Gutenberg! the Musical
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A sheer delight

Review: Western Sky Theatre, Gutenberg! the Musical ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, 27 June ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

As a certified word nerd, I am fascinated by the printing press; and before seeing this show, pondered how such a complex piece of machinery would be represented on stage. Would its placement have involved a crane?

Nope. Just a humble cardboard box, as it turns out, with an A4 sign that says “printing press”. The phrase “less is more” sounds like such a cliché. But after experiencing the sheer delight of Gutenberg! The Musical, a celebration of minimalism and imagination, I am convinced this maxim applies to musical theatre.

Gutenberg is about two dreamers, Bud (Tyler Jacob Jones) and Doug (Andrew Baker), who have written an alternative history musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. Bud is a barrista at Starbucks; Doug works in a nursing home and lives above a noisy pet store. “We used to do lip synch concerts for people in wheelchairs,” we’re told. They had earlier written a musical about Stephen King.

The hapless but adorable pair pitch their concept before a room full of producers, hoping it will lead to a dream run on Broadway. This clever premise explains the minimalist set, tiny cast and lack of costumes.

The versatility displayed by Jacob Jones and Baker as they slip between these characters is staggering.

At the back of the stage are two tables, each holding about 20 baseball caps labelled with characters’ names. The pair don the hats to indicate which role they’re playing. And what a bizarre cast of characters they create … among them the beef fat trimmer, the monk with a cat called Satan, the long-suffering young monk, Gutenberg himself and his love-interest Helvetica.

The versatility displayed by Jacob Jones and Baker as they slip between these characters is staggering. At times, they wear about 10 hats, ditching one then another as they take on new roles. It is a hilarious spectacle.

And thanks to some simple yet ingenious use of string and pegs, the whole cast forms a chorus line at the show’s climax.

Written by Anthony King and Scott Brown, Gutenberg parodies musical theatre conventions. There’s a “charm song” about biscuits, intended for a cameo by Kevin Spacey, and an end of act rock number that Doug explains “would include electric guitars and lasers”.

Directed by Erin Hutchinson, Gutenberg is a feel-good, off-beat comedy that provides a perfect vehicle for the performers’ considerable talents. Musical director Joshua Haines is incredible as Charles the pianist.

Gutenberg! The Musical follows Western Sky Theatre’s brilliant season of Once We Lived Here, staged at the Blue Room last year. Baker founded Western Sky to give performers from WA, or those trained at WAAPA, a reason to return to Perth and perform in a well-produced, small-scale musical.

At the end of Gutenberg, Bud and Doug sing “it’s not the success that counts, it’s the dream.” That may be true but this production proves that with enough vision and talent, the dream and success can come together. I can’t wait to see what Western Sky do next.

Gutenberg! The Musical plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until June 30.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Andrew Baker here.

Pictured top are Tyler Jacob Jones as Bud and Andrew Baker as Doug.

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Bus Boy
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Nuanced and intense: a wonderful back-to-back billing

Review: Rorschach Beast, Bus Boy and Static Drive Co, Tissue ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 20 June ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The frailty of human connection haunts both Rorschach Beast’s Bus Boy and Static Drive Co’s Tissue. Written and produced by two sets of talented local writers and production companies and staged for the Subiaco Theatre Festival, this back-to-back billing works to contrast the nuances of friendship with the intensity of sex.

With characters positioned on stage as the audience entered the auditorium, and disembowelled bicycle parts hanging from above, it seemed likely from the outset that Bus Boy would be an immersive experience. And so it was.

Produced by local theatre company Rorschach Beast, and written by and starring Izzy McDonald with a marvellous performance by Sean Guastavino, Bus Boy explores themes such as coming of age, sexual abuse and human connection through the lens of Bus Boy (Guastavino), a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, and a slightly manipulative “older” woman, Gerry (McDonald).

The play is set on Rottnest and local theatre goers will be aware of the juxtaposition of the island’s long and dark history with its reputation as a summer playground. This sits neatly with Gerry’s wild abandon and the super-laced restraint of Bus Boy.

An intense and personal affair, the play carefully treads the line between banal platitude and common cliché. With subtlety and nuance aplenty, the work allows the audience to walk away with all kinds of lessons, from the fragility and danger of youth to the importance of growing up and embracing what it means to be an adult.

Isn’t that what the theatre is for?

Tissue
Although there are only three characters on stage, ‘Tissue’ is bursting with humanity. L-R: Ann-Marie Biagioni, Jess Moyle and Samjey Hayes.

The second play, aptly named Tissue, and written by two WAAPA graduates, Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, differentiated itself from the austere seductiveness of Bus Boy with its overt drama, making for an effective evening’s programming.

Originally staged in 2016 at Perth’s Blue Room Theatre, Tissue borrows from seventeenth century theatre to brazenly confront the themes of contemporary love and sex.

In this gratuitous but sometimes tender and funny exposition of the lives of a young couple, we are greeted by two protagonists (Samjey Hayes and Jess Moyle), and also a fifth business*, played by the talented Ann-Marie Biagioni.

Using sex and relationships, Biagoni’s character probes both protagonists by engaging them in a chorus dialogue. This technique blends old with new, to construct an intense and fertile philosophical disquisition on our enjoyment of pornography, its relationship to our own sexual selves and the inherent instincts to keep these thoughts secret.

Sex and love are on full display. Tissue examines so many affairs of the heart that the play gains a giddy momentum, climaxing in a frenzied amalgam of broken hearts and sweaty bodies. By the end you may feel dizzy and over-sensitized to the whirlpool that is young romance. Although there are only three characters on stage, the play is bursting with humanity, making it appear much larger than it is, and illustrating our own delicate sexuality.

The play charts Alex (Hayes) and Zoe’s (Moyle) romantic relationship. Taking a course that neither intended, the play morphs into a hotbed (no pun intended) of frayed lives. Spanning about twelve months, at a time when youth permits such infinite change, the characters explore the possibility of being someone other than themselves.

From the rapture of love, to the dissonance of porn, Tissue takes us on a wild ride. You can’t help but feel compassion for the characters as they bumble about fearlessly searching for loving attachments, but coming up empty handed.

Two wonderfully synchronistic performances, well worth seeing.

 

* A “fifth business” is an old theatrical term, used to describe a character who is neither hero nor villain, but nonetheless crucial for revealing the plot.

Bus Boy plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Tissue plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Pictured top: Izzy McDonald and Sean Guastavino in ‘Bus Boy’.

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Samjey-Hayes-Jess-Nyanda-Moyle-Ann-Marie-Biagioni-4-5b27d5b360e91
Calendar, June 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Tissue

20-23 June @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Static Drive Co ·

We’re overstimulated, oversexed and oversexualised: We’re completely under prepared. From the minds of Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida comes this invitation to join two lovers as they navigate this fraught path of sex, lies and camera phones.

Tissue confronts secrecy vs privacy and intimacy vs entertainment with an explosive chorus of Perth actors and red-hot energy. It’s a love story, it’s a tragedy, it’s a challenge, and we’re not afraid to show a little skin.

But focus, folks. We want you to watch with your brains as well as your bits. This show is an interrogation of shame culture, intimacy and communication, questioning the effect porn has on young Australians. If we strip away stigma, does the ‘sin’ lie in the products themselves, or the way we talk about them?

Premiering at The Blue Room Theatre in 2016 to rave reviews, Tissue is back and bolder than ever. The latest work from Static Drive Co, Tissue is a sexy show with a spotlight pointed right at your browser history.

More info: www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/subiaco-arts-centre/whats-on/tissue/
Email: hello@staticdriveco.com

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When he gets that way
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A restrained battle of wit

Review: Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way ·
Subiaco Arts Cenre, 15 June ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

Directed by Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way is one of seven performances by Western Australian theatre makers being presented this month as part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival. An unspecified period drama, the play pits a Downton Abbey-style upper-class mistress against her new handmaiden; the pair cleverly competing in a restrained battle of wit.

Lady Annabelle desperately seeks a life beyond her vacuous existence, craving a tryst and striving for the romantic connection that is alive in her mind. Socially upward scullery-turned-handmaid Christiane (whose peasant upbringing “wasn’t all peaches and creme”, she’ll have you know) seeks to move above mediocrity and has the charm to do so.

The dialogue between the two characters is packed with simile that gets increasingly preposterous (and hilarious) as the show unfolds. Using their diaries as weapons, the two women set creative entries against one another in an absurdist comedy where each yearns to be relevant in a society that doesn’t offer much agency to women of either class.

A private diary has long been a place where women are allowed to be themselves, to exercise freedom and voice desires, and the characters in When He Gets That Way use this tool to break free of patriarchal constraints, if only for a little while.

Both actors give fantastic performances. Lady Annabelle (director Lisa Louttit) embodies the excess that her upper class character oozes. Appearing with a comically oversized skirt, complete with tulle tendrils, Louttit’s shrill character teeters on the edge of overplay, but her experience on the stage shines through; she doles out as much ridiculousness as can be handled in a 75 minute show and no more.

WAAPA Music Theatre graduate Tarryn Ryan, playing Christiane, is a revelation. She allows her character to feign innocence and servitude whilst cleverly manipulating dialogue to convince the audience that there is more to this peasant girl than meets the eye.

While the sharp script delivered by two expressive actors kept me engaged, I spent the latter half of the performance waiting for another piece of the puzzle. When it didn’t come, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been left out of a private joke. I exited the theatre wishing I’d been in on it, just like Lady Annabelle listening to some salacious gossip.

Although When He Gets That Way has finished its short season, you can catch other works on the Subiaco Theatre Festival program before it finishes at the end of June. Check out Seesaw’s interviews with Andrew Baker, producer/performer of/in Gutenberg! The Musical, and with Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, directors of Tissue.

Pictured top: Tarryn Ryan and Lisa Loutitt in ‘When He Gets That Way’.

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Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones
Features, Musical theatre, News, Performing arts

West side stories

Although the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts is home to one of Australia’s most prestigious musical theatre courses, the job opportunities for its graduates have, traditionally, been on the other side of the country. One WAAPA musical theatre graduate is doing his bit to help change that, however. Producer and performer Andrew Baker is staging musicals in Perth under the name Western Sky Theatre. Seesaw’s Nina Levy spoke to Baker to find out more about Western Sky and its next production, Gutenberg! The Musical.

Andrew Baker

Nina Levy: Tell us about the path that led you to forming Western Sky Theatre…
Andrew Baker: My background is in musical theatre performance. I trained at WAAPA in the BA course there and then followed the well-worn path over East. I had a great time over there working ever-so-occasionally in professional theatre, but got a bit disillusioned and went back to my old career as a lawyer. Since returning home to WA, I’ve found my way back into working in the arts sector in various roles. My passion for musical theatre has returned and it’s clear to a few of us that there is an audience for quality, smaller scale professional musical theatre in WA. So there’s a bit of a gap in the market between, say, the always great work that WAAPA does in presenting a range of new and classic shows, and the big touring productions. There actually aren’t many opportunities for WA raised or trained musical theatre performers to work on their craft in Perth. So that’s how Western Sky came about. But it’s early days.

NL: When did you found Western Sky Theatre? And what is its raison d’être?
AB: Western Sky is pretty new. Our first musical was the gorgeous Australian piece Once We Lived Here, which we did at the Blue Room Theatre last year. It won two Blue Room Theatre awards and I think broke the Blue Room box office record.

The idea at the heart of Western Sky is to give people who are from WA or who may have trained at WAAPA (and so have a WA connection) a reason to come home to Perth and perform in a well-produced small-scale musical (and hopefully get paid). In Once We Lived Here, for instance, three of the five cast members came home from the East to do the show, and all five had done undergrad. musical theatre degrees (four at WAAPA, one from Lasalle, Singapore). It’s about people getting a chance to do what they were trained to do, in front of their home audience.

NL: Gutenberg! The Musical made its Perth debut back in 2016 and is returning this month. For those who missed it the first time around, tell us a bit about the show…
AB: Gutenberg is a rollercoaster ride of laughs. It’s about two dreamers, Bud and Doug, who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. They are presenting it as a backers’ audition, where they show it to a room full of Broadway producers in the hope someone in the room will take it to Broadway. They’ve written what they think is a big, splashy, epic musical that is serious. You’ll have to come and see if they get it to Broadway or not.

NL: The Perth indie theatre sector is (usually) very much about presenting locally written work… what made you choose to buck the trend and present Gutenberg! The Musical?
AB: The presentation of locally written work is vital and there are some excellent writers in Perth creating original musicals (my co-star in Gutenberg, Tyler Jacob Jones, is one such artist who is doing awesome work). In fact there is a big conversation going on at the moment about original Australian musicals. It’s a hot topic over East. But I feel that the original works space is pretty well looked after in Perth so our focus is producing shows that artists and audiences already know and love, and to bring them to new audiences in a new way. However, we’re open to all excellent musical theatre (especially when a lot of new work is written with small spaces and budgets in mind!).

NL: And what made you decide to give this production another outing?
AB: It was just so much fun the first time around but we performed it in a less than ideal space. We want to do the show in a real theatre space now! It’s also a big honour to be asked to be a part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival with the best of Perth’s independent producers and theatre artists.

NL: You act in this show, as well as producing it… what are the pros and cons of being both producer and performer?
AB: There are certainly times when I need to step away from marketing and other producing duties to make sure I’m giving my performance the time it needs. This is a really challenging show and it takes a lot of focus. So it’s about finding a good team, time management and prioritising well.

NL: After Gutenberg, what’s next for Western Sky Theatre?
AB: One of the important things we want to be mindful of is to take our time – to grow a culture around the company and to find a tribe of like-minded people over the first few years. We’re focusing on achievable, small shows and doing them really well! We have the next show in mind. And we’re chatting to people. It’s exciting!

Catch Gutenberg! The Musical at Subiaco Arts Centre, as part of Subiaco Theatre Festival, 27-30 June.

Pictured top: Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones in ‘Gutenberg! The Musical’.

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Matt Penny in Find the Lady
Magic, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

So much more than magic

Review: Matt Penny, Find the Lady ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 6 June ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Find the Lady is a one-man show that weaves stage magic into the bittersweet monologues of a grifter who is propelled to fame, fortune, and ultimately, betrayal. Multi-talented local magician and theatre-maker Matt Penny stars as a small time con artist who stumbles into a career as a world class magician.

Opening with an explanation of the “three-card monte” scam (aka “find the lady”), and revealing his trick deck of cards, Penny’s hustler character first warms up the crowd with some classic playing card stunts. We then follow the swindler to a strange encounter that greatly enhances the scope of his illusionist skills. As his abilities advance, he becomes a prize-winning practitioner of magic – and the mark for someone else’s long con.

Fast talking and funny, Penny is an amiable storyteller who shares his tale as if over a pint at the pub. His casual banter is paired with nimble-fingered piano playing, nifty card tricks and simply eerie mind reading (a warning for the anxious – there is some audience participation involved!)

The winner of the 2018 Fringe World “Blaz Award”, presented to the best writing for performance by a WA writer, Find the Lady is charming and clever. With the magic tricks integrated into a narrative that transitions from cheeky to melancholy, it’s much more engaging than a traditional stage magic show. The combination of storytelling and apparent telepathy also makes this magic more unbelievable, as attested by the audible swearing of disbelief heard from an audience member on opening night.

This production is worth braving the winter weather to catch, and marks the start of what looks to be a strong Subiaco Theatre Festival season. Don’t let the rain tempt you to stay indoors this week – you’ll leave Find the Lady with a smile on your face and one question:

“How did he do that?”

Find the Lady runs until 9 June 2018.

Read an interview with Matt Penny.

Pictured top: An amiable story teller: Matt Penny in ‘Find the Lady’.

 

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Samantha Nerida and Timothy Green
News, Performing arts, Theatre

Dirty little secrets

Porn is our collective dirty little secret… or is it? In the play Tissue, local theatre company Static Drive Co is asking, “If we strip away the stigma, does the sin lie in the products themselves, or the way we talk about them?”

First presented at the Blue Room in 2016, Tissue will play Subiaco Arts Centre as part of the 2018 Subiaco Theatre Festival this June. Nina Levy chatted to Tissue’s directors, Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, ahead of the work’s return season.

Nina Levy: For those of us who didn’t see the first incarnation of Tissue, tell us about the work.
Timothy Green: Tissue follows the relationship between Zoe and Alex, from their first encounter, through the beautiful, messy, sometimes uncomfortable ups and downs that they experience, navigating sex, intimacy, and camera phones.
Samantha Nerida: It’s cheeky, and it’s complicated, and I think it’s a really fun powerhouse of a show.

NL: What made you decide to tackle the subject of porn and its effects on relationships?
SN: I first got hooked on this topic in my second year of WAAPA, during a time of growth and change and learning in my personal life. I was frustrated with the way people equivocated porn and shame, and the embarrassment people were made to feel about their sexual choices and interests.
TG: When Sam approached me to develop her original work into a full-length piece in 2016 we conducted a survey, and the amount of people who referenced pornography as contributing to a large portion of their “sex ed.” was really astounding. Ideally, we want to start healthy conversations.

NL: For those who did see Tissue 1.0, how will this year’s production differ from the original?
TG: The story of Zoe and Alex remains the same, but we are really excited for new sound design, some new sections of script, and two new performers. The original production of Tissue was also presented in traverse, whereas we will be presenting this season front-on to the audience.
SN: We’d love to have the audience staring at each other during our raunchier scenes, but that’s the price you pay for a festival setup!

NL: What led the two of you to collaborate? 
TG: Sam and I studied together at WAAPA, and during those three years we became really great friends, as well as having the chance to work together quite a few times. Although we have quite different approaches to making work, when we collaborate there is a middle ground that I think really pops. I am so lucky to be able to work with someone that I admire, respect and love hanging out with as much as Sam.
SN: Aw, shucks. Yeah, it’s a brilliant working relationship to have. I’m all about the words and the story, and Tim is one of the most talented visual makers I’ve ever met, so when we combine those skills I think we come up with something pretty neat.

Together with Haydon Wilson, the two of you co-founded Static Drive Co last year. Tell us about the company…
TG: Forming Static Drive Co really felt like a natural progression for the three of us. We had all been working together in various capacities for a couple of years since graduating from WAAPA, and forming a company has been really motivating, as well as giving us a platform to present work, the ability to brand ourselves and articulate the kind of work we want to make.
SN: Although our first few works have been playing it a bit safe, we’re really excited to use Static Drive Co as a base to make immersive and interactive works, and eventually move away from more traditional theatrical practices. But first, Tissue! 

Tissue plays Subiaco Arts Centre 20-23 June.

Pictured top are Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida.

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