Re= writing Coming Home after each rehearsal...challenging,  I'm drowning/I'm waving kind of fun...

Re= writing Coming Home after each rehearsal…challenging,
I’m drowning/I’m waving kind of fun…

Those of you who follow my posts and my Facebook page know that my life right now is working with 22 beautiful young artists, directing them in a collaged version of HOME, EVE and HE DREAMED A TRAIN, the plays that make up my Trilogy of Belonging. The entire rehearsal process is very short, having to fit in rehearsals in class time, and then some afternoons and some weekends. Although short, it was been enough time to create a bond between us. These young artists are moving into our industry in a few years and their passion and commitment will stand them in good stead…but I’ve got ahead of myself…one of my major stumbling blocks is speedy thinking. I think too fast for my own good…so…

Many years ago, our family was holidaying at Linderman Island. It had been a big year with no breaks so we decided to visit an island, something we rarely do. We were all walking along the coastline and far off into the sea I saw someone waving. Look, I said to my family, someone is waving at us. Mum that’s not waving. that’s drowning and they sprung into adolescent action, leaving their uninformed parents wondering what had happened. All Good.

Fast forward to now, and I am understanding quite clearly how closely waving and drowning sit to each other especially in the rehearsal room. It seems I move from waving to drowning and back to waving in minutes when I co-devise a scripted piece (I know. How does one devise if its scripted?).

I’m juggling a number of questions:

1. how do I make this experience a powerful one for all the participants and at the same time
2. how do I engage in rigorous visual and aural dramturgy serving the artform?

Sometimes the two things run counter to each other. one wishes to empower the actors yet the material sometimes simply does not fit.

The tasks have been clear. The actors have chosen the passages in the three plays that resonate with them. They have then been invited to ‘dream it on’, sticking as closely to the original as possible. They have made the piece age appropriate and age relevant.

I have loved their work and dedication. The work is strong. Sometimes it moves the story forward. That’s when I feel I’m waving. Sometimes it moves it sideways. That’s when I feel I’m drowning. So much material I think to myself. And not much forward movement. So I cut. And in the process of keeping the work firmly in mind, I can see the decision has hurt my young actors. They so want to do their work. And my red pen is taking it away from them.

So the lessons of collaborative writing are learned. Hard lessons. Painful lessons. And I remind myself, and my actors, to follow Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements:
1. Do not take things personally (this is not about your writing or your acting, it is about the fact that it is not moving the story forward).
2. Do not assume anything (no, you are not a bad writer, you are possibly a brilliant writer but it simply does not fit)
3. Always do your best (and you are. I can see that. And the one or two of you who are struggling right now have permission to do so. It is the adolescent’s role to discover and re-discover where you belong. It may mean you do not do much in the production. I call that ‘life getting in the way’. All good.
4. Use impeccable language (and you do. I love your check in and check outs. Positive and as honest as you dare).

I teach the actors work taught to me by Dr. Jean Houston. Step into your entelechy I tell them, that version of you that has achieved your potential and possibility...your future self. Just as the acorn grows into the oak tree, so you grow into your entelechy. Your wise one. Your daemon.

I teach the actors work taught to me by Dr. Jean Houston. Step into your entelechy I tell them, that version of you that has achieved your potential and possibility…your future self. Just as the acorn grows into the oak tree, so you grow into your entelechy. Your wise one. Your daemon.

One of the best protective factors and motivational tools that I have engaged with in the rehearsal room is The Entelechy Exercise, taught to me by my mentor, Dr. Jean Houston. When I did this exercise with the actors, they seem to become bigger, stronger, more daring. One of my co-creators did the exercise with us and commented “Wow, why don’t I become that guy!”) and I totally agreed. We so often operate in the zone of the ordinary. We forget that we are capable of the most extraordinary things, if only we dare. If only we bring risk a little bit closer. Jean Houston’s entelechy exercise encourages the participant to step into their future self, fully developed, fully formed, fully alive, fully functioning: the exquisite creator of an exquisite world. The best of the best. This wise one can answer questions, can journey along side you, can become you, is you.

So we are journeying gently and not so gently with each other. Creating some sort of performance about a young woman who wishes to re-locate herself through telling the stories that have impacted her life so far. We have two and a half weeks to go. I’m excited. Yes, I’m drowning. And I’m waving. Just like all of us who step into this world of theatre making. We just don’t talk about it.

Wesley Enoch leaves Queensland all the more richer for his 5 year leadership.

Wesley Enoch leaves Queensland all the more richer for his 5 year leadership.

