What's in an Adaptation?

Posted by on 24 September 2015 | | 0 Comments

What goes into writing an adaptation of an existing work? Are there rules to follow, or can you have some creative licence? To get some answers, we went to writer Hilary Bell who adapted The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse, which we are presenting in the Studio Underground starting next week. 

It's all about the reveal

Posted by on 16 September 2015 | | 0 Comments


You’ve worked on a couple of Black Swan projects this year. What have you most enjoyed and why?
Both projects, “Blithe Spirit” and “Extinction”, have had moments of joy and excitement, and with the Quoll’s share of tech week to go it’s too early to say. The moments I always enjoy the most are the collaborative moments early in the process when there is a plethora of possibilities and wild ideas are being thrown back and forth. 
Do you have a favourite scene or “moment” in the play? What is it about it that makes it so special to you?
The first reveal is always a proud moment it’s the first dialogue with the audience, who are so visually engaged these days. Within the play itself there are many great moments. Hannah has crafted some really touching interpretations. The second major reveal (Act 2 Scene 1) is probably the next though…reveals it’s always the reveals.
You travelled for the filming of the nature scenes, how was this experience for you?
The initial site- scoping trip was great. Inspiring. All the things that Piper declares to Dix. Those things that nature supplies you with. Those things that you don’t find in the city. The second trip was stressful, as we only had two days to capture a wide variety of footage that was going to be made or broken by the weather but immense fun and ultimately a success. 
If you could bring back any extinct animal, which one would it be?
Too many to choose from. The thought makes me shudder. It’s easy to choose any of larger, impressive and or charismatic looking species but I think I’d start looking at the less noticeable but at least as intricate insects or invertebrates.  
The show has two distinct sets designs. Tell us about your process for creating the beautiful rainforest scene that we see at the beginning of Act 2.?
Looking at the synopsis of scenes in the early draft it was easy to tell that Rayson had allowed the interval for the design to reveal something special. The trick was to be able segue from set 1 to set 2 smoothly. 

Set & Costume Designer Bryan Woltjen is back, now designing our upcoming production, Extinction. We chatted with Bryan about his work, inspiration and the big reveal. 

Extinct or Endangered: Australia’s own threatened species

Posted by on 11 August 2015 | | 0 Comments


Extinction or Endangered: Australia’s own threatened species
The ecosystems of the Earth are delicate and unique, which is why the limits to shared space makes for challenging cohabitation. Documented to date, the extinct animals that once resided within Australia rest at a species count of 23 birds, 78 frogs and 27 mammals. Endangered status is considered for a species if there has been a reduction in population by ninety per cent within a decade, if the population range is severely limited or fragmented, or if the population is under fifty individuals. Australia currently holds 86 animal species that are considered endangered. The trend of species extinction can undergo reversal through education, environmental awareness and respect for animal habitats. Here are some of our critically endangered species:
Tiger/spotted-tail quoll Dasyurus masculatus
Extinction’s furry-tailed inspiration is listed as one of Australia’s most critically endangered marsupials. A carnivorous and highly vocal creature, the tiger quoll (or tiger cat) is known to reside in South Eastern Australia and Tasmania. Its lifestyle is largely nocturnal, during which time they can travel over six kilometres – a great distance considering its size! Living for approximately five years, it is the effects of land clearing, excessive baiting and scattered populations that is diminishing lifespan and causing endangered status.
Christmas Island flying-fox Pteropus melanotus natalis
The flying fox is one of the few species of bats that are active during the day. Roosting in the rainforest trees of northern Queensland, the creature feeds on fruits and blossoms of its habitat. Due to deforestation and excessive encroachment on Queensland’s rainforest environment, the flying-fox is losing its predominant source of food.
Regent honeyeater Xanthomyza phrygia
A luminous bird that inhabits the threatened box-ironbark forests of Victoria and New South Wales. The once lustrous plumage of the honeyeater has curtailed as a result of human invasion on its woodland home. True to its name, it feeds on nectar from eucalypt plants, acting as a pollinator for certain flowering plants. 
Western swamp tortoise Pseudemydura umbrina
A local to our state, the swamp tortoise resides naturally in the Swan Valley. It is a carnivore that eats only small mammals, invertebrates and reptiles. Actively functioning only in Winter and Spring, its aestivator lifestyle is the summer equivalent of hibernation. The Swan Valley has undergone decades of land clearing, urban development and exposure to pesticides and fertilisers, all of which have led to the decline of this swamp dweller.


