Features, Lectures and Talks, Literature, News, Perth Festival

A writers festival for you

Running from 18-24 February, Perth Festival Writers Week is a feast for the mind, combining an immersive weekend of panel sessions at the University Club at UWA as well as a number of satellite events around Perth. This year marks William Yeoman’s second as Writers Week Curator and, with one successful event already under his belt, he’s excited for what he promises will be an even better program this February. Claire Trolio spoke to Yeoman to find out more.

William Yeoman
William Yeoman

William Yeoman works an eight day week.

Yes, you read that right.  Maintaining his full time job as Books Editor and Arts Writer at The West Australian, he also works two days a week in the Perth Festival offices and steals time early in the morning or in the evenings to make up an extra day. Fortunately, there is some overlap between his jobs, most notably the copious amount of reading required!

To get through those mountains of literature, Yeoman has perfected the art of skim reading. When he’s reading for work and it’s not a text he’d otherwise choose, he is able to familiarise himself with a book in about one hour.

But reading for enjoyment? That’s another story he says. I wonder if there is any time left in his schedule for a leisurely read? “I make time,” he stresses. “If you love the language [of a writer] you need to slow down.” At the moment, Yeoman is savouring Fiona Wright’s collection of essays “The World Was Whole”, ahead of her appearance in two sessions at Writers Week.

Curating Perth Festival Writers Week is a mammoth task and Yeoman doesn’t pretend otherwise. “Let’s be clear, this kind of writers festival is a major international festival. But once you get your head around all that, it’s fine,” he chuckles. To approach the task he starts with a rough idea of the themes he wants to explore and the kinds of authors he wants to invite. But, he stresses, “it’s also about being flexible enough to change your mind and being ready to accept those authors who are offered up to you, sometimes quite late in the piece.”

Jane Caro. Photo: David Hahn.

Jane Caro is one example. The writer and social commentator’s new book Accidental Feminists, is coming out this month and Yeoman jumped at the chance to add her name to the bill. Not only does this make for an up-to-date, relevant program, but Caro is also a big name. “Someone like that is going to raise the profile of the festival,” explains Yeoman.

Entertaining the audience is also high on Yeoman’s list of priorities. “I am big on the ideas of performance and theatre,” he reflects. “Of course, solid, conceptual ideas might be at the heart of that, but hopefully they are presented in an engaging way. Part of creating that experience is related to the kind of guests you invite,” he continues, naming Benjamin Law and Mikey Robins as two 2019 Writers Week guests whose brilliant presentation styles were a big drawcard when planning the program.

As Writers Week Curator, Yeoman considers his responsibility to be “first and foremost, to the reader”. It’s the same way he approaches journalism. This means he must compromise his personal interests and, sometimes his political opinions. “It’s important to have dissenting voices [within a festival], not if they are extreme, but where they are reasonable,” he remarks.

There’s also room in the festival to have some fun, and one of the program highlights for Yeoman himself is Freo Groove, a celebration of the musical history of Fremantle. “To have writers and musicians Claire Moodie and Bill Lawrie together with Lucky Oceans and some of the musicians who feature in their book, in a free, outdoor marquee sundowner – what’s not to like?”

A keen musician himself, he admits to always seeking out musical connections, and the program reflects this. As well as Freo Groove, Yeoman has programmed author and travel editor Stephen Scourfield in conversation with Margaret River based guitar maker Scott Wise (There Are Strings Attached); Jazz High Tea, combining a conversation about The Great Gatsby with live music from WA Youth Jazz Orchestra; and a performance of songs of love and desire in German and English preceding a discussion about singing in translation (Lust in Translation).

The intersection between literature and other disciplines is a feature of Yeoman’s programming. Film, architecture, photography and fashion, as well as music, are represented in this year’s program. Where do you draw the line when it comes to crossing disciplines at a writers festival? “You don’t!” Yeoman responds emphatically. “You find a connection somewhere. If someone has written a book on a topic, well, it’s as easy as that.”

The architectural legacy of Kerry Hill will be discussed by Kerry Hill Architects’ Patrick Kosky and architect Geoffrey London alongside a tour of Hill’s City of Perth Library (Remembering Kerry Hill). And one of Australia’s most famous and respected film critics, David Stratton, will pop by. He’ll discuss hidden cinematic gems (101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed) before joining Jane Lydon, Joanna Sassoon and George Kouvaros to consider how moving and still images shape our memories and future (Migration, Memory & Movies).

Benjamin Law

Yeoman is also excited to present madison moore, an American cultural critic, DJ and Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Moore’s first book, Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, explores how eccentric style, fashion and creativity is political, particularly in queer culture and non-white cultures. As well as appearing alongside Benjamin Law and Ursula Martinez in panel session A Queer World, moore will present a late-night performance lecture at the State Theatre Centre of WA, exploring the concept of clubs as a safe space for experimentation and self-expression (Dance Mania: A Manifesto for Queer Nightlife).

Evidently, moore’s work ties in closely to what Yeoman has declared to be the theme of Writers Week 2019: Our Imagined Selves. “In fact,” declares Yeoman, “this year’s theme was partly inspired by madison moore.” As beautifully diverse as Yeoman’s 2019 Writers Week program is, this concept ties it together. Stories – both fiction and non-fiction – are the essence of who we are. So as you journey through Perth Festival Writers Week, consider yourself, your own story and how it fits with those around you. Because as much as the festival is about the writers, it’s also about you.

