Splat! is a wonderful, evocative word. It reeks of paint and mess and fun. So it is perhaps not surprising that recently there have been three arts experiences for kids with the title Splat! in Perth. You’ve heard before in our blog about James Berlyn’s visual art project ‘Splat’, which recently toured to ArtPlay in Victoria. And you may have taken the kids to Fliptease’s ‘Splat! Kids Cabaret’ at FringeWorld in the new year. For the rest of this week you can head down to Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle for their school holiday offering – also called ‘Splat!’
Written by Sally Richardson and directed by Philip Mitchell, this ‘Splat!’ features Michael Barlow, Bec Bradley and Michael Smith and a whole lot of colour. Our Arts Management Intern, Caitlin Brass caught up with Spare Parts’ Artistic Director for a chat about their ‘Splat!’ late last week.
Words: Caitlin Brass (Performing Lines WA Intern) and Philip Mitchell (Artistic Director) Images: Jarrad Seng
CB What’s Splat! all about?
PM Splat! is about difference and people dynamics; How sometimes we like playing with yellow triangles until a red square comes along who is much more attractive and fun… then when a blue circles interrupts play, chaos ensues…
As adults at work or kids at play we all have to navigate the dynamic games of life!
CB So the show is also about friendship. Share a favourite memory of yours of your best childhood friend!
PM My best childhood friend was Kathy Garland, she lived next door and we mad mud pies together. We also enjoyed smearing the mud pies on each other and attempting to eat them as they looked soooo good… she was as naughty as I was….maybe a subconscious path to calling the work Splat!
CB Sally Richardson is a core artist of ours. How did she write a theatre show for kids without text?
PM Collaboration is at the heart of all our work and Sally relishes a collaborative process. Splat! was originally called William Wishes, and it went through several devising stages including some pretty fantastic playing with paint water and over head projectors. Claudia Alessi and Stefan Karlsson were part of the original devising team and we spent quite a bit of time watching and observing kids, including how creative play allows a child to express themselves to the world. Sally is an exceptionally generous artist who is very comfortable in a group devising approach to work.
CB What’s the significance of a wordless piece?
PM Interestingly we started out in the creative development of the work playing with text and rhythms and the musicality of text. As we started to develop the non-linear narrative style of the work we found we didn’t need words, and that music, movement and puppetry became the language. Composer Lee Buddle played live in the original work allowing the production to tighten and grow over the first season of Splat!
The exciting observation of a wordless piece is that it traverses age and cultural barriers. We are finding Splat! works for a teenager as well as a two year old.
CB How do you incorporate music, circus, puppetry, dance, animation and paper-play together in one show?
PM With lots of work! Puppetry is a visual art form and encompasses the principles of all these forms… we see this palate of artistic choices as an extension of our exploration of puppetry.
Many of our works combined elements of other art forms.
CB What’s the rehearsal process like for such an action-packed production?
PM The performers would say exhausting. The process is very much devising around the intentions in the script. Sally didn’t write the action of the piece instead constructed a progression of scenes that have clear explorative intention… it is then the director and performers who put flesh on those intentions… this is often how a puppetry script is developed.
CB This show premiered a few years ago. Has the show changed in any way?
PM Whilst our focus at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre is creating new works for our audience we also relish the opportunity to revisit works in repertoire. It is chance to do the work even better and share it with even more people. Splat! has a slight resemblance to the first version but it has entirely newly devised material and a re-dramaturged structure.
The dynamic of new performers, bringing more diverse skills, has also greatly impacted on the style of the work. The show is so, so much better from having the opportunity to rework it.
CB You are a week into the public season and you’ve also been performing to schools. What’s the reception been like so far?
PM We are selling out and audiences are thrilled by the work. It rates as one of our most loved works and it is not a book adaptation which is usually a good hook for audiences to come along.
The work has captured the hearts of two year olds, which was quite unexpected and unplanned. From an artistic point of view a good process often reflects an even better product. Outstanding performers often contribute to an outstanding performance.
CB Why do you think it’s important to get kids involved in live theatre?
PM I think it is essential that not only kids but the whole family get involved in live theatre – it is a shared experience – this is why we are dedicated to creating works that aim for universal appeal… it is something puppetry does very much better than other forms of theatre. Adults do come to our shows without kids!
CB What are the main differences between performing to kids and performing to adults?
PM The difference between adults and children is simply we learn different things … the beauty of puppetry is that it can speak to a child and an adult in the same space with the same story in very different ways… and we all can learn and share our experiences – this is theatre for people!
CB Did you see much live performance as a kid? If so, which memories stick out for you?
PM Living in outback New South Wales didn’t afford me many opportunities to see live performance – except some exceptional Country Music stars and a rollicking Gilbert and Sullivan… I remember an excursion to Sydney to see Cats … wow!
CB How can we inject a shot of creativity into our own lives?
