Category: nest ensemble

Easter Sunday. A day of celebration. It is the first Sunday following a full moon after the March equinox…symbolic of rebirth and renewal…a celebration of the goddess of Spring…Easter to me is a day of reflection…of embracing what is to come even though in this minute I have no idea what that is.

In Sostrup garden there stands a crucifix...

In Sostrup garden there stands a crucifix…

Sitting in the old beautiful library on the first floor of Sostrup Castle I have been researching, preparing for an intense new creative development of EVE2, a play that had a brief season called EVE in 2012 in the delicious Sue Benner Theatre Metro Arts downtown Brisbane. EVE had a beautiful creative team with Leah Mercer in her usual role of director/devisor, Anna Molnar as Producer, Gabby Castle as Stage Manager (with Johnny Castle as ASM), Amy Ingram as Executive Producer and Stace Callaghan playing the role of Oscar, the storyteller, matched by Moshlo Shaw who played the musician/husband. Aaron Barton created a magical set and his partner Gen Trace designed the lighting while Travis Ash was sound designer. Daniel Evans was co-devisor as well as co-ordinator of the Independent Program at Metro Arts. Because of force of circumstance, the untimely death of Moshlo, we decided to return to Eve and do it differently, wedding some of the character of the Man in the third show of The Belonging Trilogy, “He Dreamed a Train” with Eve’s voice. This idea was an offer from Travis and when he suggested this I knew it was the right direction. Travis will now devise and play Musician/Storyteller/Man and Benjamin Knapton will direct/co-devise this new version with Freddy Komp and Nathan Sibthorpe creating visual magic. We have a decent task ahead of us these next ten days.

The library at Sostrup where I am working

The library at Sostrup where I am working

Being here, half way round the world in a town where I know one person apart from my partner Bill, provides an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be in relationship with the world. What it means to connect to others. What it means to live deeply. I see this residency as a pilgrimage of sorts.

So today my research focuses on what pilgrimages are for…I believe every artist is required to take a pilgrimage, not to achieve anything overtly, but simply to find the time to discover what they already know. A time to step out of my ordinary life in Brisbane, full of people and artists and homes and studios and rehearsals and plays and meetings and walks and galleries and…and…and…and to STOP. What is it that I long for? And if I understand this, then I will understand what it is that EVE2 longs for: in the original script she writes that she longs to be loved. But it is far more than that. She longs to belong though she does not express it in those terms. Yet.

My Muse accompanies...

My Muse accompanies…

David Whyte, the poet who writes about the soul’s journey talks about our ” longing to belong” and I think that this pilgrimage is the perfect occasion to discover what my longing is…I know I have a longing for story in order to belong. But is it more than that?

an image of EVE...always longing to belong

an image of EVE…always longing to belong

In my search, I came across this poem that sat well with me as I read it:

The Spirit of Longing
Tell me, men of learning, what is longing made from?
What cloth was put in it that it does not wear out with me?
Gold wears out, silver wears out, velvet wears out, silk wears out
Every ample garment wears out–yet longing does not wear out.
Great longing. Cruel longing is breaking my heart everyday
When I sleep most sound at night longing comes and wakes me

Excerpt from old Cymric (Welsh) poem
Cited in The Mist Filled Path by Frank MacEowen

If we see longing as a good thing, as a way of guiding us towards what is real, what is true, what is our calling, then I can hold it closer. And if I take on board what Phil Cousineau ( suggests:

“The call to the sacred journey your secret heart longs for won’t come by expectation, will not arrive in a logical way. If you imagine that something is trying to call to you, try to practice stillness for a few minutes each day. Be still and quiet and you may be surprised what you start to hear”.

If I take this on board I listen, slow down. I reach for my phone less. I turn off my computer. I hear more. I change my posture: I am alert. Awake. Present. My two feet are planted on the ground. And I walk. For all creative thoughts can come from that step after step.

Sometimes its hard to step forward

Sometimes its hard to step forward

Phil Cousineau also quotes Bruce Chatwin. When I first arrived in Brisbane I worked on a piece of theatre directed by Doug Leonard and our primary texts were Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines and Eve Langley’s Pea Pickers…and here I am 26 years later still working through this material. Doug had a way of selecting the most potent texts and bringing them to life.

So Chatwin is quoted in Cousineau’s book:
“I have a vision of the Songlines stretching across the continents and the ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song (of which we may, now and then, catch an echo); and that these trails much reach back, in time and space, to an isolated pocket in the African Savannah, where the First Man opening his mouth in defiance of the terrors that surrounded him, shouted the opening stanza of the World Song “I AM”.



“I AM LONGING TO BELONG” is the cry for millions of people displaced, lost, or superficially surfing this thing called life. It’s as though many of us are caught up in a net not of our own making. We follow others rather than lead ourselves. And we do not know what our personal mythology is…that is what a pilgrimage can awaken…there is time to reflect on the stories, poems, journeys, relationships, dreams that make up our lives.

