A PRIORI – “What Comes Before”
As the founder of a startup theatre company I thought it would be worthwhile to pledge some Principles of Operation with respect to casting, cultural policy and programming choices. This is a draft version so any contributions or helpful pointers or general discussion is most welcome.
We aspire to allow all actors the opportunity to work with us, regardless of cultural background, gender or disadvantage. We wish to celebrate difference and diversity and as such, there are no barriers for an actor or collaborator who can bring their full devotion to a role.
Casting will occur in two phases. Firstly an open one-on-one discussion about the project, the schedule and concept behind the production. The actor and director will be able to contribute with the producer and ask questions in a equal footing before deciding if they wish to take the time to audition. The second phase – if an audition is feasible – will consist of a prepared scene and small workshop as per standard casting procedure.
Protocols of Cultural Respect
When dealing with stories from different cultures to our own we will always consult with people linked to that culture to ensure the appropriate respect is due (and paid).
Finding and developing New Work will be a defining principle of our programming choices, to complement the production of pre-written texts.
We will always seek to produce work that is relatively simple in presentation and format, avoiding complicated stagecraft the emphasis will always be on actors-in-a-room, highlighting the skills and performance elements over large-scale technological components (deus-ex-machina and so forth)
As an actor driven company we will prioritise the relationship between the performer and text in all major decision-making.
Audience comes Second.
Directors come Third (sorry).
All collaborators will have a share in the production and as such budgets and expenditures will be undertaken via a transparent accounting policy for all stakeholders.
We will always aspire to choose and program work which is the Hard Option, to push our comfort zones and boundaries beyond what we already know.
what do you think?
APRIORI PROJECTS inaugural subscription season announcement
• After smashing the 2013 Sydney Fringe Awards with their debut production of DECADENCE, APRIORI PROJECTS are pleased to announce their follow up season for 2014
• DECADENCE will continue to run, hitting the Adelaide Fringe in February with a hope to conquer other major cities and regional areas throughout the year
• The next show for 2014 is the modern farce ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST
• Written by Nobel Laureate Dario Fo, the play subverts notions of authority through his trademark absurdist wit, clowning and wordplay
• Currently casting, the play will begin rehearsal in Mid-March for performances in May-June
• Also slated is a new Australian satire on the entertainment sector titled MANNEQUINS, authored by notorious theatre blogger Victor Sanchez of 5thwall.wordpress.com
• Billed as CITIZEN KANE meets THE DA VINCI CODE meets FLYING HIGH this should prove a riotous journey through the perilous business of show
• MANNEQUINS is programmed for September with plans to take on the Sydney and Melbourne Fringe Festivals (and beyond)
• APRIORI PROJECTS are an independent company run solely via membership & subscription, see pozible.com/apriori for subscription packages
• Contact email@example.com for media queries .
Challenge as set on twitter during random discussion around “classic” plays – a two day turnaround to create an essential must-read catalogue for a theatre canon. A concept at odds with itself given the archaic notion of “canonical” in 21C and my own fractious relationship with the idea of “theatre text” in general – the tension between subjective and objective is palpable even before we have begun. My own list will be different to yours (ooh, subjectivity) whereas the very concept of “classic” implies an objective, historical consensus. An absurdity given the highly localised nature of theatre and sense of community resonance certain plays will have in certain regions but not in others.
Moreover, concepts of authorship and “text” have their own contentious place in the modern classic ouvre. it’s a topsy-turvy argument, with the popular citation that the “Author is Dead” (blithely followed with a pretentious reference to the author of that phrase). But let’s not go there right now. This exercise is more about must-reads for appropriate knowledge of theatre convention and history. Classics are defined by their influence.
