Q. Drew, you were trapped on board a cruise ship for two months at the height of Covid. Were you one of the entertainers on the cruise? This must have been a harrowing experience. And yet you made a hilarious and poignant video series called Actual Cabin Actual Fever – can you tell readers a bit about the process and how you turned a nightmarish experience into comedy?
A. I was employed as Guest Entertainer but as you say the day after I boarded to start my new job a world-wide pandemic was declared and tours were suspended. For some unknown reason we were kept on board even though there were no passengers. Then we were eventually kicked out of Sydney Harbour and soon after we were kicked out of Australian waters. I was rocked but I kept myself busy by recording our unique position in history as we sailed without a plan further and further away from home. I kept myself entertained by doing little talk shows from my cabin. Over time I decided to add low-fi singing and dancing to the videos. It was loose but ridiculous enough to gain a loyal crowd on IGTV and eventually it garnered international media attention. I was shocked. Still am. Continue reading Q AND A : WRITER AND PERFORMER DREW FAIRLEY→
Merrigong Theatre Company has announced a major reboot of its MERRIGONGArtists’ Program for 2020, with an injection of more than $40,000 into new projects from independent artists. This reboot comes in response to the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on employment opportunities for performing artists, and is in addition to a range of existing independent artist support that was originally announced for MERRIGONG in 2020.
Merrigong’s Artistic Director / CEO Simon Hinton said “Our industry has been very badly affected by the closure of our venues, and while we are very grateful that the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program has allowed Merrigong to keep all of our permanent staff (albeit reduced to 80% of their normal hours) and many of our casual operational staff employed, most artists in our industry do not qualify for this assistance due to the project nature of their employment.” Continue reading MERRIGONG THEATRE COMPANY ANNOUNCES MORE THAN $40,000 IN FUNDING FOR ARTISTS→
Lano & Woodley,Judith Lucy, Tom Gleeson, Archie Roach, Joan as Police Woman and more are coming to The Spiegeltent this April and May. After delighting audiences in 2017 and 2018, The Spiegeltent returns again to the Wollongong Arts Precinct for another month of cabaret, circus, comedy, theatre and family fun from Thursday 11th April to Sunday 5th May, 2019.
Headlining the Spiegeltent Wollongong season will be the NSW premiere of DELUXE DELUXE , a saucy new show from the award-winning creators of LIMBO that enthralled audiences at The Spiegeltent last year. DELUXE DELUXE is a seductive and side-splittingly funny adults-only night out that features the glitterati of international circus and cabaret talent. Hosted by the formidable and world-famous Scot Nery (Tonight Show, HBO Comedy Festival), the outrageously silly and sexy fun to be had at Deluxe Deluxe makes it a show not to be missed.Continue reading DELUXE DELUXE HEADLINES SPIEGELTENT, WOLLONGONG’S 2019 SEASON→
Merrigong Theatre Company has just announced their 2019 season and we had the opportunity to speak with Simon Hinton, Artistic Director / CEO.
SAG: You must be incredibly busy at this particular moment . Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us.
SIMON: It’s always busy but yes we had a big night last night with the launch. Doing a bit of media this morning and watching our patrons going to the website!
SAG: How long does it take to put a program like this together, there’s such depth here.
SIMON: We are almost a quarter of the way towards the program for 2020 now, so we are working up to two years ahead. But the last bit of that program came together, like two weeks ago.
SAG: And do you have a particular focus in mind when you are putting in a season ?
SIMON: Not necessarily thematically. We certainly have certain things that we are trying to achieve in terms of the diversity and a balance between work that is challenging and work that is accessible. And a little bit of genre. I wouldn’t say we have a formula but we have some targets. We want to make sure we have some movement based work , some work with music , ensure that we’ve got stories that explore a range of things and that we have different voices on our stage.
What tends to happen is that a theme or thread emerges as we are programming and I feel like this year, Find Your Place is about speaking broadly about how theatre defines us and who we want to be and helps find our place in the world. But there also were, emerging from the season, a number of shows that seemed to be about people’s journey of finding where they belong.
SAG: I can see that. I’m a Queenslander, a North Queenslander in fact, and I was pretty excited to see Dancenorth on the program. SIMON: It’s something I am really proud of it in the season. As another company based in regional Australia, Merrigong has been really excited to see the rise of Dancenorth to be absolutely world class. And I have to say that what Kyle Page is doing up there is some of the most exciting… well I hate using the term Contemporary Dance because because it puts it in a box and what he’s doing there is more than that. He’s making extraordinary movement based theatre with some incredible dancers.
We are a co-commissioner of DUST with a number of major festivals through the Major Festival Initiative. And it’s stunning, ground breaking, high caliber work.
SAG: I notice that the design element is very important in that particular work. Does your season benefit from having multiple, different, places in which to perform?
