From catwalk to stage: designer dresses in Dinner

Posted by on 5 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

In Moira Buffini’s Dinner, socialite Paige Janssen hosts a glamorous dinner party at her home, artfully inviting an eclectic mix of guests. Costume and Props Stylist, India Mehta decided to work with local WA designers to create gowns for the women at the dinner party. This collaboration was a new experience for us at Black Swan, and a fairly unusual relationship in the theatre world. So we asked the actors - Rebecca Davis, Alison van Reeken and Tasma Walton - and designers - Sheree Dornan of Love in Tokyo, Michelle Tindale of Tindale, and Alvin Fernandez of Ae'lkemi - about the collaboration and the designs. 

What fed and formed designs ideas for Venus in Fur

Posted by on 2 February 2015 | | 0 Comments


The design process for this production has taken the design of the set to many shapes and forms. However, the main ideas that fed and formed the design for this show probably stems from both Lawrie and I’s initial response to the play.
During the process of creating the design of the show there where two major angles Lawrie and I looked at in order to create the world for this show. The First angle we looked at was how we would create theatrical framing (a non-physical theatre construct that allows the audience into the story or sets up there perspective of the show) of the play. To do this during Lawrie and I’s first meeting we both discussed what our initial response to the play was. It was here in which we first discussed out how we would set up the theatrical framing of this show. We both discussed that part of the enjoyment of reading this play was that, the act of reading, felt a bit voyeuristic. It allowed you to see into a world that is highly sexual and one that most of us would not normally see or experience. Building on this response, Lawrie and I sourced for ways in which we could replicate this response for the audience when watching the play. In order to do this we both de-cided that it would be good idea to set the world up as if audience’s perspective is that one of a fly on the wall. Hopefully they would feel as if they had a unique vantage point of this story that they would normally not see. 
The other major angle we looked at during the creation of the set where the worlds represented in the play and physical needs of the script. The play is set in an old rehearsal room in New York that was once part of an old sweat shop with a giant pole running through the middle of the room. Throughout the play we travel three different worlds. 1. the New York rehearsal room, 2. the Bo-hemian 1800’s Eastern European and 3. the Greek, the Goddess element. Along with the setting having to support all of these three worlds, we also had to allow for Lighting and Sound and ef-fortless transition between these worlds as called for in the script. To do this both Lawrie and I firstly started to look at different images that references rehearsal spaces in New York and all over the world, just to build a basic skeleton of the physical world of the rehearsal room. From that, we started looking at mood boards (collection of images) that represented the feeling and the mood of the other worlds we wish to visit. The trick here was to find a way of how we could take the space from one world to another. To do this we built on the construct that in the theatre the power of imagination, with a little help, can take us to worlds completely removed from the space of the theatre. The little help we did give, was we integrated into the architecture of the space and texture and colour of the space elements of the other two worlds Bohemian and Greek. Hop-ing this will allow the audiences imagination a smoother transition from one world to another as happens in the play.

Set Designer Patrick Howe, together with Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait, did a fantastic job of bringing the play Venus in Fur to life. His minimalist set conveyed multiple worlds, a claustrophobic atmosphere and a voyeuristic feeling. Hear from Patrick about the nspiration and choices that affected how the design came to be: 

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: 

Director & Costume Designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait: "The joy is that this is what we do"

Posted by on 9 January 2015 | | 0 Comments


I must say Lawrie that I don’t know too many theatre directors who are also costume designers. What were the particular challenges and rewards of your dual role as far as Venus In Fur was concerned?
It is rewarding doing both the directing and costume design. Both directing and designing are about realising a vision. My research and script breakdowns as director inform my approach to costume design. Already knowing a lot about the characters and the world, or worlds, they inhabit allows me to design and create a cohesive style. Directing involves pulling together a whole gamut of things to create the play. While the whole creative team work together collaboratively, I believe it is one of the main tasks of the director to choose and help create a unifying style for the piece. The worlds in this play are quite eclectic so it is my hope that the facets of set, costume, lighting, sound and performance all compliment and contrast where, when and how they need to. 
The skills’ base of design and directing are slightly different but I use visual research for both. Directing is also much like painting and sculpting. For me it’s about playing with texture, colour and form. Directing is text based which has allowed me to fall in love with 'the (spoken and written) word' as well as being able to play with texture and colour.
The process for costume design on ‘Venus’ has been to create mood boards and have conversations with the wardrobe department at Black Swan. We talk about character, palette, era's and technicalities – how and when costumes are taken on and off. There were no builds so this process has all been sourcing and altering. I drew some thumbnail sketches based on sourced items that we preferred. Lynn Ferguson, Head of Wardrobe, got right inside my head and found a mix of perfect items that we have then embellished and played with. All of this was done before rehearsals started so we could have them in the room and so I can concentrate on the actors. So it's been a brilliant experience. 
Can you tell me a little bit about the writer, David Ives? Why is it, do you think, that this play was the most produced play in American between 2013-2014, as the press notes state?
The play is intimate, it’s both funny and sensual, but has big themes – love, passion, sex and power. Even though ‘Venus’ was the most staged play of the year this is its WA premiere so it will be the first time audiences here in WA get to see it.
The play is a two hander which makes it more affordable and therefore easier to produce and stage. His play is pure entertainment which accounts for much of its popularity. David Ives is a very clever writer and I feel the script is near flawless, it is both poignant and theatrical. It is a tightly written, beautifully crafted actors’ and directors’ play making it extremely attractive to stage. 
I didn't know of Ives work until I purchased and read Venus in Fur. When I looked into him I discovered he has done a lot of adaptations which has honed his craft and skill in this area. I believe he started this one by adapting the novella of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which is set in 1870, into a full play with more actors. His next step made it a play within a play, setting it in our contemporary world of directors and actors (and writers) in New York. His analysis and presentation of the ideas and themes stem from the book based on Sacher-Masoch’s real life experiences as the original Masoch-ist.

Lawrie Cullen-Tait is the director and costume designer of our upcoming production, Venus in Fur. She recently chatted with Pip Christmass for The West Australian about the production, her roles and the actors. Have a read: 

Kate Cherry: The very act of making theatre is political

Posted by on 3 December 2014 | | 0 Comments

Black Swan Artistic Director Kate Cherry recently chatted with the Daily Review for the first of their end-of-year wrap ups with artistic directors around the country. Kate talks about the highlights of the year, her aspirations for the company as well as some of the most pressing issues that arose over the last 12 months in the Australian arts community. Have a read!

What's so funny about 'Laughter'?

Posted by on 10 September 2014 | | 0 Comments

Black Swan's current production is the laugh-out-loud, 1950's comedy, Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon. Simon wrote Laughter in 1993 and based it on his real-life early career experience as a junior writer (along with his brother Danny) for Your Show of Shows, the weekly variety show in the early 1950’s featuring Sid Caesar.

Playwright Suzie Miller on 'Dust': "a day of heightened reality, a time that might be at the end of everything"

Posted by on 9 June 2014 | | 0 Comments

Australian playwright Suzie Miller puts Perth on stage in her new work, Dust, premiering at the State Theatre Centre of WA later this month. It's a powerful production, as funny as it is touching. Out in Perth sat down with Suzie to talk about the upcoming show and what it means to her.

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