Perth Festival Writers Week runs from 18-24 February 2019. 

Pictured top is madison moore.

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A man and a woman dancing in the bush
Features, News, Performing arts

Home-grown produce

Nina Levy ·

It’s November 1, 2018 and the Perth Concert Hall is packed for Wendy Martin’s final Perth Festival programme launch. Anyone who has paid attention to Martin’s programming over the last four years will know that the Festival’s artistic director is a passionate advocate for contemporary dance. When the banner for STRUT Dance’s Sunset opens her 2019 line-up, however, the ripple of excitement is about more than dance.

It’s a historical moment. A local show is leading the charge.

Martin’s decision to open her final Festival launch with a home-grown show is part of a greater plan to showcase local work in this year’s programme. Alongside a terrific selection of international and interstate works, there are numerous shows and events by local artists and companies that are appearing this year under the newly-created banner, “Made in WA”. That list includes six Festival commissions.

Martin is immensely proud of the 2019 Festival’s local content. “It’s important to have a fantastically curated international programme, but it’s also important that, whichever place you’re in, the artists of that place are seen on the same platform,” she explains.

From the outset Martin’s vision was inextricably linked with WA. “When I [started at Perth Festival, four years ago] I said, ‘There are festivals in cities all over world. The thing that makes a difference is the place in which the festival happens.’ So when I arrived here, I saw myself as a detective, looking for clues and stories and threads to figure out, how I make a festival that really belongs in this place,” she explains.

Martin was immediately struck by what she describes as “the unbelievable list of artists who come from this place, both historically and now“. Her immediate response was to commission “Home” as the opening event of her first Festival, a free, one-night-only celebration of West Australian talent that included the likes of Tim Minchin, the John Butler Trio, Shaun Tan, The Drones, The Triffids and The Waifs.

The much-loved ‘Boorna Waanginy’ will return to Perth Festival in 2019.

The opening event of her second festival, Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, was another home-grown special, and one which returns to this year’s Festival. Bringing together the talents of Noongar elder and director Richard Walley, and designers Zoë Atkinson and Sohan Ariel Hayes, under the direction of Nigel Jamieson, Boorna Waanginy sees one of Perth’s most treasured landmarks, Kings Park, transformed by light and sound.

Thus the seeds for the Made in WA programme were sown… but it was an idea that needed time to germinate. “As a curator, you have to know artists and they have to know you, and there needs to be a certain level of trust to be able to work on projects together,” reflects Martin. “So it’s taken this much time, three years living in Perth, to be able to commission all this new work.”

The Last Great Hunt was one of the local first companies to catch Wendy Martin’s attention. Pictured is a scene from ‘Le Nor’ which will premiere at this year’s Festival.

When it came to choosing which shows to commission under the new Made in WA banner, one company caught Martin’s eye early on. “From the time I began [at Perth Festival] I could not believe that The Last Great Hunt, who had toured the world, had never been in Perth Festival,” she remarks.

Martin wasn’t going to rush into anything though. “I had so many meetings, across the years, with Tim [Watts] from The Last Great Hunt. I kept saying, ‘Come on, give me something, I’d love to have you guys in the Festival…’ and then I saw New Owner [by The Last Great Hunt, commissioned by the Awesome Festival] and I loved it. If I’d have known about that show I would have loved to have had it in Perth Festival… but of course, it’s fantastic that it was in Awesome, which is an amazing Festival.

“[Tim and I] met about three times. He wanted to experiment with form and what I didn’t understand – because at that point I didn’t know him well enough – is that Tim is a wonderful storyteller, but he doesn’t start with the idea, he starts with the form of the production.”

And then The Last Great Hunt pitched the idea for Le Nor, a work that weaves together film and live performance, so that audiences witness both an on-screen story and behind-the-scenes action. “When Tim did his pitch for Le Nor I was almost crying, because I thought it was so magic, such a beautiful idea, funny and poetic,” Martin recalls. “Tim’s work, at its core has big heart … and as a programmer that’s one of the things I care about most.”

Glamorous woman in a black pillbox hat
Natalie Allen in ‘Sunset’, a new work created by WA’s STRUT Dance, in collaboration with UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk. Photo: Simon Pynt.

Another commissioned work that is close to Martin’s heart is STRUT Dance’s Sunset. Created in collaboration with UK choreographer and director Maxine Doyle (associate director and choreographer, Punchdrunk), in association with Tura New Music, Sunset is an immersive dance theatre work that takes audiences on a walking tour of Dalkeith’s Sunset Heritage Precinct. “Sunset is like a dream in terms of my programming aims,” she explains. “It’s a collaboration between a great international artist and local artists, it speaks to the history of this place, it’s a collaboration with more than one [local] artist and company – as well as STRUT and Tura New Music, Rachael Dease is the composer and doing the sound design, and Bruce McKinven is doing the set. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the artists here to work with an absolute game changer. UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk have created whole new form of immersive theatre … to have someone like [Punchdrunk’s associate director and choreographer] Maxine Doyle in our midst, excited by this place… you couldn’t really ask for more.”

