Posted by Cecile Lucas, October 31st, 2017
Sometimes, opportunities arrive where we may not expect them. Perth’s emerging artist Daisy Sanders has just spent six weeks in the USA, working with Geoff Sobelle and team on the premiere of a new production, HOME. Daisy reflects here on how the adventure all began and her amazing experience overseas.
On a warm night in February 2016 I entered the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA to find it filled to the brim with… boxes. Brown cardboard boxes. Boxes stacked throughout the room, boxes lining the walls and piled high to the ceiling. Boxes stuffed full of…stuff. Objects.
The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobbele. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.
As one of many curious, slightly tentative audience members, I wandered amongst the boxes, and, as permission seemed to have been granted, we all began to comb through the objects, perusing an abundance of random treasures. What transpired over the next two hours became my PIAF 2016 Festival highlight, my all time most memorable PIAF event and one of the best works of art I had, as yet, experienced. The immersive masterpiece that unfurled that night entirely from within the piles and piles of cardboard boxes was The Object Lesson, created and performed by the brilliant Geoff Sobelle with infectious warmth and a robust, nuanced physicality. During the work, a number of blissfully unprepared audience members found themselves becoming an integral part of the activity. None more so than myself: plucked from amidst the boxes…an hour later I had enjoyed and ended what seemed to be a decade-long relationship with Sobelle. When asked at a Festival Q & A how he selects his ‘date’ – a female cast member new and unique to the show each night – Sobelle explained he “believes in love at first sight”. His completely unplanned choice is made in that precise moment, partly chance, and partly just a feeling that someone he spots in the crowd could be ‘game’.
I was game.
The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobbele. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.
Hop, skip and jump forward to October 2017 and the other side of the world. Sobelle’s newest work has just premiered to sold out houses and nightly standing ovations in both Philadelphia and Boston. I have been working as a part of the incredible team, helping to bring to life the madness, the mastery and the magic that is HOME.
Working on HOME was made possible when I received a 2017 Young People and the Arts (YPA) Fellowship through Culture and the Arts WA, a division of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The Object Lesson was the catalyst for me to initiate a conversation with Sobelle, not only about how thrilling it had felt to become a part of the show, but also to express my fascination with his work and explain my interests as an emerging artist. In The Object Lesson I had encountered such a unique combination of movement, text, poetry and play, all combined by Sobelle to interrupt the traditional theatre space and ignite a truly alive conversation with his audience. This was art I simply had to be a part of and learn more about. Thus I told Geoff so and with his written support, six weeks working with him in the USA became a key element of my 2017 YPA Fellowship program.
Firstly, I spent three weeks at MANA Contemporary in Jersey City. I was warmly welcomed by Geoff and all the members of his large, vivacious team including performers/creators (dance and physical theatre trained), mastermind set designer Steven Dufala and an indefatigable production crew. I arrived in the creative development process at the moment of first meeting between the set (a life size, two-story house) and the burgeoning choreography and imagination of the four performer/creators. It was a pleasure and privilege to be included with these artists – Geoff Sobelle, Justin Rose, Jennifer Kidwell and Sophie Bortolussi – in a playful dance of improvisation, observation, feedback, discussion and side-splitting hilarity. We ‘sold’ the house to each other as weirdly poetic real estate agents, we grooved and snoozed in every corner of the house, making it our shared creative home, we learned secrets of appearance and disappearance with the guidance of illusionist Steve Cuiffo.
HOME by Goeff Sobelle.
At the end of the three weeks I performed with the artists in two development showings. This included the early stages of inviting audience into the action and absorbing their feedback and response. Performing in the showings concluded what had been a rare and invaluable experience, in which I had not only witnessed the early creation stage of HOME, but also become an integral part of forging its spirit. Being invited daily to offer my reflections and to dance my physical contribution to the work instigated new and exciting embodied learning for me and also deepened my sense of belonging to the team. Sobelle has a unique way of building an ecology of connection: he is utterly welcoming and open-hearted, and his use of humour to celebrate the poetic madness of life generates a truly inclusive atmosphere. The positive way that I (and the entire team) experienced this ecology was undoubtedly heightened by the US election and inauguration, which raged outside as we worked and played together.
