Its soon to be Autumn, a time of consider and reflect as we prepare for quieter days

Painted by Flo

Painted by Flo

As I write the heading to this post i realise that in Brisbane winter does not mean quieter days, because there is only a slight variation in temperature. The extremes go, and we are surrounded by bright sunny days, late teen to mid twenty degrees (celsius) for most of the time. It is when i do outdoor workshops at Pullenvale because the weather is so fine. I plan on a days workshop in late May, a day of contemplation and dreaming. We will consider where we are at half way through the year and what it is we are needing, be it quiet time or planning time, reflexive time or connectedness. While summer has had its way with us we have been busy at FOC Headquarters and have created new outdoor spaces where we can work.

The year has sped, i bet it has for you too. I have spent a lot of time in Sydney and now will be spending much more time in Brisbane, working with local theatre companies on work that zings. End of May will see Niz Jabour and I work on his piece RAIN. He has presented it in Bagdad late last year, and now we will do a version here at La Boite first week in May. Mid May Leah Mercer is coming to Brisbane so we can begin to re-rehearse HOME for our QTC season in July. In June I will be rehearsing and performing with Pluxus2 Dance Company in Paratrooper Project at Judith Wright Centre:Click on the link to find out about their community classes throughout March.
Then in July HOME returns to QTC.

WHAT IS ON OFFER AT FOC:
1. MAY 30TH 10-6PM: Day workshop at FOC Headquarters, Pullenvale: Who am I becoming?. We will tell stories, meditate, draw, collage, move, indwell, create. We will eat, drink tea, walk, create. We will connect, laugh, smile, connect.

2. HUGE GARAGE SALE: SEPTEMBER, 2015. This monster garage sale is a fundraising event at FOC to raise money for Oxfam. Bill (BBA) is cycling in Sri Lanka for many long days, November 2015, in a fundraising bicycle ride. I thought we could have a huge sale so that we all contribute to his efforts to raise money.

3. PRIVATE SESSIONS: FROM March 2015 I am back to regular sessions at both Pullenvale and as soon as I can, Metro Arts, downtown Brisbane. Sessions are for artists who want to improve both their professional and personal lives. I use a narrative creative arts framework to help create new ways forward.

So contact if you want, on 0410515637 and leave a message. You can also email me on 4change@iinet.net.au

Margi

a chat about actors and living…

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I’m writing this after seeing Birdman, an astonishing movie about an actor and his theatre production and all that comes with it…such investment in a show is something I think some people may not necessarily understand… we get to see the backstage of Broadway,the tensions between actors, directors, producers and we get to see inside the head of the producer/writer/actor/director of the play… Look up Birdman:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc

What it has done for me is given me permission to reflect on why we choose theatre in the first place. It makes me think of the difference between celebrity and artist (a primary theme in the film) and how most of us do not fall into the first category, rather we bumble along creating work that not too many people see and then we move on to another show…and another…and another and wake up one day and wonder what it is all about. what was palpable about Birdman was the glaring evidence of fragility and edginess of the artists. No one seemed to know too much about who they were becoming. The Health of the Actor. Something that is very topical right now.

I could not attend Australian Theatre Forum this year, the first one I have missed. It was, on all accounts (tweets, Facebook and friends) a great gathering. They held a session that I wished I could have attended, about health and the artist: Keeping theatre makers safe. Richard Watts, who edits/writes for Arts Hub wrote a terrific piece about it:

In 2013, a nationwide study of actors’ wellbeing was conducted, surveying 782 of the 8000 actors working in Australia. The results of that study… were frightening… the study revealed dangerously high levels of alcohol abuse throughout the sector.
‘When our psychologist colleague came to report on those findings she actually looked quite shocked. She basically said to us, “this population is basically drinking itself to death.” The level of alcohol use among actors is not just significant, it’s very significant,’
‘We also asked actors about their warm-up routine and every actor has a warm-up routine, but what do you do to warm down? And the overwhelming answer was “we go out for a drink”.’

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Actors, it seems, drink themselves to death, evidenced in Birdman and evidenced after most shows we either create or attend. Alcohol seems to have become a currency of sorts, a ‘warm down’ ritual and that seems to work for a while but as the actor ages so does tolerance to alcohol…the more is not necessarily the merrier.

How do actors stay safe? I think Birdman has awoken in me the dangers we all face each time we step on and off the stage, and how we deny the effect that our characters have on us, both mentally and physically.

I am spending half my time in Sydney now, gently growing 4change coaching here in Forest Lodge, a quaint part of the inner west of Sydney, walking distance to everywhere and hundreds of dogs. I wonder how actors afford to live in Sydney? It’s hard enough in Brisbane. But when I see shows like “The Crucible” produced by Sport by Jove, a Sydney theatre company that produces classics often staged out doors…(The Crucible was set in the Everglades in Leura, an hour and a half out of Sydney in the Blue Mountains), I understand the attraction. Not only was it a stunning environment in which to watch such a brilliant classic, it was a sensitive and transformative experience for the audience.

