All posts by Michelle Gosper

When Michelle’s mum took her to see a travelling production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Taree High School hall, she was so smitten that she spent the next couple of weeks pretending to the Lady Bracknell to the cows in the milking shed. When the great god, Gough Whitlam gave her an English/History teaching scholarship for Newcastle University she signed up for the brand new Drama course instead and made it her major and performed in university productions and theatre restaurant shows. Teaching followed and Michelle was there for the introduction of the School Certificate in Drama in 1985 and HSC Drama in 1993. She wrote and directed countless productions, acted in a few, created site and theme specific theatre for various events and community groups, became Star Struck Drama Director and created Hunter Youth Drama Ensembles, putting on productions of HSC Drama text. She also produced 3 daughters and completed a Master of Theatre Arts Degree, taught HSC Drama 18 times and became an examiner for HSC Drama. Now retired, Michelle is still involved in Star Struck and is also one of 5 City of Newcastle Drama Awards (CONDA) judges, viewing approximately 60 -70 shows per year produced by the thriving theatrical community in Newcastle. Michelle is proud to be part of this passionate and dynamic community and is grateful to be able to share some of her experiences on this website.

Bare Production’s THE SUM OF US by David Stevens.

“Oh, the agonising pain of it all!”

There’s two things that disturbed me when I was teaching drama in high school.

One was the parochial attitude towards drama as a subject from some other teaching staff members and from some parents.

“It’s not a proper subject like… Doesn’t go towards getting a real job!”

The other was the misery some of our students would express when choosing electives for senior years and their parents would weigh in and tell them they couldn’t do our subject, for the reason listed above.

Sometimes there were tears of frustration and hurt at being pushed in directions that didn’t suit them, didn’t excite, fulfil or nourish them.

It never failed to break our drama teacher hearts. We knew they would do well, get terrific results and be happy but the parents had spoken.

We would ask the parents “Do you watch television, films? Listen to the radio? Buy music, see live music, go to festivals, museums, galleries, theatre and events? That’s the Arts Industry. It’s huge.”

Human beings have always had their storytellers and artists. Those who would inform others of and reflect on the world around them. Holding the mirror up to society, being the moral compass and harbingers of change in attitudes and beliefs. It’s always been a proper job and always will be and denying it as a potential career path for a young person is like telling a dog to be a cat.

It showed such a lack of awareness and acceptance on so many levels, but most profoundly lack of understanding and acceptance of their own child as a unique and wonderful person.

And of course, that applies to sexuality as well.

Bare Productions THE SUM OF US by David Stevens, directed by Annette Rowlison and performed at the Royal Exchange in Bolton Street, Newcastle raised these issues for me again.

The play was originally written in the late 1980’s but was unsuccessful in being staged in Australia. Instead, it opened for a year-long run in New York in 1991 and received an Outer Critics Circle Award for an Outstanding Off-Broadway play. Only then was it premiered in Australia with Sydney Theatre Company and later made into a hit box-office film starring Jack Thompson and Russell Crowe and continues to be staged around the world.

Cultural cringe still hanging around or was it because a play written in the late 80’s about a widowed father’s unconditional support for his “cheery” son’s search for a loving partner was a bit ahead of its time? The swing of the moral compass projected but not yet fully recognised.

Harry Mitchell, played with openhearted gruffness, humour and down-right Aussie masculinity by Alan Glover lost his wife when their son, Jeff (Roderick Sinnamon) was still a boy. The two have muddled along in their quirky feature walled house, with Jeff working as a plumber, playing football and looking for “the one”, a quest completely supported by Harry who openly welcomes Jeff’s boyfriends to stay overnight, almost to the point of interference. A passionate embrace can lose its zing when a 3rd party wants to know how you take your tea in the morning.

Harry is ready for love again so things are looking up for both of them when Jeff brings home Greg (Benjamin Loutitt) and Harry meets Joyce (Robyn Blackwell) through a dating agency.

The sticking point is that Greg has not come out to his parents because he knows his father will reject him and Joyce hasn’t yet been told about Jeff’s “cheeriness” as she is a woman distrustful of the unknown and Harry isn’t sure how she will react.

It’s a surprising play. Just when we have settled into Australian Naturalism, Harry directly addresses the audience, smashing the 4th wall and filling in a whole bunch of historical details and personal information and reflections. This then continues at regular intervals from both Harry and Jeff, making us their friends, confidantes, sounding board and ultimately invested in them and their happiness.

