Facebook Theatre Musings – Omnibus Edition.

(Photo by Craig Wilkinson)

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

Social media has made it easy to share thoughts with brevity, simplicity & often, stupidity. My recent Facebook musings on theatre & its practitioners were neither brief or simple…so I include them here in ‘omnibus’ form for the reader to decide if they are the latter.

1. I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff. Yes, I know… I’m a thinky pig. Last night before sleep I wrote a FB post about acting that snuck by. In it I said something about being improved and strengthened as an actor by my peers. Today, on a rather long tram odyssey, I thought about specific instances and shows and people. In the next few days I’ll share a few as they come to mind.
Today, Louise Brehmer. In 2008 23rd Productions did a rehearsed reading of Cigarettes & Chocolate by Anthony Minghella. During a long onstage break for me, Lou launched into a sizeable chunk of text. I still had a ways to go so while technically ‘off’ in unlit tableau, I sat quietly, trying to stay focused and vigilant. But, even in the periphery of my vision, she stole me away. She was a slow Niagara of truth. She was mesmerising. And that was a staged reading! I couldn’t help but think how she’d blow the joint apart in a full production. Inspiring.
Then it was my turn blahdy blah wake up you eejit.

(Photo by Morgan Roberts.)

2. Steven David. We did The Pillowman together in 2009. There’s a thread through the mostly average baseball/romance movie ‘For Love of the Game’ where a pitcher (played by Kevin Costner) aiming for a perfect game shuts out all external and internal noise by saying ‘clear the mechanism’. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s how I relate the feeling of working with Stevie in that play.

I can’t speak for him, but when we were just the two of us onstage, the mechanism was clear. The audience, the building, the world receded into nothing and it was just two actors telling a story about telling stories. Steve lifted me to a new place and changed my perspective completely.

Photo by Michelle Miall.
Photo by Michelle Miall.

3. For those who’ve missed my theatre rememberys, I’ve been thinking about people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years and sharing a little on how they have made theatre a more enriching experience and how their work has made me try harder. I’ll continue to do so over the next few days as time permits. Finally today, Dash Kruck. Dash & I have worked together a couple of times, most notably in Amadeus, a play I know well, having performed three roles in as many separate productions.
Dash provides a brilliant reminder that something new and exciting can be brought to every role. He played Mozart in Amadeus and embodied the role so beautifully it was as if he floated three inches above the floorboards.
He brings such professionalism to his work that translates to an apparently effortless way of working, but his effort is tireless and serves as a reminder to keep working hard when I feel as if I’m coasting. He’s so talented on so many levels and as Mozart, brought levels of light & shade I’d previously not seen in that role…and I’d seen it a lot, from quite a few angles. He’s the real deal.
Okay, so that’s my last for today. I’ll keep sharing as long as the mood takes me.

Dash and me, Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania 2009.
Dash and me, Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania 2009.

4. The first person who came to mind this morning on waking was Nick Backstrom. Now, normally you don’t want that to happen, it’s scary. But today, not so bad. Nick is not just a fine man and good friend, he’s a great performer and a wonderful man to have in your audience. By that last I mean, if you’re playing the Playhouse and Nick laughs, the people in the Lyric will hear it. Hell, the people at La Boite will hear it.
Among the many things I love about Nick’s work is the simple clarity he brings, onstage and off. Outside of a theatre Nick (and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying) can get so excited when telling a tale or joke – he has over a dozen – that he can be hard to understand. But when communicating his intention onstage or an idea in a rehearsal room, it’s always simply expressed, easily absorbed and executed with amazing knowledge and clarity. I love working with Nick because I get him. Almost as if we had an instant shorthand. He makes everything much more enjoyable. And I love him, too.


5. In 2009 I appeared in A Christmas Carol as Ebenezer Scrooge. The role was offered at very short notice due to the unavailability of another performer. When I think back on it, I feel a certain amount of shame and regret – a winter play in summer (I don’t like summer), the recent crumbling of a relationship, the constant anxiety of being a slow line study even in full rehearsal periods, but worst of all, the stupid mindset that I was ‘doing these people a favour’, which in turn made me haughty, snippy, grouchy…in short, a very bad four-letter word.

We got to where we needed to be by the time the show went up and for what it’s worth, it was received very well. As the lead, I was singled out for praise that was thoroughly undeserved.

The praise belonged to everyone else in the company – the people who weathered my caprice and bad temper with aplomb, while going about their business the way actors, crews & creatives should.

It’s the only time as an actor I felt it necessary to call everyone together before a show so I could apologise for being a prick – the fact that the apology was deemed unnecessary was a tribute to the grace and professionalism of the company and I nearly cried. Because it was necessary. Because I had been a prick. And they gave me an instant pass.

Why share this? I suppose to serve as a reminder that, in this pursuit, it can be easy to forget we are not really part of a pyramidal hierarchy. It may appear so on playbills & in programs…but we’re an organism, a machine, every single element of which serves the fluid operation of that machine. There is no big or small piece – if a bit stops working, the machine breaks down.