Peter Rowsthorn on 'Kath & Kim', 'Glengarry' and all things comedy

Posted by on 4 June 2015 | | 0 Comments


You might recognise Peter Rowsthorn as Brett Craig, the often distressed hubbie of Kim Craig (nee Day) on the very hilarious ‘Kath & Kim’ series. But Rowsthorn’s acting CV is packed with oh-so much more.
Where most actors begin their career on stage then end up becoming drama teachers when the work runs dry, Rowsthorn actually started his out as an acting teacher, moving into the entertainment industry when an opening became available (oo-er) in the very popular ‘The Comedy Company’ in 1989.
Since then, he has enjoyed stints in television and theatre – from the comical to the deadpan, and has even enjoyed occasional appearances in film.
A regular with the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Peter now calls Perth home and recently appeared in two of the company’s most successful productions, ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ and ‘Laughter On The 23 Floor’. Next up, Rowsthorn plays more of a serious character in David Mamet’s real estate epic, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, which opens this week at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
But wait, there’s more. Well, at least another real estate connection in Peter’s CV… He regularly presents on the television show ‘The West Real Estate Program’ – talking about real-life real estate issues in and around Perth.
Here he speaks with Rock Candy about letting go of the comical mask on occasion, his admiration for local talent, and of course, the modern epic that is ‘Glengarry’.
Interview by Andrea Manno / Photography by Robert Frith
Before we get on to the serious stuff of Glengarry Glen Ross, we’ve got to talk a bit about ‘Kath & Kim’. Was it enjoyable to play Brett Craig on the show?
It was. In fact it was a gift from heaven for me. We did ten years of that show. Every second year, we made another series. I knew all those guys from Melbourne and it was a bit of a hand-picked cast. It was good for me to play something that’s really flat and straight and doesn’t pull faces and doesn’t try to be funny. I was just the reactor, kind of like the audience, reacting to Kim, Kath, Kel and Sharon ’cause they were doing big things so I could be just a [sidekick] character. But it was a really, really enjoyable job.
When an office full of New York City real estate salesmen is given the news that all but the top two will be fired at the end of the week, the atmosphere begins to heat up. Shelly Levene, who allegedly has a sick daughter, does everything in his power to get better leads from his boss, but to no avail. When his co-worker Dave Moss comes up with a plan to steal the leads, things get complicated for this bunch of tough-talking salesmen.
Do your family like watching re-runs of TV shows you’ve appeared in?
They watch bits and pieces. ‘Thank God You’re Here’ is back on Foxtel so they like watching that, especially the episodes I was in.
Tell me about your character in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’?
Well, the play is about real estate. It’s about competition in the workplace; because all these guys are working on commission. Management have organised a leader board, if you’re not on the board for a certain amount of time or you haven’t raised enough money, you get given the ass. Or you just get given really shitty properties to sell; stuff that’s really hard to sell. So my character is in that position.
Your character Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levene is the oldest one there, yes?
Yep, he’s old and he’s just really desperate to keep his job. My first scene is with another guy sitting in a restaurant trying to save our jobs. There’s a lot happening that’s really fun and interesting. And there’s plenty of drama. There’s a robbery and we have to work out who it is; so it’s sort of a ‘who dunnit’ as well. It’s a whole lot of guys trying to have one up on each other, playing high status, dissing each other, but also backing each other up when it’s called for. It’s fun playing characters like that because it gives you something to hang your hat on.
Did you view the film for acting tips?
I haven’t seen the film but I’ve heard it’s a very good one. When I got the part, I made a point not to watch the person who was playing me in the film because you start to adapt things to how it was done before.
Some people see it as a comical story for the most part; others see it as quite serious…
It’s not super-funny. There’s a lot of F-bombs in it [indeed the film version featured the word ‘fuck’ more times than any other movie at the time of its release]. There’s drama and there are moments of laughter but, really, it’s more tragic than it is comical. It’s very testosterone-filled too; very blokey. And it’s a great piece of writing. David Mamet won one of the big playwriting prizes, and as you know it was turned into a big film.
Does the play show the hardship of feeding a family?
