has done a great job designing a stage that will allow us to move through these different worlds with ease as they all blend in with each other. David is someone who just kind of floats through the world without any real grounding or connection to anything and this is reflected in the design of the set.  The worlds are also created through the writing, David is different in the various parts of his life and his psyche that are reflected in the play.

BREAKING THE CASTLE HAS YOU PERFORMING A SOLO WORK. FIRST TIME? WHAT CHALLENGES ARE IN PERFORMING SOLO FOR YOU?

Yes, this is my first solo work. There are lots of challenges involved – learning the script is probably the biggest one at this point! There are also lots of different characters that we meet along the way, so finding each one of them and making them really clear and different will be a big challenge, as well as playing David at various ages in his life. 

IS THIS THE FIRST TIME YOU HAVE PERFORMED A WORK YOU’VE WRITTEN? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?

Yes, it is the first time I have performed a work I have written. The major advantage will be that I can make any changes I like to the script as we move through it. If we find in rehearsal things aren’t working, we can just make cuts or changes on the fly, and as it is a new work it’s important to have that flexibility.

WHY DO YOU THINK BREAKING THE CASTLE IS A WORK FOR OUR TIMES?

I feel addiction is such a misunderstood and misrepresented element in our society. In a sense, we all have various addictions and some people may not even be aware of them.  We can be addicted to anything; from caffeine and nicotine to being addicted to our emotional states. Then there are the extremes of addiction – excessive drug and alcohol use -and we have terms to describe these people, we use labels such as “junkie” and “alcoholic”, without actually considering what it is that has led these people to use substances in such an extreme way and David is a character who finds himself in the midst of heavy substance abuse without really understanding why. We go on a journey with David as he discovers what is at the core of his addictions and his struggles with his mental health.  My hope is audience members will see themselves reflected in different parts of David, or it may help them better understand people they know who are struggling with addiction, or their mental health. Mental health is a big conversation around the world at the moment and I think the topic of addiction is starting to find its way into people’s lives as well. It is also just a story about being human, and how deeply and vastly complex we all are, and it looks at all of the elements that we deal with as people throughout our lives, from our professional worlds to our inner conversations, our childhood, and how our past impacts how we relate to the world.  In some ways it is a story of survival, and what some of us do to just survive in the world. Ultimately though for me, the story is one of hope – it says we can all find our way back to ourselves no matter what we have been through.

TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF BRINGING DAVID TO LIFE. WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS IN A WORK LIKE THIS?

Well I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting in writing the piece, so I have a very good sense of who David is and how he relates to the world. The creative process from here on in is about finding him on the rehearsal floor as an actor, physically, vocally emotionally and doing that in conjunction with the director. No doubt Caroline will have ideas and thoughts around things I haven’t considered and will push the character in ways I maybe can’t see. It’s all about collaborating with the director now.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?

I think as an actor you must really trust the director. That’s key for me. I guess from a director’s point of view you are looking for an actor that can contribute ideas and make bold, creative offers as well as take direction and work hard. There is always give and take but ultimately you are both there to serve the writing, and it’s the directors vision you must trust and buy into. There also needs to be an element of fun and joy throughout it all. All these things add up to a fruitful, positive rehearsal room.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?

That’s a hard question, I guess don’t really look for anything from an audience, they just are how they are on any given night and as a performer you must feel that and work with it. For me it’s about the back and forth, I often use the analogy that you’re just kind of kicking the soccer ball back and forth with the audience all night. Each audience is different and      that’s what makes live performing so exciting and challenging.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR PROFESSIONAL INTERESTS IN WRITING, ACTING AND EDUCATING IN YOUR LIFE?

That is always a work in progress. I’m new to writing as a professional so it’ s been a steep learning curve, but enjoyable at the same time. As an artist, you must keep earning an income, so you don’t always get to pick and choose what you work on, sometimes you just have to take opportunities when they are presented to you. I haven’t done any work in education for a while now as I have wanted to focus on my work as an actor and writer and Breaking The Castle is the fruit of that decision.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.

I have had a relationship with the theatre for over a decade and this will be my fourth show for The Street. I love working with the team at The Street, it’s a very creative and collaborative environment and what Caroline and Dean have achieved there over the years has been amazing. I don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves for the work it does.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BRING NEW AUSTRALIAN WORKS TO THE STAGE?

