In honour of the Edinburgh Fringe, Casting Networks Australia’s Theatre Angel brings you a three-part, jam-packed bumper special in celebration of independent theatre!
You can read Part I here: http://blog.castingnetworks.com/12181/
Sydney theatre director and producer Michael Dean brings us his 5 Top Tips for Australian Independent Theatre: featuring Orpheus, at Blood Moon Theatre Sydney (brought to you by Lies Lies and Propaganda and Suspicious Woman Productions)
1. Do whatever you want.
This is your opportunity to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. That project that you know will be amazing, but have no idea how to sell to the companies up the food chain, or that experiment that you don’t actually know will work, or that space, play, or person you want to take a chance on. And that person could be you. Do you think you’ll be a good director, writer, producer, whatever? Do it.
I actually think that in Sydney we are blessed with medium and large companies that are relatively risk-taking, but money still equals risk-aversion, so stop thinking of money as the limiting factor to your work. The opposite is true. Make the sort of work that you will look back at with such longing when you’re a big shot director who has to make sure that any decision won’t terrify the subscribers. Be bold, creative, and have fun. Make work that’s like nothing anyone’s every seen, or nothing like you’ve ever made before. Show everyone what you can do. My co-producer on Orpheus, Alixandra Kupcik, started Suspicious Woman Productions because she knew she’d be great in a particular role. The resulting production, 2015’s The Big Funk, was a huge success, and Alix is now a talented producer and great advocate for women in the arts. For me, Orpheus is about pushing my work further into uncharted territory – building on my previous experiments in movement, devised work, cultural and personal stories, and a whole bunch of other things. It’s terrifying. I don’t know if it’s all going to work, or if anyone’s going to come and see it. But when I think about some of the stuff we’ve created I start grinning like an idiot, so I feel like we’re onto something and we might be rewarded again for our risk.
2. Invest in people.
Extend those opportunities for artistic enrichment to everyone else. If everyone on your team is coming on board, even though they know that at best they’ll be paid far less than what they’re worth, it means that you have a responsibility to make it worth their sacrifice. Sure, making an artistic experience that’s more fulfilling for an actor than the home loans ad that paid their bills this month is not a high bar—but it’s one you have to clear. Most of the people I work with do both paid and co-op work, the “money” projects and the “love” projects. What is your project allowing people to do? For example, the actor playing the title role in Orpheus has a physical disability. He did not expect to be cast as a heroic figure of Greek myth, but he has brought so much to the role. The lack of diversity on mainstream Australian stages and screens is a huge shame. Do your part, and people will keep coming back. Which is the other thing: invest in your people beyond just the one production. Not only those you work with, but those you meet along your way. Each person has something to teach you, and you never know – they could turn out to be your most loyal fan or your next artistic director. Be open and generous, always.
And guess what? “People” includes you. I used to spend 30 hours a week in a physically demanding job, at least 13 hours a week at rehearsals, and then squeeze production stuff into every remaining space – and wonder why I was so tired! What you’re doing is hard, and it is most definitely work, no matter what your finance-bro cousin might say at family gatherings. Workaholism is real, and our industry is excellent at making you feel like you’re not doing enough. Not only do you have a responsibility to the team of people you’re managing not to be completely exhausted, you also have a responsibility to yourself (and your loved ones). Think about downtime as part of your job, if nothing else because it’s essential for maintaining inspiration and perspective. I give you permission.
3. Grow your audience one person at a time.
Baby steps. Publicity can be really frustrating—I often refer to it as “the Black Hole,” because you can keep throwing all the time, energy and money you’ve got into it, and you just have to hope that something comes back. However, there are times when independent theatre can feel like the one little corner of this empty, meaningless universe, where focus on quality actually breeds success. You might not be mobbed by screaming teenagers, but if your work is good people will notice, word will spread, and tickets will sell. Keep this in mind: most people in Sydney have no idea that the independent theatre scene even exists. They go to Griffin or Belvoir and feel like they’re living on the edge. Wait, no, don’t cry. It means that all you have to do is reach them, and let them know that there is cheap, mind-blowing, high-quality theatre everywhere, and you’ll have a convert.
4. Embrace change and limitations.
A non-theatre friend once asked me if my job was to sit in a chair and shout orders. I hope that anyone reading this is aware that that’s a portrait of a terrible director, and yet there are still people who believe that if you don’t have it all worked out in advance, if you’re capable of listening to your collaborators and adapting to the circumstances, then you’re committing the cardinal directorial sin of NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT. That may work out for you if you have a huge budget and staff and are having design meetings 6 months in advance, but if you’re trying to build a piece from scratch in 4 weeks, like we are on Orpheus, with an extraordinarily engaged, intelligent and giving group of performers, there will always be new ideas, new information, and new challenges coming at you. If you can’t edit as you go, you’ll be throwing away the gifts your people are giving you, which, if you’ve got a good team, will be better than what you could come up with on your own. Of course, you have to have a plan, and you have to know broadly where you want to end up, but an inflexible plan will fall apart within five minutes. Similarly, you can dream all you want about what you’d do in a 1,000-seat theatre with a revolve, but that’s not going to help you in the back room of a pub with a pillar in the middle of the space you forgot was there when you blocked the show. How can you use the pillar? What else does this space have that you’ll never find at the Opera House? Great actors know how to turn something going wrong into legendary theatrical moments – you need to apply the same principle.
5. Look around as well as up.
So you’ve decided to be an artist. If you believe the movies, and the newspaper clippings your auntie sends you, what you need to do is reenact scenes from Black Swan and Whiplash until you’ve Made It, and if you don’t see Hugh Jackman staring back at you when you look in the mirror, then you’re a Failed Artist, probably because you weren’t single-mindedly competitive enough. A number of non-artist Solitary Genius biopics also put forward the idea that undiagnosed mental illness is the key to success. (Side note: seriously, it’s not. If you’re reading this and you’ve had such thoughts, please read this article.) We all want to achieve the height of success in our fields, but if you’re only thinking about how to get up a rung on the ladder, you’ll miss out on a lot of the opportunities that where you are right now has to offer. You certainly won’t be following Points #1 and #2 above. Work as a team with your fellow independent theatre companies. They’re not your competitors – we all have the similar objectives and each of us is contributing to the cultural landscape, so get to know each others work and help each other. Cross promote, even when you won’t get that much out of it – see Point #3 for why this is useful for everyone. And that’s just in the corner of Sydney theatre you know about! Sydney’s a big place and there are literally hundreds of venues and thousands of theatre makers. And that’s just theatre! There are independent music, visual art, food, and film scenes going on around you – just think of the cross-disciplinary potential. If the ladder feels too narrow, it’s time to widen the ladder.
Created by Michael Dean, Jasper Garner and the Cast
Lies Lies and Propaganda and Suspicious Woman Productions
“All the little devils are proud of hell.”
Synopsis: “A stranger rolls into town. He says he knows you, that you were in love, that he’s come to take you away. He knows nothing about your life, but everything about your hopes, dreams and fears. All you know is that this town will never really let you leave.
Lies, Lies and Propaganda teams up with Suspicious Woman Productions to put an Australian Gothic spin on the tragic tale Orpheus and Eurydice.”
With Dymphna Carew, Curly Fernandez, Victoria Greiner, Lana Kershaw, Daniel Monks, Bodelle de Ronde and Michael Yore
Director Michael Dean, Producers Michael Dean and Alixandra Kupcik, Assistant Director/Dramaturg Jasper Garner Gore, Designer Catherine Steele, Lighting Designer Liam O’Keefe, Movement Director Rachel Weiner, Photographer/Videographer Sasha Cohen, Music by Michael Yore
16-17 August 2016 at 8pm
All tickets $15
18-27 August 2016
8pm Tuesday-Saturday, 3pm Sunday
All tickets $25
Blood Moon Theatre
The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross
Michael Dean has directed and co-produced all Lies, Lies and Propaganda productions to date, namely Bicycle (Adelaide Fringe and the Old Fitz, 2016), Roadkill Confidential (Kings Cross Theatre, 2015), Zeroville (Parramatta Justice Precinct, 2015) and Phaedra (TAP Gallery, 2014). Other directing credits include The Big Funk (Suspicious Woman Productions, 2015) and short film Gateway to the Stars (McMartin Productions), which won Best Actor and Actress at the 2015 Sci-Fi Film Festival. Michael is an Associate Artist with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co., for which he co-directed Visiting Hours (VIVID Sydney, 2016), assistant directed His Dark Materials (ATYP, 2014), directed Love Field (TAP Gallery, 2013) and stage managed Great Expectations (ATYP, 2012). Michael studied Theatre Arts at Brown University in the United States, where he directed five productions before graduating in 2009.