Saturday 29 September 2001

Aussie plays in USA, Sept 29, 2001

Article: Aussie plays in USA, Sept 29, 2001
Writer: Kate Herbert

Australian artists are still gasping to have their work recognised abroad. in the theatre world, it was impossible to be taken seriously as an actor during much of the  last century unless you travelled, studied and were employed in London or New York.

Although we have overcome the worst of the ‘cultural cringe’, Australians still think that an actor or a playwright is not a success until they make a name in the US or UK.

We have movie actors succeeding in Hollywood but it still a struggle for our playwrights to get a gig overseas.

In San Francisco recently, I discovered that not even people in the theatre know a single Australian play. Ask yourself how many Aussie playwrights’ you know.

The Australian National Playwrights’ Centre, (ANPC) is trying to redress this. This week, the Artistic Director, May-Brit Ackerholt, Sydney, announced six play scripts to be sent to New York.

The plays are: Nick Enright’s A Man with Five Children, Stephen Sewell’s The secret Life of Salvador Dali, Duong Le Quy’s Meat Party which was seen at Playbox in 2000, Catherine Ryan’s Gravity and John Upton’s Men of Honour.

One will be selected as winner of The New Dramatists Exchange award.

Sadly for this black duck, my own play, Hit and Run, was in the long-short list of ten and was knocked off the short-short list. Ho hum.

Each year, a lucky Australian playwright spends three glorious theatre-drenched  weeks with New Dramatists on 44th Street near Time Square. As part of the Exchange program,  a New Dramatists US playwright participates in the workshop program at the Australian National Playwrights’ Conference in Canberra.

 I think we get the better deal - Canberra or the Big Apple? No comparison.

The prize includes an airfare, accommodation and the playwright is treated to nights at the theatre on Broadway. Some shows may have closed due to the recent events, but New York is still a smorgasbord of live theatre.

 Says Ms Ackerholt, “The winning play gets presented in a rehearsed reading to an audience of theatre people, and a play in development ( by the same playwright)  is extensively workshopped with American directors and actors before it, too, is presented to an audience.“

Playwrights submit their best play. It must be no more than 8 years old and can be previously published or produced.

 Playwrights  must have had at least one play produced and have a thorough  knowledge of Australian theatre. The winner's body of work and ability to represent the theatre industry play a significant part in the judging process.

It may seem odd to some that established playwrights such as Enright and Sewell are in a New Dramatists category, but the criteria focus on new plays rather than emerging writers.

Very few of our plays have made it over the Pacific. In January 2002, Hannie Rayson’s award-winning play, Life After George, will open on the West End in London and may travel to Broadway.

HIlary Bell’s play, Wolf Lullaby,  and Timothy Daly’s play, Kafka Dances, were produced in the USA.

Of the  eight winners since 1993, four were Melbourne writers: Sam Sejavka’sAll Flesh Is Glass (‘93), Matt Cameron’s Mr. Melancholy (‘95),  Daniel Keene’s Because You’re Mine (‘96) and Peta Murray’s Salt which was seen this year at Playbox.

The New York readings are not fully-fledged productions but, at the very least, our new Australian works are being seen in the theatre capital of the USA and our two countries are exchanging cultural capital.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 9 September 2001

Improvisation Across the Pacific, Sept 9, 2001

Improvisation Across the Pacific, San Francisco, Sept 9, 2001
Writer: Kate Herbert

Improvisation is an elaborate form of lying. I have been lying elaborately in Australia, USA, Canada and New Zealand since 1985.

Most recently, I visited San Francisco for the  BATS ( Bay Area Theatresports) Improvisation Festival. it ran throughout August with classes and shows day and night.

 BATS has its own theatre overlooking Golden Gate Bridge. It's improvisers' heaven.

The good news is that plans are afoot for the Melbourne Theatresports Inc. to host its own improvisation Festival in April 2002 to rival  BATS bacchanalia.

 The plan is to bring impro guru, Keith Johnstone,  to Melbourne during the Comedy Festival in April 2002 to teach workshops with both beginners and advanced improvisers.

Johnstone, an expatriate Englishman, is Emeritus Professor of Theatre at Calgary University, Canada.

In addition to Johnstone's visit, the San Francisco companies, BATS, True Fiction Magazine and LATS from Los Angeles as well as other companies, are planning to bring their long form improvised plays to the Comedy Festival.  Members of the companies are invited to teach on the course with Johnstone.

Classes in Melbourne may reflect the range of those offered at the BATS Festival: Narrative, Improvised Song, Shakespeare Improvised, Masked Improvisation and full-length improvised plays .

We may import a class from BATS which is known by its inventor, Diane Rachel, as ‘Sex and Violence’. It was originally called  "finding emotional intensity on the improvised stage," but the students called it Sex and Violence.

 The focus is on stage intimacy, stage combat and improvising in movie genres such as Film Noir,  Romance and Horror.

 Discussions are proceeding with The Victorian College of the Arts and The Melbourne International Comedy Festival to bring the Improvisation Festival plans to fruition.

Johnstone, who is an international improvisation leader, would be the greatest draw card for the festival. He wrote world-wide best-sellers, Impro and Impro for Story Tellers.

 He established Theatre Machine, an English improvisation company that travelled Europe. He settled in Calgary where he set up Loose Moose Theatre Company.

 Johnstone teaches all over Europe and North America, Asia. 2002 will be his first visit to Melbourne although we have been performing his formats since 1985.

Johnstone's is a genuinely eccentric character. He  combines the wisdom and presence of Peter Ustinov with the wackiness of Morecambe and Wise.  His classes are a labyrinth of weird information, anecdotes and his catch cry, "be average guys."

He rails about the damage schools did. We are expected to get things right and these demands ruin our ability to be spontaneous and to make mistakes.

Johnstone asks, " Have you done this before? No. Should you be good at it then? No. So get it wrong,.” Students’ eyes light up, their faces relax and they create astounding stories.

Johnstone is the inventor of the trademarked Theatresports,  which is enormously popular with audiences in Australia since 1985 and even had a TV series in 1987. He also created and trademarked Gorilla Theatre, Micetro and the Life Game (now a US TV show) which may be seen performing in Melbourne through Melbourne Theatresports Inc.

Melbourne is a hotbed of improvised theatre. All over you'll find improvisers telling stories, playing games and pretending to be other people. Sounds like psychosis but it's heaps more fun!  Improv rules!

Theatresports Grand Final is on Saturday September 22 at the National Theatre

By Kate Herbert