No words: Cat Hope’s ‘Speechless’. Pictured are the hands of the four soloists, Tara Tiba, Sage Pbbbt, Judith Dodsworth and Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

WA’s Tura New Music is involved in a second 2019 Festival commission, producing Cat Hope’s new opera, Speechless. In the case of Speechless, a response to the issue of children in detention that combines four soloists, a 30-voice choir, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble, it was the motivation behind the work that appealed to Martin. “I love that Cat is an activist and a great humanitarian,” she reflects. “She was so disturbed by the decisions that the government was making in our name. So she felt the best thing that she could do is make a personal, artistic response. She read the Gillian Triggs report into children in detention and then figured out this beautiful concept which is her graphic score. The music she has written has kind of been written over the photographs and drawings that the children have done. In a way she’s giving these kids a voice by responding so directly to their art work. There are no words because those people have no voice. Cat is a really important Australian artist.”

Man in front of Mill
Lost and Found Artistic Director, Chris van Tuinen, pictured at Jarrahdale Heritage Mill, where ‘Ned Kelly’ will be presented. Photo: Nik Babic.

Like The Last Great Hunt, Lost and Found Opera was on Martin’s radar from early on. Renowned for presenting unusual operas in unexpected but effective spaces, Lost and Found will be presenting its first commissioned opera, Ned Kelly, in a Jarrahdale saw mill. “Lost and Found Opera have been doing super exciting work,” enthuses Martin. “I think they have a brilliant concept and the fact that they now want to create a work from scratch – they have such a track record that you just have to trust that they’ll deliver. They’ve also got a great following… but I think the platform of the Festival will make it more recognisable.”

Three woman. One looks scared, one is ready to fight, one is calm.
A rip-roaring yarn: ‘A Ghost in My Suitcase’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Much-loved local company Barking Gecko Theatre also has an established following but stands to broaden its reach by being commissioned to appear on the Festival programme. In terms of Martin’s aims, it was the cross-cultural nature of the work that caught her eye.  “When Matt Edgerton proposed adapting A Ghost in My Suitcase for the stage I was immediately attracted to the possibilities that Gabrielle Wang’s award winning YA novel offers up,” she remembers. “I was excited that Matt wanted to create the production out of deep cross cultural collaboration. It’s a rip-roaring yarn – a great adventure story of a young girl who goes to China and discovers her grandmother is a ghost hunter. It seemed to have all the right ingredients to be a perfect family show for the festival.”

Climate change is at the centre of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Tao Issaro

Kwongkan is another Festival commission that is a cross-cultural work, and one that has fascinated Martin as she has watched it evolve. A collaboration between WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and India’s Daksha Sheth Dance Company, the work brings together Indigenous Australian and Indian performers in a ritual of dance theatre, live music, aerial acrobatics and film. “When the artists pitched the idea to me, they intended to explore the similarities between these two ancient cultures, both of whom dance barefoot, but over the course of three years … the thing that sat at the forefront of their concerns, was climate change,” she explains. “They realised that if we don’t do something now, there will be no trace, not just of ancient cultures, but of anything. So in a funny way, ‘Sand’, which was about touching the earth has now become, ‘Well if we don’t do something, sand is all we’re going to have’. To see the evolution of an idea has been exciting.”

It’s clear that witnessing the germination and blossoming of ideas intrigues and inspires Martin. “As a curator and commissioner of work, that’s the really exhilarating thing,” she remarks, “hearing an idea and being able to play some kind of role in those artists realising their vision by offering the platform of the festival.”

That platform offers greater visibility to the home crowd, but also, potentially, further afield. “I’m hoping that we’ll have international presenters and national presenters coming over to see that work, to consider it for their venues and festivals,” she concludes. “I think that’s a really important role that the Festival can play.

– Nina Levy

Perth Festival opens February 8 and runs until March 3. Head to the Perth Festival website to view the full program, including the six commissioned works from Western Australian artists and companies, and the rest of the Made in WA program.

Pictured top: Ian Wilkes and Isha Sharvani in Tjuntjuntjara, a remote WA Aboriginal community, during the final development of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Mark Howett.

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Cabaret, Features, Fringe World, Music, News, Performing arts, Vocal

Channelling the greats

Singer Ali Bodycoat will need no introduction to local jazz aficionados. A regular performer at Perth’s Ellington Jazz Club, she’s also a Fringe World veteran. This year she’s all about powerhouse women, performing solo in “From Bodycoat to Barbra” and joining forces with Jessie Gordon in “Peggy Lee and Judy Garland”.

Ahead of her back-to-back season, Bodycoat sat down with Seesaw for a Fringe Session Q&A.

Profile Headshot of Ali Bodycoat
Ali Bodycoat

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be a singer?
Ali Bodycoat: I have always wanted to perform – for as long as I can remember I had a huge desire to be in the entertainment industry.

S: Tell us about your training…
AB: The most influential formal training I had came from three incredible women – Sandra Gorringe, my high school drama teacher, Janice Taylor-Warne my classical voice teacher at WAAPA and Helen Matthews, my private jazz voice teacher. To this day, the techniques that were taught to me by these marvellous three are a part of how I approach the stage in any genre. I completed a Certificate of Musical Theatre at WAAPA and literally “fell” into the jazz world in Perth. The greatest lessons are still continuing and these are and always have been, on the job!

S: Describe your artistic practice…
Remember why we are doing this, focus on the music and the reasons behind the song – not yourself, and never, ever break an audience’s pre-conceived notions of the fantasy of being entertained. Most importantly, develop your technique and routines early so you always have that strength to fall back on.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
AB: The joy of giving an experience to an audience – for just one tiny moment, you are their travel guide and you can take them anywhere to which their mind chooses to travel. There is also something incredibly special about making music with a group of musicians who are as behind the music as you are.