SIMON: Yeah it is really important. Across the two venues Illawarra Performing Arts Centre and Wollongong Town Hall we have five different spaces we can program into. Most of the theatre season goes into the two fixed seat theatres in IPAC but then if we need a flat floor area we can bring it into the Town Hall. And there’s a more intimate venue called the Music Lounge.
So that flexibility has become more and more important as contemporary theatre is diversifying artistically in the spaces it needs. It’s very important. To confine everything to a proscenium arch space would be really tricky now to program a diverse interesting season.
SAG: And the there’s the Spiegeltent Wollongong?
SIMON: It’s a great thing for the city. For nearly a month the Spiegeltent parks itself near the arts centre and we create a lovely precinct there with outdoor dining. And it’s become a tradition now in its 3rd year.
I think what’s fantastic in our season next year is for the first time not just the centrepiece show is available for our season ticket holders. The centrepiece show is DELUXE DELUXE .. a kind of adults only cabaret burlesque circus spectacular and that will be amazing and really built for the tent.
But they can also include Lano and Woodley’s show FLY in their season choices. They are coming in and doing four nights to allow it to be offered to subscribers because most of the stuff in the Spiegeltent comes as a single show. Early next year we’ll announce the rest of the Spiegeltent program, about 30 different shows across the month.
SAG: It’s a pretty amazing season all round. A new work THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL about Keating, and a reprise of BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS and a great kids’ program. I can see I will be beating a path to Woolongong. I’m at the base of the mountains and it’s easier than getting into the city!
SIMON: That’s happening more and more . Generally people in urban Australia are realising that things are happening in regional Australia . We’re pretty close to Sydney and people come down here for the first time and go I don’t know why I’m traipsing into the city!
Unfortunately, you won’t get the chance to see TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL in its current incarnation as the show completes its run tonight. I am so pleased however that I did make the effort to get to the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre to see such an innovative and engrossing play.
Merrigong Theatre Company has a stated aim of supporting local and new work and this particular show is the final production of the inaugural 2018 MERRIGONGX season. It is a work of considerable merit. New work it’s true. A work which, despite its three year gestation, may require some hard decisions in its next showing but a play which distills and personalises the topic with thematic depth allied with exciting staging and tech.
For TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL is about the media. About Tom and the media, about us and the media, about politics and the media … it has a complex and redolent reach. We meet our eponymous would be media-star. He’s been on Australian Survivor, he’s pretty and driven and sees himself as a perfect fit for a role as a newsreader. His audition though, is a bit shit. Not actually his fault from what we can see, the forces of producers and networks and social media metrics are pretty much lined up against him. Until he lets loose and then it all hits the fan. Continue reading TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL: HE’LL BE BACK, LOOK OUT FOR HIM→
Woodcourt Art Theatre in association with Merrigong Theatre Company presents TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL, by local playwright and director and UoW alumni, Mark Rogers.
Tom William Mitchell works for a broadcast news company. Employed for his idealistic ‘truth-saying’, ex-Survivor contestant Tom William Mitchell works his way up from the copy room to the interview couch in a matter of weeks. But will climbing the ladder in a post-truth world force him to lose touch with his true convictions? TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL is a razor-sharp satire about our hyper-mediatised society. The play examines the rise of contemporary populism and the ever-changing media landscape via a slick aesthetic which mashes up TV news and contemporary theatre practice. TOM WILLIAM MITCHELL is a cutting-edge piece of theatre for the here and now.
Following its critically acclaimed world premiere seasons in 2016, Merrigong Theatre Company has announced the national tour of LETTERS TO LINDY by award-winning playwright, Alana Valentine (Dead Man Brake, Head Full of Love, Parramatta Girls, The Sugar House).
Commencing on 22 nd June at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong, the tour will head to 21 venues across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Northern Territory.
For most people baths hold connotations of childhood, relaxation and pleasure.
For many others, it’s also accompanied by a crippling anxiety and a vivid memory of slippery bathtub accidents. For the talented eight-bodied cast of the globally renowned show, SOAP!, free-standing tubs and large quantities of water are considered a prime foundation for hardcore acrobatics, contortion and contemporary dance.
Performing all week without break, seven incredible acrobats from one of Australia’s most acclaimed circus companies are showcasing their talent in A Mini Festival of Circa, hosted by the Merrigong Theatre Company. The performances are an eclectic mix of circus styles that cater for every demographic. 61 Circus Acts in 60 Minutes is a fast-paced, boisterous concoction of acts that makes for a thrilling family show. In Wunderkammer, the performers get a little racyin a hilarious and sexy cabaret-style piece.Then there is S- the feature show.
S is a stunning ensemble piece laced with high-level acrobatics that was inspired predominantly by the letter’s shape, grammatical function and sound. This theme is evident throughout, as bodies ebb and flow together blurring the lines between where one flawlessly sculpted physique begins and another ends. Continue reading A Mini Festival of Circa→
A truly unique show crafting a kaleidoscope of emotions propped up with interactive video projection and dark humour.
This is a true story about Malcolm Allison and his journey as he battles a brain tumour. His character is cleverly interwoven in all aspects of the show – the language, costumes, jokes and music. While true stories tend to clutch a little tighter on the heart strings, this one is firmly gripped with authenticity as the audience watches Malcolm, one of the four cast members, bring to life his very own story. The audience is taken along for the ride delving into Malcolm’s imagination – and his quirky sense of humour.
THE HANSARD MONOLOGUES, a verbatim play by Katie Pollock and Paul Daley from an original concept by Peter Fray, provides us with a look at the state of Australian politics by the most direct route possible, chosen extracts from the recently completed 43rd Parliament.
The surprising thing, for me at-least, was that our politicians did not fare too badly from such close analysis. The play even ends on an optimistic note quoting Anthony Albanese wishing everyone well till the first sitting of the new Parliament.
Essentially, THE HANSARD MONOLOGUES works as a highlights and lowlights reel/record of the last Parliament with a lot of time allocated to the major issues that dominated the term including the plight of Asylum Seekers and the continuing Australian involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
Each issue was dealt with with independently and then the play would move. A lot of ground was covered over the night. One of the play’s highlights was that we not only heard from the major political figures such as Gillard and Abbott but also from much less well known MP’s who made significant contributions to the relevant debate.
Just three actors, and great actors they were too, David Roberts, Camilla Ah Kin and Tony Llewellyn Jones, said the words of a wide range of pollies, each using a lectern. A large multi-media screen behind verified the name of the politician they were playing. This screen was also used for other dramatic purposes including the posting, one by one, of the names of the Aussie soldiers who have died in Afghanistan.
With the effect of adding emphasis, occasionally through the play, use was made of snippets of radio recordings of Parliament where one actually got to hear the authentic speaker.
At the play’s beginning, the actors endeavoured to play the pollies neutrally however this did not last for very long and by play’s end the trio were having a lot of fun with their characters.
THE HANSARD MONOLOGUES was an interesting and different night in the theatre. Peter Fray advised that he intended to produce further handard monologue pieces for future parliaments. Such nights can only add to the weight of political debate coming up to the next election.
A co-production of the Seymour Centre, the Merrigong Theatre Company and the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, the HANSARD MONOLOGUES played in Sydney at thbe York theatre, Seymour Centre on July 23 and ran until July 27, 2013.
Using actual transcripts and wiretaps from the ICAC hearings into Wollongong Council lends THE TABLE OF KNOWLEDGE a gripping sense of immediacy. The corruption saga had a heady mix of bribes, sex, developers, ICAC impersonators and threats of violence. We are voyeuristically entertained with numerous scenarios from this tawdry media sensation.
This innovative production by Version 1.0 and Merrigong Theatre Company makes use of a wonderful set and video presentations. The audience is greeted by large blocks of colour dominating the rear of the stage and during the play these alternate between actual video footage and cartoon like representations of Wollongong streetscapes, greenfield sites and proposed developments. Sean Bacon’s visuals are quite stunning. The use of large plastic toy blocks is a colourful and clever device.
The actors play various characters and as they are often reciting ICAC transcripts it is very clear who they are portraying. “Mr Vellar, can you explain to the court…..etc”. There are also video screens further explaining who is speaking and in what particular context. Occasionally the actors will address the audience.
There is an opening address by Russell Kiefel explaining that these type of events could only happen in Wollongong, until the other actors, Angela Bauer, Jane Phegan, Kym Vercoe and Arky Michael chime in with “or Port MacQuarie, or (very topically) Ryde, or Randwick, or Burwood.” It is tacitly conceded that corruption in local government is widespread.
The performances are consistently strong and engaging. Kym Vercoe’s performance as Beth Morgan, the town planner who had sexual relations with two of the developers, starts out as confident and enjoying the expensive gifts she receives for assisting with planning applications before deteriorating into a scared and nervous wreck. Arky Michael’s performance as corrupt developer Frank Vellar captures the hubris and confidence of such a colourful character. Russell Kiefel’s Rod Oxley, General Manager of Council, has the audience almost believing that his unlawful practices were really in the best interests of Wollongong.
There are many laughs in this play, mostly from the outrageous behaviour of the main protagonists. At other times the mood is dark and threatening as the criminals exert menace and pressure on the corrupt and vulnerable.
THE TABLE OF KNOWLEDGE runs until July 21 at Glen Street Theatre, Belrose.
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