PM Random acts of creativity can occur when we cook, when we garden, when we sing to ourselves in the car…. We just don’t often think we are being creative. I am fascinated by the way puppetry has transformed the way I look at the world and the objects that make up your own world. Think of all the memories an object you have in your possession has; your watch, your mobile phone, your handbag. Imagine if they could speak! Perhaps best they can’t …
Go see a puppet show and that will inject a bit of creativity into your life…
CB How can we get more involved with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre?
PM We have an Adopt A Puppet campaign on our website. Adopting a puppet supports Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in training new puppeteers and creating new work.
We also have a volunteer program. You can usher and get to see a show without having to steal a child to come with…
You can attend a show and encounter the magic of sharing a quality performance experience, guaranteed not to be no more than 50 minutes long, and be touched by the artistry of the art form.
Splat! is on at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 1 Short Street, Fremantle, until May 4 with shows at 10am and 1pm. Advance booking is strongly recommended. Visit sppt.asn.au for more information or to book online.
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre believe today’s younger audiences deserve meaningful and exciting theatre experiences that respect their intelligence and emotional growth. While their focus is on young people, they create work with the awareness that puppetry is not the exclusive zone of children but speaks directly to the child in us all.
Spare Parts share the magic of puppetry with over 50 000 people annually.They present five seasons a year at their home theatre in Fremantle, nurture the art form through our School of Puppetry and Emergent training program – FirstHand, perform in Festivals, corporate and community events and tour extensively through regional Western Australia and the world.
SPPT was founded in 1981 by Artistic Director Peter L Wilson, writer Cathryn Robinson and designer Beverley Campbell-Jackson and is now lead by Artistic Director Philip Mitchell and Associate Director Michael Barlow. After 30 years of operation, the Company has developed a national and international reputation having performed in China, USA, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Czech Republic and most recently in France.
I grew up in Perth and throughout my training I have clear memories of Sue Peacock, both as a dancer and a maker. She was my teacher at WAAPA, and served as an inspiration through those formative years. However, I never got the chance to be in one of her works… I managed to miss out at STEPS and at WAAPA on having Sue as a choreographer – much to my great disappointment!
So, as you can imagine, my joy when Sue asked me to step into the second development of Reflect was immense. It’s fantastic to have such a dream/goal be realised, especially upon returning to Perth after twelve years of dancing interstate. The process has been a great journey so far, full of great people and incredible experiences.
Reflect Rehearsals (2013) Kynan Hughes and Bernadette Lewis Photo: Jenni Large
It is always interesting to replace someone in a work, especially when so much of the work has been made but is still incomplete. I took over from Cass Mortimer-Eipper who departed after the first development to work on other projects. As dancers, the two of us are quite different in style and approach, so the process of making the work feel like it fits me is quite a lengthy one. The journey of finding yourself in another dancer’s movement material and character is a strange combination of internal dialogue, in depth discussions (and dancing… of course) with the choreographer and other dancers, and much cursing of a television screen or video camera. I’m still slowly finding myself in the work as you can probably tell.
It’s also an amazing experience to begin something as a stranger, not only to the movement style, but to the other people in the room. It is so rewarding to explore and grow with a group of people in a work such as Reflect, particularly with this stellar cast and crew! As dancers, we have room to play with the many subtleties within the intricate choreographic structures that Sue has laid down. The loose narrative that runs through the work is complex and can be ‘read’ in many different ways: as a dancer, that’s such a gift, albeit one that’s not without its difficulties to negotiate. There are so many questions to consider and ask: “Do I look over there? Or at her? And when and how should I take off my pants?” See? Now you really want to come see the show…
Kynan Hughes graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with an Advanced Diploma of Performing Arts (Dance) in 2000. Since then he has worked with a range of companies around Australia including: Leigh Warren and Dancers, Dance North, the Tasmanian Classical Ballet Company and Sydney Dance Company. He has performed and toured a range of new and established works, both in Australia and overseas by choreographers as diverse as Jane Pirani, Natalie Weir, Leigh Warren, Troy Mundy, Rafael Bonachela, Emanuel Gat and Kenneth Kvarnstrom. Kynan has also choreographed a number of works and taught at various companies and institutions around Australia. In 2012, Kynan attained his Bachelor of Arts, choreographed at WAAPA, performed in Chrissie Parrott’sCicada andas Feather in Sally Richardson’s The Ghost’s Child. In 2013 Kynan has performed with Chrissie Parrott for UWA’s Luminous night and in James Berlyn’s Tenebrae et Lux for Perth Festival. He choreographed and performed in With a Bullet: The Album Project for Fringe World. In 2013, Kynan will also choreograph works for LINK Dance Company in May and STEPS Youth Dance Company in August, as well as developing a new production,Mermaid X with Sally Richardson.
What does it mean to reflect? Well, at the moment, for me it means relearning and remembering… All of it. How it started, how it goes, what happens, when and with whom. Remembering who was there in the beginning and how we met.
I’ll never forget meeting Jenni Large; third day in the very first Reflect development, both of us nervous and first time paid dancers. A blue and white, striped shirt hanging too big on her small frame, she looked up at me and… beamed. The biggest, brightest smile I’ve ever seen.
