NEWS | Daisy Sanders reports on her fellowship with Geoff Sobelle

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.

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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.

 

Daisy Sanders

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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

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BIOGRAPHY

 

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.

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PROFILE | COMA LAND COSTUME DESIGNER – ROZINA SULIMAN

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.


PROFILE – COMA LAND SET DESIGNER – PATRICK JAMES HOWE

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)


PROFILE | COMA LAND ACTRESS – MORGAN OWEN

Posted by Cecile Lucas, July 13th, 2017

Emerging performer/theatre-maker and recent WAAPA graduate Morgan Owen is our last Coma Land cast member to be quizzed. While this marks her debut with Black Swan Theatre Company, Morgan has already started to make a name for herself in the theatre world with recent work including The War on Food (Perth Fringe, 2016), The Book of Life (Perth Fringe, 2017) and Paradise (Adelaide Fringe, 2017) which she co-wrote and performed in. In Will O’Mahony’s new play, Morgan plays Penguin, a young girl trapped in the world-in-between, who is determined to fly. Her performance on stage is brilliant, and we were very excited to catch up with her and chat about the show ahead of its Western Australian premiere next Thursday.

 

Co-produced with Black Swan State Theatre Company, Coma Land is opening next Thursday at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
20 July – 6 August, Studio Underground.
Tickets and info>>

 

What was your first impression after reading Coma Land script, and what was about this play that grabbed you most?
What really charmed me after first reading Coma Land was the story. The play is centred around people and the relationships that exist between them and despite being set in a kind of other-worldly limbo full of rules and time limits, it focuses on a simple story that is delicate, joyous and full of heart. There’s a vulnerability to it and it can go from being incredibly funny one moment to quite devastating the next and that’s something I find very exciting.

 

What do you see as some of the main ideas behind this play? How do you think audiences will respond?
I think at its core it’s a story about parents and children. It explores what happens if conditions are placed on a love that should be unconditional and what happens as a result of trying control something (like raising a child) which is not something to be mastered but rather a gift.  It’s a play about mastery and acceptance and, I think, a celebration of difference. It’s not a play that tells you what to think, it’s doesn’t present a black and white version of what is right and what is wrong. The characters are all a little morally ambiguous and for that reason I think it will resonate with people and stay with them after they leave the theatre!

 

You play a little girl named Penguin in Coma Land. What can you tell us about your character and what is it that you like about her?
Penguin is a character who runs at a million miles a minute. She’s been isolated all her life so she can be a little awkward but she’s completely unaware of it like most young children. She’s a character who, in contrast to Boon – who’s a prodigy, isn’t an intellectual character but she is extremely emotionally intelligent, generous and open which makes her a real joy to play.

 

Now that you have almost finished rehearsals, is there anything challenging you or surprising you?
I actually think I’m most surprised by how fun the process has been, without it sounding like I was expecting it to be awful! I think we have a really talented and wonderful group of people working on this show who all get along very well and a supportive and playful rehearsal room. I feel very lucky to get to be a part of it.

 

How did you become interested in working in the Performing Arts? And how did your parents take it?
I’ve always been interested in pursuing a career in the Arts, coming out of high-school that was all I could really imagine myself doing. My parents have always been very supportive. My mum was a visual artist and my dad is a lawyer who had dreams of a career in theatre so he’s always encouraged me to persevere a little more than he did!


Image of Morgan Owen and Jo Morris in The Book of Life (Renegade Production)Photo By Jamie Breen

Lastly, can we expect to see you in any other work this year?
Not as of yet! I’m going to take a little time after Coma Land to pursue writing which I’ve always been interested in.


PROFILE | COMA LAND ACTOR – BEN SUTTON

Posted by Cecile Lucas, July 11th, 2017

It’s week three of rehearsals and the COMA LAND team is truly immersed in the grey matter world of Will O’Mahony’s brilliant piece about parents and children, success and failure. One of our favourite characters is Cola, a grumpy yet funny male panda, brilliantly interpreted by actor Ben Sutton. Originally from UK, Ben is a WAAPA Graduate and award-winning actor and comedian with experience spanning from theatre to television and film. Not only is it a delight to watch Ben playing Cola on stage, but it’s also a pleasure to sit down with him and have a quick chat (and a laugh) about this new production and his experience in general.

Co-produced with Black Swan State Theatre Company, Coma Land is opening soon at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
20 July – 6 August, Studio Underground.
Tickets and info>>

 

What was your first impression after reading Coma Land script, and what was it about this play that grabbed you most?
I was really impressed after reading the script for the first time. I thought it was genuinely funny. The world was really intriguing too. There was a feeling of wonder and innocence to it but also an underlying sinisterness, and I really liked that.

What do you see as some of the main ideas behind this play? How do you think audiences will respond?
There’s a fair bit going on in this play. The desire to be normal, not special. Acceptance. Both self and from others. Love. Optimism and saying yes to things, even if it turns out you are getting conned. The need to fly. I have no idea how audiences will respond, but that’s what’s really exciting about it. We shall see!

You play Cola, a male panda. What can you tell us about this character and what is it that you like about him?
I liked Cola as soon as I read the script. He is funny and it seems really fitting that this giant Panda has such a wonderfully cynical and irreverent attitude. He doesn’t give a rats. He mostly just wants to be left alone, without any human interference but he can also be coaxed out of his shell by the right people. And once his guard is down he’s actually quite playful and caring. He’s a panda after all, and they can’t help but be cute.

With a diverse body of work in theatre, television and film, can you share a moment or experience that stands out as formative to you as an actor?
My time at WAAPA was hugely formative. Even though I was a rubbish student, I came out with a real love for stories and a desire to be part of telling them. Up until then I think it had just been about showing off, Y’know? “Look at me on the stage, saying words good!” But to be honest, I think it’s when I finally moved into comedy that stands out as the most formative experience. From working and touring with the Big Hoo Haa as an improvisor, as well as becoming a professional stand up comedian and a writer for film, I learned the importance of self generated material. To not only be a part of the story but to create the story.

How did you become interested in working in the Performing Arts? And how did your parents take it?
I’ve wanted to be an Actor ever since I was a kid. After I landed the lead role of the title role in my primary school’s production of The Selfish Giant, I was hooked. Thankfully, my parents have never been anything but supportive of my choice to work in the arts. I’m very lucky. Although, I did grow up in a rough area in the UK, so I think they were just happy that it wasn’t a career stealing cars or something.

Have you ever considered a career other than actor?
Stealing cars.
No, not really. I’ve had plenty of jobs but I’ve only ever really considered a career in the arts.

Lastly, can we expect to see you in any other work this year?
Yes, look out for me, and I mean look out for me coz I aint’ there long, in the upcoming Ben Elton feature film Three Summers as well as regularly at local comedy venues like Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den and The Comedy Lounge.