5 Questions with Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Benjamin Brockman: Tell me a bit about yourself?
Fiona Hallenan-Barker: My name is Fiona and I’m a theatre-holic… I am a freelance theatre director, part-time theatre programmer, graduate of Theatre Nepean and Victorian College of Arts, dramaturg, producer, teacher, photographer, arts advocate, wife to a classical archaeologist and co-owner of a cavoodle named Kubrick.

How did you come to be here?
I had worked with Mad March Hare a couple of years ago on fantastic project at The Old 505 Theatre called Still by Jane Bodie. My co-director Emma Louise and I have worked together many times before; the latest was when I directed Philip Ridley’s Piranha Heights for the Spare Room. Ridley is a brilliant writer and a very generous artist. Meeting him in London, seeing his work there and talking about his aesthetic, I became an even bigger fan. He has a tremendous body of work: The Pitchfork Disney, The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Vincent River, Mercury Fur, Radiant Vermin, Shivered and so many more plays and films. His kids’ books are tremendous too. So, of course I jumped at the chance to come on-board this beautiful, one-woman show.

In every show that you have done is there a reoccurring item, why?
Oh, the bed thing. Yes, I always seem to work with beds – I also never work with black-outs or clocks on stage (for obvious reasons). Beds are fantastic to work with as they are so meaningful in a range of contexts from domestic, to clinical, to public anonymous spaces. Of the 20 or so productions I have directed, only one or two haven’t had a bed; in the laboratory with actors they provide a safe area for violent, physical exploration as well. When Emma and I started delving into Dark Vanilla Jungle, one of the first things we talked about was having a bed; so, yes, we can guarantee that it will feature in this production too.

If you could pick one song that would form the soundtrack of your life, what would it be, and why?
That’s a good one, like most theatre makers my soundtrack to life is very much about the music used in each show, so it’s a very eclectic mix. In Dark Vanilla Jungle Philip Ridley wrote the lyrics to a beautiful song by Dreamskin Candle called Ladybird Fist. It is a beautiful, gentle Laura Marling-esque type melody with some amazing lyrics that are pure Ridley:

My lovers hands hold me close at night.
….His warm embrace fills my dark with light.
…But I have seen his fist sometimes and that fist is speckled in red
For red is the colour of love he said
Now kiss my ladybird fist, sweet love…

Have a listen on iTunes. Or – even better – come along to the show.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest 10 being the highest) how awesomely easy are you to work with?
Obviously a 10 out of 10, hang on, we haven’t even gone into tech week yet so maybe a 7 at this point. But my dog did eat your shoes in one of our design meetings so that’s at least an 8. Okay, how about 10 out of 10 for the overall project. You know Ben, we have the potential to go all the way to 11 if you will reconsider a revolve, live animals, and some pyro….

Benjamin Brockman

Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker: As one of Sydney’s most prolific designers, what have you been working on recently?
Benjamin Brockman: Prolific? Ha, in other words ‘a whore’! To answer this question I had to look at my website (www.benjaminbrockmandesigns.com shameless plug) and I counted that so far I have done 17 shows this year and so it is hard to remember what was when. But recently I lit Great Island at 107 Project on 24 hours’ notice; that was a blast (when in doubt add strobe lights). I then lit Detroit at Darlinghurst Theatre Company which I really enjoyed as I got to play with projection as a light source. Finally, Space Cats about a week ago was a showing of a new cabaret/musical about sexually depraved cats from outer space. Coming up I have The Aliens at the Old Fitz (August), Dark Vanilla Jungle and a tour of Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom to Melbourne.

What is your signature item (and no, it can’t be a gel colour)
What! I can’t pick a colour? Well if I could pick a colour it would be Lee 139 which is Primary Green. I am notorious for trying to sneak green into my shows whereever I can. But since I cannot pick a colour, I have to say I am a really big user and collector of gobos – which are a mixture of metal or glass discs that go in to lights to create texture or images with light. Not many can understand my love of gobos but they just add some much texture to light, giving a heightened sense of movement and a really easy way to give a sense of location. You have an outside scene? Just add cloud gobos!

How do you translate yours and the creative team’s vision of the play into the physical space in Philip Ridley’s world?
This is a hard one. When reading a play often I come up with one image that speaks to me the most and through discussion with other people it helps me to develop the ideas. We then settle on something after hours of arguing and scrunched up paper. I am much better when taking about ideas with others because it helps me to come up with new ones and I also like working with people and directors who are open to discussion from all departments rather than being dictated to on what someone wants. If you have more than one brilliant mind in the room – use them. That then leads to references and then it is just a case of starting to research and start sourcing materials to fill the design that we have come up with. Within budget, of course.

Favourite line from Dark Vanilla Jungle and why?
Page 15 “Where am I now?…The light is so bright. I… I am laying on something cold.” Basically this line inspired me to come up with the design we have created.

What is your Concert of Shame? (ie are you going to shock us all by revealing you have seen Justin Bieber live three times?)
I am a religious watcher of Dance Moms. Each week I tune in to watch little girls get yelled at by Abby Lee Miller – and I love it! I have no shame…

Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman’s next show is Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley, presenting as part of Sydney Fringe 2015.
Dates: 1 – 12 Sep, 2015
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre