Posts tagged ‘Katie Pollock’
HIGH WINDOWS, LOW DOORWAYS
presented by subtlenuance at the TAP Gallery, March 2014
” ‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange! “
– Lord Byron, Don Juan
It’s not a new tradition, by any means, but certainly a trend in the local independent theatre sector; the re-emergence of the monologue as dramatic form, and particularly the re-telling of the personal. Recent months in Sydney have found theatres small medium and large hosting a variety of curated (collated? collected?) works of the simple yet eminently complex and yes, strange tales told by actors, alone or with chorus; true stories from their lives.
One isn’t privileged enough to travel interstate or overseas to know if this trend is global yet – it feels very Sydney, very Right Now – to reach and look into the personal journeys of the people who make this city what it is. A year ago with The Political Hearts of Children this phenomena was observed, but since then we’ve also seen Performance 4A’s Stories Then And Now (using the “William Yang method”) – featuring incredible family histories and conflicts leading into more personal and moving journeys as the actor relates the tale of their happening to be here, in Australia, at this time. These are vital histories for the city’s coming of age; a step toward a true embrace of our diverse roots, and storytelling is so bound up in this land that the intimate circle of the small theatre has begun to gel into a ritual engagement of sharing.
It’s something that will grow and evolve as teams of writers and actors and storytellers and theatricians collaborate with each project. But the broad strokes are forming. A writer is teamed with an actor or director to find a set of truths to convey, or question, or ignore, however they might. Sometimes it’s within a broad theme and curated for context (like Augusta Supple’s productions of recent years Singled Out or A View From Moving Windows) – slices of modern life, cut into individual short tales of fantasy or memory.
The trick with these monologues is that it doesn’t matter which parts are true. Which parts are impossible.
The trick is that it’s not even a trick. Know your audience, and the monologue is a communion.
We are there with these actors, we are there with the impossible, the fantastic, the remote.
The German theatre historian and theorist Max Hermann noted: “The most important aspect of the theatre art is the performance” (Research on the History of German Theatre in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,1914). Distinguishing from the notion of the “classic” academic theatre text as literature – and identifying the ritualistic elements of the performance proper as a text unto itself. This duality of text / story vs text / performance is key to the emergence of this personalised framing of theatre art.
Simply put it is the confluence of actor and audience in the ritual space which makes these works so powerful. Add that we can reach into the personal journeys of seven (using the Gilchrist method) tales at once creates a tapestry of the personal, spiritual, philosophical and emotive memories that make us who we are.
The stories are unique to the actors, translated back by seven different writers with care and diligence and craft, and then translated once again to the performance realm. And as audience we are taken with them into the most uncharted and dangerous and moving territories, into the realm of the impossible, the irrational, beyond death, into questions of free will and fatalism.
Hard to believe some critics did not find this “confronting enough” – but in a world so desensitised to possibility, so attuned to cynicism, I supposed some people just want their art to be less subtle, more “Piss Christ“. Not this time. Gilchrist has weaved a truth of wonder and confusion, not a beacon but a kind of blanket, that maybe on the cold nights of winter we might find comfort we are not alone.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
HIGH WINDOWS LOW DOORWAYS presented by subtlenuance
Written by Ellana Costa, Noelle Janaczewska, Jonathan Ari Lander, Mark Langham, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke and Melita Rowston. Performed by Kit Bennett, Matt Butcher, Alice Keohavong, Naomi Livingstone, Peter McAllum, Gavin Roach and Helen Tonkin. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, until March 30 at the TAP Gallery.
THE POLITICAL HEARTS OF CHILDREN
presented by subtlenuance at the TAP Gallery, April 2013
Some years ago I attended a ‘Welcome-to-Country’ which preceded the National Young Writer’s Festival up in Newcastle. The traditional owner hosting the welcome sat everyone in a circle and told us some of the background of the place, of the Awabakal and Worimi people and how they first began to use coal way back before colonisation, and how the knowledge had been passed on through word-of-mouth in gatherings just like the one we were in that day. She asked the group to each tell something about from where they had come, myself from Sydney, others from Western Australia or overseas – it took a while (there were forty of us in the group) – but as a custom, it’s central to the welcoming process, for understanding where we have come from is a vital part of knowing who and where we are. At the end of the welcome, she thanked us said she looked forward to seeing us around the place over the course of the festival weekend. As we all got up to leave, almost offhandedly she said “and I want to hear those stories”.
I kept thinking of that day in the post-show haze of wonder. Those stories that define us, as a people, as an individual, as a nation, as a world, can so easily slip from the memory but when told, can take on such power to change lives. It’s evolution on a granular scale – and that’s why this show, with such a deceptively simple premise, is a vastly important piece of theatre. Seven actors, passing on a tale from their childhood, each defining moments of personal truth, pain, glory or fear – shared with seven writers and retold, stylised, cut up and played out in the empty space – we recall the words of Brook’s seminal text “where anything can happen”. Each tale is a truth and an exaltation, a memory and a trick of the mind – and all of them much, much stranger than fiction. This is a rare find for theatre-hunters, the opening night audience laughing, crying and so privileged to find insight into not one but seven beautiful minds. I’m going back again.
The Political Hearts of Children, featuring James Balian, Mark Dessaix, Rosanna Easton, Carla Nirella, Kelly Robinson, Kathryn Schuback and Stephen Wilkinson. Written by Alison Rooke, Katie Pollock, Kimberley Lipschus, Victoria Haralabidou, Benito Di Fonzo, Didem Caia and James Balian, directed by Paul Gilchrist. Playing until April 21, 2013 at the TAP Gallery, Sydney.