And so, we begin at the beginning:
Constant re-interpretation of a tale that was a classic before it was ever writ down and thus taking the estimation of “Literature” before Literature existed as a concept. The complex dramatic ironies set around the epic Trojan War foreshadowed all Athenian dramatic convention and Achilles’s ‘lost-boy’ rage became the template for tragic heroism. It also opens up notions of authorship story would evolve and adapt for different audiences over generations in spoken word form regaled in tavernas before it existed as Homer’s ‘text’.
A rare Satyr play with a direct link to Homer’s Odyssey. Hardly ever done but vastly influential on the likes of Aristophanes.
The mother of all romantic comedies. Ted Hughes’ translation is to die for. So to speak.
Our personal favourite of the Greeks and something less of a tragedy than ancestor to the horror genre. Euripides’ vicious breakdown of the God vs State power struggle is currently undergoing the Sancez treatment for modernisation; with a tale involving a *religious foreigner*, some *psychic powers* and an outbreak of *hypersexual women* in the context of a *strictly conservative and repressed leader* [GASP].
As epic trilogies go this one spawned more imitators than Star Wars and Lord of The Rings combined. Everyone from Seneca to Sartre has had a crack at translating/retelling/adapting/updating this post-war tale of the fall of the house of Atreus. It’s like a thing.
If ever a play demonstrated the function of art as social critique and conscience this is it.
But which version?
Love it or hate it this is a very clever play subverting (or reinforcing?) the traditional role of women in Athenian politics. The quintessential farce.
“Shall I begin with the usual jokes at which the audience never fail to laugh?” Aristophanes demonstrating a capacity for meta-theatre and post-modernity before even hipsters thought it was cool.
Again Aristophanes with an expressionistic vision of conceptual metaphor as social critique. Way ahead of it’s time. Or maybe Everyone Else is just way behind.
Not every Shakespeare is a classic. Some are a kind of terrible crowd-pleasing fap [Romeo & Juliet, anyone?] But Lear is in my top ten plays of all-time.
In conversation at the Opera House a couple of years back Tom Stoppard was asked to reduce this play to a single word. He chose the word “if”. Well it would save a lot of time, anyway…
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
This simultaneously bold, visceral, absurd and hilarious literary lark is everything a play should be, and nothing a play can ever really capture since.
Probably one of the Bard’s more visionary and exciting plays with resonances well into today’s politic. In a word? Boats.
THE SCOTTISH PLAY
A play so dark we dare not speak its name. For the uninitiated:
Breaking Bad with witches and iambic pentameter. Say No More.
Anything that can be turned into a Rolling Stones song has my vote. Again, a defining characteristic of the classic is the universality of its retelling.
THE RECRUITING OFFICER
The first play ever to be put on in New York and the first play ever to be put on in Sydney (and subsequently spawning OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD).
Irrespective of quality, a classic.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
“Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.” And there you have it.
Points purely for getting banned by the wealthy French factions but Moliere’s devastating critique of hypocrisy and religion demonstrates just how dangerous comedy can be.
A pleasure to read – and to watch – was privileged enough to see Bille Brown in the title role at Belvoir St in Kantor’s prodction. Alfred Jarry opened the door towards dada, surrealism and the most influential 20th Century movement: Absurdism. Fearless and joyful.
Hedda might be better but A Doll’s House broke the necessary ground by becoming the most influential text of the modern era. It speaks volumes that writers still ape his technique, and the Realist form is now the most conservative type of theatre writing you will find – practically the rule for ‘safe’ dramatic form. But only exceptional writers have been able to match Ibsen for his ‘drama of ideas’ fusing socio-political critique into painstakingly constructed dialogue and radical representation of action. A better model for circumspect use of stage direction is lacking… “That slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world.”
A DREAM PLAY
Strindberg was at his best when he wasn’t jealously trying to mimic Ibsen and this (pretty much indecipherable text)
THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD
If I haven’t had at least one riot following my play I will consider my career a failure.
A play that must be performed perpetually. Not by the same actors or directors, a revolving troupe. Right? This is the kind reform our industry needs. Am I getting through?