I wonder why we don’t do more outdoor theatre in Brisbane? I know we have a couple of companies performing outside (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble perform in Roma Street Parkland and the first Shakespearean company Grin And Tonic performed outside for decades) but I would love to see more. Thank goodness for festivals like Anywhere Festival! And sometimes the Brisbane Festival.

I wonder if actors feel healthier playing out of doors? I know I do. Nature heals both audience and actor perhaps. After spending several hours sitting on hard chairs in an environment that can be described as nothing short of stunning, watching the actors use the last rays of sunshine before the electrical lights came on, hearing the birds apparently responding, the wind, the smells. Everyone was so friendly, generous. The actors related warmly to their audience as they sold their raffle tickets and helped us find our seats.

So maybe the answer to health for the actor is to work outside more, drink a little less and chat with their audience. Without the audience, there is no show.

Joey the Mechanical Boy by Margi Brown Ash and Leah Mercer: nominated Best Play, West Australian Theatre Awards 2014

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I have just returned from Perth where nest ensemble’s latest show, “Joey the Mechanical Boy”, was premiered to outstanding critical response. Leah and I began writing Joey in 2010, moving back and forth across the continent to do workshops/creative developments in both Perth and Brisbane. We did a showing of our first creative development in 2010 before we began to work on HOME (HOME has a season at Queensland Theatre Company in July 2015). It was time to launch Joey in November, 2014.

There were many reasons why we wanted to write Joey. Being a post modern therapist I have done extensive research into the damage that ‘labelling’ and categorising does and this is a story where Bruno Bettelheim, a famous psychologist, labelled mothers as ‘refrigerator mothers’ and the sole cause of autism. Leah had found an article called “Joey the Mechanical Boy”, written by Bettelheim, and we knew we had the beginning of an interesting project. We were also keen to challenge gender roles so we wrote a piece where I would have the opportunity to perform as a woman and as a man, moving from the role of Mother, into the doctor Bruno then back again. This provided challenges and complications due to the very limited rehearsal time. I was not initially playing the role. We had a very able Perth actor who was to play Mother/Bruno. However two weeks before opening things changed, and I had to bump out “He Dreamed a Train” at the Brisbane Powerhouse, fly to Perth and rehearse for two weeks for a one week season at The Blue Room. This was more than challenging but somehow we managed to offer to the Perth audiences a piece of theatre that was received well.

David Zampatti, from the West Australian, writes:

Playing the autistic is a treacherous venture… Philip Miolin – almost unrecognisable – delivers a career performance as Joey. Mercer prudently resists the temptation to bring clarity to moments where it escapes Joey. This makes his savant insights (“Growing up is how much you change on the outside”) blindingly lucid, and Miolin’s performance even more accurate and impressive.

…And, best of all, Ash’s longstanding collaboration with Mercer brings her back to Perth. She’s powerful and utterly convincing as both Joey’s mother and Bettelheim; her transitions flawless, her voices precise, her physical and emotional control exquisite. She’s quite something.

and

‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is another triumph by the award-winning co-writers, Leah Mercer and Margi Brown Ash. In 2012, their play ‘Eve’ was the winner of the Blue Room Members’ Choice Award. Looking like Einstein on drugs, Margi has magnificent stage presence, filling every square inch of the stage as she brings to life the mad, obsessed scientist.

With clever direction from Leah Mercer, we found ourselves being drawn into the misguided logic of the admired quack. I have known Phil Miolin for more than a decade, but behind the special mask designed by Per Brahe, his display of nerves and quivering uncontrollably, he was unrecognisable. The unpredictability of the situations and the fast pace of the delivery – much of the hour was an impeccable monologue from Margi – kept the audience enthralled. There are plays that are simply disturbing but admirable, but this was something very special. Masterly performances, a tight script, and a wonderful production. By Gordon The Optom

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Picture by Leigh Brennan

and

Philip Miolin was brilliant as Joey…This eloquent, brilliant performance is not for those who are uncomfortable with getting emotional (I cried for almost its entirety). Joey’s sadness is heartbreaking, and the journey he and his mother go on represents what many people in similar circumstances must endure. Margi Brown Ash won my heart as the storyteller for the evening. Her ability to switch between sad and lost, and egotistical and arrogant was perfect. As Joey’s mother she was candid, almost guilty, whereas when she played the doctor she moved with an incredible gusto and sense of ownership.

‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is a story of someone who got lost and found their own way to cope, and is a must see to conclude the Blue Room’s August-November season.

by Alice Newport

Joey the Mechanical Boy was nominated for multiple awards in 2014:
West Australian Theatre Awards (supported by Equity): Best Director, Best Actor, Best Designer, Best Lighting Designer, Best Production. Joey won Best Director (congratulations Leah Mercer) and Judges Special Mention.
The Blue Room Awards: nominated Best Production and Best Design.

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

HE DREAMED A TRAIN, a boutique show happening in the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse, Lamington Street New Farm, right on the water, is open and moving quickly…

We are finishing off our first week (two more shows this week, tonight at 7 and Sunday night at 7, then one more week (Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm)).

I thought you may enjoy some of the responses that people have sent me: here are just three lines from different audience members:

“So beautiful, and hearty”

“I laughed, had tears prick my eyes and enjoyed the magic of presence on stage”

“The mood you both created was very powerful and something that people will remember for a long time”

And here is a line or two from our first review:

“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”.

