Posted by Cecile Lucas, June 7th, 2017
Gemma Pepper is a Sydney-based Independent Producer working with a number of companies on both sides of the country including Erth, Side Pony Productions, and previously for Canberra’s Enlighten Festival 2012-2014 as Creative Producer.
Joining me for a quick interview, Gemma spills the beans about The Irresistible, a co-production between Side Pony and The Last Great Hunt, ahead of its season at PICA, her views on some of the best tech-based performance experiences she’s had recently, and some practical tips for new producers…
TREAT TIME | we’ve got a double pass to the preview of The Irresistible on Wednesday 14 June. To enter, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and email address by COB Monday 12 June.
The Irresistible, 14-24 June at PICA. Info and booking>>
Cecile Lucas: How do you describe what you do when people ask?
Gemma Pepper: I produce theatre, festivals and events and recently I’m trying my hand at producing tech projects as well.
CL: Side Pony Production’s latest show The Irresistible (a co-production with The Last Great Hunt) looks at the assumptions people make about others, particular those based on gender. Can you tell us a bit more about what inspired the work?
GP: The seed for this work was sewn when Zoe, Adriane and Tim (the core creative team) worked together in 2013 on The Wives of Hemingway. They were playing with shifting up which performer played each character, ignoring the gender of the performer, and this led to some fairly interesting revelations about how we (as an audience) expect people to behave. They didn’t really have time to delve into it fully at the time and it’s a point of interest that they have all kept coming back to ever since, so it’s great that they have the opportunity to really dig into the topic in this production.
Side Pony’s production The Wives of Hemingway. Photo by David Collins
CL: Technology frequently features in Side Pony work, with sound being manipulated and played around with in this show. Can you tell us how it works and what effect it has for the viewer?
GP: Sound and the manipulation of the voice is a really big element of this show. We have been using voice modulation software triggered by hand-held wii-motes as a way for the performers to jump from one character to another, using the voice as the defining feature of the character. It’s quite amazing how the sound of a performer’s voice can completely shift how you think of them; allowing a small statured woman to very convincingly become a laddish well-built man in a matter of seconds. This play with voice is quite unnerving as an audience member and it lets our two performers play a lot of different characters.
The Irresistible, photo by David Collins
CL: In a previous interview with The Street you shared that you were interested in all sorts of productions using new technology that enhance audience’s experience. Let’s get nerdy – what have you seen or discovered recently that you’ve been excited about?
GP: There are some really interesting new experiences coming out at the moment that embrace new technologies, some within the arts and some further afield. I really love Roslyn Oades’ work Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday (produced by Performing Lines), which is a verbatim theatre work where the performers are guided by documentary audio. Erth is cooking up a brand new VR experience with its prehistoric marine creatures, which will be amazing when it comes out and I’ve stumbled across this fantastic reading app called Novel Effect which uses voice recognition to track your progress as you read aloud from a children’s book and it overlays sound effects to match the story.
Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday. Photo by Sarah Walker
CL: You’ve worked independently as a producer, as well as for companies including Erth. Can you share with us a moment or experience that stands out as formative to you as a producer?
GP: You have moments all the time where you think you are way out of your depth but once you’re in it you can’t back out, so you just knuckle down and get the job done only to look back and realise what a major learning curve it was. “Spectacular by Night” was one of those events for me, which I cooked up when I was Creative Producer of the Enlighten festival in Canberra. I had come up with the idea of hanging trapeze artists under two hot air balloons for a night glow (which is where the hot air balloons glow at dusk), it seemed like a speccy idea at the time but it wasn’t until I was looking over the 15-20,000 people who had come to watch it, hoping like anything the wind wasn’t going to pick up, that I really appreciated the ridiculous ambition of what we were trying to pull off… thankfully everything went smoothly and the crowd were suitably impressed.
CL: So you’re based in Sydney, Zoe is based in Perth, and the creative team for The Irresistible are drawn from across Australia. Does that make working collaboratively a challenge? How do you overcome the tyranny of distance?