The Royal Exchange is an intimate venue and Annette Rowlison’s direction of this play works beautifully there. All the characters are classically Aussie; Alan Glover as Harry is comfortable and relaxed in his thongs, sharing good natured jostling and ribbing with Jeff. Roderick Sinnamon gives us an affable, loving Jeff who is also completely at ease with himself, his father and his sexuality.

These two give a stark contrast to Benjamin Loutitt’s jumpy and uncertain Greg and Robyn Blackwell’s damaged and judgemental Joyce. Both deliver riveting characters whom we can understand even though are they are sadly misguided and damaged.

Everyone’s need for love and the misery of loneliness is obliquely and beautifully expressed in a direct address monologue by Jeff where he describes an overdressed and garishly made up woman’s gradual unravelling on a train that culminates in her final teary statement “Oh, the agonising pain of it all.”

Later, Harry gives us an insight into a potential reason for his understanding of his son when he tells us about his widowed grandmother and her lover, Mary, recognising that love between two people who are gay is every bit as significant and lasting as love between two people who are not.

The whole topic still resonates so soundly and the fact that it was written nearly thirty years ago demonstrates the prescient awareness of artists of the world around them and the seismic shifts in morals and attitudes that they predict and reflect through their work.

We all take different thoughts away with us when we view these works, depending on our own experiences. Hence my own wonder at the far-reaching themes of acceptance of the individual and the importance of the arts in reflecting upon, affecting and projecting the way our society generally tends to think and act.

We have come a distance in thirty years with regards to LGBTQIA awareness and acceptance but sadly, I think there will always been parents who don’t really “see” their own child for who they really are but rather want they want them to be.

Bare Productions THE SUM OF US directed by Annette Rowlison will continue to play at the Royal Exchange Bolton Street, Newcastle Thursday 7 – Saturday 9 February at 7.30 pm.

TICKETS: $25. $22.50 concession and groups of 10.

http://www.trybooking.com/ZTNY

Featured image – Alan Glover, as Harry, and Roderick Sinnamon, as Jeff, in The Sum of Us. Pictures: Robyn Blackwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I HOPE IT IS NOT RAINING IN LONDON

This image -Jack Twelvetree and Taylor Reece                                                                                                           Featured image – Nicholas Thoroughgood and Cassie McLean.
Photo – Riley McLean

I Hope It’s Not Raining in London by Nicholas Thoroughgood,  Bearfoot Theatre.

First up, eighteen year old Nicholas Thoroughgood’s I HOPE IT’S NOT RAINING IN LONDON put me in mind of the plays from the Absurdist group of playwrights – Beckett, Albee, Pinter and so on.

Two people trapped in a room. One is almost finished but the other is not yet ready. The other will be ready, but just not yet.

The roots of Absurdism are the held in the principles that we are isolated existents – we are born, we live, we die. Along the way we form loving, often dysfunctional co-dependent relationships that cause combinations of deep emotional pain, joy, a sense of belonging and/or give purpose and relevance to our existence. Continue reading I HOPE IT IS NOT RAINING IN LONDON

TAKE ME TO NEVERLAND: BEARFOOT THEATRE

Tom Rodgers and Savannah Geddes

Newcastle – it’s just up the road, folks – has a thriving theatre scene and every year new companies spring forth with youthful energy, vigour and exciting new works.

Bearfoot Theatre is a another new theatre company in association with Eclectic Productions that has a focus on producing original works. Riley McLean, creator of the CONDA nominated original play Do Your Parents Know You’re Straight? has written a new dark twist on the tale of Peter and the Lost Boys, featuring Tom Rodgers as Peter and Savannah Geddes as Wendy. Continue reading TAKE ME TO NEVERLAND: BEARFOOT THEATRE

COCK by Mike Bartlett presented by Stooged Theatre Newcastle

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story …

I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest…” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

From time to time major decisions have to be made, ones that will irrevocably change the rest of our life.  Sometimes for some lucky appealing people it can be between different potential partners and that is a perennial winning formula for dramatic tension. Who is going to be the chosen one and who is going to lose the object of love? Or lust.

COCK, written by Mick Bartlett dives into that formula with a contemporary nod to the LGBTI community of attempting to pigeonhole people according to their sexuality.

John, the only character in the play with a proper name, breaks up with his live in stockbroker male partner, M, meets female divorced teacher’s assistant, W, has fabulous heterosexual sex for the first time then decides that he wants M back but is still besotted by W and all she has to offer. Continue reading COCK by Mike Bartlett presented by Stooged Theatre Newcastle

QUEEN IT’S A KINDA MAGIC

Bohemian Rhapsody, the single from Queen’s fourth studio album A Night at the Opera was a groundbreaking work of art in 1975.