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
More proof that farce and comedy rule the pre-modernist epoch. It feels dated no but the critiques remain relevant, even if the form is not.
Nothing against Shaw but he’s largely derivative of better writers. However this play has so many imitators and revisions it’s made the list.
CHICAGO/ PLAY BALL
The play, the film, the musical, the dance moves, the iconic jazz-handed red-and-black spectacular- the original was writ as a class assignment for Yale Drama School by journalist Maureen Dallas Watkins based on the true story of two allegedly murderous ‘jazz-babies’. Goes to show: take that drama school shit seriously.
MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
TS Eliot’s gorgeous modernist poetic script on Becket and his struggles against authoritarian rule is too rarely done and I cannot imagine why.
THE THREEPENNY OPERA
Probably the first great European modernist work, subverting form, genre and content in a radical way that quickly took hold. Read all of Brecht but read this one more.
THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
Powerful, inspirational stuff.
Another ‘based on a true story’ this play is a master class in playwrighting as the execution of conceptual metaphor. This is not nor ever was the story of the murderous French maids that scandalised the Paris aristocracy but a ritual dance teased out from the very idea that the working class might dare such a thing. Genet knew any attempt to act on class rage with violence or murder can only end terribly, and so depicted a cycle within a ritual within a wheel, wrapped in fur and flowers.
One’s ability to say a single word to convey reams of meaning defines the classic. In this instance, a masterpiece of American postwar ennui.
Ditto. Yeah but still kind of depressing.
One of the first plays I ever read, and re-read, and read again. Probably why I’m a writer.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF
I want to arrange a production of this in real time. Over six hours before dawn, with monstrous pauses and real booze. Should be good.
“Your monocle is in the wrong eye”
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
Take note. This is how you write an adaptation. Sideways. Anything less is derivative claptrap.
CAN’T PAY WON’T PAY
A delightfully cheeky comedy about price gouging. On an unrelated matter it is never put on at major theatre companies in Oz.
ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST
More wilful political farce from the Italian Nobel Prize-Winner. It’s scandalous his work is not done more often in Sydney.
THE CHAPEL PERILOUS
The only Australian writer to be included on the list but this rare, adventurous play says much about our development as a nation, culture, our insecurity about finding our voice and our struggle with reconciling the past.
I’m biased. Because I’m currently touring this and our next performance is in just a month at 505. But it really is a brilliant modern classic and Berkoff is unmatched by any writer of the day. Come and see for yourself. The text is like climbing a small mountain – but the view is exhilarating.
See my response the recent production at the New Theatre
WAITING FOR GODOT
You thought I’d forgot about it? Never. If imitators and adaptations by numbers define a classic, this one defines itself. You cannot mess with the best. And Beckett is a once in ten generational genius. Untouchable.
These are not my *favourite plays* (some are) but the ones you have to have read a few times to stnd a chance at writing anything vaguely original. Hopefully that helps. Read them all immediately.
Honourable mentions go to a bunch of writers for whom I had not the time to narrow down and exhume the quality of their work; Jack Davis, Sarah Kane Harold Pinter, Buchner, Eugene Ionesco, Yasmina Reza, Corneille, Lope de Vega, Calderón, not to mention some fabulous modern writers of the last twenty years. But the exercise was to turn it around in just two days. Also it would be disingenuous to claim a play less than twenty years old as a “classic” when by definition I am looking beyond populism and especially for revolutionary or stylistically ground-breaking works. There is also a lack of women and a deliberate overlooking of classic Eastern texts, Kabuki and traditional Hindu theatre are two areas I have only passing knowledge so would baffle to guess which are the most radical or influential texts from those regions.
As I stated at the outset: notions of canonical lists are abstract and weighted towards systemic power structures. Men have the lion’s share because for thousands of years men were given positions of influence within the theatrical community. So they were influential. You will notice a similar trend upon viewing the upcoming work by POST interrogating canonical works (Oedipus Schmoedipus; playing at Belvoir in January) I had almost this exact discussion with the two women devising that piece when I interned with them last year…
So we (those of us with appreciation of post-modern etiquette) abandon adherence to the canon as less than useful as a guide but more as an historical facet of the craft. For if we cling too tightly to the past we will never find the future. Imitation is flattery – but innovation is battery. That is all.
Damn. Missed it again.
August marks four years of writing about theatre on this site, an unremarkable fact besides it also being something like twenty-one years of watching theatre as an audience and making theatre as an artist. As critic I’m a total noob, but I understand the language of theatre as well as anyone. It’s translating back into Anglais that’s the tricky part…
Via the throes of rehearsal and recovery for a little Fringe Show last month I have neglected the discipline of writing. But, having seen a few shows on Sydney stages since July, and weighed in on the tempest surrounding the no-adaptation-is-an-island debate, mouthed off at Arts Ministers and Editors alike, done the usual unpaid work at the usual festivals and entered/been rejected from the usual collaborative theatre callouts. Business as usual but Oh and I started my own business… but I digress. Perhaps that is a subject for another day.
(or WHAT THE F%*# DOES A PLAYWRIGHT EVEN DO ANYHOW)
Most recently it was the wild, raw, disparate and sexy Crack Festival and (the conservative and sterile) Miss Julie but before that were The Maids, Persona, Moving Parts and Friday - each a new work or new translation for the stage, each rife with sharp and thought provoking dialogue, and each portraying a precise grand narrative much broader than the sum of its parts. In terms of style, the ‘professional’ companies brought minimalist productions of a two-or-three hander dealing in themes of self-discovery, betrayal, child-abuse, death, and had barely a single moment worth mentioning. Only an attempted suicide by a child-beating salesman with cancer (I kid you not) brought an actual chuckle from this audience member in this highly professional, detailed, finely-tuned production. Ditto Persona, although without the laugh. That’s not to say they weren’t well-done. Just fucking morbid and introspective. Not my cuppa.
I tweeted my review of Miss Julie (harking back to my days as digital copywriter “if you can’t say it in eight words or less, don’t bother”) as thus: “Men! Dogs! Women! Cray! Cock! Tits! Bang! Blood!” I have not read the Capital C Crrrrtiiiics on this play but can’t help wonder if anyone noticed it has an almost identical plot to the universally hated “Every Breath”? Only without any sense of expressionism or intrigue. Just dour hyper-realist representation of a Mack-Truck Cliché. Fine work from the cast but playing for laughs when the character is a pig is probably a sign of an actor looking to score points amid a dearth of substance. If this is the world we live in it does not ring true.
On the other hand the premiere of Friday at The Old Fitzroy Theatre was loose, flawed, with a cast of about sixty, plenty of wit and more than a few belly laughs and snap. It could have used a bit of dramaturgy to curtail its sprawling Shakespearean ambition (think lots of gratuitous sub-plots, comedic interludes and bawdy one-liners). What it lacks in craft it makes up for in gusto and good-old-fashioned CRAIC, in the fine Australian tradition of taking the piss. Nuggets of pure gold amidst an uneven satire make it worthwhile… but more about this in a moment.
What strikes us vividly is the contrasting ambitions of the productions. One is trying to make something big and new, the others trying to be like something old. Note: who gets the funding, who gets the support, who gets all the added publicity and hype? What does a playwright do, anyway? As the key question coming out of the Crack Theatre Festival, as stated in the excellent slice of meta-criticism Kids Killing Kids “Why here? Why Now? Why You?” With the ramshackle SITCO production of Daniela Giorgi’s play this question was a pleasure to explore. With the fine-tuned professionalism of the others, we are left in the wind. NFI*, as the saying goes.