Well it’s vital to get new works on the stage. The whole point of the theatre is to hold up a mirror to ourselves and without works that reflect what is currently happening in the country, or the world or tap into the zeitgeist we can’t hold that mirror up. I think audiences love seeing new works that reflect what is happening in the world around them.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

My head is very much in Breaking The Castle at the moment, there is a lot of work to do so I’m not really looking for other sources of creative inspiration – I’m just focused on working hard in rehearsal.

This interview originally appeared on Street Talk

GETTING TO KNOW: PETER COOK

🎄 Happy Holidays 🎄

We close for the holidays this afternoon, Monday 23 December at 5:00 PM, and reopen Monday 13 January 2020, 9:00 AM.

2019 has been a big year for HotHouse Theatre. We’ve worked on:

  • 7 Subscription shows
  • 7 Creative developments
  • 2 Locally produced independent theatre shows
  • Numerous community hires
  • A masterclass in playwrighting
  • 2 “In conversations” with visiting artists
  • 4 Drama workshops for young people
  • 3 Skill development workshops for local artists

Have a great break!

BECOME A SUBSCRIBER >>

Five Questions with The Reginas

Emily Weavers and Coralie Schell aka The Reginas spoke with us about their cabaret performance coming to the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre 11-13 December 2019. This is an original work developed over the past two years and premiering with HotHouse Theatre.

What inspired you to make this work?

When asked this question previously, we have always answered that it started with the ‘me too’ movement. But how did we get to the ‘me too’ movement? Sadly, we have know too many women who are living with or doing the best to live with the fact that they are victims of sexual assault. These people are at arm’s length as well as very near and dear to us.
We considered the ‘me too’ movement to be something very important in our community giving voice to many women who have been silenced. We wanted our show to represent women as strong people, determined and resilient.
So we looked close to home, within our own families. We had lots of women that we could’ve written a fabulous story about. In the end, we chose Freda. Freda seemed to be someone that just put up with shit… Shit that had been derived from men with heavily ingrained misogynistic attitudes. She made us question what a strong woman looks like.

What is this show about?

It’s about Freda (Coralie’s grandmother). It’s about Coralie’s mother. But it is more than that. It is a discussion about women, feminism, hatred, and where people sit with these concepts.

Why is this story important now?

The world is still dealing with people that believe that treating minority groups like second class citizens is ok. Women are still getting raped/murdered, and told it’s their fault.

What is the key learning you are taking away from the theatre making process?

It’s taken two years to put it all together. We’ve learnt the importance of time management! Also, we have learnt a great deal from the business side of producing a show. We have learnt that there are so many things, such as lighting and sound, that help tell a story, not just words. We are lucky to have amazing people willing to back us, people who are so generous with their time and knowledge, and people who support us with their positivity! Only with this do we feel our show can be successful.

What does an organisation like HotHouse Theatre mean to you?

Of course the Celsius program has made a major difference to us being able to show Edlmayr. The grant has given us access to things like advertising, recordings and equipment. Being part of Celsius, we have felt 100% supported by all members of the HotHouse staff. Without this, we’re not sure if Edlmayr would have ever got off the ground. All of a sudden people took us seriously as local and independent artists and since then, given that this is our first ever go at putting on a theatre piece, we have been well supported throughout the process and beyond. We have felt like part of the family and this sense of belonging and friendship has made our cabaret that much more worthwhile. Thanks HotHouse!

Edlmayr by The Reginas plays from 11 December at the Butter Factory Theatre for three performances only.

Bookings can be made here.

view of actors Rachel and Ben through a doorway into an empty room

Five Questions with Rachel McNamara

We nabbed some time with Rachel McNamara ahead of Rabbit Hole coming to the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre 26-28 November 2019. She is and has been part of HotHouse Theatre’s programs to support independent theatre practice in the region.

What inspired you to choose this work?

We chose this work for a few reasons. The first is that it’s a brilliant play.  The second is that it’s a text that lends itself to working using the Strasberg method and we wanted Gabriella Rose Carter to direct the work.

I was lucky enough to attend an artist retreat with Gabriella Rose Carter a few years ago – who trained in New York at the Strasberg Institute – and we had been trying to find the right play to work on together. Rabbit Hole is a play that she had always wanted to direct.