The tremendous upside of this is that, when the organism of a performance is alive and in full voice, I know of no greater beast in this world. Because we all make it live.

( I know that this post is both hard to like and comment on. Not to mention that some people are against sharing of the heartfelt on social media.

It was hard to acknowledge and to write. Plus, I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully learn the lesson straight away. So anyway, I wrote it. I mean it. I love being part of ‘the organism’ and after three years off stage (apart from a gay bar in New Orleans in 2013) I’m merely thinking out loud on FB, expressing some gratitude and musing before becoming a part of the machine again. So…watch out. I am coming back.)

6. Before this tram journey ends and I dedicate the next few hours to locking away the last page of lines for Scene Melbourne fun tonight (opposite the ‘ray-of-light-up-a-stadium’ that is Tammy Weller)…

Steven Tandy. Where to begin? How to end? How do you write about a man whose very presence in the same room makes you feel better about being alive?

He can be so impish, to the point of it being near magical. One twinkle in that eye across a rehearsal stage can level me, and the bugger does it so NO-ONE but you and he know it. I cannot count the number of times he’s sent me into quiet fits, just by giving me ‘that’ look. But all that is nothing compared to his incomparable skill.

We have worked together in quite a few shows and he’s at the sharp end of the list of people I’d give my right arm to work with again. Just when you think ‘Steven’s nailed it, he can lock it in’, he will bring something new and different and great and still somehow as, if not more genuine than anything you have seen before. If his impishness is street corner sleight of hand, his skill as an actor is the big room in Vegas. If I had a thumbnail of his gift I’d be happy.

Unlike Andrew McFarlane, his TV brother and longstanding compadre, Steven was not a part of my childhood. I worshipped Andrew because of Patrol Boat. My family never watched anything but Channel 2, so I never saw the Sullivans.

But obviously I knew who he was and from the very first meeting/table reading I loved him. I loved what he brought to the table, I loved his ‘way’ and I was bowled over by his blinding gift.

In late 2011 I read for Friar Laurence in QTC’s R & J. I felt wrong for the part, I felt wrong in the read & at the end of it I couldn’t help think that certain S Tandy would be an infinitely better casting. So it went. Lucky for me I still ended up in the production, so I got to be in the same room as him again. Which meant…life was just that little bit better.

Catherine Glavicic, Steven and Niki-J Price.

PS If you are ever in a room with Steven and an unopened bottle of champers, no matter the occasion, let him open it.

7. Okay, while I wait for my connecting bus, another few words. After writing the post about Steven, it occurred to me that left unchecked, I could be doing this a while. So I’ll let slip a few more over the next day or so before knocking it on the head for a spell.

Kathryn Standish St John St John McGillicuddy Markwayette. Firstly, what a lovely human to know. Just that right there.

As an artist, a force of nature. She is a canvas onto which can be painted anything at any time, she is a genuine shapeshifter. Intelligent as all get out, intuitive as all get in.

A year or so after we performed together in Little Women, I was having a post-show drinky poo with the cast of another production and the subject of women in film and theatre came up. The ‘so few good parts for women’ discussion.

I remember saying that I’d felt very blessed to have played a wholly supporting role to Kath (as well as the wonderful Bil Heit, Tammy Weller &Judy ‘Limes’ Hainsworth, among others), that it was a rare experience and one I hoped to have again. Being in the presence of leading women as they blow the doors off the joint is something to be appreciated.

There was a scoff or two, which I still don’t understand. To this day when I think of working opposite Kath in that show as well as the CD for Katherine Lyall-Watson’s Motherland, I feel like I received a free masterclass. And I loathe that expression. You can never see the strings or the joins with Kath. She’s one of the most naturally gifted actors I’ve seen, let alone worked with. She is so centred she centres you. Like Caroline Kennison. If you feel at sea, she puts you firmly back on dry land, just by being so damn real. So yeah…another I envy, love, respect and turn to. I have to go play pretendies now.

Emma Grasso, Kathryn, Judy Hainsworth and Tammy Weller in Little Women. (AusNotebook)

8. Directors. I’m not lumping ’em in together to get ’em done (though it does save time), I have just been thinking about them in a different context than mere expression of gratitude.

Some directors express their ideas in a way that hits you in the sweet spot right immediately. ‘I understand, I agree, I’ll do.’ I count Michelle Miall, Mark Conaghan, Catarina Hebbard, Michael Futcher & Cienda McNamara [and Daniel Evans, who I left out originally] among those who have had this effect on me. I was also privileged a few years ago to see this second hand while Stephen Whelan taught his students at Valencia HS in California. I understood his direction straight away and it was apparent the class did too. If/when you collaborate with such directors, the process seems just that little more easy.