GP: Zoe and I have worked this way for a long time, so it’s pretty much second nature now. We use a hell of a lot of communication platforms, which can get a bit confusing, but we check in with each other all the time. Bringing others into that space is a little harder and it’s been really important to factor in face to face time, where everyone can get more of a sense of the humour and general aesthetic of what the show is. We now have everyone in the room, which is great, and they are cranking out some pretty amazing content which will make for a really punchy show. I gotta say I’m pretty excited about what it’s becoming.
CL: What’s your best advice for aspiring producers?
GP: It’s really important to take on projects that extend your skills, where you learn from others and build your capacity but it’s also important not to say yes to everything. Once you have said yes you don’t have that time available for the next project that comes along that might be amazing… so it’s good to be discerning in the work that you take on.
Side Pony Productions & The Last Great Hunt’s The Irresistible
14 – 24 June | PICA Performance Space | Info and booking>>
Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday is touring nationally from July to September. Catch this multi-award winning production on their only WA dates at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre from 25-26 August 2017. Info and Booking>>
Posted by Cecile Lucas, April 19th, 2017
After touring regional WA for two weeks, the Small Voices Louder crew is back in Perth for an intensive week of audio editing to piece together some of the most insightful children’s answers recorded across the tour. On the soundboard is Melbourne-based sound artist Sharyn Brand, whose artistry in kaleidoscopic audio assemblage brings a whole new dimension to the production. In the coming days Sharyn will be weaving these small voices into an audio snapshot of regional WA kids’ brave and profound answers – we can’t wait to share the end result with you. While you’re waiting, here is a conversation I recently had with Sharyn, to hear about her artistic background and what brought her to work alongside Alex Desebrock on this production.
Cecile Lucas: What first sparked your interest in exploring sound?
Sharyn Brand: I can’t really remember the first time I was interested in sound, I feel like it has always fascinated me. I loved listening to music and I spent many years as a nightclub DJ, this is where I began experimenting with composition and making my own tracks. Now, I not only have a fascination with music and sound, but also with the technical side of how it can be created and manipulated.
CL: How would you describe your approach to working with sound – and the kind of work that you make?
SB: My current works focus on the human voice. I am very interested in words and stories and how they can move people. My work is as much an exploration of listening as it is of sound, as I am investigating how people listen and what they hear.
In my current work I explore the notion of the sound bite. How a short 30-second recording of words may speak of one thing, yet the same words can be edited, truncated and rearranged, and be heard differently.
CL: How did you start working with Alex Desebrockand Maybe ( ) Together?
SB: I shared a studio next to hers in the same artist warehouse in Melbourne, and at the time my partner was collaborating with her on a wonderful outdoor children’s work. I had been doing some stage managing and was asked to join the team. I then learnt more of her development of Small Voices Louder and knew I wanted to be a part of it! I was brought on board with four other sound artists for a 2-week development at Arts House Melbourne. My work really resonated with Alex’s vision for SVL, and she offered me to be part of it.
CL: What do you like the most about collaborating with Alex on Small Voices Louder? Is there anything in particular that you learned through this experience?
SB: Alex has a real passion for giving children agency and allowing their ideas and voices to be heard. This totally aligns with my practice, and I am so thrilled and grateful to be working on this project with her. I love listening to the voices – children are always surprisingly insightful.
CL: Atmosphere, space and setting are very important components when producing immersive performance, and can influence the way people respond to the show. In your work, the concept of confined space and confessional experience is quite recurrent. What is it that you like about it? How does that environment influence the responses you get?
SB: The setup of the recording space in my current work gives the participant total control and privacy. Just like the tent world in Small Voices Louder, there is no one sitting across from them holding a microphone eliciting a response. I like that this seems to give people the freedom to be very candid.
CL: Sound art is a very direct way of engaging people with art, with a great level of anonymity, yet can feel very exposing for participants. How do you find people respond to this contradictory concept of Anonymity Vs Exposure?
SB: For me sound as a medium is both a very personal yet at the same time a very connecting and shared experience. When people are being recorded, not amplified or broadcast in the same moment, it becomes a very freeing cathartic experience. In my work no one is listened in to that present moment. As the words and sounds are listened to at a time in the future, I feel participants quickly reconcile that they may or may not hear their words again so they don’t feel so exposed.