Thematically it’s a story that I really want to tell. My father died suddenly just before I began my training as an actor and I’ve always been somewhat drawn to stories about grief. As a mother of a four year old, I feel so deeply for Becca and her circumstances.

And we chose the play because we were able to use the amazing talents of Ben Tari – who I met at channel seven many years ago and who relocated to Albury with his family just at the perfect time – and Gretchen Prowse who is a phenomenal HSC drama teacher….but also an exquisite actress. All three of us had been working as teachers and felt we were ready to return to craft of the right role came up….and David Lindsay-Abaire has written just those characters!

What is this show about?

Rabbit Hole is a love story. It’s about a family growing back together after loss. It’s about how we make space for grief in our own lives and the lives of others.

Why is this story important now?

We have all been touched by loss in some way. Loss of a loved one, a pet, a friendship, a dream… And the way that we move through loss and support each other in the face of loss speaks to the core of our humanity.

This place is a reminder that there is hope, that we can laugh and grow back together and that we all grieve differently.

What is the key learning you are taking away from the theatre making process?

That it’s possible to live regionally and work professionally. That we can create unique models of making work so that we can work with artists that we admire.

What does an organisation like HotHouse Theatre mean to you?

So much!

Outpost, CELSIUS, artist talks, workshops and masterclasses… all these programs have validated and galvinised us as a community of theatre makers.
And the best is yet to come. As someone who wants to make powerful theatre and have great conversations, I’m so excited about the 2020 HotHouse Theatre season.

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire plays from 26 November at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre for three performances only.

Bookings can be made here.

Five Questions with Lex Marinos

Hailing from the Riverina, Lex Marinos OAM career spans across Australian theatre, film, radio and television for over forty years. Perhaps most fondly remembered as Bruno, the son-in-law from 80’s comedy series Kingswood County, Lex is returning to HotHouse in Suzie Miller’s Sunset Strip.

You were involved in the early days of HotHouse. Can you tell us a bit about that ?

I was part of the Artistic Directorate which set up HotHouse in 1997 and oversaw the artistic programming of the company for the first 3 years.  The Artistic Directorate was drawn from all across the nation and had a great range of people, including the then MTC Artistic Director Rodger Hodgman, Designer Eamon D’Arcy and STC resident director Marion Potts. I remember it as being a very stimulating and rewarding process.

How important do you think the telling of uniquely Australian stories is to regional audiences?

It’s absolutely essential that all Australians have opportunities to participate in cultural pursuits and have access to Australian stories which reflect their own lives and allow them to have a voice in national discussions. Culture is not something that is the exclusive domain of privileged metropolitan areas. We all have the right to contribute to our own stories which help define our identity, and engage in the discourse about ideas and issues which will determine what kind of society we wish to become.

You play a man who has dementia. This is a real and frightening challenge a number of people. How did you prepare for the role?

Sadly, as our population ages, it is an issue which will inevitably affect most families. In my case, my mother and her three sisters all suffered from varying degrees of dementia from mild to serious (Alzheimers). The youngest one (aged 91) is in the middle of this horrible process and it is heartbreaking to see this once vital energetic woman deteriorate before my eyes. Needless to say, I’ve spent many, many hours in nursing homes and have had the opportunity to observe the behaviour of people dealing with this condition.

You were one of the first actors in Australia from a non-anglo background to reach mainstream popularity. How well do you think we are telling the stories of our diverse nation?

I think we have made some progress, but not enough. It is still difficult for non-Anglo actors to gain employment in general roles rather than just ethno-specific ones. The core issue remains the lack of diversity and representation at the decision-making level. A look at the Major Performing Arts organisations tells a grim story. Of the 29 companies, only one is Indigenously driven, none cater for disability or youth, none are located regionally, only three are fronted by women, and less than 10% have directors from culturally diverse backgrounds. This means our major companies are predominantly presenting work by middle-aged, white Anglo men! This is not just a problem in the arts, but in society in general.

Looking back, what advice would you give your 20 year old self about working in Theatre and Television?

Take the work seriously, but get over yourself. Leave your ego outside the rehearsal room. Ask questions, expand your knowledge of the world. Learn a musical instrument, learn more languages, acquire more skills – singing, dancing, juggling, etc. Learn to be resilient. Be respectful, generous and have fun.