S: Career highlight so far?
AB: Performing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and also the Proms New Years’ Eve Concert with Mark Coughlan at the Perth Concert Hall.

S: Funniest career moment so far?
AB: Oh so countless – each performance has its moments of hilarity – probably being naked onstage but that’s another story…!

S: Tell us about your two Fringe World shows, “From Bodycoat to Barbra” and “Peggy Lee & Judy Garland”
AB: The unforgettable Jessie Gordon and I perform together in “Peggy Lee & Judy Garland”. “From Bodycoat to Barbra” presents the music of Barbra Streisand. Both shows are at the Ellington Jazz Club and are one hour slots jam-packed with the legends of the women and their music!

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
AB: As much as possible… get out that programme and DIVE IN!

S: What is your favourite part of the playground?
AB: Well I’ve always had a penchant for a trampoline…

You can catch Ali Bodycoat in 
“Peggy Lee & Judy Garland”, 6 – 10 February 
“Ali Bodycoat Presents – From Bodycoat to Barbra”, 13 – 17 February
at the Ellington Jazz Club on Beaufort Street.

Pictured top: Ali Bodycoat with Jessie Gordon.

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A man sitting at a piano holding up two albums by Kylie Minogue
Cabaret, Features, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

He should be so lucky

It all started with Madonna, says Michael Griffiths. The award-winning Australian cabaret performer has been touring Fringe festivals with his tribute acts since 2014. His new show Songs by Kylie traces the pop princess’s rise from Neighbours to music superstardom, and it’s coming to Fringe World 2019.

Ahead of the show, Griffiths took some time to answer Seesaw’s Q&A.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be a musician?
Michael Griffiths: I fell in love with pop music at a very early age and grew up playing the piano by ear. Music has always been my first love but actually being on stage came a little later, more in my late teens when I started doing amateur musicals for fun, in my hometown Adelaide.

S: Tell us about your training…
MG: I trained in music composition in Adelaide first, before deciding that being in musicals looked like a far more glamorous means of employment. So I made the big move West to study at WAAPA in the late 90s. I then worked solidly in musicals for about 15 years, in a string of jukebox musicals – SHOUT!, We Will Rock You!, Priscilla and Jersey Boys – and that’s where I really developed my skills.

Cabaret is a newer venture and one which I’ve learned strictly on the job. The best part about it is being reunited with the piano after many years of neglect. There were about ten years where I barely touched one and decided I could no longer play.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
MG: I’m a travelling cabaret performer with a bunch of shows under my belt and have been on the Fringe circuit for over six years now. It all started with a Madonna tribute which I performed in Perth in 2014, followed by tributes to Annie Lennox, Cole Porter and Peter Allen. I’m inclined to steal Barry Humphries’ line and say that I’m “in the business of cheering people up”.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
MG: I love arriving in an old theatre with charm and history. They are very special places and I never tire of them. But at the risk of sounding super corny, making people happy is the best part about what I do.

S: Career highlight so far?
MG: Performing at London’s Royal Albert Hall, on Elton John’s piano with a mirror ball from Kylie Minogue’s Christmas party,  wins hands down.

S: Career lowlight?
MG: Corporate gigs sometimes don’t go so well and I usually try to avoid them. I sang at a car yard launch – why on earth did I say yes to that? – a few years ago and it was like pulling teeth.

S: Funniest career moment so far?
MG: I’ve been Carlotta’s music director the last couple of years and have never laughed so much on stage. She’s a living legend and gets away with absolute murder.

S: What made you decide to come back to Fringe World?
MG: I’ve been coming to Fringe World since 2014 and it’s always such a treat to be back in Perth. I lived on Beaufort St, Mt Lawley in the 90s before it was “zhuzhy” and Perth has been a second home to me ever since. Summer is the best time of year and I adore Perth audiences – they’re very generous and always up for a good time.

S: Tell us about “Songs by Kylie”
MG: I explore the back catalogue of Kylie Minogue, starting out with her time on Neighbours doing the “Locomotion”, teaming up with “hit factory” Stock, Aitken and Waterman, going it alone to find her own voice and her rebirth as the ultimate disco diva. The early songs are such guilty pleasures and so much fun to sing; they always put a big smile on my face. I re-imagine quite a few familiar songs too, so if you’re a Kylie fan like me, there’s some surprises in store. Some songs, such as “Better The Devil You Know”, are pop perfection and you don’t mess with them.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
MG: I love a big long slippery dip 🙂

You can catch Michael Griffiths: Songs by Kylie at De Parel Spiegeltent @ The Woodside Pleasure Garden, January 29 – February 3.

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Circus, Features, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

The ageless craft of circus

Rachel Bodenstaff of CircusWA and Natano Fa’anana of Casus Circus have joined forces and talent to create Cutting Teeth for CircusWA’s Sliders Youth Circus.  Described as ‘a whimsical and fun look at the crossroad of youth and adulthood… a story of coming of age told through the ageless craft of circus’, Cutting Teeth will be performed by circus artists between the ages of 15 and 22.

Ahead of the work’s two Fringe World seasons, Seesaw caught up with Bodenstaff and Fa’anana.

Rachel Bodenstaff

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an performer?
Rachel Bodenstaff: I was a “performer” from an early age, putting on shows for my family and getting my parents to film them. Although it was probably through performing at circus school that I realised I wanted to perform/work with artists.

Natano Fa’anana

Natano Fa’anana: I was a pretty late starter. I literally ran away with the circus at the age of 30. I had watched my brothers perform dance and circus but only tried my hand at circus at the age of 29. After that I was obsessed

S: Tell us about your training… 
RB: Most of my training has been “on the job”, but I have had the opportunity to train overseas and interstate for short periods of time.

NF: I like to say I am “backyard trained”. I had some community circus training in the early days but I couldn’t afford to do all the classes so I would train my aerials silks in a tree. In Brisbane I would see someone with skills I admired and that person would teach them to me. So I had no formal training, just informal fun learning.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
RB: My role is predominantly directing and mentoring young people, creating shows and performance opportunities for the younger generation of artists.

NF: I’m a big advocate for culture and substance in circus. I’m cut from a significantly sturdy yet fabulous cloth. My beginnings were Polytoxic, a six-strong collective which fused Pacific and Australian culture. Then Briefs Factory, which is an all male political, satire high octane cabaret. Currently I am co-director of Casus Circus (Knee Deep, Driftwood, Chasing Smoke). All creations have social commentary, high circus skill and culture.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
RB: I love to watch a show evolve. I love seeing it progress from a concept or idea into a full show. It is also pretty inspiring to see young performers develop as artists. I have had the opportunity to watch many of the young artists I work with grow from children to adults which is special in itself.

NF: So many things. As you know, I am currently working with Rachel and Sliders Youth Circus on Cutting Teeth. I enjoy passing my knowledge onto the next generation of circus artists.

I’ve known Rachel since our early days in our circus stories and we have supported each others careers over the last 10 years. Now together we are creating a show which is a joy. We bounce off each other and guide the young performers, creating a show that is both enjoyable in the making and hopefully on stage.

S: Funniest career moment so far?
RB: Too many!! Working with this crew I am in stitches most days!

NF: So so many. I once went out on stage without my pants on. I was supposed to wear them under my lava lava (a sarong). In this act I would walk out, stand proud and strong under a spot light and remove my lava lava. Mid-reveal I realised I wasn’t wearing any pants and sheepishly had to scurry back through the curtain to find my bottoms.

S: What made you decide to present work at Fringe World this year?
RB: It’s a fabulous opportunity to highlight what CircusWA has to offer and such a wonderful opportunity for this young crew. They are all so excited about performing our new show as part of the Fringe line-up!

NF: Cutting Teeth. I’ve been working with Rachel and Sliders Youth Circus sporadically over the last six months so it’s time to continue and then premiere!

Tell us about Cutting Teeth!
RB: Our show is about youth experience. It is a representation of the challenges, joy and journeys on which young people embark. It features some of WA’s up and coming artists with mad skills!

NF: Cutting Teeth explores that intersection in life that most young people face: leaving school, parting ways with friends, illnesses that influence life choices, influences from peers, family and friends. These themes are showcased through the lens of contemporary circus. You will see a four person rope act, a juggling act with costume changes, double trapeze, duo acro and something called puppy hammer.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
RB: Fringe is not only a fabulously inspiring time but it is a time to catch up with interstate and international artists. The circus community is very close knit and it really is an opportunity to hang out, catch up and support each other.

NF: Apart from Cutting Teeth I can recommend, Club Briefs, Trash Test Dummies, Djuki Mala, Lovefool, Only Bones V01, Phat Cab Club, Yuck Circus and Laser Kiwi. These are mates and loads of fun.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
RB: No brainer – monkey bars.
NF: Merry-Go-Rounds. But you have to go super fast with a drink in your hand.

Cutting Teeth plays at The Freo Big Top 24 – 25 January and at The Big Top at  The Woodside Pleasure Garden 31 January – 3 February.

Pictured top are cast members from “Cutting Teeth”.

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The Big City
Cabaret, Comedy, Features, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

A clown in the city

Louis Spencer’s new work The Big City has come full circle. Bringing together clowning, cabaret, comedy and puppetry in what he describes as  “a Pixar-esque bundle”, The Big City began its life as a ten-minute piece, as part the Blue Room Theatre’s 2017 “600 Seconds” program at Fringe World.

Ahead of the premiere of the full-length version of the show, Seesaw caught up with Spencer to find out more about his path to clowning.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Louis Spencer: Probably when I was in my early 20’s and trying to figure out if I should do something that I love or just get a job. At the time though the word “artist” wasn’t something that crossed my mind, rather I just knew that I wanted to be involved in theatre and the performing arts. I always wanted to be a performer when I was a child but I kind of went back and forth on if it was something that should actually go for. It wasn’t until I had been in university for a year or two that being an “artist” was something I considered.

S: Tell us about your training…
LS: I studied at WAAPA in the Bachelor of Performing Arts – Performance Making course; it’s still fairly new but its reputation is growing very quickly. I was very fortunate to be in a class with some people who have gone on to do some great work in Perth and become amazing artists. Seeing people that you love and respect do so well is inspiring. What I liked about the course itself was that it allowed you to find your path and discover your practice if you were willing to put the work in.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
LS: My focus, right now, is primarily on making work in the genre of clowning, mime and physical comedy – theatre that young people can enjoy but can also be appreciated by a mature audience.

S: Career highlight so far?
LS: I wouldn’t like to say I have one yet. I like to enjoy my success but also don’t like to rest on my laurels. I want to keep learning and getting better in my practice.