That said, some of the greatest (and arguably more important) lessons I’ve learned as an actor are from equally accomplished & assured directors I didn’t get straight away. Kat Henry, Shane Anthony & Tama Matheson are all brilliant, talented people… but at various times they looked or asked for something from me that I resisted in giving. NOT because the requests were unreasonable, but because, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel I had it in me to give. The perceived shortcoming was MINE, not theirs, much as we humans hate to admit it.

It’s critical to remember a couple of things if you ever find yourself in this place: 1) however long you’ve been working on your ONE aspect of the production, they have been working on ALL aspects of the production for a LOT longer. So that means that 2) it doesn’t matter how resistant you may be to an idea, ALWAYS say yes to trying it out. How will anyone know if it flies if you refuse to launch? It’s your job. There’s a reason they’re called directors and there’s a reason they’re called plays. So be directed…and play.

I have all three of the latter to thank for so much in helping me to be less rigid in my way of doing things. Kat & Shane taught me the value of investing in warm ups, a practice I’ve never been a fan of (still amn’t, but I do ’em because they work). Tama, well…he tracked me down a full 18 months after he’d seen me in a show to offer me a part in a play with Bille Brown, Eugene Gilfedder & Steven Tandy. As a result of that I also met & shared the stage with wonders like Anthony Standish, Kerith Atkinson, Sasha Janowicz & Nick Backstrom. I was struggling to take a step up and he pretty much dragged me up. So the thanks will never end.

9. Two more posts of this theatre-y nature before I stop. At the end of my last, I thanked Tama Matheson for the immense leg up he gave me, thrusting me into the company of people who are friends & colleagues to this day. So a word or two about a few people who have championed me, nurtured me, or just made me feel better about being this person and doing this thing we do.

Kath Fray and Christopher Sommers have been unswerving in their support over the years, perhaps seeing things in me that I didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t see. Since as long ago as 2007 they have backed me wholeheartedly onstage and off & it’s undeniable to say I’d not have had nearly as much work were it not for the pair of them. I miss them both and want to hug them both so much right now, for so many different reasons.

One man who’s always made me feel better about being an actor is John Boyce. Mr Grumpy Bum he may be sometimes, but we have had some serious fun together over 20 years & no one can turn my flagging confidence around as quickly. I’ve always been a slow one to get off book. It’s something I quietly fret about every show I do. But the one thing that makes me feel just that little bit better is a memory of overhearing the tail of a conversation JB was having once with a colleague. He said, ‘…don’t worry about Norman…he’s a Tech Week Tornado.’

Now, I don’t mean to say that I or anyone else should ever rest on their laurels when it comes to getting lines down, but when I fret, I think of that…and it makes me breathe just a little easier.

The company of 23rd Productions' 'Closer' .
The company of 23rd Productions’ ‘Closer’ .


JB (Arts Theatre).
JB (Arts Theatre).

10. Okay…last one for now. But first, some background to the rationale. There are many who believe that humans can not act purely out of a desire to make others feel good. That there must be some overt or covert need for a payback, an ego-stroking, a serotonin hit…rational egoism. I disagree. I haven’t been writing nice things just to write nice things, nor have I sought anything in return. Hopefully the admissions of my own frailties and shortcomings go some way to proving that.

I suppose it’s a mix of expression of gratitude, as well as a reminder to myself that I have happily inhabited an artistic world and hope to inhabit it again soon. I care enough about people’s thoughts on motive, but I don’t mind if some people mistrust mine. “I meant what I said & I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful, 100 percent!” (That’s a line from Horton Hatches the Egg, my first play -1979.)

As I said previously, I haven’t been onstage in a play for three years, and part of why I write all this stuff is because I’ve missed it terribly…and because I’m not proud of my last performance – He’s Seeing Other People Now by Anna McGahan. I’ve never acted onstage with Anna, we’ve done a reading or two. I feel so proud for her success while simultaneously feeling horrible about my work in her play. That it was my last probably compounds the regret. I’m not really sure what all I’m trying to say here, except I love her and like her and admire her and wish I’d served her work better. I’m sorry. This one has to end with an ellipsis. Something needs saying but I don’t know how to say it…

Anna & some guy who won't let her hold the script. (Amelia Dowd.)
Anna & some guy who won’t let her hold the script. (Amelia Dowd.)

So, I’ll end on a happier note…Kevin Spink. Kevin and I had been floating in similar circles for a while before we met and when we did, it was as if I’d found a long lost little brother. I feel such kinship with him, there’s no filter in our interaction either personally or professionally. If I were engaged in a project involving Kevvy, the anticipation leading up to rehearsals was always a little more exciting as a result. Again, as with Anna, I was so proud when I saw him start taking flight. I beamed for him as he toured in Melbourne a few mths back as part of Kelly. He has said a few times that he may forge ahead in the UK and if he does, I wish him every success. But I really really don’t want him to go. When we’re together we laugh hard and we laugh often.

Kevvy and me in The Ugly One (Belinda Davis/23rd Productions).
Kevvy and me in The Ugly One (Belinda Davis/23rd Productions).

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