CL: What’s next? What do you have in the pipeline after Small Voices Louder regional tour?
SB: Whilst on tour in W.A. I will be exhibiting a composition in Phantasmagoria – a free site-responsive festival located at Bogong Village, Victoria. Reflection is a self-directed headphone sound walk, responding to the theme of Phantasmagoria and the site of Bogong Village. The sounds within the piece were recorded on a two-week supported residency in 2016. The stories I collected have been processed and morphed with the impulse responses of the natural acoustics of different spaces within the Village.
Keep an eye out for the voices of regional WA kids coming at you soon!
Posted by Cecile Lucas, January 31st, 2017
Small Voices Louder is an interactive show in two parts, where kids are invited to play and explore an installation that prompts them to express what they really think, with their frank, fearless and funny answers. The second part takes these recorded answers and delivers them to adult ears through radio and public space.
Leading up to the premiere of Small Voices Louder produced by Performing Lines WA at the 2017 Perth Festival, Cecile caught up with Maybe ( ) Together’s lead artist Alex Desebrock to find out why our smallest people can have the loudest voices.
Your works generally position children as the instigators and central figures in each performance. Has this concept always been inherent to your work or was there an impetus that sparked your interest in engaging young voices?
I’ve always wanted to create circuit breakers for people from reality. An opportunity to think big, connect and feel. I kept making this kind of works for adults – but kept getting programmed for children audiences.
I then had this moment in an early work called A Little Piece where six audience members were stuck together in a room with one child. They all LOVED having that child there to watch them open doors, react and made their experience of this immersive puppet world even more magical.
I also realised that children often tell me exactly what I need to hear. And that if you’re not around kids much, you wouldn’t hear their crazy, blunt, inspiring, honest, hopeful, guilt-inducing words.
And really – we need to think more about the next generation, right?
For the development of Small Voices Louder you worked with children in both regional and metropolitan Victoria. Did you find the responses differed between the two? How did that inform the show?
Not especially. It’s really hard to make generalisations about different children’s audiences when you only share the work with about 50 kids I think.
There is one question that asks them to describe their town/city to an Alien. This definitely provides differences and you hear what rural kids lives are like in comparison to city kids. Rural kids talk about space, the big city being the local town whereas City children talk about the attractions, the pros and cons of living in a city and things like that. I am looking forward to finding out more about this at PIAF and then on our regional tour later in 2017.
In the second part of Small Voices Louder, children’s responses are played to adults to elicit reactions and consideration. Do you find your work also triggers conversations amongst the children?
The children wonder through the first part in pairs. This means we do hear their conversations. You can hear their minds working as they try to find the right words for things, correct each other and add to their thoughts.
What was your first experience of participatory theatre? What made you want to become a contemporary maker yourself?
I always go back to The Angel Project by Deborah Warner which I saw when I was 16 at PIAF. It blew my mind. I had this amazing experience of being in a secret poem in my own city. It made me see the world differently and I realised the power of audience autonomy in a work.
I believe art can provide the space for connection, new perspectives and ultimately better decisions. Life gets so busy we find it hard to stop and think big, daringly, boldly with values, ethics and consideration. Art’s complexity allows transcendence – and this is why I keep making art.
You recently came back to your home town, Perth, after working in Melbourne. Was this move motivated by a desire to be part of Perth’s evolving artistic scene?
Perth has certainly boomed over the last 10 years I wasn’t here! I was getting a bit envious of the fun things happening and those feelings I had when I moved of being in the Arts Capital of Australia had shifted.
But it wasn’t only this. I wanted to make art in a space with differing opinions and beyond a well-trained arts audience.
I also just wanted to be back with the salty air and blue skies. And my dog wanted the dog beaches here.
What do you find the most challenging in creating performances for and with children?
The thing with children is that they are often dragged or pushed into an arts experience. Either with their school, or well-meaning parent. So – you have to work very hard to make it engaging – because (of course) they will be very clear about it if they don’t like it.