A bit. They don’t talk about family much. Sometimes you make up a bit of a back story. My character does mention a daughter and he hints that she has some sort of disability. Basically, if I lose my job, my daughter will die or something terrible like that. But you don’t know if the character is just saying that to keep his job or if it is true. I know he’s broke ’cause he seems to live in a hotel-come-motel. Shelly was like the ‘top of the pops’ at the top of his game; wearing chunky jewellery and shouting everybody drinks ’cause he’s trying to be a big-noter. But now he’s buggered and has nothing. He is unskilled and he’s finding commission selling is scary. It’s a bit like me going out as an unknown comedian and saying ‘Come to my comedy night’ and I’m just praying that people arrive. It’s hard as you take your risks and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.
How do you find it working with the Black Swan State Theatre Company?
The Company is a well provided-for venue and it has great rehearsal facilities. The sets are always good. Everyone there strives for perfection, and works hard. I just like the rehearsal process, nutting out why things are happening and then getting it up on its feet and making it come to life. I’ve done a few plays but I learn so much every time I do another… and I really like it for that reason.
You’ve also done ‘The New Rocky Horror Show’…
Yeah, I did that ‘Rocky Horror Show’ for years; I reckon I did about six hundred shows of that. I like though to mix it up a bit, do different characters for a bit. I don’t know how but I don’t have the mental capacity to do the same thing for two years so I like to take some months off and then come back to a play. I have had some really great opportunities like that. I did ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ with Black Swan; I normally do one a year. [Director] Kate Cherry used to work with me in Melbourne a little and now she’s the Creative Director, and she’s a really great director; she gets the best out of me I think. The actors in Perth have often worked all over the world but, like most people, they want to come back to WA. The people in Perth are really talented and the standards are pretty high.
Do you do a lot of stand-up comedy in between television and plays?
Yeah, that’s my bread and butter. In the corporate sector, I go out and host events, awards nights, functions. I’m an MC but also do comedy during a night of that or sometimes I will just go to a function to do some comedy for half an hour or more. I do that all over the country. That’s how I make my cash really ‘cause showbiz doesn’t pay very well but comedy does. [Laughs].
Have you ever considered going to the US to get into more film work?
Well, I’m not Brad Pitt. And with my kids [Peter has four children], I have a different lifestyle so I can’t get them with the nanny and just go and do a film. You can work from Australia quite easily I think. Guy Pearce does it, and Eric Bana. But they’re established. At fifty-two, you sort of think I might have missed that film boat. I’m happy being a character-actor doing bits and pieces on telly here and in Australian films, like ‘Paper Planes’, which I was in recently and which did really well at the box office. I’m just happy that I’m making a career out of something that’s so much fun and that I love. Happy to get up on stage and make people laugh.
Do you believe humour is healing?
Yes. Laughter is an energy; it’s a complete release, and it’s euphoric. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. Then there is laughing so hard that you can’t stop and you’re crying. If I can get people to do that, and I’m in the right mood, it’s a really great thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to do and I’m happy I can do it. People need to laugh; it’s like a community service.
Can you recount or tell a joke in everyday life sitting around with friends or are you more serious in your private life?
It’s definitely mood-driven, like you are, like we all are. If you get the right group of people, and you’re in the right mood, you can. Other times, I can’t; you don’t feel like that. I err on the side of humour to get something going, like if we’re touring in the car. Obviously, I’m good at picking moods and shifting them. I’m good at breaking tension, so if there’s something going on, I can shake the mood. Sometimes people expect you to be funny; I can’t stand people who go ‘well, c’mon, tell us a joke!’ It’s like telling you ‘well, write an article about me, go on’ and you go ‘well, shut up, I’m not ready!’ I find that I’m hilarious in the shower and that I get funny thoughts at different times. Often, when I’m with my wife and I just bang on about stuff and annoy her. I do the same joke or jokes to her for years and years and still make her laugh with a similar thing.
What is the most embarrassing moment in your career or life?
It’s so hard to think of one right now… I’ll probably come up with 20 later on. It’s always very embarrassing when you have to explain yourself to someone, like someone will say ‘I know you, where are you from?’, and I’ll say ‘Kath & Kim?’ But no. Maybe it was ‘Thank God You’re Here’. Nope. ‘Can We Help?’ Nope. ‘Paper Planes’. Nope. But that’s just an example of an awkward conversation…

You might recognise Peter Rowsthorn as Brett Craig, the often distressed hubbie of Kim Craig (nee Day) on the very hilarious Kath & Kim series. But Rowsthorn’s acting CV is packed with oh-so much more.

Glengarry Glen Ross: "It’s an absolute bulldog of a play"

Posted by on 28 April 2015 | | 0 Comments

Pulitzer Prize-winning modern classic, Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, is soon to be on the Heath Ledger Theatre stage here in Perth! Here's a recent interview with actor Will O'Mahony, who will be familiar to many of you from his many fastastic productions with Black Swan and other companies in Perth. 

Damian Walshe-Howling: "It's about humanity, not gender"

Posted by on 17 April 2015 | | 0 Comments

Many of us know Damian Walshe-Howling from his television credits, particularly Blue Heelers, Bikie Wars and Underbelly. Soon Damian will be gracing the Heath Ledger Theatre stage in our production of David Mamet's fast-talking, back-stabbing, cut-throat drama, Glengarry Glen Ross. He recently chatted with We Love Perth about Mamet, Perth and his acting career.

Curating Costumes and Props for 'Dinner'

Posted by on 6 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

We've been talking a lot on the blog recently about the designer dresses on stage in Dinner. Now it's time to meet India Mehta, who brought the costumes and props together for this glamorous show. 

How to design the multiple worlds and themes of Venus in Fur

Posted by on 2 February 2015 | | 0 Comments


Set designer Patrick Howe and I met over coffee and wines and tested out new and exciting bars and cafes in Perth to discuss and dissect the worlds of Venus in Fur. The whole process was dynamic, colourful, exciting and a pleasure, as Patrick is truly passionate about design and the play is full of passion and stuffed with ideas, motifs and references.
The character of VANDA drives the play but it is THOMAS'S journey. There is also a push me pull you energy throughout. First we spoke of revolves. Which was tempting but not suitable for budget or time. We discussed that the space could be quite small and in reality the whole play could take place on a pin head as the two characters do-si-do around each other. The text allows for a lot of interpretation and could be done in blacks in a bare space but it also allows for a full all-encompassing sensory experience with punch. It wasn't difficult for Patrick and I to agree to go for the second option. By the end of our first meets we knew we wanted it to be an exciting space with anachronistic play, voyeuristic, a platform for the battle of the sexes referencing the world of theatre framed by a cold dark sense of the masochistic fantasy and the cruel world of love.
Yep. Patrick satisfied all of this.
TWO SETTINGS – texture, shape and dressings
Patrick researched images of New York buildings and studios where great worlds are created in small and interesting spaces. Usually large decorative windows and wooden floors dominate in well used spaces. The mix of the furniture – the purpose designed make shift trestle style table found in studios with mixed sourced furniture which reflected the romantic nostalgic fantasy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and New York style all came together beautifully.
The neutral colours in the set and textured worn finishes that Patrick chose, served both these worlds.
THE GREEKS - Ancient roots of theatre and morality.
One of the attractions was the theatricality of the piece and how the play sat within a play.
Theatre within a theatre. Our theatre began with the Ancient Greeks. The Roman goddess of love, Venus, is in the title and her equivalent is Aphrodite in Greek mythology, so it seemed important to reference these beginnings. Also considering that in the play the character THOMAS describes his play Venus in Fur as the ancient Greek play The Bacchae (which is a play that shows the clash of the civilised and the primitive that humans are continually trying to balance) 
You can see this in the column-like back wall.
Love is a madness and romantic love is potentially something that we as humans project on to others, only to be disappointed that our object of desire is not what we imagined for ourselves.
Brett Smith's sound designs brief was to really work with the surreal and the sexual. His sound designs and effects are like distant billows that travel through and around the space of the stage and the theatre. He created romance with strings and added twists and turns culminating in a primitive primal beat. Joe Lui's magical lighting design played with fantasy and the psychotic nature of the piece and supported the masochistic world of anticipation and role play.
These elements were all able to be achieved in the challenging and elegant space that Patrick created. His idea of a slice of a floating world with a ceiling piece was brave, bold and magnificent.
He created a platform/stadium for the battle of the sexes and created something that could be both intimate and epic, all the time highlighting and complementing the studio space and the world of the theatrical. It was a brilliant solution and a perfect stage to work with and on and provided the ideal actor/audience relationship. 

Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait has brought Venus in Fur to life in an incredible production in the Studio Underground. Receiving rave reviews and sell out performances, all elements of the production have come together seemlessly, from the acting to the set to the costume, lighting and sound. Here we hear from Laurie about the design, partcularly the set design, and the multiple worlds that evolve in Venus in Fur

Come hear new plays from Perth’s premier emerging playwrights!

Posted by on 21 January 2015 | | 0 Comments
the past year, and we want to share their best works with you!
After a year of drafting and a week of development, each play will receive a public reading by professional, experienced actors, to bring the words on the page to life! The plays will be read in pairs, so we invite you to come and see two, four, or even all six. 
Friday 30 January
'Girl Shut Your Mouth' by Gita Bezard
A savage comedy about how only the luckiest girls are shot in the head
'The Book of Life' by Joe Lui
A mythic journey from the beginning of evolution, through the underworld and all the way into a contemporary existential crisis
'Olympus Burning' by Nate Doherty 
In a future that fuses ancient Greek myth and reality TV culture, a fading star is diagnosed with the “big C”… cellulite
'Tonsils+Tweezers' by Will O'Mahony
Best friends Tonsils and Tweezers contemplate the dilemma of their stunted lives on the day of their ten year high school reunion
Saturday 31 January 
'The Mobile Soul' by James Marzec
A power couple are confronted by an offer that’s impossible to refuse when Satan asks if they can develop an app for him that will help people sell their souls.
'Belated' by Liz Newell
What would happen if the people closest to you were secretly holding you away from the person you need the most?

Black Swan's Emerging Writers Group has been hard at work over the past year, and we want to share their best works with you!

These six playwrights of exceptional talent and promise were each asked to write a play that showed creative bravery and an urgency of voice.

Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait on 'Venus in Fur': "The world of masochism is inherently theatrical"

Posted by on 9 January 2015 | | 0 Comments


The play brings Sacher-Masoch’s writing into the contemporary era. The themes that he was exploring have shaped our ideas of sexuality and power, and still have an immensely contemporary resonance. 
Thomas, the writer/director in the play, says his play 'Venus in Fur' is essentially the Greek play The Bacchae. The struggle of the human condition between the civilised and the primal.
These intrinsic issues resonate with audiences brought up with the, simplistic, Freudian ideas and concepts. My understanding is that of the ego being the result of the battle between the super-ego and the id – the animal instinct fighting for its freedom from those domineering voices telling us how and what we should be. 
Sacher-Masoch's main theme is about gaining sexual pleasure through domination. Psychosexual theories started to be written around the time of Sacher-Masoch’s writing through Freud and then Jung. These theories have become part of, and indeed created the concept of, ever-evolving discourses around sex and power that we are still having today.
The book also explores the traits that are represented as masculine and feminine and where our individual behaviours may have come from and why. One of the ideas that Sacher-Masoch explores in his book is the idea that man views woman as a saint or whore, she cannot be both. He then goes on to say in part of his summing up of his experiences:
“The moral is that woman, as Nature has created her and as she is currently reared by man, is his enemy and can only be his slave or despot, but never his companion. She will be able to become his companion only when she has the same rights as he, when she is equal in education and work.” 
I have included this quote as I think it raises some of the ideas in gender politics that are still being talked about today.
In your press notes you also say, it’s a play that can be approached in various ways and you are curious about the reception to the style you choose. What IS the style you choose?
I think my first question was, how do we bring the audience on this journey through time and create surreal world of sexual tension, love and pleasure?
Venus in Fur is part of the Black Swan Lab and features emerging artists set designer Patrick Howe, lighting designer Joe Lui and sound designer Brett Smith. In my early conversations with the design team I covered much territory with referencing the Ancient Greek, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and contemporary New York. The actual play references art and lovers through the eras. The whole thing felt quite eclectic and anachronistic. 
The main world’s we need to capture are contemporary New York and the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 1870's. Both have very particular styles, both are formal and sexy in different ways. 
When I read the script I felt it could be approached in a David Lynch way or a Tarantino style. I think I have mixed a little of both into the feel of the piece as it should have a hyper real quality and also something cold dark and crueller to underscore the world of masochism even though there is a lot of humour in the play.
There is an aesthetic that masochism has which is essentially fantasy – a mix of art and suspense. Which sits beautifully in the theatre space a sort of heightened theatrical space.
Included in my interpretation I have worked with the other designers and the actors to create a space that is voyeuristic, as well as a battle ground for the sexes.  In my interpretation I have opted to create a surreal framework for all of these elements to sit within. Given the underlying fantasy and theatrical elements of the piece it felt right to create this surreal space where an electricity and tension could be kept live in the space around and through the actors.
The play within a play: how do you bring a freshness to this tried and trusted theatrical machination?
David Ives has created a beautifully crafted and fully realised piece of theatre.
The theatrical device of ‘the play within a play’ has been used successfully many times and David Ives uses it masterfully in Venus in Fur.
The set-up is perfect with an actress seeking an audition in contemporary New York. In the ‘play within the play’ Ives creates a beautiful, magical world of formal language and discourse around the theme of gender politics, pleasure, love and desire in relationships and the limitations and conflicts that come from these desires mirroring and heightening what is happening in the contemporary world.
It was the play within the play that jumped out at me when I read the text. I could see that world straight away. The world of masochism is inherently theatrical and attracted me to the piece in the first place. 
As we journey through the play we go deeper and deeper into this world where all of these spaces can coexist together through the combination of the writer’s artifice, the direction, design and performance.
What do you see as some of the main ideas behind this play? How do audiences react?
I avoid looking at reviews or samples of other works so I can go on my own instincts when direct it. I haven’t seen the play myself I’ve only read it.
The actors and I had a conversation to start with and I said they are welcome to watch the film and do any process of collection and research that works for them. I did say that I felt a useful thing would be to read the novella, the source material for the play. Adam could then see what hooked Thomas into adapting the play and Felicity could get a notion of the issues and emotions around female sexuality, along with power and domination, and the interesting and healthy arguments presented regarding female emancipation.
Sacher-Masoch says that neither woman or man should be held up and worshipped or loved as if in the image of God. In short he is saying that romantic love can be considered part of the shadow self and something we project onto others.
Be careful what you wish for in love and pleasure.
We are still ironing out issues of women in power (both in the world and in relationships) and who and what they should be, what they should look like and what is acceptable. People are starting to write their own guidebooks as men are also adapting and redefining their identities in this post-feminism world. 
I don’t know yet how the audience will react, what I’m looking forward to seeing the audience’ engagement with the play. I hope that they will engage and recognise something in it.

This is the second part of Director and Costume Designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait's interview for The West Australian, talking about Venus in Fur and how a 'play within a play' and masochism fit in! Have a read: