News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Into the minds of young performance makers

WAAPA 3rd Year Performance Making Students, “TILT” ·
Blue Room Theatre, 11 September (programme 1) 18 September (programme 2) ·
Review by David Zampatti and Steven Cohen  ·

It’s tempting to think of WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts – Performance Making course as a hybrid, a combination of the established dramatic canon – acting, musical theatre, physical theatre, dance, puppetry – but that would misunderstand both its provenance and its contemporary real-world significance.

Shakespeare may be our greatest playwright, but, in his own time and in his practice, he was a theatre maker – writer, director, actor (small parts only) and entrepreneur bundled up into a marketable package.

More significantly today, though, theatre making is a response to the exigencies of paying the rent as a performing artist in these days of feckless and tight-arse funding, distracted audiences and crippling costs; it’s survival elevated to a distinct art form.

This year’s “TILT”, like its predecessors since 2015, is a series of short performances presented over two nights at the Blue Room Theatre. No doubt, like its predecessors, it will throw up ideas-in-waiting that will soon re-emerge on our stages, and no doubt some of them will succeed and some will fail to make the transition from short-form to full-out productions.

What’s more interesting than that, though, is the insight “TILT” gives us into what is occupying the mind of our emerging artists, and how they intend to bring it to the stage.

– DZ

Here are this year’s eleven “TILT” treats:

The Outcast
Directed by Carolina Duca
Devised and performed by Finn Forde, Joel Mews and David Vikman
Three coming out stories neatly woven together with energy and natural humour. Some of the language is a little forced, but the dialogue develops a nice rhythm that sees the piece through its awkward moments.
– DZ

Just Kidding
Written and directed by Sian Murphy
Performed and devised by Murphy, Hannah Davidson and Maddy Lee
The story of motherhood from attempts at conception to waving the brutes goodbye as they leave home is so well-worn it’s surprising there’s a blade of grass left on it, but Murphy and her sidekicks, with the aid of a Stanley Kubrick-sized pregnancy tester have knocked up a bit of ensemble stand-up about it with the great virtue of being seriously funny.
– DZ

Austere and emotional gravitas: ‘You and I’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

You and I
Directed by Bec Fingher
Devised and performed by Shaun Johnston and Linea Tengroth
A pas de deux performed to the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is all but wordless and expressionless, but Johnston and Tengroth give it an austere and emotional gravitas and a kind of threat. Not greatly suited to the space or its (lack of) production values, but in the right place and time Johnston and Tengroth’s work could be quite something.
– DZ

Devised and performed by Jennifer Bagg and Hayley Whisson
If no-one had come up with the expression “passive aggressive” they would have needed to for this warp-speed litany of ills personal and universal, real and percieved. That’s fine, but a little restraint at times would have been nice, if only so we could regain our composure.
– DZ

Directed by Mark McDonald
Devised and performed by Jarad Barkla, Jono Battista, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
The biggest, and most traditional, of TILT’s first programme plays out around the dongas and wet mess of a FIFO camp somewhere in the North-West. It’s fertile ground for domestic drama, albeit all-male, and the slices of life we see are well drawn and pointed. There’s a nice economy of staging and characterisation, and, while the denouement could have been more effectively handled, there was more than enough there to suggest FIFO could be back.
– DZ

‘FIFO’ could be back. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Devised and performed by Hannah Davidson, Anna Dooley and Bec Fingher
Directorial support by Amelia Burke
Juliet is the story of female actors and the things they go through to prepare themselves for auditions, but also an interrogation of what the powers-that-be deem to be beautiful. Preparing to audition for the role of Juliet, Davidson, Dooley and Fingher examine the isolation and inadequacy faced by those judged not desirable enough. Parodying the ludicrous reality, these three fine actors mimic the casting call with an exuberant and exaggerated aplomb.
– SC

Tall Thing
Directed by Shaun Johnston
Written and performed by Finn Forde
An androgynous silent dancer weaves in and out of a dream. In an intense performance that blurs the boundaries between theatre and contemporary dance, Forde successfully wraps a gentle genuineness with lyrical movement to frame a muddled personality. Thoroughly intoxicating.
– SC

This Heaving Mass
Written and directed by Sian Murphy
Performed by Sam Hortin, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy, Mila Nieman and Haylee Whisson
Another dramatic movement-based work, mixing modern day anxiety with the unease of youth. The choreography is predicated on extremes; elegant, raw, tender and violent. Though at times the piece felt obscure and lacking clarity, at others the performance was powerful.
– SC

‘3°’ weaves together clever set design and movement Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Directed by Jennifer Bagg
Performed by Fiona MacDonald, Mark McDonald and Linnea Tengroth
A quiet interaction between art and science,  weaves together clever set design, sound and movement to create a tense meditation on climate change and environmental degradation. It’s a tenacious and thorny think piece, which cleverly avoids language to successfully focus upon the urgency of the flailing natural world.
– SC

12 Rounds
Written and performed by Mila Nieman
Life is a boxing match, a sometimes brutal, exhausting Fight Club, in which we throw punches that don’t stick and are punched without notice. Nieman is eloquent and daring in this solo performance that is a fearful mix of high-end anxiety and sweat. The scripting was perfectly matched to the well-tempered performance.
– SC

Written and directed by Laura Liu
Performed by Hannah Davidson, Bec Fingher, Sam Hortin, Shaun Johnston, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
After five reasonably intense performances, a welcome respite arrives in the form of Honey, a boy band lovefest featuring a boy and his myriad of lover(s). What begins as an 80s ironic ode to sweet hip thrusts and air grabs, ends in tears, violence and a single red rose. So much for the respite! Perhaps my favourite short of the evening, with each actor brining their own perspective to the narrative, providing a soft maturity to the production.
– SC

Pictured top is Mia Nieman in her work ’12 Rounds’. Photo: Stephen Heath.

Interrogating the relationship between beauty and power in ‘Juliet’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

First in, best dressed

Review: WAAPA 3rd Year Performance Making Students, “TILT” (Programme One) ·
The Blue Room Theatre ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The forays by the WAAPA Performance Making course’s graduating class to the Blue Room Theatre for the double-head “Tilt” programme have become an annual highlight.

That’s in part for their own sake – eight short pieces over two seasons with the freedom, expressiveness and self-indulgence (not always a bad thing) that, maybe, will never come again, will always reveal some delights.

It’s also a window into the future; what these young theatre-makers are interested in, and how they deliver it to audiences, will more than likely be the matter and method of the independent stage in time to come.

There’s a very direct pay-off from that – along with a trap for young players. Some of the best (or, more correctly, more substantial) “Tilt” bits have quickly gone on to become fully-fledged productions at the Blue Room, albeit with mixed results.

The problem, the challenge anyway, is converting a 25-30 minute piece into the hour-or-so that alternative theatres, fringe festivals and the like trade in.

Sometimes these short shows are exposed as skits when a longer format calls for more character development and a more sustained narrative. Sometimes they leap that tall building with a single bound.

Last year’s showstopper, The View From the Penthouse, is a case in point. It’s slotted to return, with a longer running time and a shorter title – just Penthouse – at the end of next month in the Blue Room.

From what I saw last year, I’d advise you to crawl over broken glass to see it – but that trap is baited and waiting.

So, to this year’s Tilts.

Courtney Henri and Jordan Valenti’s play-within-a-play about street performers, a flying whale and surface tension, Fluke, was deftly managed and sweet, without quite nailing its allegory or compelling our attention.

Evelyn Snook, in her Work in Progress, certainly does. A small, sad portrait of a girl battling depression and inertia (“Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you do today is breathe”), it’s beautifully written and winningly performed.

A girl jumping in the air while holding the hand of a man dressed all in black
Striking: Courtney Henri and Marshall Stay in ‘Girl & Thing’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

The evening’s closer, and its most striking performance, was Girl & Thing, a kinetic, sometimes frightening dance piece devised and performed by the busy Courtney Henri and Marshall Stay, who also delivered an impressive video and sound design (with Ash Lazenby). Henri is an extraordinary sight, diminutive, a shock of hair and a frenzy of movement, sometimes defying your senses to keep up with her. I’m tempted to wonder whether Henri and Stay always knew what they were saying in Girl & Thing, but if the language they used to say it was sometimes incomprehensible, the effect was certainly mesmerising.

I’m cheating. The best was first, not last, but I’ve saved it anyway.

Cookies and Cream (or, as its writer Zachary Sheridan and director Amelia Burke would have it, “however the diddly is done”) is everything you could want in forty minutes of alt-theatre. Smart, screamingly funny, did-she-really-SAY-that-ish, snappy, crackly and poppy, it’s the antidote to whatever ails you.

And, among the terrific cast of Sheridan, Christopher Moro and Tamara Creasey, a star is born in Elise Wilson – anyone who loves the work of The Last Great Hunt’s fabulous Arielle Gray is gong to really love this gal.

Cookies and Cream will be back. You can bet on it.

The second programme (which ends this Saturday 8 September) may not have a firecracker like Cookies and Cream, but it’s textually more substantial than the first.

The opener, The Painfully True Story of the Show we Couldn’t Make, devised and performed by Noemie Huttner-Koros, Karina White and Snook is a backstage procedural about, as the title suggests, the difficulty – and even the validity – of nice, young, white folk making theatre about people without their privileges. It’s a good and worthy idea, blunted by an overabundance of long, meaningful looks and some lengthy, problematic recorded segments that had plenty of verbatim but not enough theatre.

pillow fight
Inspired pillows in ‘Dad’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Dad is Isaac Powell, Jarryd Prain and Stay’s emotional paean to those strange creatures that fathered us. It’s, perhaps, a little repetitive, but it sneaks up on you, building bit by bit to a touching, insightful kind of father-son catharsis – and a pillow fight. It’s performed with energy and commitment and should both extend and tighten up nicely if it goes around again some time. The pillows are inspired.

Clare Testoni has made quite a splash over recent times with her combination of shadow puppetry and fairy tale-telling, and it’s a lode that Chloe-Jean Vincent, co-creator Madeleine McKeown and co-writer Valenti mine effectively in Where the Woodsman Cannot Find You. Working with the fairytales The Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, Vincent and fellow performers Henri and Stay deliver a multi-media take on the stories, and the head of the girl imagining them, that is tightly-drawn, funny and sometimes genuinely scary.

Who knew the story of Ada – Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace – the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and, some claim, the writer of the first computer programme? Wikipedia, naturally, the writer and director Huttner-Koros, clearly, and now all of us who saw her smartly staged and delightfully composed little bioplay about this extraordinary (Queen) Victorian woman. Played with corseted good grace by McKeown, well supported by Snook, Burke, Creasey and White, Ada is another Tilt that could easily re-emerge as a fully realised-piece in a Spiegeltent near you sometime soon.

Although Programe One’s season has finished,  you can catch the “TILT” Programme Two at the Blue Room Theatre, 5-8 September.

Pictured top: The terrific cast of ‘Cookies and Cream’, L-R, Zachary Sheridan, Tamara Creasey, Christopher Moro and Elise Wilson. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

This review appears on “From the Turnstiles” and is published on Seesaw with the kind permission of David Zampatti.

woman at a blackboard
‘Ada’ is another Tilt that could easily re-emerge as a fully realised-piece in a Spiegeltent near you sometime soon. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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