Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Pillowman

It's been, as the saying goes, an amazing ride. I came straight from appearing in Macbeth (which I wrote about here) to stage managing this production – almost literally; rehearsals for The Pillowman started before our run finished, and the afternoon following our final night cast party I was back at the Little Theatre for a rehearsal.

So yeah, five and half straight months of theatre – with the last two and a half being very full-on indeed, since that included eleven performances of Macbeth, thrice-weekly rehearsals of Pillowman, bump-in/production week1 and then eleven more performances.

But as tired as I am right now, and more than a little concerned about how I'm going to cope with having to go back to a life without regular theatre commitments to make my otherwise mundane life interesting2, I wouldn't have done things any differently if I could3.

I've never been involved with a show as well-reviewed as this. Here's a list of those available online if you're interested:

Australian Stage
Adelaide Theatre Guide
Theatre People
Arts Hub
Never Ender Director
In Daily
Barefoot Review

It was also a good show in terms of how much I enjoyed working with the cast – and how much they enjoyed working with each other. I was familiar with all of them except Bart Csorba, who played the lead (Katurian) and Robert Bell (Michal) – I've been seeing Tony Busch (Tupolski) on stage for years (and he's a fellow reviewer for the ATG); Gary George (Ariel) and I went to uni together; Lucy Sutherland (several mothers) was in Macbeth with me; Steve Marvanek (several fathers) has been in a bunch of shows I've seen; and Kate Vanderhorst (assorted characters) was in the Theatre Guild's Influence that I reviewed a couple of years back.

Working with director Megan Dansie is always challenging – but in a good way; she has very high standards and a very clear vision of what what she wants, and it's the job of the cast and crew to realise that.

We had a good offstage team as well: sound and lighting designer Tim Allan, with whom I've worked on shows like Daisy Pulls It Off and Les Liaisons Dangereuses; and costume designer and makeup artist Renee Brice, whose work I'd see on the internet and in shows. She was also at the Olympia Steampunk Spectacular I went to during the Fringe – though we only spoke in character. Megan's husband Tony was responsible for set and gadget building, and Michael Kumnick (who played Banquo in Macbeth) came up with the amazing colour scheme on the set.

Here are some pictures from the show, all by Tim Allan at TAMedia:

We had a great final night cast party; it wasn't too crazy, but it went well into the following morning. I was a lightweight, though, and crashed well before that – though I couldn't tell you exactly what time.

The were a few negatives, though. On the Friday of the second week our show coincided with a gig at the UniBar (which is upstairs in the same building as the theatre), and while I never bothered to find out which bands were playing, their audience consisted of a significant number of asshole guys, who got even more assholish after a few drinks – as demonstrated by the fact they were throwing cups and cans from the balcony at people down on the ground, and then seemed to think running around in groups harassing people around the uni grounds was a good thing to do.

We, of course, disagreed and called security. Unfortunately, they'd not factored drunken idiocy into their rostering arrangements, and whoever it was allocated the duty of answering the phone was new to the job - so much so he didn't know where the UniBar, the Little Theatre or the Cloisters (basically the area outside the theatre) was, and therefore didn't send anyone to actually do anything.

Furious, I wrote an email to the Administration Officer and President of the Theatre Guild to inform them what had happened - and also tweeted about my frustration:

The issue was escalated by the Guild people, but – from what I heard – it was more my tweet that got attention. While that's kind of good in the sense that it led to it being taken seriously, it's mildly annoying that it was the possibility of bad publicity that did it, rather than the concerns of one of the university's established clubs/societies.

Even more importantly, the fuss led to security agreeing to change its policy and to have a security person outside of the theatre before the show starts and when it lets out, just in case. So, big props to campus management and security for doing the right thing and ensuring people's safety.

There was also the problem of the poor audiences. We were never quite sure why we didn't get the houses a show as well-reviewed as ours deserved; the relative obscurity of the play and/or the playwright – despite the fact it won an Olivier award, and Martin McDonagh has an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay for In Bruges – or the fact that, contentwise, it's very dark and confronting. It's also a busy time for Adelaide theatre with a bunch of shows going on.

I'm very disappointed, though, that more members of the Adelaide theatre community didn't make it to the show. It's one thing for the average punter who isn't as likely to have heard of a playwright like McDonagh, or have seen as many of the reviews or talked to as many people about the current state of theatre to realise there was a show attracting as much praise as The Pillowman was.

I know as a reviewer I consider it fairly standard practice to go see a show when it's a highly regarded as this one was; and as an actor I know I'd want to see performances that were getting that much kudos, since it's one of the ways you learn to be better at the craft.

Really, this has annoyed me enough – since we put together an amazing show, and the actors worked their asses off for two and a half hours every night – that I'm going to start looking at whether or not theatre company people and the actors in their shows are getting out and supporting theatre in Adelaide before I decide whether or not I see their next productions.

News just to hand: the show itself, director Megan Dansie and Robert Bell (who played Michal) have all been nominated for Adelaide Critics Circle awards. This is a huge achievement.

1'Bump-in' and 'bump-out' are the theatre terms for moving your show into and out of the space you're performing in respectively. One day I'll find out where the term originates.
2Relatively speaking.
3In terms of the theatre, that is. Other decisions I made during this period I would most certainly, had I access to a time machine, smack myself around the back of the head for even contemplating.

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