“Margi Brown Ash and Travis Ash, mother and son in real life, work as a perfect team, their off-stage relationship bringing an extra dimension to the idea of this close but non-communicative interaction of sister and brother, while allowing the sound and A/V effects to play their own role. But as Travis Ash finally steps outside and gradually thins away into nothing, we understand that this is a poetic lament for the loss of a talented young man, a threnody of the finest kind.”

and

“…another step in the new direction that live theatre is taking, will be richly rewarded. It is a triumph of its kind”.

CRIKEY’s Daily Review, Friday 17th October, 2014

Would love to see you there for an intimate night at the theatre.
You can book tickets on:

http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2014/10/15/he-dreamed-a-train/

What is happening at FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE?

FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE (FOC) is a new Theatre Company: Australia’s first professional, intentional, intergenerational theatre company.
It has been created to ensure that the wisdom of our theatrical tribe,
from all the generations, is nourished and transformed.
Each production embraces multiple generations of actors, creatives and
crew. As a senior artist, my greatest teachers are the younger creatives and actors with whom I work: we teach each other what it is to be fully alive with every cell firing. The younger artists keep the senior artists up to speed with popular culture and contemporary performance making and we like to share the traditions of theatre making and performance training to ensure that the rituals and processes that have been around for generations continue, updated and relevant.

“He Dreamed a Train” is the first production that FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE (FOC) has co-produced. In July 2015 we will be co-producing HOME, as part of the DIVA series at Queensland Theatre Company. We have a couple of creative developments in the mix for 2015-2016.

HOW DID “HE DREAMED A TRAIN” COME ABOUT?

This play, He Dreamed a Train (HDAT), began in 2012 as a LabRat. Ian
Lawson, Executive Director of PlayLab read a proposal and decided to
support it. We worked together for a few months and it was his
belief and encouragement that prompted an application for Work in
Residence at Metro Arts in 2013. HDAT, then called “Man in Quotation
Marks” had a wonderful year of incubation. Kieran Swann (Programming
Manager Metro Arts) and Liz Burcham (then CEO of Metro Arts) created
multiple opportunities for us to work with leading Australian theatre
makers/producers including Leisa Shelton, Carol Burns,
Ian Lawson, Andrea Moor, Steven Mitchell Wright, Dave Sleswick, David
Morton, Sandro Collarelli, Chris Beckey, Lucy-Anne Langlilde, Deborah
Leiser–Moore, Michael Coughlan and Leticia Caceres.
This was followed by a trip to Omaha Nebraska to present a reading of the
play at the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference. On return,
Kris Stewart and Brisbane Powerhouse offered us a place in the inaugural
SWEET program. Thank you BPH, and thank you Metro Arts for you continued
support. Both BPH and Metro Arts have funded this production of HDAT.

As writer, I depend a lot on the wisdom of the tribe: The idea for the play was directly inspired by my brother, David Brown, who wrote a novel by the same name. Writers such as Herman Hesse have been used as stimuli and some of his ideas have been collaged into the piece. I have also borrowed from my two previous works EVE: Part 1 (inspired by Eve Langley) and HOME Part 2 (inspired by Brisbane!) as well as Peter Turchi and his ideas on mental mapping.

Most of all, I have been inspired by my family: my brother David Brown and my second son Travis Ash who rewrote “The Myth of Er” and composed the soundscape. Thank you to my long time husband Bill Ash, for without you none of this could even happen: thank you for your executive producing skills and ongoing personal support.

I have also been truly inspired by Ben Knapton, who has worked tirelessly for the last 20 months in so many capacities (director/producer/dramaturg/designer) as we created a show that combines traditional storytelling with contemporary performance making.

THANK YOU SO MUCH…

Rosemary Walker, our FOC publicist, for creating wonderful opportunities to ‘get the word out'; Rose knows everyone in Brisbane! Gabrielle Castle, Rebecca (Bec) Ward and Aimee Dittmer for their continuous support: Bec for her beautiful photos (seen on BPH Website)and Gabby for her Assistant Stage Management; Leah Mercer (director of the first two award winning shows of the trilogy, Eve and HOME and long distance dramaturg on HDAT) for her constant belief in our work; Freddy Komp for his expertise as Extraordinary Production Manager and Stage Manager; Nathan Sibthorpe as delicious Image Whisperer; Jess Ross who executed Ben Knapton’s beautifully simple design; Aaron Barton who built the set (Aaron also built EVE’s set); and Linda Yamada for being there in Pullenvale. I also want to give a big thank you to all the partners of the FOC creatives: your generosity and understanding is duly noted! Finally all the generous artists who worked with us over the last 20 months: Leisa Shelton, Carol Burns, Andrea Moor, Steven Mitchell Wright, Dave Sleswick, David Morton, Sandro Collarelli, Chris Beckey, Lucy-Anne Langlilde, Leah Mercer, Ian Lawson, Kieran Swann, Deborah Leiser–Moore, Bev Jensen, Michael Coughlan and Leticia Caceres.