“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I am thinking of legacies this morning. What do we leave behind when we go…it could be going to another city, another job, another world. As Ray Bradbury says in Fahrenheit 451, everyone leaves something.

Friday 23rd October 2015 was the day that Wesley Enoch left Brisbane. Perhaps not literally, but officially it was his last day at Queensland Theatre Company before he heads south to lead the Sydney Festival. He has left us after five years of leadership.

When I think of Wesley, I see a young man. I met him when he taught in the Metro Arts building way back when, with Contact Youth Arts. He taught my oldest daughter drama and I saw a young man of passion and joy.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and Wesley is a middle aged man, still full of passion and joy, with a determination that has changed the Queensland landscape. He came to QTC and woke Queensland up. Programs grew, opportunities flourished. The Green Room became the common room for the artists of Brisbane, with young people drinking milo, actors learning scripts, meetings, coffee, quiet reading corners.

International Queensland actor Bille Brown donated his vast library of theatrical books to QTC after his death, and they line the walls, a constant reminder of our connection with the greater theatrical family across continents and generations. The benches are covered with bright green fabric and the little kitchen services the whole building. Staff eat in the Green Room daily so the arts community and the staff know each other well.

These changes were just the beginning. Wesley managed to weave enormous magic into the arts community, creating a strong connection between the independent arts sector and the state flagship company. He believed in community and all of his actions supported this. He saw the performances that greater Brisbane had to offer as often as he could. He had genuine conversations with people about art, about food (he is a foodie, cooking for the company some Friday afternoons, bowls of exquisiteness), about connection, about community.

Wesley Enoch changed the Brisbane theatre scene from a somewhat disconnected array of people who occasionally trod the boards at QTC, to a dynamic group of artists who proudly embraced multiple ways creating, moving seamlessly from their independent work, to the state theatre company and back again. He invited independent artists into the building to create, to share their work. He changed the office architecture so that we could have two extra rehearsal rooms and finally he created the Dian Cilento Studio, a tiny theatre that sits next to the Bille Brown.

In a word, he invited us home. When I heard about Wesley’s new appointment to Sydney Festival, I wrote to Sue Donnelly whose title should be The Extraordinary General Manager of QTC, stating how important it was to consider the legacy that Wesley was leaving, that of community, equality and connectedness and to ensure that our new leader would embrace these values.

Wesley’s legacy includes many things, but the things that resonate with me are these three values: community, equality and connectedness. He has created opportunities for many people. He has actively created stories that embrace indigenous themes, something that was so needed, so crucial to the development of our greater community, not only our audience but also our fellow artists. He has created a terrific opportunity for young people to thrive in the Youth Ensembles that grow from strength to strength, not only in downtown Brisbane but also in Logan, where he grew up. He has invited women artists to participate in a series of plays this year under the title Diva Series, where women have presented their own work with QTC’s support. He has encouraged women directors to work in the state theatre company, reaching parity in next years season. He has grown the touring side of QTC to ensure that the whole state, indeed the whole country, get to share these stories.

I will miss Wesley. I will miss his cheeky smile and his steely commitment to change. He has been a leader I respect and cherish.

Wesley has not done this alone. He has attracted around him powerful allies who have made sure that his vision has been executed. A leader never operates in a vacuum and his team has excelled, accepting and growing the challenges presented to them and at the same time having the insight to continue to develop the themes of connection and communication within our industry. I’m thinking they may need to sleep a wee bit once Wesley has left. I do not know a team that works so hard. Hey maybe I do. There is a team across the river who has deep connections with Wesley. Katherine Hoepper has just taken up General Manager of La Boite, after working for years with Wesley and Todd Macdonald has just taken up CEO/Artistic Director of La Boite after being Wesley’s Associate Director. I have a feeling that Wesley’s legacy is alive and well in the cramped rooms of La Boite. Their green room may not be as large or as grand, but their spirit is every bit as inclusive and expansive.

I am proud of our State Theatre Company. I am proud of how the State Theatre Company has impacted other companies. And I urge those people who have worked with Wesley and have loved what he has done to keep in mind these values of connectedness, of community and of equality. I know that La Boite has these values firmly in hand. Wesley, you have left your fingerprints all over the state. Thank you. Your soul is imprinted in all of us.

I will finish where I began,

“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

a rose. by an

Queen Isis visits the land of the dead. Her husband Osiris is Lord of the Dead and she shares with her villagers the news that there is another place where the dead go….she has seen it. She has been there. Er, in Plato’s Republic, also knows there is life after death. He goes to the underworld by mistake and witnesses what happens before the dead return to earth in a new life.