POST-SCRIPT: further reflections
After going back for a second bite – the show equally as enjoyable, in different ways – I want to just expand on what I mean by “evolution on a granular scale”. I meant the phrase sincerely but it has the unfortunate reek of pretension without context – which becomes very difficult given my hatred of spoilers! But I digress…
What struck me was the sense of rediscovery of innocence, a recurring thread throughout the pieces. The opening monologue, a back and forth between the adult and child versions of Kathryn Schuback on a trip to the beach, demonstrates just how easily we can forget ourselves, our childhood dreams “what do you want to be when you grow up?”… realistic or not “do you have to go to school to be an astronaut?” and the natural comedic pitch of such a conversation set the tone of reflective wonder. There’s some dramaturgical nous at play as well, rather than setting each tale back-to-back-to-back, this piece and the thrilling Skink-Hunt from Stephen Wilkinson & Benito Di Fonzo are broken up into sections, bookending some of the other pieces neatly and interweaving between threads, giving Political Hearts an overall tapestry feel throughout.
With each of the actor-writer teams given a similar brief, there are wildly different results. Some of the stories take the form of a set of impressionistic memories, such as Rosanna Easton’s fascinating recollection of early life in New Zealand, some key moments counterpointing the overall metaphor of the hothouse-orchid, yearning for more but trapped in the “always winter” of adolescent discontent. A recurring motif: frustration, disappointment, oppression and hope, throughout each piece, ranging in scale but always uniquely personal to the world of the actor – and for the young, that world is nothing less than everything they’ve ever known. Whether it’s a deadly backyard war-zone, or the grandparents’ farm disappearing only to live on in the memories of the now grown-up cousins, or the world of school corridors and associated bullies – the vividness of what seems so small today can pull a thread on our own tiny worlds.
We can relate to something in each, or imagine the rest. The imagination’s power intensified by the bare stage and raw images, culminating in the sudden shift in distance to a world most of us only read about. An actual warzone – Iraq, 1963 – James Balian’s tale of a trip to the dentist in the midst of a revolution. It’s a strange transition, still from the child’s perspective but fifty years gone. We’ve just come from the joyous victory of Boy Wilkinson’s heightened battle against the magpies for his prized skink. So it’s an abrupt reminder of the breadth of the world experience and its universality. These are all stories of Australia, even when they aren’t, because we’re here, now, telling them, sharing ourselves. The Welcome to Country I refer to earlier because storytelling is a vital part of our Indigenous heritage, an something we must begin to embrace if we are to come to terms with our identity, our identities as a nation today.
Oppression and fear can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s imagined, sometimes it’s projected, sometimes it’s very real, and sometimes it’s simply easier to pretend it’s not there. It’s how we react that shapes us. “We grow up.” Lest we Forget.
A Quiet Night in Rangoon
Presented by subtlenuance, at the New Theatre, August, 2011
Directly opposite the New Theatre is a shop window with a map of South East Asia facing the street. Upon leaving the theatre it becomes immediately apparent how close, and yet so far Burma is from the world we know. A place of unimaginable beauty and horror. A place that peppers our nightly news with sporadic reports of disaster, uprising or oppression, stories which quickly fade into distance as we tackle our more immediate First World Problems. Burma can wait. After all, it’s been under military rule for nearly fifty years, what’s one more day?
It’s this everyday tyranny where the play lurks. In the experiences of trickle-down corruption, in the human-impact stories of a place bound up in knots of idealism and fear. It goes into some interesting corners, meditating on the seeming impossibility of technology and the oppressive military state coexisting with the sensual and spiritual side to the city. The ever-present Lake and Buddhism serve as prominent motifs to counterpoint the brutality of the main narrative. The writing utilises an array of symbolic and expressionistic techniques to explore how such an entrenched military system has imprinted itself on every facet of Burmese life. Even the powers themselves cannot escape such vile, soul-destroying consequences as will come with any abuse of power. And let’s not tread euphemistically when it comes to the Burmese military. They have systematically assaulted, starved, abused and kidnapped the citizens in a callous defence of their own position. Bully Generals, every one. Under such a regime we must redefine our notions of freedom, of hope, of purpose, of humanity. For a westerner to bring ideals into this place would be hopelessly naive.
This is where Katie Pollock’s script opens itself up, her fish-out-of-water scenario is played out through the eyes of the archetypically clueless Australian ‘journalist’ (cheekily named Piper Marx), whose personal quest becomes simply dwarfed into irrelevancy by the circumstances around her. By acknowledging that the Western world has no answers, we are then able to simply see into the lives of the characters. With a minimalist approach to the set and direction, director Paul Gilchrist has put his fine cast front and centre, without over-milking the intensity of the script and letting the comic moments pierce through with a gentle truth. This is not an easy play to contend with. It will challenge any ensemble, and any audience – but to bear with the challenges pays great dividends, as it not only draws you in but educates, provokes thought and discussion. Important, political theatre that’s not clear-cut or moralising – a rare thing.
A Quiet Night in Rangoon plays at the New Theatre until September 10. Featuring Shauntelle Benjamin, John Buencamino, Felino Dolloso, Aileen Huynh, Sonya Kerr, Kathryn Schuback and Barton Williams.