I think this is the hardest part. Making it interesting for differing ages and personalities. It’s not easy!
Small Voices Louder by Maybe ( ) Together
Produced by Performing Lines WA | Presented by Perth International Arts Festival
10 February – 5 March 2017 | State Theatre Centre of WA
Posted by Thom Smyth, August 23rd, 2016
In the next installment of our Opinion section on the blog, we’ve commissioned Dr Jonathan Marshall, Senior Lecturer at WAAPA, to provide his thoughts on Steamworks Arts’ recent interdisciplinary performance Trigger Warning that premiered at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts last week.
In her account of choreographer Douglas Wright’s production Black Milk (2006), Suzanne Little notes that the piece begs “the question of how does one, or indeed, should one represent the ‘real’ suffering of others in artistic works and to what ends?” Director Sally Richardson’s collaboration with Cat Hope (sound/music), Hayley McElhinney (performer) and Joe Lui (lighting) insistently raises the same question to the point that this would seem to be the central topic of the production itself. The achievement and strength of Trigger Warning as a piece of performance art therefore lies precisely in the manner in which the piece confronts the audience with such problems. Convincing strategies to deal with these representational and critical dilemmas mark sections of the work, but I would venture that no entirely satisfactory solution can in fact arise, so one is left with questions. Trauma, which is the subject of this production, lies at the margins of what it is possible to represent, and hence it is unlikely it can in fact be accounted for or even fully dealt with via art. Trigger Warning asks us to consider this conundrum.
The production uses a personal account of violence and survival as a springboard to explore the traumatic more generally. The authority of the witness and the practice of retelling is foregrounded. McElhinney stands forward and slightly to the left for much of the piece, resting in front of a microphone into which she slowly and hesitantly relates events, pains and questions. She parallels however the witness Ka-Tzetnik from the Eichmann trial, who famously passed out in the stand unable to deliver any more testimony. The unadorned nature of her tale, its recurrent enunciation, and her only partially successful attempts to go further than a simple literal retelling, dramatizes both the power of testimony, and its limits. True horror remains somehow unspeakable even as it is given voice.
Testimony is therefore insufficient in itself. The central conceit of the production is to translate diverse affective states into sonic, musical and scenographic effects. Hope plays electric bass and electronics, at times offering a low, grainy noise which reflects the grating nature of the testimony, whilst at other points heavy metal / industrial music rifts seem to break out of the pain to signify transcendence and pleasure. McElhinney holds the microphone in the air in something like a moment of self-destructive ecstasy, as the sheer force of the aesthetic response here takes us far from scenes of literal violence. Lui has a grid of lights behind the performers pointed at the audience, and these flash and move in lines, adding luminal drumbeats, or moments in which the harsh glare of affect and its electric beams seem to burn away everything else. These moments of oscillation between where sound and light represent pain itself, before becoming something else, serve as the highlights of the performance. Some of Trigger Warning’s most subtle moments occur in the delicate nuancing of these transitions, as where Hope sings quietly, poetically and with a hint of tragedy into her own microphone, adding the merest of accompaniment with her guitar.
Despite the centrality of voice within the production, such aural poetry seems untrustworthy at almost every turn. McElhinney’s speech is inflected by a range of accents. After I had seen the performance, I read in the program that the original speaker had survived the Balkan wars. The phrasing however places us within the US or Britain. Trauma here becomes a horrific, fantasmic space which infiltrates all others. In a particularly affective monologue, McElhinney describes the city which one of her characters inhabits, one which is utterly and irredeemably corrupt. Trauma moves here from a warzone experience, or one particular in its nature to women (again, the program notes that the piece came out of initially exploring women’s trauma) to become the Existential state of contemporary modernity. In the lands where airplanes can collide with buildings at any time, where pandemics threaten, where human movement across borders has been reclassified as a threat rather than escape, traumatic anxiety infects our every moment.
I have therefore two concerns myself regarding the production, despite its manifest technical virtuosity and supremely effective staging as a sound and light event. The first of these is how explicit should the representation of traumatic states be, particularly when there is a very real possibility of actually traumatising the audience on some level? As Little and others have noted, to depict trauma can in some sense make one complicit with those who first inflicted it. There is an extended passage, presented to the audience as in-your-face direct address, which outlines in detail and at length acts of sexual violence. The audience is thereby placed in the position of the rapist, being spoken to by his (or her) victim. McElhinney’s character delivers this flippantly, as though to suggest the tale is too appalling for even her to fully acknowledge, which somehow makes it worse. I for one wonder not only whether one has the right to position the audience as a perpetrator of sexual violence, but more specifically what one possible outcome there is for actively upsetting the audience through such an address? I know of at least one audience member who was deeply disturbed by this material, and at least in this case, I do not think that anything positive eventuated from producing such a response. The issue is of course a very difficult one, and everyone’s threshold to hearing such material is different. This is therefore a question which it is not only I who ask, but which the production urgently asks of its audience members and of itself. I will be interested to see how or if this scene is modified as creative development continues.
As a trained historian, I also query the stripping away of cultural and historical specificity. By making it impossible to place the events or emotional states depicted here within any particular site of violence, be this the Balkan Wars, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, S11, or domestic abuse, the piece becomes more of an Existential exploration of the contemporary zeitgeist as inhabited by Western subjects today. This is of course a fascinating and important topic in and of itself, but the program blurb suggests the artists began by seeing the piece as a work of political commentary. Without a clear target, even in an abstract sense, I am not sure how Trigger Warning functions in this manner—which is not to say that it does not, merely that it remains an open point. Perhaps it is best to think of Trigger Warning as a response to the wave of increasingly abstract and unquantifiable wars which we have been waging over the last 50 years: the war on drugs, the war on terror. Perhaps Trigger Warning shifts us into mounting a new war on trauma, fought in this instance through sound, light and text; a battle of affective mourning and aesthetic intensities.
Suzanne Little, “Re-Presenting the Traumatic Real,” in Alexandra Kolb, ed., Dance and Politics (2006).
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1965).
Shoshana Felman & Dori Laub, Testimony (1992).
Monica Casper & Eric Wertheimer, Critical Trauma Studies (2016).
Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995).
Dr Jonathan W. Marshall is coordinator of postgraduate study at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth. He and Cat Hope are the supervisors of Sally Richardson’s PhD at WAAPA. Jonathan has published on various matters related to trauma and hysteria (see https://edithcowan.academia.edu/JonathanWMarshall). His monograph, “Performing Neurology: The Dramaturgy of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot” is available through Palgrave Macmillan and Springer.
Posted by Thom Smyth, May 17th, 2016
Sensorium Theatre is seeking a Performer to join our eight-week regional WA tour of the sensory theatre production Oddysea, with the potential for ongoing engagement with the company beyond this project. The tour will commence on 1 August and finish on 23 September.
Sensorium’s mission is to improve the lives of children and young people with disabilities by sparking their imaginations and enabling greater creative responses. We do this by creating high quality immersive workshop and sensory theatre experiences that they can enjoy as audiences.
Currently the only company in Australia making work for this neglected audience, Sensorium Theatre have recently performed at flagship venues: the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne. This year we are touring Oddysea regionally and have a national tour secured for 2017.
Performer – Ideally you would be a multi-talented performer who is passionate about storytelling and inclusion, and are committed to socially-engaged arts practice. We work as an ensemble delivering workshops, performances, and professional development sessions for venues and teachers.
While you will receive full instruction on Sensorium Theatre’s performance and workshop methodology, experience in this area will be looked upon favourably. The production includes puppetry, singing, and participatory performance – click here to watch a video about Oddysea.
HOW TO APPLY
We require a one-page cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should outline why you wish to work with Sensorium and how your experience will contribute to a successful production and tour. Shortlisted applicants will then be invited to audition. Applications close COB Fri 27 May. Send applications to Sensorium Theatre’s producers Performing Lines WA – details below.
Producer contact: Rachael Whitworth
email@example.com | 08 9200 6232
Fri 27 May | Applications due
Fri 3 June | Shortlisted applicants notified
Fri 10 June | Auditions
Aug – Sept | Rehearsals and tour