When I returned to HOME in September later this year, the production premiere loomed. By this time the show had largely been structured, designed, constructed and choreographed, but there was still a huge amount to achieve in a short time. As an aspiring creator of immersive, physical performance, I gained invaluable insight into the vast array of expertise (also the sheer amount of communication, patience and superhuman effort) that it takes to present a large scale, ambitious and complex work. I soaked up all that I could learn and found many ways to make my contribution. I supported director Lee Sunday Evans and choreographer David Neumann as an extra dramaturgical/choreographic eye. Backstage, I helped the crew to manage a particularly challenging and fast sequence of delivering furniture to the stage (the unseen dance of HOME is as speedy and intricate as the one happening on stage. Directing crew to weave around each other really felt like an opportunity to flex my choreographic muscles!). I offered assistance to the wardrobe and prop departments, labeling and organising the many costumes to be ready for international tour, and generating ‘auto-theatre’ objects. These are prop items that conceal written instructions: an audience member can interact with the object (eg. a bag of groceries, a photo album, a stack of plates) and follow the instructions independently. This means that, without any direction from a performer, the audience member can participate as part of the show for a length of time. I am not sure if I should give away any more secrets, but these ‘auto-theatre’ objects are just one element of a hugely complex system of audience interaction.
HOME is presented in a traditional proscenium theatre space. There are six performers and a live musician but at the height of the work there are almost 50 people on stage, including audience members. The vast majority of these people take their seats each night to ‘watch’ the show, completely unaware of the fact that they will soon host and attend a house party, join together in celebrating birth, birthdays, graduation, marriage and death. Some offer amplified memories of their own childhood homes or inhabit the house as new residents, but all become essential members of the show and ultimately create a spontaneous, vibrant community.
It is this quality of community, this drawing together of many people to laugh, lament and reflect, that makes HOME a unique and moving experience. The show has a timeless quality, it is filled with the use of illusion and magic, finely tuned movement and stirring music, combined with numerous stunning visual images. Thematically the work hints at topics including gentrification, migration, homelessness, the creation and loss of a house or a home, and the transient impermanence of both our structures and our presence as humans on earth. But, simply put, HOME offers these painful reflections via an intensely joyful celebration. There is So. Much. Joy. In the house. It was an absolute pleasure to experience HOME working its magic to build a new community each and every night. One of the most devastating hurricanes in history razed homes and homelands throughout USA and the Atlantic during HOME’s premiere season. The largest mass migration of displaced people in seventy years is currently taking place. Many, many families have fled their homelands seeking refuge in ours, only to be held homeless for indefinite periods. Gently nudging at these deeply concerning realities while offering the very antithesis – a spirit of sharing, acceptance and connection – is, to me, the pertinence, brilliance and beauty of HOME.
Now resting back home in Australia, I am left with a renewed, inspired desire to make a contribution to local and global conversations through my own artistic work. How will I ignite ecologies that can become the very essence of my work? How might my dance/physical theatre making evolve toward creating immersive, moving spaces, whole universes that audience experience and contribute to rather than just witness? Where will I find new conversations with artists, experts, scientists, thinkers, feelers, movers, human beings…and how will these shape my work? How will I enable my work to be spacious yet urgent, to speak to the immediate moment and to the universal?
Partly chance, partly being game. Partly a super human effort and an abundance of joy. Working on HOME as part of my 2017 YPA Fellowship has been an absolute privilege, an incredible opportunity to learn and to connect. It has deepened, enriched and consolidated my understanding of what it takes to make a magnificent work of art and how very, very important it is to do so.
