Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More on theatre directors

(that may be a play on words...)

I’m doing a study on the director and performance consultant Lindy Davies. I attended acting workshops with Lindy in the early 1990s - I still remember what she taught me, and it influenced my acting, and expectations for theatre performance. Apparently Cate Blanchett still applies Lindy’s methods (I saw the NIDA production of Electra where Lindy directed Cate.) Lindy was head of drama at VCA 1995 - 2007, and instigated a program of performance based on principles of artistic autonomy, collaboration, egolessness, asking what theatre can be, what is the meaning of the piece, what does it do? I love Lindy.

I must admit I’ve been out of the theatre scene for some time. Since having children I’ve only really attended productions that my friends have been involved in. And local musical theatre productions. When I returned to Sydney after studying in the country, I saw Barry Kosky’s production of Tartuffe for STC and thought WTF?? I then saw his direction of NIDA students. It turned me off Sydney theatre - I didn’t want to be spending the little money I had on seeing productions where the actors probably had not idea why they were doing what they were doing. So, I have some catching up to do.

I’m interested to track the influence of Lindy’s work. Graduates from VCA work together - they share a language and aesthetic. It seems independent theatre in Melbourne flourishes as a reaction against the conservatism of MTC, but in Sydney the avant-garde is embraced into the mainstream.

Simon Stone, aged 26, is a graduate of VCA and is being acclaimed as a bright young thing of theatre. He is now Belvoir Street’s resident director.

This is from an interview he did with Arts Hub.

I worked as an actor in film and television quite regularly in my first year out of high school, then I went to the Victorian College of the Arts. While at the VCA I developed all the creative partnerships that constitute the fabric of The Hayloft Project. We started at school the same investigations that we are now conducting – we are trying with each project to get closer to what makes theatre a unique form, irreplaceable, magical, overwhelming. The teachers at the VCA created an almost utopian environment in which this was our complete focus. The school has often been criticised for being out of touch, for not preparing its actors for the industry’s conditions adequately, but this is precisely what I cherished – it is a theatre laboratory, pushing the form’s boundaries, testing its limits, not a preparatory school for a rather paltry film and TV industry. The VCA, for this very reason, is largely responsible for the current renaissance in independent theatre in Melbourne.

In an interview with SMH, he boasts how many films he has watched as if it is an achievement. A tangent, I know, but it just makes me glad he wasn’t my flatmate. Also, off track, it bothers me that people are so proud of having watched a DVD box set of a tv series. It isn’t as it you made the shows. You sat on your lounge and watched. Not really an achievement. Anyway.

He is interested in directing new plays and rewriting classics. His production of The Wild Duck, based on Ibsen, is finishing at Belvoir on the weekend. His next one will include a naked cast. Not sure why.

He started the Hayloft Project in Melbourne. He states on its FB page that theatre must be its own medium - it isn’t film or tv - so why does he mic his actors and present them in a box?

Benedict Andrews is another hot young director. He studied at Flinders, was resident director of STC 2000 -2003, has won awards and regularly works in Europe.

RealTime Arts says
Benedict Andrews is one of those rarities among Australian theatre directors, an artist with style (a hated term in this country but it's vitally about the honing and perfecting of an idiosyncratic theatrical language) and vision (a persistent and personal working through of a set of significant questions).

See here for collected information about Benedict Andrews and reviews of his work.

I saw his production of Measure for Measure at Belvoir. And yes, it is a difficult play, due to the plot. Benedict Andrews set it in a world where porn is the norm. All actors use the toilet. Faeces splattered all over the stage. Masturbation. Set in a rotating room, actors filming, with video screens by the set. I didn’t enjoy it. Did any women?

Can’t we have a more positive vision? I don’t need to look far to see the vision he is presenting me with here. Women clean up the shit. Women are being degrading in my own culture - I see it everyday. Voyeurism of reality tv. Yes, I get it. I don’t have to like it.

It is great that these directors are being mentored and given opportunities. Neil Armfiled and Robin Nevin have been particularly helpful. Young directors do need support.

However, I need to ask, is their work about branding, a la Kosky? Is the avant-garde about being blokey and puerile and voyeuristic? Are they trying to appeal to a Big Brother audience? Are they trying to put bums on seats by appealing to tv audiences?

Is it OK to not like the work of these directors?

And, once gain, where are the women?

I’m not saying that theatre should be staid and conventional and traditional. I just want it to be something other than what these guys are giving us. Something else. Innovation doesn’t have to be nasty and sensationalist for the sake of sensation. Or is there something gong on here, that I'm just not getting?

I need to see more theatre.

Meanwhile, back to my essay.

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