I must say Lawrie that I dont 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?
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:
Pip Christmass: I must say Lawrie that I dont 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?
Lawrie Cullen-Tait: 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 its 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.
PC: 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?
LCT: The play is intimate, its 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-Masochs real life experiences as the original Masoch-ist.
PC: This is a two hander and no doubt pretty taxing on the two leads. Tell me about directing your actors in this particular play.
LCT: This play is a marathon for the actors as they contend with multiple accents, movement work, choreography and the mental and emotional requirements of entering and leaving the different worlds as they delve into the play and the play within the play. I am calling it 'acting gymnastics' on the rehearsal floor as the play is also dense with ideas and concepts. Their minds and bodies get a complete work-out as they remain completely focussed on everything they say and do in each moment. The actors do a voice and movement warm-up for half an hour every morning. They use some of their own warm-up techniques and have also added some from Andy Fraser, movement and fight choreographer, and Julia Moody, voice coach.
I worked with the actors on the play within the play first and then we went back to the top of the play and have been working our way through. My idea was that they could work with just the 'continental' accents to start with rather than jumping in and out of different accents from the beginning. We also, pretty much, went on to the floor straight away and discussed and solved ideas, character and actions as we went. I didnt want us to lose time talking through all the heady ideas and having conversations around the work when it can be more productive to realise it off the page/on the floor. Both the actors are very creative, skillful and have natural actor instinct. Every one brings a body of work and prep to the table. Felicity McKay has just graduated from the WAAPA acting course so has been exercising her acting muscle hard over the past three years and I am thrilled to have been able to snap her up before we lose her to the East Coast. Adam Booth has been busy working in the industry over East for a number of years so we are lucky that he has decided to relocate back to Perth with his family. Both are hard workers and delightful to work with as is everyone in the team, so the process, though gruelling, is a pleasure.
The joy is that this is what we do... getting down and dirty, working hard, story-telling and finding exquisite moments to show the human condition...and none of us are afraid of hard work. So yes it is a marathon but not an unpleasant one.
PC: And, so I must ask you to describe the costuming for this play!
LCT: The character Vanda Jordan is impossible to pin down as she has facets of many women. She is a vulnerable beauty that is enthusiastic, with a sassy spunk that she wears as a mask. For Vanda I have tried to create a broken barbie-doll look.
Thomas is thirty-something going on adult, and is played with a Faustian element i.e. careful what you wish for in your ideal woman. His costuming is powerful and sensual, highlighting facets of his sophisticated, motivated, academic, articulate, sensitive and passionate character.
I cant tell you too much because even saying there are surprises gives some of it away. Normally with a two hander with both actors on stage all of the time there is rarely an option or requirement for costume changes but because of the play within a play there are a couple of 'dress-ups' involved. This is where the fantasy element of Masochism is involved so, yeah there is a little bit of dressing up and dressing down I think I can tell you that much.
More to come from Lawrie Cullen-Tait as we get closer and closer to the premiere of Venus in Fur! Playing at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia from 15 January to 8 February 2015. Tickets on sale now through Ticketek.