S: Career lowlight?
LS: Also don’t like to think about that. I think to do so can be crippling. Anything that can be considered a lowlight should be looked at as a learning experience and something to look forward from.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
LS: Performing. It is such a rare opportunity to do it. We spend so much time making and working on a show yet we may only get to spend a couple of hours on stage actually performing. It should be cherished, no matter how the performance ends up.

S: This isn’t your first time performing at Fringe World. What drew you back? 
LS: The piece that I’ll be presenting this year was developed from work I presented two years ago as a part of The Blue Room Theatre’s “600 Seconds” program. I decided the genre of clowning and physical comedy was something I wanted to develop into a full length stage show. And here we are!

S: Tell us about The Big City
LS: The Big City follows Joe the Clown as he ventures into an unknown urban terrain in search of theatrical stardom. At the same time he hopes to reconnect with a long lost friend who did what he is attempting a few years earlier. As with my previous clowning work, I have taken inspiration from the stars of the silent film era, such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I was also inspired by a little-known Martin Scorsese film called After Hours, in which the protagonist faces innumerable obstacles in his journey just to make it home from work.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
LS: Feminah Anything by Charlotte Otton is worth checking out.

Front  Featuring an exceptionally talented cast.

F**K Decaf – Looks really interesting and is performed on the beautiful Alex Hotel rooftop.

Poorly Drawn Shark Will be wild.

Dad a touching, funny show by recent WAAPA Performance Making grads.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
LS: One of those really high, curly slides that felt like they went forever when you were a kid.

The Big City plays The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, 18-20 January.

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Wreaking feminist havoc

Charlotte Otton may be a Sydneysider by birth but in the four years that she’s been living in Perth, she’s carved out a niche for herself in the local independent theatre scene as a theatre maker and performer. Her debut play Let me finish. enjoyed a sell-out season at The Blue Room Theatre and was named a “Top Show” for 2018 by Seesaw’s Claire Trolio, who described it as “bold, brash and powerfully feminist”.

Just three months later, she is premiering her one-woman play, Feminah, described as “a havoc-wreaking power ballad that embraces the vulgar women of the world.” Just hours before opening night, Otton squeezed in Seesaw’s Q&A.

Charlotte Otton headshot
Charlotte Otton

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be a performer?
Charlotte Otton: The earliest indication for me was probably when my mum took me to see Annie on the mainstage in Sydney when I was five. I don’t know if my memory is built from stories or real memories, but regardless, I know I was singing along to every song and wanted to be up on that stage. My absolute dream role, to this day, is to play Miss Hannigan.

S: Tell us about your training… 
CO: I’ve studied mostly improvisation; I started in Sydney and then studied in Chicago and New York for a few months. It’s the first training I had where I got a hint of the type of artist I could be. Then when I was 20 years old, I moved to Perth to do the Performance Making course at WAAPA. That course really shifted and clarified things for me, it made me take myself more seriously as an artist.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
CO: I’m still discovering it, but at the moment I’m interested in telling brutally honest stories and bringing comedy, filth, glee and spontaneity to the forefront of my work.

S: Career highlight so far?
CO: The very final performance of Let me finish. at The Blue Room in October last year. It was such an emotionally charged performance and the love from the standing crowd at the end and the women on stage was unlike anything I’ve experienced in a show before.

S: Career lowlight?
CO: I did a monologue as David Koch “Kochi”, the Sunrise presenter, for an end of year drama concert once when I was 14. I wore my dad’s suit and I think I just did a weather segment… I should bring it back. Perth audiences would love it.

S: Funniest career moment so far?
CO: Maybe when I played a series of animals and objects in the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and WASO collaboration of “Carnival of the Animals”. It’s a not a funny “ha ha” moment, it was more just me straight out of uni, playing a flowerpot, looking out into the crowd of 1500 audience members at Perth Concert Hall, wondering how I got to that place.

S: Tell us about Feminah… 
CO: Feminah is about one woman on a war-path to discover and dismantle the constructs that have made her the woman she is today. It’s a personal battle of expressing femininity and vulgarity.

It’s equal parts bawdy and vulnerable. Think personal stories, ridiculous history lessons, primo filth and live music!

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
CO: Silence My Ladyhead, Grace, Manwatching, Poorly Drawn Shark and The Big City are just some of the ones I’m excited to see!

S: What is your favourite part of the playground?
CO: I love a good monkey bar set, but an adult one, I’m 6ft. 1, I’ve been dragging my feet on monkey bars since I was 10.

Feminah plays The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, January 18-26.

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A man doing magic
Circus, Features, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

Creating a world of magical realism

It took more than an earthquake to stop Jeff Robinson from pursuing his dreams of being a circus artist. Now known as “The Quizzical Mr Jeff”, he creates a magical world for his audience, one in which impossible things can and do happen. With his bespoke props and carefully crafted ideas, Mr Jeff wants to transport the viewer from the mundanity of everyday life into a dream-like place.

In his Q&A, Mr Jeff lets you take a peek behind the illusions.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Mr Jeff: I first realised that I wanted to be an artist when I was staying with a friend, thinking about my life and realised that I had to choose something that I wanted to do every single day for the rest of my life. And the circus arts brought me a lot of joy so I wanted to pursue that as far as possible!

S: Tell us about your training… 
MJ: I was signed up to be in the Christchurch Circus school in New Zealand the year that a huge earthquake hit and destroyed the city, which led me to go and find personal training space and chase my dream under my own steam, renting a warehouse and throwing myself into my work. I trained for three years and for the last two I joined a touring circus, training while travelling and doing seven shows a week. It really hones your skills and ability to connect to an audience doing that many shows.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
MJ: I’m an entertainer, specialising in object manipulation and visual illusions. I strive to create beautiful experiences – for me that means the performance will take the audience on a journey, through highs and lows, keeping your attention focused through to a crescendo, hopefully leaving you feeling dreamy and satisfied.

S: Career highlight so far?
MJ: Oh, there’s been so many. I am fortunate that my art has taken me to so many amazing events around the world but performing my work in the HUGE circus tent at Glastonbury Festival was a massive buzz.

S: Career lowlight?
MJ: That existential dread that comes when you’re between sessions, and you wonder if you’re doing the right thing with your life… but this is alleviated when you go back on stage and you know that all the hours of devising and practicing are paying off and that you’ve got this.

S: Funniest career moment?
MJ: When I was sick with the flu at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, I was doing the Interstellar Cabaret performing alongside a collection of world-class circus and cabaret artists. While performing my hoops routine there is a section where I do a bunch of hard pirouettes. As I spun around a thin stream of snot flew out of my nose and caught beautifully in the spotlights. People in the audience “ooohed” and clapped. It was hilarious.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
MJ: I love the rush that you get from the audience when you take the stage and invite the audience into your show, take them with you to a place where they are laughing, screaming and clapping.

S: Tell us about your 2019 Fringe show, “The Quizzical Mr Jeff”
MJ: Simply put, I make objects do amazing and seemingly impossible things, using the dexterity of my hands and fingers.

My Fringe 2019 show is a collection of unusual object manipulations, physical illusions and funny moments. I have tried to create an authentic call back to vaudevillian style using bespoke props and carefully crafted ideas. Ultimately I want to create a world of magical realism for the audience to fall into; a shared dream where anything can and does happen, a space where the ridgitity of normal life falls away.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground? 
MJ: Who doesn’t love the swings? Wheeeee!

You can catch “The Quizzical Mr Jeff” 22-27 January at The Black Flamingo at Yagan Square.


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Twisting the narrative

Whether you loved or loathed Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel Eat Pray Love (and the film that followed), local theatre-maker Andrew Sutherland is inviting you to question Western discourses around Asian cultures in his new two-hander Poorly Drawn Shark.

Written by Sutherland, performed by Ming Yang Lim and Sutherland, and directed by Vidya Rajan, Poorly Drawn Shark is presented by independent company Squid Vicious. Founded by Sutherland and Jess Nyanda Moyle, Squid Vicious describes itself as “the moist love-child of Perth and Singapore [that] aims to kiss dominant narratives into submission.”

Intrigued, Seesaw caught up with Sutherland to find out more.


A man holding a toy shark on a stick
Andrew Sutherland

Seesaw: Tell us about your theatrical training… 
Andrew Sutherland: I have an honours degree in acting from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. But in terms of working as a maker, as opposed to strictly pursuing acting, I would say that I learnt just as much or more on the job. In the first few years of my professional practice in Singapore after graduation, and I probably worked as much or more as a playwright and assistant director and dramaturg than as an actor, which has really helped to define my trajectory thus far.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
AS: I sit around and do unnecessarily complicated academic research for ages, then sit around for a while longer in intellectual paralysis while I try to piece together texts that I’ve either written, stolen or recycled. I aggressively structure and restructure my work while storyboarding reasonable ways to fake my own death, in case I really want to cancel the show. At some point I get into a rehearsal room with bangin’ great artists, look at a lot of memes, hopefully laugh a bunch, and from there try making something good.

S: Career highlight so far?
AS: Continuing to work with regular collaborators who are as rigorous as they are endlessly fun to engage with, like Joe Lui and Jess Nyanda Moyle, or Sharda Harrison and Koh Wan Ching in Singapore.

S: Career lowlight?
AS: Nah, every day is a victory, and every low point is tomorrow’s funny story.

S: Speaking of which, funniest career moment?
AS: In July last year when Renegade Productions brought Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes to Bondi Feast in Sydney, a woman in the front row very loudly and gleefully proclaimed: “lil boy, you got silly string hanging outta your butt”. In my defence, I got shot with a lot of silly string in that show.

S: What do you love most about making and performing work?
AS: I guess I answered that above; in theatre, the practice of it really soars for me when it’s all about the collaboration. I also work as a poet and writer, which can be such an isolated slog, so when you can get into a room with people who are thinking and feeling on the same page as you and fuck around with how you want to make a performance – that’s an amazing feeling.

S: Tell us about your 2019 Fringe show Poorly Drawn Shark
AS: Poorly Drawn Shark was conceived with Melbourne-based playwright Vidya Rajan as a kind of queer takedown of the Eat, Pray, Love narrative; about the Western consumption of other cultures and the problematic idea of finding “meaning” or “purpose” from Asian cultures and peoples.

So we’ve been twisting the idea of autobiography; looking at the framework of my lived experience in Singapore and the issues of race, desire and citizenry attached to my presence. With director Joe Paradise Lui and co-actor Ming Yang Lim the show has developed into this sexy stew of daddies and boys, nationhood and neo-colonial encounters, and objectification and use between mutually “exotic” bodies. Also, there’s a very convincing Merlion, some A+ jokes, and lots of dumb facts about sharks.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
AS: Many! Including Feminah by Charlotte Otton, Cotton Wool Kid by The Cutting Room Floor, The Basement Tapes by Zanetti Productions, The Real Housewives of Northbridge.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
AS: Probably the swings. When I was in primary school somebody told me that if you go all the way over the swing set your skin turns inside out, which remains a goal of mine.

Poorly Drawn Shark plays The Blue Room Theatre January 22-26.

Photo: Marshall Stay

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Features, Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Theatre

A not-so-imaginary future

Unprecedented heat waves, floods, bushfires… at a time when the effects of climate change are all too evident in Australia, the premise of A Region Where Nobody Goes, by new local theatre collective Lindstedt & Davies, feels frighteningly relevant. Set in an imagined future Australia, the work follows Bree, the prime minister’s speech writer, as she faces the challenge of writing about the natural disasters that are besetting the continent.

Seesaw chatted to the pair behind this dystopian two-hander, Anna Lindstedt and Sally Davies, to find out more about the two artists and the show they’ll be presenting at Fringe World.

Two girls smiling in front of a wooly bush
Anna Lindstedt and Sally Davies. Photo: Bianca Roose.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to work in the arts?
Anna Lindstedt: I made my prestigious theatre debut as The Lorax in my primary school’s rendition of The Lorax. After that, I knew. I always enjoyed performing and telling stories from a young age. It was when I left school, however, and started studying and making theatre that I really started to think of myself as a theatre artist.

Sally Davies: I was planning to study social work at uni but when I went to an information night in year 12 I realised it probably wasn’t for me. I always liked English at school so I thought I’d pursue writing.

S: Tell us about your training…
AL: I completed a Bachelor of Arts at Curtin in 2017, majoring in Performance Studies. This took me three and a half years, and during this time I also did a bunch of other theatre and film related short courses around Perth. However, the best training and experience I’ve gained so far have come from getting amongst the Perth theatre scene and working on shows with other like-minded artists.

SD: Like Anna, I studied at Curtin, doing a double degree in Performance Studies/Creative Writing. I’ve been really lucky that in the last couple of years I’ve been able to work with some talented and creative people from whom I have learnt a lot.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
AL and SD: Our previous shows have all been very different in style, content and themes. We chose to partner up because we are both passionate about uniquely Australian theatre that is relevant, socially conscious, inclusive and playful. We hope to continue making independent theatre in Perth that explores a range of topics in new and interesting ways.

S: Career highlight so far?
SD: I don’t think I have a career highlight. I’ve been a part of so many great teams that I would struggle to pick one moment or production. I’ve really enjoyed working with Fonder Factory at Winter Nights and with Jess Moyle to write Tunes from the Roadside (by Lindstedt and Davies). Tale of Tales (by Claire Testoni) is also memorable because it came at a time when I felt I wasn’t contributing much to the Perth arts scene, and broke me out of a bit of a slump.

AL: I also have been very lucky with the great projects I’ve been able to be a part of. I can’t rave enough about how grateful I am to have worked with the amazing team of Toast (by Maiden Voyage Theatre Company) and what an amazing opportunity that was for me to learn from so many people that I admired so much. I also played The Cat in the Hat in my Year 11 production of Seussical the Musical, and that was cool.

S: Career lowlight?
SD: When I graduated uni and didn’t have any upcoming shows, I was feeling a bit useless and dejected. I’ve since accepted that I need to work hard to make stuff happen, and that I have to be constantly working for opportunities.

AL: In the period between high school and starting my degree, I had a few unsuccessful attempts at getting into drama schools and it really made me doubt my own capabilities and future as an artist. I believed that there was a streamlined pathway to becoming a successful actor, and I’d missed the boat. In the years since, my whole perception of the industry and sustainable arts careers has changed, and now I really value this perceived setback. It led me to Curtin and the many incredible theatre-makers I met and worked with there.

S: Funniest career moment so far?
SD: I did a devised show in my third year of Curtin, where I forgot to bring my phone onstage to use as a prop, so I panicked and used my shoe to make a phone call.

AL: In an audition, I was using my water bottle as a prop and in a moment of blind passion I threw it on the floor. It split, and water went everywhere. As soon as I finished my audition I had to frantically apologise and mop up all the water. I still got cast though.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
SD: I feel very lucky that we get to make up a story and then people will come and share it with us. The collective of theatre makers in Perth are all amazing and I love that I’m part of it.

AL: I love the moment just as the house lights are about to dim, and the show is about to start, and you know that whatever happens in the next hour or so is going to be a shared experience between only the people in the room.

S: Tell us about A Region Where Nobody Goes
SD & AL: A Region Where Nobody Goes is a theatre piece that follows Bree, played by Anna, and her journey in the end times. Bree is the speech writer for the Prime Minister and is trying to make sense of a series of natural disasters that is wreaking havoc in Australia.

We wanted to be able to talk about climate change and wilful ignorance in a way that is real and urgent. Australia has such a rich and dangerous history, and we wanted to see how that applied to modern problems.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
SD & AL: We are both working (separately) on “600 Seconds”, and Sally is working in a technical capacity on “MicroMove” and Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything.

We are really keen to see amazing local artists in Feminah, Poorly Drawn Shark, Manwatching, and Grace. Touring acts that we can’t wait to see are Djuki Mala and Little Death Club.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
AL: I love the roundabout.
SD: I like the swings.

A Region Where Nobody Goes plays The Blue Room Theatre, as part of Summer Nights, January 18-20.

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