Everyone remembers the innovative and stunning video and the weird, operatic, clever, hybrid song that catapulted Queen into everyone’s consciousness. It is still considered to be one of the greatest songs of all time.

They were marvellous times too. The Vietnam War was put to bed and the future looked fabulous: everything was big. Big hair, big flares, shoes, sounds, personality. Money.

The 80’s were even better. People wore white jeans and flashy fake gold jewellery and the whole thing was enormous fun. The nasty Grim Reaper started hanging about with dire warnings but otherwise all was grand for the happening people of the day.

Those “happening people” are now in their 50’s and 60’s, the dreadful Baby Boomers who are hogging the property market and leaving a financial black hole for everyone else. And there they were at Wests City, Newcastle for the QUEEN IT’S A KINDA MAGIC show, performed on Friday 21st July, a sea of blonde bobs, grey or balding heads and some ears with obvious earplugs in. Gosh, when did everyone become so sensible and start wearing earplugs to a music concert? Continue reading QUEEN IT’S A KINDA MAGIC

DO YOUR PARENTS KNOW YOU’RE STRAIGHT @ THE CIVIC PLAYHOUSE

“It was a school anti-bullying program that became a lightning rod for culture warriors and conservative MP’s – Safe Schools was either protecting gay kids from bullies or trying to sell Marxism in the playground, depending on who was talking”
Michael Koziol – Artists Push PM for Diluted Safe Schools SMH 2/5/2017

The Safe Schools program was a “tinder box” so Australian artists like Missy Higgins, Guy Pearce and Joel Creasey are pushing the government for a modified version that promotes a simple, benign message – tolerance.

It’s gratifying when we see well-known artists stepping up to put their status and integrity behind worthy causes and public debate and seeing these stories and experiences become material for their own work.

No doubt Joel Creasey, who is originally from Newcastle incidentally, has some wonderful biting satirical reflections on how being “different” from others impacted on his time at school.

For that is part of what artists do. They observe, reflect on and respond to the social and political world around them and hold the mirror up to society in a manner that is engaging, entertaining and thought provoking. Frequently their own personal experiences are part of that reflection.

It’s an important job! Don’t let any Science, Engineering or Mathematics Degree wielding pedagogue tell you otherwise.

Ecelctic Productions DO YOUR PARENTS KNOW YOU’RE STRAIGHT writer and director Riley McLean openly admits “…so much of me has ended up on the page” even naming one of the main characters Riley. Assistant Director, Cassie Hamilton, presumably brings the same level of personal experience to the production.

Further developed from a class exercise during Riley’s studies at the Regional Institute of Performing Arts Diploma in Acting course whereby the students had to write a ten minute play, this two act full length production firmly takes the DYPKYS debate by the horns and gives it a good shake in a way that is complex, challenging and dramatically clever. Continue reading DO YOUR PARENTS KNOW YOU’RE STRAIGHT @ THE CIVIC PLAYHOUSE

ECLECTIC PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS @ BLACK BOX THEATRE NEWCASTLE

Eclectic- seconde

Production photography by Waygood Photography.

Religion and beliefs. Some of the most magnificent buildings are monuments of worship and some of the most epic wars have been over differing belief systems.

Every culture has or had their mythology/religion, a belief system that is integral to the explanation of the world and their own existence in it.

In RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS, presented by Eclectic Productions at the Black Box Theatre, Ancient Roman, Greek, Christian, Hindu and Inuit deities and beings are given representation in this post apocalyptic dystopian work written specifically for young people by American playwright Jonathan Dorf.

It’s not necessary to know about these various deities and beings to appreciate the production but it does add an extra level and nuance of understanding of the intentions and themes behind the work.

The Black Box Theatre at the Community Arts Centre in Newcastle West has been transformed into something that is a cross between someone’s country shed and Mad Max. Atmospheric smoke and lighting creates a haze through which we peer at an old car, 44-gallon drums containing fake fire and graffiti covered corrugated iron walls. It’s a good look.

Set in America, there have been oil and water wars in the recent past, destroying the natural environment and civilization and a rag tag bunch of surviving children, now teenagers, eke out a substandard existence with canned produce as currency. They have a Friday night party pool ritual whereby a small amount of precious water is poured into an old tyre and they dance.

It’s suitably dystopian and establishes the human need to party and hold some type of ceremony. Or ritual.

The biblical Matthew, Luke, John and Peter all left or died and the predominantly female group, led by Deme (Samantha Lambert) have settled into their life. However, Deme is fixated on the notion of polar bears and going north to find them so when a sickness arrives Deme convinces her brother Romulus (Conagh Punch) to roundup the crew that includes Adam and Eve to commence their epic journey.