As I walk down the stairs in my house back in Brisbane I have written above the doorway in black “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”. We all know Goethe’s quote. We see it on people’s fridges, magnets, shop windows, gyms, bookshops. We see it, but do we take action? Do we begin what we dream? Some of us do and others of us put it off till it’s the right time, or the right place…I sit somewhere in between. I sometimes take action and other times I wait. I wait. I wait until I cannot wait anymore. I step out.

So I have stepped out. I am longing to belong in this new play, working title EVE2.

So I have stepped out. I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s “mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centres of life beyond the reach of the vocabularies of reason and coercion” (cited in The Mythic Path” (KIndle edition). I am here to rewrite my personal myth: to ‘weave the raw materials of daily experience into a coherent story” (The Mythic Path). To create and re-create the map of belonging.

I am quoting David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner:

“A personal myth is a constellation of beliefs, feelings, images, and rules–operating largely outside of conscious awareness–that interprets sensations, constructs new explanations, and directs behaviour…your personal mythology is a lens that gives meaning to every situation you meet and determines what you will do in it. Personal myths speak to the broad concerns of identity (who am I?), (where am I going?), and purpose (why am I going there?)”.

PLAY IS THE THING, NOT SO MUCH ‘THE PLAY’, a reflection on theatre making and risk taking

Wedding the mythological with the domestic, Travis Ash portrays his version of The Myth of Er through the eyes of a 7 year old.

Wedding the mythological with the domestic, Travis Ash portrays his version of The Myth of Er through the eyes of a 7 year old.

Since early 2000’s Leah Mercer, based in Western Australia and I have been collaborators, working on show after show, writing, performing, producing, learning from each other. This last week she has been involved in The Directors Lab in Melbourne, including 9 directors from Western Australia and 0 directors based in Queensland.

I would have dearly loved to be there but I am working. Leah sent an article to all of us on FACEBOOK this morning and it has excited me: “Simon McBurney on devised theatre: its absolutely petrifying”, written by Dominic Cavendish. We learn more about the well established and well loved company Complicite and how their process incorporates writing, rehearsal, translataion, writing in this order. McBurney explains that usually the process is reversed in most theatre making: writing, rehearsal, performance, translation. In our company FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE and NEST ENSEMBLE it is a similar approach to Complicite: despite the fact that we may begin with a script, we end up with a lot of the writing happening at the end. Everything changes constantly. And that is why this process is ‘petrifying’ though I prefer the word ‘terrifyingly wonderful’. Petrify conjures up stuckness in my mind, rather than fluid terror.

What has really excited me in this article is a very simple explanation of process. I will quote the article so you get it straight:

“McBurney trained in Paris with Jacques Lecoq acquiring skills in clowning, mime and physical theatre and the ethos that “play” mattered more than “the play”.

Now this is what I have believed for over forty years. Play on stage is the most important element of theatre. The words come second. Now many practitioners would disagree with this statement. “Respect the writer they would insist”, seeing this as a lack of respect rather than an absolute respect of the fluid artform. One practitioner I have worked with for many years, Dr. Mark Radvan, who now heads the acting strand at QUT, embraces this idea of play big time, embracing impulse training as the foundational skill of the actor. Impulse work is all about relational play, first of all the relationship of cells within the artists body, then the relationship of the cells between the actors bodies on stage.

I deeply believe that the artform of the performer is to enliven and grow meaning in multiple ways, be it physically (on a cellular level), emotionally (not indulgent emotion but raw and deeply rooted), intellectually, spiritually. and most importantly: relationally… something that is rarely focused on…

Sometimes we get stuck in one of these rather than embracing all five aspects of what it is to be human….words are one thing. Life is another…and relationship is everything. The relationship among actors, their relationship to the set, their relationship to the audience, now that’s more interesting.

This all embracing relational philosophy is not so popular here in Oz (although there are some wonderful theatre makers who do embrace this including my latest experience with La Boite’s artistic director Todd MacDonald and “Prize Fighter” where he adopted a very fluid and impactful process) and it seems we are in good company overseas. Stella Adler, who I trained with many years ago seemed to uphold this way of being on stage although she worded it differently. As did my mentor Hayes Gordon, that great teacher who started The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney all those years ago.

Our artform as performers is to enliven, to awaken, to enthuse our audience. If we are awake, we can respond to hundreds of things going on in front of us…and at the same time play clean actions that are suggested by the script itself.

Most of all. Beyond all of this. Our job as performers is to inspire and after my immersion into Greek Mythology with the epic Dr. Jean Houston these last few weeks, I am well aware of the power that the mythic world can bring to the performer. We can inhabit our personal myth, wed it with the personal myth of the character we are playing and create an experience for our audience that is universal. And then there is the group myth: what is the group myth of the play?

The richness in this approach I think will give an epic dimension to the most domestic drama. Brisbane theatre wizz-kid (not so kid anymore), the generous and impactful Daniel Evans is great at embodying this in his work, wedding the universal and the domestic. It is what I aspire to do in all my work

“I will perform for you so that the extraordinariness of an ordinary life will be uncovered”
MBA in HOME, 2015.

Working at Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI) with the year 10 drama students, collaboratively-directing them in a collaged version of The Belonging Trilogy (consisting of bits of Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train”) I am resonating big time with Robert LePage who, in the same article, describes his process as being like an explorer. He gathers his people and says:

“We are going to a new continent. How far is it? Are there monsters? I don’t know-all I know is there’s something there and I’m going to try and lead you there”.

This is certainly how I am feeling right now. We have large monsters, gods and goddesses. We have devils and angels. We have multiple worlds and multiple dimensions.

And we are all in the boat, but where we are going is stlll unclear. Benjamin Knapton joins us on Monday as we continue this path of adventure..Simon Tate and Stephen Matthias are also in this gloriously alive boat…or should I say train. a train without tracks…

Margi in HOME. Projection by Bev Jensen, Photo by Stephen Henry

Margi in HOME. Projection by Bev Jensen, Photo by Stephen Henry

It’s that Sunday morning. You know the one. The show has been bumped out ten hours before and you are sitting on the couch with coffee-in-hand wondering what has happened. Those of you who are not theatre makers, I will explain and you will see it is also something that happens in everyone’s life at transitional times. We all put all of our energies into our creative projects: every living hour is spent re-figuring lines, distilling images, questioning choices and every morning you awake with new inflections to old lines, new ideas to well oiled choreography. It simply does not stop. And the joy of being the writer as well as the performer of HOME is that you have the opportunity to test these ideas again and again.

So I am sitting. Wondering how we managed a delicious month of creative practice…as a team we know each other very well. We all have our roles and our strengths that we focus on. FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE and nest ensemble focus on strengths. How can we grow our strengths so that we can create the atmosphere of transformation, not just for the team but more importantly for our audience? Our objective is to provide the opportunity for audience members to remember, reconsider and reinvent…and we have a beautiful role model in Queen Isis, the Egyptian Goddess, who re-dreamed her own story…

Out of isolation, Queen Isis creates relationship
Out of ritual, she finds hope
And out of tragedy, she rebuilds her love again and again and again
Fourteen temples.
Fourteen homes.

HOME is an opportunity to re-dream through the lens of poetics.
In the latest Womankind Magazine, there is a quote from Michael Foley who wrote the book “Embracing the Ordinary” (available on Kindle) where he says

Understanding is itself transformative

So as we unfold story after story in HOME, both the performers and the audience are understanding more and more about life’s ordinary moments:

I will perform for you so that the extraordinariness of an ordinary life can laid bare

In the 90 minutes of HOME we are laid bare, given time to think and feel our stories, our huge and impactful stories that we sometimes forget, we are so busy focusing on improving our weaknesses, or getting on in this busy and fractious world. HOME’s antidote is to reflect, to understand:

Simply understand and your soul will be healed

says Michael Foley.

Photo by Carly Komp

Photo by Carly Komp

Queen Isis’s advice is just to love one another and love with excruciating vulnerability:

And I hear Queen Isis’s voice
Arise and uncover thyself
My story is your story
Love as I have loved
with excruciating vulnerability
love life
love the dead and each other
as long as we live
the dead shall live

Another article in Womankind talks about career paths and offers another option on page 12(No. 5):

Delightfully termed “desire lines”, these meandering trails-often dirt tracts within manicured parklands-are the natural pathways that humans walk…they are not straight, but drift, snake and wind all over the place. Like a career, the straight path from A to Z is not necessarily the most natural-or the best- course to take.

Perhaps Queen Isis’s advice would do well when one is executing one’s career…the winding of relationships, of places, of times, of story, because

Each show ten audience members become actors

Each show ten audience members become actors

“He Dreamed A Train”, a play about belonging: nominated Best Technical Design, Matilda Awards 2014

“It pushes the boundaries, creates a new kind of experience, a multi-media performance in which actors and technicians play with and off each other in a mind-blowing interdependency. Designer/director Benjamin Knapton juggles this kaleidoscope of form and function with firm control, never allowing the possibility of chaos, which is lurking in the background, to take over. For all its intricacy it’s a tightly disciplined production, with neither actors nor stage effects dominating the other”.

Boutique Intensive fully booked, but there is a waiting list

Dear “Nesters”, “4changers”: Artists of Brisbane and rural Queensland:

I am looking forward to hosting you this Friday evening at Pullenvale. I shall be sending you an email with address etc.

If you were wanting to be part of this workshop and have not enrolled, there is a waiting list so send me an email on

My next workshop will be in November, 2013, but will only be one day.

This Intensive is the only three day workshop for 2013, and the members of the ensemble will meet regularly through out the year to support and encourage each other to fulfil their plans and dreams for 2013.

I am so looking forward to working with this diverse group of artists as we journey through the “Map of our Year…”

warmest thanks from Margi Brown Ash