Sunset Strip by Suzie Miler plays from 5 November at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre for six performances.

Bookings can be made here

Ghenoa in rehearsal and Rachael Maza observing her performance.

Questions with Rachael Maza

Rachael Maza is the director of My Urrwai by Ghenoa Gela, and Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI Theatre in Melbourne. She shares some broader perspectives on the priority of First Nations’ story telling.

 

Rachael, you are a highly regarded and award winning director. What is the priority of First Nations story telling at this time?

(Nearly choked on that first sentence!!) Self-determination: True creative and cultural authority over our stories and how they get told. We are still in a time where the paternalistic all-well-intended “you need my help” attitude still prevails with no intention of handing over the power.  We are seeing an extraordinary body of First Nations work coming out that is bold in its realisation both content and form, even unpredictable.  The work that is coming out is unapologetic, brave and full of passion and urgency.  The priority for our First Nations story-tellers themselves is to trust your voice and ‘go for it!’ Our job as a sector is to support them in a culturally safe way, and get out of the way!

This is Ghenoa’s personal story. As a Director, what are the bits of story you chose to include and why?

It was very much a collaborative process.  In the development Ghenoa told many anecdotes from her life, and soon the wall was full of story cards. The challenge was how to crystallise it down. The other collaborator critical to this selection process was Kate Champion, who worked very much from a instinctual process of linking and countering stories like beads on a necklace. One of the stories that stood out to me as a key to getting to the heart of this story was when she talked about how her anger as a young woman manifested itself almost as an alter ego, and we talked about the rage that lies just below the surface in all First Nations people, in fact just under the surface on which we all walk. This land has seen much blood shed, there has been no justice, there’s been no grieving, no healing… only pent up rage.  This became the climax of her play in the scene called RAGE in which the sky cloth pulses blood red and Ghenoa embodied pure rage.

You also have Torres Strait ancestry – there are cultural differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. What ways does this open cultural conversation between First Nations communities? 

We premiered at Belvoir in Sydney Festival 2018, upstairs was My Name is Jimi.  I recall at the time  commenting on the significance of the programming: “This must be the first time Belvoir has ever programmed 2 Torres Strait Islander shows at the same time – A-Torres-Strait-Out!!, But then I thought – its actually the first time they’ve programmed 1 Torres Strait Islander show!”

What these shows did is make visible the Torres Strait Islander cultures as distinct and strong.  It was very clear that people had no idea who they actually were.

Ghenoa is a Young One, emerging in artistic leadership. What is the invitation you pose to young artists exploring their cultural identity?

Catapulting is the word I would use when describing Ghenoa’s trajectory.  She is truly a unique and exceptional talent, as anyone who has seen her perform would have noted.  I can’t say I’ve worked with anyone like her. The thing is – its who she is as a person – not just as an artist.  She in life is extraordinary, her conviction, her instinct, her strong spirit, her politics, her humour, her rage, but most importantly her cultural respect and humility – she’s the real deal alright.

If I was to give advice to other young fella’s coming up, from what I have learnt working with Ghenoa is to let yourself be your full confident self, but don’t ever forget your place in the bigger network of family, community and land – if you can find the balance between these 2 seemingly opposing forces you will find your voice.

My Urrwai plays from 29 August at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre for three performances only.

It’s suitable for audiences aged 12 and above.

There are only a small number of tickets left.  Bookings can be made here

Ghenoa Gela in the spotlight during My Urrwai performance. Image by Daniel Boud.

Five Questions with Ghenoa Gela

Whilst jetting about the countryside with her extensive tour for My Urrwai, Ghenoa Gela shares a little bit about the show in anticipation for the HotHouse Theatre season.

Ghenoa, What’s it like coming back to communities you’ve visited but this time with your own story? Ghenoa visited Albury-Wodonga last year with Shakespeare.

Pretty exciting! I like showing my versatility not only as a performer but as a blak artist navigating the climate of the arts industry in this country. It also shows the unapologetic visibility of the need for more blak bodies on these stages and in these spaces. 

What initially brought you to performance and art making?

