Happy Birthday Queensland Theatre Company: 40 years on

Queensland Theatre Company today marks the 40th anniversary of its being signed into existence … literally … by an Act of Parliament: the Queensland Theatre Company Act (1970).  It remains unique in Australia in this regard, and is one of a handful of arts Statutory Authorities in the state.  Perhaps this is indicative of the importance that a state government decades ago placed upon the theatre.  The state government through the Minister for the Arts (currently also the Premier Anna Bligh) is the major financial supporter of the state theatre company, contributing 80% of all government funding revenue to the Company’s budget.  The Federal government through the Australia Council provides the remaining 20% from government.

Queensland Theatre Company has had 5 Directors in those 40 years: the late Alan Edwards (MBE AM); Aubrey Mellor (OAM); Chris Johnson; Robyn Nevin (AM), and currently Michael Gow, who will step down in August this year to concentrate on his career as one of Australia’s leading playwrights.

My association with the Company began 2 years after its founding.  I joined for the 1972 Theatre in Education Season; my first job was playing an emu in The Badly Behaved Bunyip by Michael Boddy, alongside Grant Dodwell and Steven Tandy (that’s us in the picture above).  I then worked consistently as an actor, sometime director and writer as well as workshop tutor with Queensland Theatre Company until the end of 1977.  I have been involved with the Company in one way or another for nearly 40 years, and am today the Chairman of the Board.  It’s been an interesting ride!

Happy Birthday Queensland Theatre Company, thanks for the memories, and here’s to many more, robust years to come!

A couple of months ago, I did an interview with Ian Kath for his Your Story podcast.  Here is a brief extract from that interview about my early memories of Queensland Theatre Company.

Hold the slings and arrows: stocktaking Queensland theatre (Act 1)

If you subscribe to theatre-related blogs, then your feed-reader during the past week or so will be overflowing with posts where the words ‘Outrageous Fortune’ will almost certainly appear.  It’s the title of a new book on the state of American playwrighting, and it’s getting the best kind of publicity on the web – the free sort – for its authors Todd London, Ben Pesner, and Zannie Giraud Voss.  Linked to Outrageous Fortune‘s contents, and extending the ongoing discussion into the state of play of contemporary US theatre, is a report by another American critic, Terry Teachout – more on this below.

There are plenty of complaints in the back and forth generated by Outrageous Fortune.   The book claims contemporary ‘institutional theatre’ in the US – the system – is broken; it is certainly not playing fair with its own writers.  Why not?  The same plays – not all by fellow Americans – are being produced over and over again, and the business of keeping companies open for business has virtually imposed a ‘safe’ production environment for theatre managements.  The result is that not enough new work by contemporary American dramatists is appearing on US stages. Continue reading “Hold the slings and arrows: stocktaking Queensland theatre (Act 1)”

Pause … Silence …Curtain

Harold Pinter
Image via Wikipedia

Harold Pinter has exited the room.

There can’t be too many theatre lovers who aren’t aware of the great man’s passing on Christmas Eve 2008 after a long, ravaging illness. A seminal playwright for the late 20th century, Nobel Laureate, actor and latterly an activist, Pinter never lost his anger which bubbled to the surface most obviously during the last 20 years of a crusade against the violence of war.  Whilst rage, fear, hurt, delight, and thinly-veiled barbarity are palpable in the carefully groomed text of his plays, you know the disgust and the disquiet driving the action are focussed, as was the anger in the man himself, on outing systemic violence.

I recall working on a production of Old Times in the mid-1970s for Queensland Theatre Company. We were a company of three actors under the direction of Alan Edwards, then also Artistic Director for the company. Old Times was for us a fascinating, always challenging assignment; you felt that in this play more than in ones by other writers that there was something more to be discovered,  something out there on the edge and about to slip away, or perhaps something even missing from it all. And perhaps this elusiveness would defeat you, leave you stranded wondering what the hell was going on.

The sense of a vacuum waiting to be filled is panic-inducing for an actor, and there can be much to panic an actor working on a Pinter.  The directions Pause and Silence which pepper his scripts are the most obvious signs in this landscape of disquiet and emptiness, and they always, always poke at the core of the actor’s process. You have to dig into those layers to find the currents in the deep waters of the text and its inhabitants. It has to be said also that in the mid 1970s Pinter on the mainstage of the state theatre company was also what we call ‘edgy’ today. It was a leap of faith in the audiences.  It’s hard to believe now, but one of the real concerns was whether or not audiences would ‘get it.’  Rehearsals were hard going at times, but oh it was ultimately good stuff.

Pinter’s plays were always a thrill to explore … and I use the word ‘explore’ deliberately. The nuances of his seemingly flat speech, the anger that drove so many of the exchanges, the challenge of creating a back-story that worked for you, and how to manage with integrity the meaning of those wretched ‘pauses’ and ‘silences’ were tasks worked through daily on the floor.  Is a pause shorter than a silence? How long should they be? Should they be timed for performance? … all of these seemingly trivial questions ranged round the rehearsal room. Ultimately the precision of the text with its pauses and silences are clues by the playwright to get you digging deeper into the dynamics of character, relationships … the play’s action. What was missing, that panic-y feeling of something else ‘out there’ was of course, what you had to find as an actor, and bring to the performance. Pause and Silence were no more than signposts along the way.

Old Times is a play of memory and truth … among other things! One line still resonates for me:   ‘As I recall it, so it happened.’ It’s one of the more intriguing ‘truths’ I’ve learned via a playwright, and  it’s stayed with me for the 30 or so years since I discovered it in the playing. In these terms then,  how fluid, how indefinable, but right somehow, and ultimately how lonely are our individual truths.

Vale Magister.

Andrew Eglinton has written a lovely and very personal reflection on Pinter over at London Theatre Blog. I do recommend it. You’ll also find the transcript of Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech and a video of the speech in Andrew’s post on LTB. There are also heaps of notices, obituaries and tributes to him below.

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