Along the way they lose some and acquire or meet others. In a dying paradise they encounter Cassie (Jasmine Travers) who has visions and sees somewhere else that’s green so she joins them and forms an attachment with Romulus while the foundling Scrubs (Parisse Lattimore) buzzes about them all with irrepressible survival determination.

Adam and Eve (Jack Twelvetree and Genevieve Lawson) and others drop off after encountering a place with a party spa and the whole journey becomes an extended metaphor for the existential nature of human existence complete with pointed references to a copy of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that is missing the last three pages and the classic phrase, “Nothing to be done” from that play.

Simple things acquire enormous significance – a watch, a picture of The World’s Greatest Ball of Yarn, a colouring in book, memories of parents and the beauty of a world lost. This is best encapsulated in the scene when they encounter Noah (Alastair Anderberg).

The end of life as he knew it came for Noah when he was 7 years old and playing Mozart for his parents on his piano. The holocaust came and the wall caved in, killing his parents and beloved music teacher and destroying Middle C on the piano.

He became the pseudo guardian of a group of school children who had been surviving on the stale pretzels from a vending machine and for a while there were apples and deer until the trees died and the deer disappeared. Another Paradise Lost.

Now, he and the children perform The Pageant, whereby all the children play animal characters and the world before the Fire in the Sky and marauding motorcycle gangs.

By the time we encounter a female PAN (Beth Traynor) and the duplicitous Kali (Joanna Gorton) it is very clear that this play is deliberately and systematically trawling through cultures, myths, legends to illustrate the theme. We are fatally flawed in being paradoxically doomed to fight and fear others, yet still be mortally united.

But, as the Beckett references highlight, there is still hope and love and joy in living and a co-dependent need for human company, warmth and rules or rituals to give shape to our lives.

Directors Chloe McLean and Joel Mews have extracted some strong performances from their ensemble. Samantha Lambert and Conagh Punch as Deme and Romulus both inhabit the space confidently and keep the pace moving and Joanna Gorton as the Lara Croft style anti-hero Kali oozed action panache.

The most delightful acting surprises though were two young members, Parisse Lattimore as Scrubs and Jack Andrew in the double roles of Echo and Ugalik. These two brought exuberance to their scenes and interaction with the rest of the ensemble.

The technical and design team, presumably led by the experienced and incredibly reliable Lyndon Buckley created a highly functional and detailed multi purpose space and atmosphere that allowed for a seamless epic journey from post apocalyptic New San Francisco to Canada. Look for the references in the graffiti on the corrugated iron.

RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS is a very suitable script for Eclectic Productions. This company emerged out a desire by several young adult graduates of youth theatre groups to continue to work together and create theatre and their niche is theatre pertinent to their age group and they are doing that with skill, flair and integrity

The final performances of RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS are today at 2 pm and 7 pm.

SETH DRURY’S ‘BRING BACK THE BARITONE’ @ CIVIC THEATRE, NEWCASTLE

 

Drury-second

My eldest daughter’s first word was ‘Don’t’.

I was changing her nappy and happily singing away when this little emphatic one syllable contraction was directed at me. I ignored it, thinking that couldn’t be an intentional word, let alone the very first proper one coming out of my little Cabbage Patch look alike child and continued to sing as I pinned – we used cloth nappies back then.

When she repeated the word, looking straight at me I was certain; even my 6 month-old was telling me; I am vocally challenged, meaning I can’t sing very well at all.

Apart from the recognition that ‘Don’t’ was a word I must have used regularly with her, my now 29year old daughter is still blunt and forthcoming, but that is another story.

Being vocally challenged means I totally appreciate anyone who can sing and someone who takes me on an instructional theatrical journey about singers and songs has me hooked from the start, particularly when said very talented singer expresses an insecurity about their voice from the get go and had been told by his high school choir master to be an accountant!

Seth Drury is a baritone. Apparently no one cares about the workhorse baritones of the singing world while the tenors get all the glory.  He learnt he was a baritone when asked to sing “Tonight, Tonight” a tone higher and cracked on the final high note.

Fortunately, Seth ignored his high school teacher and as for being a baritone he is in good company with others like Hugh Jackman, Michael Buble, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jnr to name a few.

BRING BACK THE BARITONE is a self devised work with Seth, accompanied by his brother Anyerin Drury on guitar and backing vocals and Callum Close on keyboard, taking us through a bit of a history of the baritone, peppering the narrative with extracts from and complete songs. It’s fun and informative.