For more info about Geoff Sobelle and his work >> click here
Interview with the creator of HOME, Geoff Sobelle >>click here
Watch what audience members say after seeing HOME>> click here
For more info about the Young People and the Arts (YPA) Fellowship >> click here
Daisy Sanders is a 2013 Bachelor of Arts Dance graduate of The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), with 2017 First Class Honours. Daisy has created visceral dance/physical performance works including Status Room (2014 Season 2, The Blue Room Theatre), PACES (Northcote Town Hall, DANCE MASSIVE 2015) and A Resting Mess (Spectrum Project Space 2017). Daisy has worked as an artist in residence at Bundanon NSW, The Abbotsford Convent, The Canberra Contemporary Arts Space and The Chapel Space. She has been generously supported by The Australia Council (2014 ArtStart, 2015 Key Organisation Emerging Artist), The Department of Culture and the Arts (2014 Quick Response, 2016 Creative Development, 2017 Young People and the Arts Fellowship) and Propel Youth Arts (2014, 2016).
Daisy designed her 2017 Fellowship program as a year-long opportunity to connect with new artists and companies including Geoff Sobelle, Sally Richardson and Sensorium Theatre. Her intention was to engage with socially relevant work existing outside the traditional realm of dance but that which still investigates the physical body as the primary conduit of communication. Daisy is interested in generous artists whose work challenges and redesigns use of performance space and invites or immerses the audience. Her final Fellowship activity will be a month-long residency at St George’s Cathedral, Perth City, during which she will continue to develop her own embodied, artistic methodology and plant the seed for future work.
Posted by Cecile Lucas, October 19th, 2017
Just how white is the Australian Performing Arts industry? How do we create space for diversity on our stages and within our organisations? This week, recent WAAPA graduate Riley Spadaro reports for us on his experience as first-time attendee at the 2017 Australian Theatre Forum, and outlines the profound challenges that arts organisations, producers and artists are facing when it comes to cultural diversity, what pathways can we create to be more inclusive and how can we embrace our differences.
What could “better” look like?
The Australian Theatre Forum is a biennial national conference for theatre artists, producers and cultural provocateurs to come together and discuss national concerns and practices. It is a significant industry event for sector-wide conversation and action. Co-curated by Alexis West and Steve Mayhew, and hosted on Kaurna Country at the Adelaide Festival Centre 3 – 5 October, ATF 2017 declared it was ABOUT TIME we tackled the sticky topics.
But where to begin? What are the problems and possibilities of our time?
Dismantling funding models? Gender constructs? Glass ceilings? Governance structures? Heteronormative narratives?
Implementing self care strategies?
Increasing diversity on Australian stages?
Q: “What can the arts actually do?”
A genuine dilemma here.
I can only begin by stating where I am.
I am a white, cis-gendered male who identifies as part of the LGBTQI+ community. Like most of my friends, I am standing in a space between Yes and No, between knowing and not knowing, with bullets flying past my head and “No” being written in the clouds above. It is a painful place to be, but I own that. I am a second generation Australian, but I do not identify as culturally or linguistically diverse. I am able-bodied. I am a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. I am educated (albeit with minimum earning capacity). By the time this blog is published I will be living in Sydney and working at Belvoir on Barbara and the Camp Dogs. I have mobility and I am unmistakably privileged.
I speak from this perspective because it is the one I know, but it is not a singular experience, nor should it be viewed as such. Space is not finite. Space creates space.
Barbara and the Camp Dogs by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine (Image: Daniel Boud)
Without question, ATF 2017 was the most inclusive forum in recent memory – boasting 31 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander delegates, 47 CALD, 57 regional-based, 58 LGBTQI+ (5 of who identified using they/them pronouns), 25 people with disability, 78 young and emerging, and 101 with a special dietary requirement. I would love to believe this level of inclusivity was normal, and part of me, some days, naively thinks it is the case. But having these statistics read aloud and met with applause was an uncomfortable indication of how far we have to go. We are in a marathon – not a sprint – and we are tired.