It was by chance. I mean I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life! My mum is a visual artist, my dad an artefact maker and between them they dance and sing amongst other things. My first real public performance that I can physically remember was when I was 5 years old doing traditional Torres Strait Islander dancing with my parents and my brothers! We would travel around QLD for NAIDOC week sharing our culture in schools! Through storytelling and dance. I never however, thought I could make a career out of it. I wanted to be the next Cathy Freeman! Haha.. I was really into sport when I was growing up as well – so that’s why it was by chance. Because I never thought about it in this way. Sharing culture is just what I’ve grown up with.

What do you experience ‘in process’ when creating new work?

What I personally experience is NEW EXPERIENCES – all the time! I learn more about myself and that’s actually something I really like! Sometimes it can be really confronting, but I have a bunch of AMAZING mentors to help me navigate my processes. So I know I’m always in a safe place and/or in safe hands.

My Urrwai holds many of your stories. Why this journey now?

Why not? The need to hear more blak stories will ALWAYS be IMPORTANT! Especially in this country. I’m just finding my own space to tell mine. And the conversations that have been I’ve sparked along the way by people who have seen my show, proves the NEED for more – because people now WANT MORE.

Rockhampton was a totally sold out show, how was it bringing your very personal story back to your home town. Is it quite a different experience to bring it back?

It. Was. Amazing. About 3/4 of the audience were friends and family! So their support was proper solid! Also, since my parents can’t really travel that much anymore, taking my show back home to perform was really the best gift I could have given them and for me to equally receive. My big brother has only seen me perform once before in my career, so having him there – no words will ever describe the immense feeling of love and happiness. The Rocky Show was proper special and I’m thankful for all the support from my family, friends and the Rocky mob and Darumbal Community. 

My Urrwai plays from 29 August at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre for three performances only.

It’s suitable for audiences aged 12 and above.

There are only a small number of tickets left.  Bookings can be made here

Five Questions with Brendan Hogan

 

We sat down with award winning playwright Brendan Hogan to ask him five questions about his play The Last Boy on Earth which is being performed this July School holidays as part of the 2019 HotHouse season.

What inspires you to write for children and families?
There are lots of plays for really young kids, and there are lots of plays for young adults and older, but where are the plays for those kids aged 10-14? Not musicals or school productions, but actual funny, challenging plays. Kids in this age bracket are very aspirational in what they what to see and be engaged by. They’re not quite ready for the heavy adult stuff, but they also don’t want to be patronised by kiddy stuff. I want to give the audience something that the whole family can genuinely enjoy and be affected by.

The play is very funny. Do you have fun in rehearsals working with the young people in the cast?
One of the most satisfying things about writing a play is seeing what the actors bring to it in terms of other layers and jokes. Kids are great to work with because they have a different perspective and ask all kinds of tricky questions I hadn’t really thought of. We know we are onto something when, after hours and hours of rehearsals, we still find and create new moments that make us fall to pieces with laughter.

The play is set in the near future. What do you think the world will really be like 2043?
It’s fair to say a future where everyone, except for a young boy, has died, is not your normal fodder for a family friendly comedy. Do I really think the world will be like that in 2043? I hope not – I’ve got things I need to do! But there are other elements of the show I do think ring true, even in 2019, such as our inability to properly manage our waste and our dependence on technology to solve all our problems for us.

What are you looking forward to the most about doing the play at HotHouse?
HotHouse is one of the best regional theatres in Australia and it’s right on our door step. As a playwright, you always write with the hope of having your work performed in front of a large audience in a professional theatre. The reality is that for most playwrights, those opportunities are few and far between. It’s been a thrill to work with professional producers, designers and crew. In the end, however, I’m looking forward to opening night and seeing the audience respond to what we have created. We think it’s great and we hope other do to.

For those who saw the play last time – why should they come back and see it again?
It’s a different show to last time. Bigger and better! The story has been tweaked and Ben, our musician, has been working on a completely new score for the show and will be performing live for the audience. Sophie has designed an amazing set, which has to be seen to be believed, and Rhys has been working hard on a new lighting design which is a world away from the couple of lights we had in the tiny Masonic Hall in Yackandandah. Visually and emotionally, the story will be different and we can’t wait to show everybody just what we’ve done with it!

The Last Boy on Earth plays from 9 July at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre for six performances only.

You can read more abo0ut the play here. 

The Last Boy on Earth is suitable for humans and aliens aged 8 earth years and above

Bookings can be made here

The production contains: Haze, Loud noises, and Strobe lighting.