Death sits around us. Each day one of us hears about a loved one dying and our hearts shift, our understanding of the world moves and we sit in that land of the unknown for a while, trying to adjust to this new way of being.

I have spent a few years trying to reconcile this unknown continent where we go after living rich and impactful lives. I was talking to a close friend and his question was “What’s it all about? Why are we here?” I cannot answer him, but I believe that there is an afterlife. Is it as the Egyptians believed? Is there a World of the Dead? Is it as Er witnessed, a place where we get to choose a new life (after penance when required)?

I am working with young people at the moment, 22 aspiring actors who have just started out on their creative journey. I am using the scripts of my three shows that make up The Belonging Trilogy: Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train. These scripts include the Isis and Osiris story as well as the Myth of Er. We are finding mythical threads that lead to a deeper understanding of our lives. An acceptance of life after death, an acceptance of multiple stories and multiple interpretations of those stories. We are here for a wee while. We grow, we connect, we influence and we teach others how to flourish in this world. For if one can tap into the flourishing and vital life energy, our time spent on this earth is a worthwhile one.

One of the most flourishing and vibrant, vital and adorable women in my life has just passed. I was sleeping in another city and she gently moved into the underworld. This woman was a role model for many: full of love, of vitality and of hope. When my first born came into the world she wrote a card that read “Welcome to this wondrous world little one” and she believed it. I didn’t at the time. I was young and anxious to make a difference to our conflicted world. But my friend accepted the world as it was, and saw the beauty so clearly that you could not help but smile when you were in her presence. She helped you see the little things. She created my wedding cake, and years later my daughter’s wedding cake: hours of work, creating the most beautiful edible flowers, leaves…that was her art form. Creating edible art for people to enjoy. For she felt that love was spread in multiple ways, and one of them was through hosting. Oh how she hosted! She cooked and she created sandwiches that cannot be surpassed. She cooked pies and cakes and tarts and scones and…

My friend enriched my life. She gave me opportunities to reflect and to dream. I didn’t have to be next to her to feel her presence. All I had to do was think of her, what would she do…and then i would move forward. I am not alone. My friend was a mentor to many people. She was an example of someone who was not well known, was not famous, was not ‘out there’. No, she was ‘in there’, affecting everyone she came across. Sharing smiles, and love. A nod here, a twinkle of the eye (yes, her eyes did twinkle) and her glorious smile that lit the room…a cliche? Oh no. Anyone who met her would agree. Her smile lit the room.


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…

Sleep eludes me...but  poets need to be awake when others sleep.

Sleep eludes me…but poets need to be awake when others sleep.


“POET, be like the tortoise: bear the shell of the world and still manage to sing your transforming dithyrambs woven from our blood, our pain, our loves, our history, our joy. The lonely and inescapable truth simply is that this is the only kingdom you will ever have. This is the home of your song”.

It’s either early or late…I’m up. Reading Ben Okri’s “A Way of Being Free” (1997). I am searching for connectors for the collaged play I am directing “The Belonging Trilogy” a combination of three of my plays written over the last five years. They belong together as much as they belong apart and this opportunity to bring them together is a way of understanding the wholeness of one’s life in art and how this wholeness speaks to other poets, other artists, other beings. The wholeness of the poet in all of us.

So I turn to Ben Okri. And what I read awakens me. He writes

The poet needs to be up at night when the world sleeps, needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes, needs to dwell in the odd corners where Tao is said to reside, needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silnece near the gutters where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others do not care to look (page 1).

I then write:

The light is not here yet…strain for the bird sounds that soon will erupt. Not yet. A car goes by. But only one. No indication of what time it is. It could be 2. It could be 4. Will I get up and make a cup of tea?
I’m searching.
I’m searching for the link required to make sense of this play.

And I do. I get up and I make a cup of tea. Two cups of tea. And two pieces of toast. My dog sits at my feet. I return to Ben Okri:

“Poets…remake the world in words, from dreams. Intuitions which could only come from the secret mouths of gods whisper to them through all of life, of nature, of visible and invisible agencies. Storms speak to them .Thunder breathes on them. Human suffering drives them. Flowers move their pens. Words themselves speak to them and bring forth more words. The poet is the widener of consciousness. The poet suffers our agonies as well as combines them with all the forgotten waves of childhood. Out of the mouths of poets speak the yearnings of our lives” (page 3)

And I am moved. I realise that I write, I communicate through poetry. And so whatever I need to solve needs to be through poetry. Poetry will solve it.

Poet be like the tortoise… This is the home of your song (page 12).