It is important to acknowledge that we have been attacked, repeatedly, over the last two years. We have been faced with a traumatic government intervention into arts funding that quashed the small-to-medium sector, a global shift towards isolationist politics, an increase of 6 parts per million in C02 emissions, and now a divisive postal survey asking us to vote on someone else’s right to love. It is important to acknowledge that we are weary, but to give way to despair is the ultimate cop-out.
The opening keynote from Jo Bannon was a war cry.
“At our best, we are a bit fucked – personally, politically, socially.” (Yes, Jo. We know.)
“The pooch is screwed and it can’t be unscrewed.”
“Art can’t unfuck the world, but it can fuck it right back.”
Invigorating. Exhausting. Toxic. The revolution was alive. What would the backlash be?
One delegate: “If you are not actively working to dismantle systemic structures of whiteness then you are participating in white supremacy.”
Another delegate: “Frankly, I’m tired of saying sorry.”
(Poor start. Let’s unpack.)
Earlier this year, I studied abroad at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore where I trained alongside students from across the Asia-Pacific Region. Studying in a culturally and linguistically diverse community forced me to confront my privilege as a white cis-gendered male (an uncomfortable discovery), and prompted me to ponder the questions: what is the underlying terror in the Australian cultural unconscious and does this terror give rise to the need to construct borders? Indeed, the imagined Australia is built on an Anglification of the geographical and ideological landscape. That is, non-Indigenous Australia – or, more specifically, ‘White Australia’ – is constructed on the idea that a person, object or geographical location can be classified as ‘Australian’ or as ‘Not Australian’ based on its seeming whiteness.
For performance studies scholar Joanne Tompkins, this anxiety with ideological classification stems from “a fundamental discomfort with the process of settlement and the establishment of nationhood” and a “will to forget what is actually known” 1 – that the Australian land mass always was (and always will be) Aboriginal land. Indeed, the notion of white ownership is institutionalised by a regime of truth which advances white nationalist discourses through legislative mechanisms of anti-immigration and marginalisation. For instance, hardline, state-sanctioned policies on border security and offshore detention work to enforce a white national identity by entrenching xenophobic attitudes towards ‘Non-Australians’ in legislative processes and systems – giving rise to a language that, in no uncertain terms, separates ‘us’ from ‘them.’
The use of this divisive language could be attributed to an unconscious lived-dislocation, or a seeming inability to construct a sense of being ‘at home.’ That is, the preoccupation with maintaining a ‘culturally pure’ national identity could stem from an innate insecurity towards the illegitimacy or non-permanence of white land ownership. Indeed, White Australia is constructed on a systemic dislocation and dispossession of land from Indigenous and First Nations people, and, therefore, any attempts to reclaim or reshape colonialist narratives are met with hostility.
But the arts are inclusive, right?
In her article Multiculturalism and the Mainstage, Dr. Roanna Gonsalves commented: “if the performing arts are meant to hold a mirror to society, then the Australian performing arts sector functions as a spectacular distortion.” 2 Today, 25% of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44% were born overseas or have a parent who was, and just under 20% speak a language other than English 3 and yet these culturally and linguistically diverse voices are largely under-represented in the Australian performing arts sector. 4
(Note: As a definition, ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ is problematic as it reinforces a sense of ‘other’ and addresses non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities as one homogenous group, rather than as separate cultures. However, despite these limitations, the definition is useful as it acknowledges that people of non-Anglo-Saxon background encounter a shared range of issues relating to access.)
Further, just over two years ago, the Australia Council for the Arts examined the programs of 135 Australian presenters and found that Indigenous and First Nations performing arts were under-represented in mainstream venues and festivals. Indigenous and First Nations works comprised around 2% of the almost 6000 works programmed in 2015 seasons. Almost 50% of presenters did not appear to program works with Indigenous or First Nations creative control, involvement or content, citing financial risk, difficulty in finding works that are not tokenistic, concerns that Indigenous work is “too serious”, fear of “doing First Nations work wrong”, and Australia’s underlying race issues as the main barriers. 5
And I get it – the truth always hurts. Being reminded that we are living on a land that never was (and never will be) ours is uncomfortable. Being told we have to “pay the rent” on stolen land is uncomfortable. But perhaps we need to lean into this discomfort and, like Indigenous performing artist Teila Watson (aka Ancestress) suggested, quietly take note of our resistances and work towards reconciling ourselves to them.
Perhaps we need to acknowledge that truth is subjective. Perhaps we need to embrace quiet and listen to each other’s truths. Listen to the pain. Listen to the wounding. Listen to the love. To listen is to move towards a space of not knowing, towards a space of zero. Conversation is the first step in dismantling the status quo. Words to speak over and over: “I don’t know, I’m listening, I don’t know, I’m listening, I don’t know.”
And I admit – all of this does seem out of reach. But it is important to remember that institutions are not natural phenomena – they have been invented and we can invent them anew. We need imagination as to what ‘better’ might look like. We need to let ourselves be led by our dreams.
Q: “So… what can the arts do?”
Art – in its most intoxicating form – holds its grounds while it destabilises yours.
On the first day of the ATF, in an incandescent response to the keynotes, Zainab Syed – Performing Lines WA Associate Producer and my friend – asked us to close our eyes and listen.
“… My dome will always shimmer in the sunshine
There will always be enough windows in me to let the light in.”
Art is to hold together. Art is thoughtful dissent. Art cannot change the world, but art can change people. People change the world.
Make the change you want to see.
I have just disembarked from a red-eye flight to Sydney (a thought: is my exhaustion and lack of sleep an indication of something inherently good about myself?) and I am invigorated. This is the moment of change. Standing on the precipice of not knowing is electric.
Riley Spadaro, Independent Artist
Barbara and the Camp Dogs | 2-23 December.
Belvoir Theatre, Surry Hills, Sydney | Info and tickets>>
1 Tompkins, J. (2006). Unsettling Space: Contestations in Contemporary Australian Theatre. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan.
2 Gonsalves, R. (2011). Multiculturalism and Mainstage Australian Theatre. Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia 2(2), 72-83.
3 BEMAC. (2015). Theatre Diversity Initiative. Retrieved from http://bemac.org.au/projects/theatre-diversity-initiative/
4 Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2013). The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy. Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/12_2013/people-of-australia-multicultural-policy-booklet.pdf.
5 Australia Council for the Arts. (2016). Showcasing Creativity: Programming and Presenting First Nations Performing Arts. Retrieved from http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/research/ australia-council-research-rep-57c75f3919b32.pdf
Posted by Cecile Lucas, October 12th, 2017
Emerging WA Queer artist Mitchell Whelan has just returned from the 2017 Australian Theatre Forum that was held in Adelaide early this month. Mitchell was among the seven independent artists from WA to attend the event. As a strong advocate for better representation of works made by and for Queer people, we asked Mitchell to share his views on the place that Queer work currently occupies on Australian stages following the group conversation he attended during the forum, as well as his overall experience as a first-time Forum attendee.
It’s about time… we share our stages, our stories and our spaces. It’s about time we fuck the world back.
The 2017 Australian Theatre Forum was a chance to share the ideas, concerns and provocations from around the sector. Theatre Network Australia was successful in making sure that people from culturally, physically, sexually and gender-diverse backgrounds were present in the room as both established and emerging artists. It was fantastic to be part of passionate discussions that critiqued the sector’s room for growth and behaviour as a national community.
Key note speakers Jo Bannon and Ivan Heng (W!LD RICE) provoked the forum brilliantly with what theatre must do. Simply, in a world that is fucked it is the job of theatre not to try and unfuck but to fuck back. We do this with works that transform audiences from strangers to community. Yuin architect Linda Kennedy (Future Black) described an experience in which multiple disciplines came together, dance and architecture of all things, to make a lasting impact in the community.
Blood On The Dance Floor by Jacob Boehme (Image by Dorinne Blaise)
During three days, artists, producers and presenters poured out their own provocations and experiences, inspiring us all to fuck back. Meeting with the sector on a national scale really encouraged me to think critically of how I sit in the Perth’s ecology, and the kind of relationships I have with other artists and organisations here in Perth.
So what do I want to fuck?
In preparation for The Forum I sounded out my neighbourhood of emerging LGBTQIA artists as well as production staff and one common thing clearly stands out: we need more representation of Queer stories, and we should be expecting better. And this sentiment was echoed at The Forum.
Radha La Bia’s The Divine Game at Underbelly Arts
While metropolitan areas are pained at seeing the repetition of the same coming out story, regional areas are in dire need of Queer representation as well as safe spaces so that coming out stories could be told at all.
Sydney and NSW delegates described a frightening decline in Queer works as the nightclubs and performance spaces that usually house such artists are forced to close as a result of NSW’s 2014 Lockout Law and rising inner-city rents.
Betty Grumble’s Sex Clown Saves The World
Then came a point in the conversation where I felt both a mix of pride and fear. Maybe Perth has become a ‘National Hotspot’ for Queer works? The past year has seen a number of LGBTQIA+ artists stage heartfelt, bold and successful Queer theatre at The Blue Room. PICA presented Pony Express’ Ecosexual Bathhouse, as well as works by 110%, Angela Goh and Deep Soulful Sweats. More recently, PICA has partnered with Lz Dunn to bring Aeon to Perth (produced by Performing Lines), and Black Swan State Theatre Company has programmed HIR by Taylor Mac in conversation with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler for 2018.
Ecosexual Bathhouse by Pony Express (Image by Matt Sav)
Why then do many artists still feel the need to search for their stories on stage? Perhaps the answer lies in what we’re willing to ask for as audiences and makers. I quickly scribed the group conversation “The Queer Space on the Australian Stage” led by Emma Valente (The Rabble) and Daniel Clarke (Arts Centre Melbourne):
“A Queer work sits in the margins, it is radical and explosive performance that shifts away from heteronormative desires. Queer work re-imagines sex, desire and the body, and celebrates queer bodies. Queer work is a method of rejecting and accepting, it’s circles and fragments – not lines. And unquestionably, Queer work is made by and for Queer people. But how does this work exist in margins that are being closed down? What happens when your voice is diluted by subscriber bases, straight cisgender directors and government funding? If you can count on one hand the amount of Queer works you’ve seen in your city over the entire year, do you have a hotspot?”
AEON by Lz Dunn & Collaborators (Image by Bryony Jackson)
It’s about time that we ask for the work we want to see, to be made the way we want to see it. That we open our rehearsal rooms and stages to the voices and audiences of our LGBTQIA siblings.
- Lz Dunn & Collaborators’ Aeon | Produced by Performing Lines
- 19 – 22 Oct | Liveworks Festival, Performance Space, Secret Location in near Sydney Park | BUY TICKETS>>
- 26 – 29 Oct | Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts at Totally Huge New Music Festival WA, Secret Location near Perry Lakes | BUY TICKETS>>
Posted by Cecile Lucas, July 28th, 2017
Director Will O’Mahony chose the fresh and emerging costume designer Rozina Suliman for his new play, Coma Land. With a background in installation art, Rozina’s career proves that the seemingly innate connection between installation art and theatre design offers endless intertwining possibilities, all for the benefit of audience experiences. Once the calm resumed after the opening of Coma Land last Saturday, we finally had the chance to ask Rozina a few questions about her personal journey in design, her collaboration with Director Will O’Mahony, and how her design process works.
What is about Coma Land that grabs you most? And what was the design brief for this production?
When I first read Coma Land I felt connected to it. There was space between the words to imagine, to dream and to examine my own life experience. Will’s writing is very beautiful and evocative, and his process of refining is rather phenomenal to experience. Every time he sent me a new draft of the script it was better. I felt audiences would connect with the work too.
I’d say it was a design journey, rather than a design brief. The space between the words meant there were endless possibilities. Will, set designer Patrick James Howe and I explored all the extremes in the early part of the process and then we explored it all again when rehearsals started!
What research did you conduct when thinking about the design for Coma Land? And what is your design process like in general?
My research file for Coma Land is massive. We went everywhere like little explorers overturning rocks and looking for the right grain of sand on a vast rocky-sandy beach! My design process varies depending on the work and the creative team. I would, however, say that generally I am an intuitive designer and I feel my way through the process as much as I think and research.
From the first day of rehearsal right until the Opening Night there have been a lot of adjustments made to the costumes. Can you explain a little about the work-in-progress relationships with the cast and artistic team? How did you and Director Will O’Mahony reach decisions about concept and style?
Design needs to support the work and its intention. Often the rehearsal room is the best place to design, particularly with a new work as it evolves and develops throughout this period. It is important to be open and be able to adapt where you can. In this instance we had designed to a point prior to rehearsals however, needed the performers input to develop the characters and the costumes. Boon, for example started off as a fifteen year old but through the rehearsal process became an eleven year old because it was more fitting to the story. I am also very grateful that I had wonderful support from Lynn Ferguson, Black Swan’s Wardrobe Manager.
What was the most challenging? Is there something in particular that required constant attention?
Socks! We went through so many options it’s become the show joke now!
Set & Costume Design, The Last Great Hunt, The Advisors, 2017. Image by Daniel James Grant
How did you first get interested in being a Costume Designer?
I fell into theatre design. My background is in installation art. About eight years ago I was exhibiting work at a now defunct Art, Theatre and Music venue in Brisbane called Top Floor. I was approached by Claire Marshall (an independent Brisbane choreographer) to create installation art for her upcoming work, Hey Scenester!. We met, we clicked, we decided to have some fun together and it just progressed from there.
Creating experiences for audiences and collaborating are the two things I am most passionate about. Theatre design work suits me because it encompasses both of these passions and allows me to support other creatives in their pursuits. There is something so beautiful about working with other creative people, bouncing around ideas and pooling your skills to make something you could not make alone because everyone has a different story and a different set of skills to bring to the table.
Set Design, Timothy Brown Choreography, Salon, 2013. Image by Lisa De Re.
After six years of teaching myself design on the fly, I decided I wanted to make this my career and moved to Perth in 2015 to attend WAAPA and undertake further study in the field of set and costume design. Prior to WAAPA, I had not designed costumes. I am thoroughly enjoying learning about costume design, the role costumes play in telling a story and I am very grateful to Will O’Mahony, Black Swan State Theatre Company and Performing Lines WA for giving me the opportunity to play and learn with them.
How do you look for work as a designer? Do you pitch? Do people find you?
To be honest, all of my work in the past has been through word of mouth and recommendations. I still don’t have a website–have been talking about it for over ten years–but people still manage to find me. I feel it will be a combination of both in the future.
Set Design, Claire Marshall Choreography, Video Set, 2011. Photo by Rozina Suliman.
Any advice/inspiration for those wanting to become a costume designer?