Persona attempting to emulate what is cited as “one of the greatest films of all time” (an entirely pointless observation) – putting what was in all likelihood a fascinating filmic concept in 1966 onto the stage in 2013 is bold enough, but this audience found nothing much to be added. Technically brilliant is the show, but I wanted a lie down. The transliteration into theatre from cinema meant we lose so much of the idiomatic Bergman filmic technique that it is reduced to story. Persona only hesitatingly broke new ground. On top of this, the use of a child in the opening sequence was hugely problematic in a show which (when it finally got going) dealt with full-on sexual content, including graphic descriptions of sexual assault on two small boys by the central character. Sorry. Spoilers. The boy does not return until the curtain call and while he opens the show (reading a book through binoculars while a clock tick-tocks for nearly five whole minutes) – one has to ask: What is he doing there? What possible greater artistic function can he serve, and how can that justify what amounts to a breach in duty of care, touring this show over and over with such explicit sexual content. I was not intrigued, not even impressed.
What does a playwright do, exactly? If it’s just coming up with intriguing is she/isn’t she/will he/won’t he plot lines then what progress have we made since a certain Scandinavian genius rattled all the critics cages and set a new precedent for drama circa 1898? Moving Parts - a fine example of a clockwork universe on stage – deftly represented by Friels and McGonville on stage in a tight sequence of dialogues which ratchet the tension and stakes until there’s nowhere to go but into the realm of the absurd. And so the aforementioned suicide attempt becomes fodder for a rather macabre diversion into comedy. But the clockwork universe (in which years, decades of events past conspire to influence the micro-decisions of the now) collapses when Roy declares an intention to take his own life. The stakes – his shop, his life, his pride all fall to oblivion in that moment, and while the choice was palpable in Friels’ portrayal of a man with nothing to lose – the writing suffers and the metaphor muddied in the process.
I submit the idea that a playwright brings a world into existence, and the *writing* element is merely a frame through which one can peer into that world. Thus these adaptations are new windows into the same world, which can only be viewed *between* the dialogue. The director’s role is to fill the frame with a tinted glass or crystalline lens with which to view the frame anew. Think of Chekhov or Pinter or Beckett- with multitudes of ideas contained in silences. There is no *rewriting* silence. The authorship of those moments is absolute and all a director or adaptor can do is provide the echo of the walls which surround. So the question for any playwright, adaptor or collaborative team is this: is the work telling us about the world of the play, or telling us more about you?
Do playwrights tell us about themselves? Or about the world they live in? A little bit of both, one hopes. But it’s the audience that fills in the gaps. And it’s the value of an idea that we take home, irrespective of the quality of its expression. Never forget it.
PS my eight word review of The Maids as follows:
“Once in a lifetime performances. Saw it Twice”
More about this later.
*No Fucking Idea
Presented by the New Theatre, July 2013
There remains no greater case to validate the work of the playwright than the presentation of their text as writ, no greater challenge to the actor or director to take on a cohesive writer’s vision and remain true to their intent. Such is the way at the New Theatre, no mincing about with rewrites or such periphery – their latest production in a series of good plays done well, opened to a well-earned third ovation and an opening night crowd (of the usual suspects) in a genuine conversational post-show buzz of ideas, politics, history and broad appreciation of the craft.
Still scalding some thirty years after its first showing, Caryl Churchill’s script treads between expressionism and vignette-realism. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, go and see this play immediately, for it remains one of the finest examples in the modern canon of bold social realist writing, with a representational aesthetic that forces audiences to examine what they see beyond the literal. The opening moments tell us thus, entering to a luxurious table setting in a dark parody of the famous game where one invites a group of historical figures for dinner. A shrewd device in this instance to create a socio-political context to shed light on the modern idiosyncrasies we will bear witness to in Acts II & III. Churchill extending the metaphor in a truly fantastic (as in portraying the literal outcome of a fantasy) game of ‘what-if?’