For example, I learnt that The Golden Age of Broadway was when the baritone was celebrated and he won the ladies hearts. Gilbert and Sullivan and Rogers and Hammerstein made good use of the baritone and one of the greatest baritone anthems is Old man River from Showboat.

The 60’s and Frankie Valle was the nemesis of the baritone, but Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, both deep lovers of gospel, kept the flag flying.

He continues his 65 minute tour up to the present, alternating between humour and caricature and deep, soulful engagement with the songs. Seth’s stripped back and pure rendition of How Great Thou Art is beautiful.

He also establishes an easy relationship with the audience and welcomes us into his journey. It is a very pleasant, informative and entertaining interlude.

Future performances of BRING BACK THE BARITONE are yet to be scheduled but Seth’s other work, UNMASKING PRINCE CHARMING will be presented as part of The Sydney Fringe 15th-17th of Sept at The Knox Street Bar. Tickets  may be booked through the fringe website.

As for my musical prowess, I am now learning piano. I have no talent for that either, but just because you are no good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go.

Seth Drury’s concert BRING BACK THE BARITONE played the Civic Theatre, Newcastle on Sunday 29th May, 2016.

 

STOOGED THEATRE PRESENTS PUNK ROCK BY SIMON STEPHENS @ CIVIC PLAYHOUSE NEWCASTLE

 

Georgia Hicks-Jones, Jerry Ray, Paul Predny, Charlotte De Wit Photo Glen Waterhouse
Georgia Hicks-Jones, Jerry Ray, Paul Predny, Charlotte De Wit Photo Glen Waterhouse

When you were at school where did you fit? Were you one of the nerds, a jock, an insecure loner, a leader, badass, bully, bullied, teachers pet or just disinterested and desperate to leave. I used to call them Tribes of the Playground – all the sets and sub sets of the weird societies that the school system throws together in an adolescent survival of the fittest.

The 7 main characters of Simon Stephen’s PUNK ROCK initially appear to represent some of the stereotypes of teenagers on the cusp of final exams and ultimate adulthood. Set in a Grammar school near Manchester in England, it could easily have followed down the path of the The Breakfast Club with a message of acceptance and understanding of difference and unlikely friendships between the brainiac, the tough natural leader, the insecure girl, the hot chick, sweet but troubled boy, the jock and the new girl. Continue reading STOOGED THEATRE PRESENTS PUNK ROCK BY SIMON STEPHENS @ CIVIC PLAYHOUSE NEWCASTLE

PAPER CUT COLLECTIVE PRESENTS HELLO, STRANGER

Hello, Stranger

Back in the day a friend and I were travelling in Mexico and had arrived at the top of the Baja Peninsula, accompanied by another young Aussie who had attached himself to us on the boat over from the mainland. We stuck out our thumbs and a big, black 4WD pulled over, driven by a middle aged Mexican doctor. He was just travelling to pick up some supplies a bit further south, but was keen to practise his English and find out about Australia, from our viewpoint.

After a while he pulled over at a general store to make a phone call – this was well and truly before mobile phones – and when he hopped back in the car he announced that it was all sorted and that he was taking us all the way to our destination – the southernmost tip of the Baja and a two day drive.

What followed was a wonderful 2 days and a night of beer, tequila, singing, an improvised fire and camping on a scorpion infested beach sleeping under upturned fishing boats and a lasting question in my mind as to why this kindly bear of a man who was a husband, father and professional chose to take two days off to drive 3 strangers from a foreign land to their next place of adventure. Continue reading PAPER CUT COLLECTIVE PRESENTS HELLO, STRANGER

MEOW MEOW’S LITTLE MERMAID @ MAGIC MIRRORS SPEIGELTENT

MEOW MEOW'S LITTLE MERMAID, another great show playing the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent
MEOW MEOW’S LITTLE MERMAID, another great show playing the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

If you’re a sucker for a good collection of original songs, daahlings, sweetie, one that takes you on a journey through different styles and moods, telling stories, plucking at your emotions and showcasing the virtuoso skills of the musicians and singer, then MEOW MEOW’S LITTLE MERMAID is the show for you.

If you’re also a fan of eclectic, hybrid blending of styles, ideas and form that mixes a classic children’s fairytale with cabaret satire creating a decent platform for allowing all manner of mayhem and moments of meaning to bubble to the surface, then definitely line up early for a good seat.

Stir that into the repertoire of an accomplished performer waxing on the most explored and adored topic of all – love; or more specifically, trying to find the damn thing. ‘Love – do we have to hunt it down and kill it?’ Continue reading MEOW MEOW’S LITTLE MERMAID @ MAGIC MIRRORS SPEIGELTENT