I’m going to give more general advice in relation to the path of the creative. And that is, if you feel your contribution to the world lies in the creative realm, I encourage you to join us. The world needs more creativity. I believe that life is about living your truth and learning, and although the creative path can be hard, daunting and lonely at times, it is also filled with magic, amazing experiences, wonderful people and so many opportunities for learning and growth. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Posted by Cecile Lucas, July 18th, 2017
Emerging Set & Costume Designer and WAAPA Graduate Patrick James Howe generously took time to chat with us during this epic week that is production week. Some of you might already be familiar with Patrick’s previous projects including Venus in Fur (Black Swan Theatre Company, 2015), A View from a Bridge (Yirra Yaakin), Wax Lyrical Productions’ Carrie The Musical (2016 Mathilda Award Winner Best Musical) and Jasper Jones (Barking Gecko). While this is not his first collaboration with Will O’Mahony, it certainly is one that brings great challenges in designing a minimalist set that doesn’t distract the audience from the play but still conveys the mood, and we were very curious to find out how Patrick tackled this new project!
This is not your first collaboration with Will O’Mahony. What is it like working with him?
Working with Will, over the last few years, have been some of my best experiences. Will has a fantastic theatre brain and for every show we have worked on together, the approach has been slightly different. However what has not changed is Will’s passion and work ethic. Will puts so much into the show he is working on, there are times when I feel like I’m not doing enough, compared to the amount of work he is doing. This pushes me to do more and I like that.
What is about Coma Land that grabs you most? And how do you think the audience will respond to it?
Coma Land is exactly the kind of play I want to work on. Coma Land, unlike a lot of other contemporary Australian plays, deals with existential questions in a way that is separate from our everyday lives. This allows us to ask the big questions about ourselves without getting bogged down in trivial aspects of everyday lives. This is a beautifully crafted story, and I think audiences will find their own things to love about this play.
What was the design brief for this production?
HAHAHAHHAHA. The design brief for the production, has and still is an ever-evolving idea. However, through the many design explorations for this production, we kept coming back to the same things. The world is continuous and confined, it is an ethereal terrain and on its own plain of existence. It is soft to touch but has a feeling of coldness.
Oklahoma! (by MUSEA)
Can you tell us what was the most challenging part of designing the set for Coma Land?
From a designer point of view, this is a play with endless possibilities. When I was doing my initial visual research, I don’t think I came across one image that I think would work. The challenging part was being precise and definite about our choices, and only using ideas that we knew for certain helped and worked with the story.
How did you become interested in working in the Performing Arts? And how did your parents take it?
I dropped out of High School in year nine and did a cabinet making apprenticeship. It was after finishing this that I decided I didn’t want to just go to work every day. I wanted to be doing and giving more. I wanted to be a part of creating things that inspired people. The Performing Arts, was the ideal industry for this. As for my parents, well, like children of most baby boomers, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be.
Wax Lyrical’s Carrie The Musical (2016 Matilda award winner: Best Musical)
Now that you’ve been working for several years, can you tell us a bit about how you work and how does the process begin for you?
After several years, I probably still can’t tell you this. Every project is different and truth be told, I probably approach each process like it is the first time I am doing it.
How true is the final set to the ideas you get during or right after reading the script? And how much is the design affected by the creative team input?
I think any ideas you get right after or during your first reading is a good starting point. However, they are only a small piece of the puzzle. Your design is affected by many other aspects of the production: other creatives, the director’s brief, production parameters and the actors are all pieces of the puzzle you must put together. Once you do that then you may get a more truthful idea about the final set.
Fracture (New Ghost)
In terms of your work in general, is there a style that defines what you do, or a signature of some kind?
I like to think that I don’t have a defining style. I like to approach every play in a way that best helps the story. However, if you ask my peers what they thought of my designs, they will probably say something like “Oh that design was totally a Patrick design”.
Venus in Fur (Black Swan State Theatre Company, 2015)
Which designers/artists do you admire and where do you get your inspiration from?
Artist: Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollack.
Designers: Joseph Svoboda, Edward Gordan Craig, Katrin Brack.
However, even though all these artists’ works are beautiful and I love them very much, it is not their art that inspires me the most, but the fact that they didn’t accept the status quo, and challenged the boundaries and ideas of their respective art forms.
What’s your best advice for aspiring set and/or costume designers?
It only can’t be done until you do it.
Hamlet (WAAPA/Barking Gecko)