In this case the women all represent different phases and elements of an historic and systemic patriarchal society. Each reaching various dizzying heights of achievement within the worlds they inhabited, and yet always somehow defined by the male-dominated systems which surround them. Much comedy can be found in the absurd expression of this familiar setting, the bristling and posturing of a dinner party made up of (shall we say) larger-than-life personalities. We’ve all sat at this table at some point or another, although it’s arguable how many of these parties are held in the company of the famously dead.
The mercurial setting of the first scene thus offers a fascinating glimpse at history which allows the audience member to do their own excavation in light of the more immediately accessible second half. Paradoxically this modern account of the foibles of women’s liberation in the face of Thatcher’s Britain is a tougher theatrical journey to explore. Perhaps it’s the closeness to our own social experience which sits uncomfortably as social commentary? Either way the expressionist grandeur of the opening salvo suggests the quiet familiarity of the domestic and workplace settings is not to be taken at face value. Churchill wants us to look at our own choices in the face of the impossible (as men or women) – whether it’s 13th Century Rome or Britain 1982, this sadly remains a markedly relevant question for Australia circa 2013. Especially 2013.
A simple, effective design scheme and some excellent dedication to the text from the cast make what seems short work of a very challenging and complex play. The careful dedication to the dialogue and timing and above all the engaging naturalism and warmth of the characters from the ensemble are, simply put: a joy to behold. We’ll be seeing it again.
Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Alice Livingstone, featuring Sarah Aubrey, Claudia Barrie, Julia Billington, Maeve MacGregor, Ainslie McGlynn, Bishanyia Vincent and Cheryl Ward.
Playing at the New Theatre until August 3rd.
…Paul Gilchrist’s latest work Rocket Man - a play which bows to the conventions of domestic naturalism – as a ‘story’ it follows the Chekhovian example of the everyday imbued with the monumental. These are working people from your life or mine. An aspiring actor, an exhausted nurse, a loyal friend, a troubled young man. You immediately know them. But the play actively resists classification as a simple piece of domestic realism, with reflexive aphorisms sparring around the function and value of theatre (some sharp jabs at the world of public funding – worth noting subtlenuance are self-sufficient), it spins a web of in-jokes and intrigue that’s something of a hallmark for the writer. Rocket Man seems to writhe inside its skin, like the eponymous astronaut (now there’s a pointless occupation if there ever was one) who’s self-aware but chained to discontent and thus paradoxically oblivious to his potential. The human story. Unsettling, wry, dark, rich in humour and tension. Everything a play should be.
SAY HELLO FIRST
We caught the first preview of this autobiographical verbatim work from Danielle Maas and the team at Cupboard Love (pro-tip: always favour the preview over the bustle of opening night if you fancy sheer wattage in your theatrics – especially with new work), a first tentative venture back to the Old Fitzroy Hotel since the baton was passed to SITCO for running the space. Happy to report there’s a piping hot show in the offing this month. Danielle Maas is a force to be reckoned with onstage and off – having researched and dramaturged and ultimately performing this tale of love, lust and lunacy with Joe Kernahan in multiple supporting roles. At once frenzied, funny, familiar and frightening – it has a visceral boldness that comforts the soul, in the way you might seek refuge from the freezing night by wrapping yourself in the still-warm bodily organs of a recently slain wildebeest on the plains of outer Mongolia.
As a series of vignettes gleaned from interviews with twenty men from the author’s life, the play creates an hilarious mosaic of the absurdity of romance in the digital era – sometimes edging cariacture, but more often treading the path of honest reflection and investigation. In terms of catharsis, Ms Maas has the courage to turn some of the pathos in her love-life into comedy gold – always on that flickering knife’s edge of tragedy. No mean feat, and another terrific example of the trend in local theatre toward staging the deeply personal in terms of the epic, to reflect and capture a uniquely modern Australian experience. You should go and see it.
Say Hello First, presented by Cupboard Love & SITCO, playing at the Old Fitzroy Hotel until 27th July. Written by Danielle Maas, directed by Jason Langley, featuring Danielle Maas and Joe Kernahan.