The Sweating. I always remember laughing and sweating in equal proportions. Maybe I’m sweating so much because I’m laughing so hard? Or is that the broken air conditioner? We haven’t even done a full run of the work yet and we’re all pitifully dripping. Drenched like swimming warthogs (thanks for the image Jen)!
I remember starting out like a deer in the headlights. Chapel space floor against my cheek, drawing tiny, imaginary circles with my inner ear. (I still don’t know how to do that movement.) Making duos with people I’ve never met before and then transcribing and developing them with people I’ll soon know inside out.
I remember the beginning. The starting points. Asking how do we fit together and whose thumb bends at odd angles? Everyone’s childhood stories of whimsy; getting dizzy with siblings, turning the world upside down, wearing hello kitty hairclips, rebelling with sugar sandwiches. None of these particular things are in the work but I remember them. And I like them. They stay with me.
Why am I trying to remember so much? Well the work is about memories. How we remember, what we remember, how different percipients recall the same event, what do our memories feel like???
My own memories are fuzzy. And disjointed. Or peculiar. Which is probably why I sounded so waffling earlier. Even that sentence is fuzzy.
But what should I be remembering clearly? My focus. Where is my focus? How much can I say with just my physicality? No expression necessary. And precision. A great deal of precision can be found in the movement whilst still being free to make spontaneous decisions. Hmmmm, that’s hard.
And what do I want to remember when it’s all done? These people. These incredible, joyous, intelligent people that make my job hard only because they astound me with their brilliance and make me laugh so hard I fall over.
Bernadette Lewis graduated from WAAPA’s honours program, LINK Dance Company in 2011. As a company member she worked with notable choreographers such as Michael Whaites, Frances Rings and Ross McCormack and toured throughout Europe and Australia. Independently she has worked with The Western Australian Opera, Silver Alert (USA), Patrice Smith, Bianca Martin and Sarah Fiddaman, performing at such festivals as the Adelaide Fringe, Perth International Arts Festival, Perth Fringe, Movement Sur La Ville (Montpellier) and ITS (Amsterdam). Her company work has included regional touring projects with Tasdance and most recently Buzz Dance Theatre.
Like all independent artists, James is constantly juggling projects.
This week Melbourne’s Artplay is full of colourful new artworks. Today James Berlyn is bumping out his collection of splatterpaults and stencil stompers after four days of SPLAT! workshops. Judging by the photos, this may well have been the messiest Artplay event this year – it also looks like loads of fun. If you are in Melbourne stop by Birrarung Marr and see the resulting exhibition from tomorrow until May 5 – and have a go at the DIY stencilling station.
SPLAT! was originally commissioned by Awesome Arts and is presented in Melbourne by Artplay, a place where families and children can be creative and express themselves in an open and supportive environment.
In a couple of months James will be pulling out his typewriters heading East again. This time he will collect the secrets of Adelaide Cabaret Festival goers as Tawdry Heartburn’s Manic Cures manifests in the Winter Garden 12-16 and 19-22 June.
Visit www.tawdryheartburn.com to view the secrets archive from Tawdry’s past performances.
But it isn’t only about new life for past shows. James is working on two new productions which we hope to bring you before the year is out. Stay tuned.
Outside the Perth autumn has delivered an unseasonable hot day. It is still 34C at 430pm. So of course the air con has broken in Studio 3 here at Kings St Arts Centre. It is the first day of rehearsal for Sue Peacock’s new production Reflect and none of the dancers will need to go out for a sauna this evening.
The cast started the day with class in Studio 3, followed up with a first day, sticky buns provided, meet ‘n’ greet/social media briefing in the (air-conditioned) green room. The company were together last in December 2012 for a two week development stage, so by independent artist standards it hasn’t been too long between rehearsals. It’s a perennial problem for independents to maintain a timeline that keeps a project ‘alive’; this time we got lucky with last year’s additional West Australian Contemporary Dance initiative funding round from the Australia Council providing an extra opportunity to resource the development of the work.
Today we missed Aisling Donovan. She has been with the show since its earliest days but sadly can’t make it to Perth for this final stretch to Opening Night. We know you are with us in spirit Aisling! We also welcomed project newbie and stage manager, Kirby Brierty and welcomed back Sound Designer Ben Taaffe. And we are joined by a number of secondments from LINK, WAAPA, and next week from Adelaide. It’s always great to have new bodies in the room.
Reflect by Sue Peacock, Image Christophe Canato
Now we just await the arrival of Andrew Lake, Sue’s long-time creative collaborator and Reflect’s Production Designer. He flies in from Singapore late tomorrow night and then the team is complete. Well complete until we move into the Studio Underground in three weeks and are joined by their FOH and technical staff for the Final Phase. Hopefully by then we will be talking about heating not air conditioning…
3 – 11 MAY 2013
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA Read more here.
Performing Lines WA delivers the Managing and Producing Services for theatre and dance artists in WA (Maps for Artists), which is a joint initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s art funding and advisory body, and the State of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts.