5 Questions with Sarah Meacham and Patricia Pemberton

Sarah Meacham

Patricia Pemberton: Describe Dry Land in five words.
Sarah Meacham: Courageous. Honest. Bold. Uncomfortable. Necessary.

What attracted you to the role of Ester and the play initially?
It is such a dream, as an actor, to come across a text that explores such complex, honest and dense stories of young women. It is such a juicy text in that sense. The women have agency and are so interesting respectively. Ruby creates these characters and fills them with a shipping container full of life and truth. Jeremy and Claudia have done the Sydney independent theatre scene such a blessing by putting their story on a stage. In terms of Ester herself, I just fucking love her – no words.

Ahh the teenage years. Tell me about a classic ‘teenage moment’ you’ve had that makes you laugh.
One time I got really wasted with my friend in Albury. We went to this pub, Paddy’s I think it was called, and I remember feeling really close to losing it. I went outside and sat on the curb for about an hour. Then it was time to make tracks and my friend’s cousin picked us up. Then I have this blissful memory of opening the car window and feeling the wind on my face but then coupled with spewy mcgee all over the car door (inside and out) down my dress and on the floor. I woke up the next day with dried vomit in my eyelashes.

What has been the most unexpected moment of the process so far?
Realising the full scope of potential in the elasticity of a swimming cap.

Where should we get dinner – Ruby Tuesday’s or Denny’s?
Ruby’s. Duh.

Patricia Pemberton

Sarah Meacham: What’s your favourite food? I’ve heard you hate protein bars.
Patricia Pemberton: Hands down Nutella. If I could bathe in Nutella I would. Introduce me to a Nutella protein bar that doesn’t taste like a protein bar and you’ll have my attention.

As an actor, what is the greatest part of the rehearsal process?
Actually it’s the point of delirium at the end of a full day’s or week’s rehearsal. That’s either where the best epiphanies happen or you are all in stitches of laughter, both are equally great!

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on stage?
Once I was in an interpretive dance where I was the sperm that won the race and was dressed in a form fitting white ensemble flailing about on stage? Not sure if that’s counts though, because I just think that’s funny.

Ruby Rae Spiegel discusses a lot of confrontational components that can come to play among puberty for young women, what do you think has distinguished this piece of writing from others in regards to the way she presents the voices of women today?
When I first read the script, I remember closing it and staring at the ceiling for a few minutes- processing and relating with my own experiences. The voices of these young women are universal in their high school setting, their coded lingo and journey of trying to find their place. I think what separates Ruby’s work from other works is that it is relentless in how emotive and cruel not only puberty but life can be. Nothing is off limits. It’s very ‘in yer face’, but who doesn’t love a bit of that?

We’re part of a pretty crazy independent theatre ‘power couple’ with Mad March Hare and Outhouse Theatre coming together. What are you most excited about in staging Dry Land?
Mad March x Outhouse is definitely the Beyonce & Jay Z of indie couplings. I’m so incredibly grateful to be working with the creatives that I am, that’s the most exciting part for me. That they saw something in me that they wanted to collaborate with and vice versa.

Sarah Meacham and Patricia Pemberton are appearing in Dry Land, by Ruby Rae Spiegel.
Dates: 28 July – 19 August, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Before Lysistrata (Kings Cross Theatre / Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 10 – 22, 2017
Playwright: Ellana Costa
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Ellana Costa, Alex Francis, Michaela Savina
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
We know Lysistrata as the one who convinces the women of Greece to deprive themselves of sex, in order that their men would cease fighting each other in the Peloponnesian War. In Before Lysistrata, playwright Ellana Costa imagines a scenario that leads up to that audacious act. Lysistra and Lampito are the first ladies of Athens and Sparta, each representing a different side of politics.

It is the left and right wings of society, again at loggerheads. Whether 400 BC or 2017 AD it seems, we are determined to make enemies of one another, unable to be at peace with the idea of disagreement. The men go to war, determined to quash the other side, so that the world only needs contain one uniform ideology. With the death of sons that inevitably result, the ladyfolk band together, and hatch a plan to end the atrocities.

At points where the lines of good and evil are blurred, when us and them are disrupted, the show becomes refreshing. Its message can however, feel simplistic, as do its characters and dialogue. Wit and drama can be found in Costa’s well-meant text, but performances are unfledged, and the production never really builds enough tension that would allow sparks to fly. Few artistic risks are taken that will offer elements of surprise or intrigue. Its political interest holds court, central and singular.

Where there is solidarity, great things can be achieved. For each generation that experiences increasing social fragmentation, the idea of organised processes of action becomes correspondingly alien. That we can be unified, must not only be an abstraction, but how we get there, is more bewildering than ever before.


5 Questions with Ellana Costa and Michaela Savina

Ellana Costa

Michaela Savina: Who do you believe is the most effective ancient Greek villain?
Ellana Costa: My favourite villains are the Sirens from the story of Jason And The Argonauts. I love that their power can be felt from a distance. I love the idea that these women play into the stereotype of the beautiful, mysterious woman that all men want, only so they can lure these men to their deaths. I also love the image of Jason, so desperate to see and hear the Siren song, that he ties himself to his ship. Talk about a glutton for punishment.

How do you find it performing your own writing?
I think every writer should be forced to perform that own writing at least once. It changes the way you see the writing process. I’ve always enjoyed working in a collaborative way and I’ve noticed a lot of changes I’ve decided to make from the script, to my character particularly, have come out of a realisation that the way I think doesn’t always translate well to the page. The exciting thing, however, about performing a character I’ve created, is that I really feel like I know Lampito. I feel like I understand her and why she is making the choices she’s making.

What’s your favourite thing about Lampito?
I think Lampito is incredibly strong, but I think what I love most about her is the way she shows her strength. She lives in a society where she is often looked down on because she is a women, but when she sees something she thinks is wrong, she say something. Even though she knows it will result in pain for her. She has a real moral backbone that I think is beautiful.

How would you define strength?
I define strength as resilience. To be strong doesn’t mean never falling, or never being upset, or never feeling like you can’t do it. For me, strength is feeling those things, acknowledging them, and then taking the steps you can to get back up. You can’t be strong without vulnerability, and when you are vulnerable you’re able to show your strength.

Who do you call to serve on your utopian action squad?
Well, it would be a combination of fictional and real world bad ass ladies. Let’s start with the obvious one: Wonder Woman. She is a n Amazonian goddess and will obviously be leading our party. I would then request Beyonce for soundtrack, general inspiration and fierce moves. I would also ask Black Widow from Avengers (for DC/Marvel mashup) and then I think I’d end with Geena Davis. That woman is an Olympian archer and super hilarious. Couldn’t image a better crew.

Michaela Savina

Ellana Costa: If you could be any one (or anything) from an ancient Greek myth, who would you be and why?
Michaela Savina: I think I would have to go for Circe because she’s got all of this badass magical power. Also in Odyssey she turned all the men in to pigs which is a move I really endorse.

Who is your feminist role model and why?
It’s like picking a favourite child this question, I think I’m going to go with Joan Didion as basically half my actions in life are just trying to make myself more like her.

What is the most interesting element of Lysistrata’s story for you?
In our adaption I think we’ve really drawn out the idea of sacrifice and what exactly that looks and feels like on a human level. I think understanding that sometimes the same sacrifice can land very differently for people is quite interesting.

What is your favourite thing about playing Lysistrata?
I really love playing her personality quirks, even though she has all this expertise and intelligence her emotional intelligence and social skills are quite lacking and that’s always fun to play. She really does mean well but she just slightly misses the mark.

Dead or alive, who is present at Lysistrata’s symposium on 21st century politics?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Arundati Roy, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Georgia O’Keefe and Patti Smith, I’m kind of thinking about the post symposium drinks, my god that’d be some fascinating conversation.

Ellana Costa and Michaela Savina can be seen in Before Lysistrata by Ellana Costa.
Dates: 10 – 22 July, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Jatinga (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 9 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Purva Naresh
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Sapna Bhavnani, Karina Bracken, Claudette Clarke, Jarrod Crellin, Faezeh Jalali, Sheila Kumar, Suz Mawer, Bali Padda, Monroe Reimers, Trishala Sharma, Teresa Tate Britten, Amrik Tumber
Image by Natasha Narula

Theatre review
In the north-eastern region of India, a tourist hot-spot exists in the village of Jatinga, known for the mysterious phenomenon of birds plunging to their death, every year after the monsoon season. In Purva Naresh’s play Jatinga, it is the phenomenon of “runaway girls” that takes focus. Journalist Madhumita discovers five young women escaping harrowing fates, and in her efforts to publish a story that draws attention to their plight, she finds herself thinking like villagers hungry for tourism dollars, deciding whether to resort to sensationalism, in order that the greater good can be served.

The play is purposeful, and undeniably powerful. Addressing issues of poverty, Jatinga is relevant to audiences of all nations, at a time when economic inequality is a serious social concern. We may not suffer the same symptoms in the developed world, but the fact that the refugee crisis is unsolved and escalating, and that we continue to obsess over “terrorist threats”, show that persistent disparities, that our first-world systems thrive on, are creating problems that have landed us in a state of emergency. The rich will always want the poor separate and contained, but the poor can often break through the barriers of money. Radical action is always an option, when people have nothing to lose.

The women in Jatinga tell simple stories, but the production is strangely convoluted. Shifting timelines and interweaving narratives provide a sense of theatricality, but unnecessary confusion often gets in the way of our empathy. The show must be lauded however, for not turning to “disaster porn” to keep us engaged. The women are victims, but they are also spirited and strong individuals. Director Suzanne Millar’s resolve in portraying them as such, is certainly admirable.

An excellent cast, wonderfully cohesive, perform a colourful work replete with vigour and sincerity. Suz Mawer is captivating, and tremendously persuasive, as the journalist Madhumita. Her thorough authenticity holds the piece together, even though the stakes are admittedly lowest for the character she portrays. Also noteworthy is Nate Edmondson’s work on music, transportative and transformative in its effect, from scene to scene.

When the birds take to suicide, we wish for it to be an act of nature, and convince ourselves that things stay in balance with their sacrifice. Murmurs of the birds actually being killed by villagers, are disregarded by the tourists who wish to witness something romantic and extraordinary. We bury the truth, in order that our fabricated realities can be sustained. We want to think that refugees have proper channels to seek asylum, and we want to believe that terrorists are mentally ill. We insist that the poor only need work harder to create better lives, and we sweep the truth under carpets, sit back and watch as towers are burnt to ashes.


5 Questions with Sapna Bhavnani and Faezeh Jalali

Sapna Bhavnani

Faezeh Jalali: If you were a book which one would you be and why?
Sapna Bhavnani: A few years ago my god daughter handed me a book and said “look Sapna, this is you.” On the cover was an illustration of an inked woman and her 2 daughters. The book was The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson. I read that book in half an hour and cried through most of it. More than the mom, I related to the stories of the daughters. And as cliché as it sounds, being an inked woman myself, I cannot think of another book I would rather be. And maybe, just maybe, because I haven’t read any other book since Nancy Drew and Famous Five. Don’t you judge me!

What gives you great joy and what is your greatest frustration?
Yoga. In my recent years of practice, I have started journeying inwards more that outwards. It’s one of the most challenging things I have ever done. The process of being true to yourself at every moment and working towards the ability to witness joy and pain equally, with the same level of non-enthusiasm is my new high. The process of stepping out of my body and witnessing myself as a third party in the room is my new theatre.

You created the character of the old woman in the play Jatinga. What inspired you to write her and what about you is similar to the old woman?
We are all born old. We carry with us stories and burdens from previous lives. We carry guilt and shame from current lives. We carry ambitions and hopes to the future lives. And the circle continues. Age does not have a gender or an age. So yes, Sapna is similar to the old woman. But so is Faezeh, and Suzanne, and every member of the cast regardless of the burden of gender or nationality.

How many tattoos do you have? Tell the story of one of them.
Only an amateur counts the number of drinks consumed. I am an alcoholic.

Sapna means dream- what is/are yours? (I’ll make this hard by asking you to describe it as a fairytale)
I’m constantly in a lucid dream space. I have 7 imaginary friends, all called Alice and 5 mannequins also all called Alice. It’s the way I call their names that distinguishes one Alice from the other. We all live happily ever after in a one-bedroom apartment in Bandra, Bombay with 3 cats and 45 plants. Our most favourite thing to do is take a road trip to our farmhouse 3 hours outside Bomaby to visit the 3 other Alice’s that live there with 4 cats and 89 trees and a gazillion flowers. As you can see it’s an ongoing fairytale and keeps on getting more magical with each passing moment or should I say with each passing Alice.

Faezeh Jalali

Sapna Bhavnani: What keeps you ticking in the theatre world after so many years?
Faezeh Jalali: Experimentation and the desire to take risks and tell stories that are important to me. I won’t take on a play that doesn’t excite me because I won’t be able to create it truthfully. I enjoy the creative process and making theatre that pushes boundaries comfort zones, physical and intellectual limits. Theatre that is socio-political, that is relevant to our current times. I wouldn’t be happy doing living room dramas and probably would do a shoddy job of those.

How did you prepare for Manda?
I think the process is organic. I think the character is in the writing and in the work done with other actors right from the first development/audition. For me the character comes alive on the floor in the body, not from writing notes or thinking too deeply about it. The playwright gives you the most information and I take that and fly…

What is the next project seeding in that wonderful brain of yours?
Several. I’m writing a new play, I guess you could say some sort of a musical satire about religion, godmen/godwomen/religious heads. I want to do one physical piece based on Mumbai life. I have written small sections of action but would need to string those together. I want it to be a circus piece actually. And a couple of others, that other writers will write or have written.

If there is another profession you could be in, what would that be?
As a teenager I wanted to take revenge on my dentist so I did take pre-medical with theatre, in undergrad. But then I imagined myself doing that and it bored me. So it didn’t work out. There was a phase when I thought I’d be a physicist. That fizzled out. Currently I think some sort of chef.

Are you sure you’re not Kashmiri?
No, I’m sure I’m not Kashmiri or should I say yes I’m sure I’m not Kashmiri. I’m a citizen of the planet (she said cheesily).

Sapna Bhavnani and Faezeh Jalali can be seen in Jatinga by Purva Naresh.
Dates: 9 – 24 June, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Between The Streetlight And The Moon (Mophead Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 5 – 27, 2017
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Joanna Downing, Ben McIvor, Lucy Miller, Suzanne Pereira, Lani Tupu
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Talent is a thing of mystery, and one of its elusive qualities surrounds the faith that an artist should have in their own abilities. In Melita Rowston’s Between The Streetlight And The Moon, we examine the ways in which painters are able to find a sense of belief in themselves, or more accurately, how their spirits can be dampened, by longstanding institutions that thrive on their own elitism and the implied deterrent of new individuals who wish to join the ranks.

The number of female names in the world of celebrated Western artists, is unquestionably paltry. The play looks at the way women painters and their work, are routinely subjugated and subsumed by their male mentors and counterparts. This chauvinism seems systematic, and it feels dangerously instinctual, and we wonder if this dynamic exists everywhere else in life.

Rowston’s writing is at its best when wistful and poetic. Her words are powerfully evocative, always passionate with advocacy for something meaningful. The plot is however, not as gripping as it wishes to be. Intrigue builds slowly, and when the story eventually becomes dramatic, we find ourselves more interested in Rowston’s philosophical ideas than the narrative being woven over them. Dialogue has a tendency to sound stilted when scenes attempt to be conversational, but the language turns beautifully sublime when characters move into more heightened modes of theatricality.

Actor Lucy Miller is an entrancing presence as painter-turned-academic, Zadie. Vulnerable, with an unmistakable gravitas, Miller brings authenticity to a protagonist who exists between shifting states of self-doubt and self-belief. Also impressive is Joanna Downing as the enthusiastic emergent, Dominique. Precise and considered, Downing’s portrayal of a brainy Millennial is truly delightful, even if her French accent is comically exaggerated.

Visual design is sparing but elegant. The use of projections to assist with our imagination of classic paintings is effective, and very gratifying, but an interpretation of The Seine requires much bolder execution. Live accompaniment by Benjamin Freeman on piano, adds brilliant flair to the show, a rare treat that theatregoers will find thoroughly enjoyable.

Zadie suffers humiliation when she mistakes a streetlight for the full moon. It is hard to conceive of creativity without sensitivity, but it is the artist’s responsibility to weather attacks on their pride, and return with greater vigour. It is also the responsibility of society to provide support to those who have the ability to give expression and meaning, to the human experience. In Australia, we have to give mindful emphasis to those artists whose voices continue to be silenced by a history of colonialism and its accompanying white patriarchy. Our art must strive for an accurate reflection of Australian life, and the white male artist is far from enough.


5 Questions with Joanna Downing and Ben McIvor

Joanna Downing

Ben McIvor: Jo, what do you love about your character Dominique?
Joanna Downing: I love that she can be so dry. I love her intelligence. I love that she is so considered – the way that she looks at the world, and art.

If Dom was an animal, what would she be, and why?
Cat. All lithe and bendy and somewhat mindless of other people’s space.

How do you prepare for a role?
Read the play as many times as humanly possible. Films and books invariably come up in conversation in the rehearsal room, so I try to watch/read as many as I can. I’m reading the Female Eunuch at the moment because of this one! I also started an image collection… Dom knows so much more about art and artists than I do, so I needed to familiarise myself with the images. Oh and of course, the French. I’ve been practising daily to get it up to scratch.

How has this play affected your understanding of art?
Well I hope it’s made me more conscientious. It’s definitely made me want to go to Musee D’Orsay and Marmottan to spend time with the real pieces. I think the play has given me an emotional attachment to the works, simply through Dom’s love of them, that I didn’t have before.

What’s it like working with Anthony Skuse?
Heaven! He is so considered and very open. The tone of the room was always warm and comfortable, but he also cuts through any extraneous bullshit. I have a sneaking suspicion that he can read me better than I can read myself.

Ben McIvor

Joanna Downing: What do you like most about the space at KXT (Kings Cross Theatre)?
I hope this doesn’t sound too weird, but I absolutely love the foyer! The art, the furniture, the typewriter, that stunning lamp, the egg timer, the books, that creepy dream catcher blowing around in the air conditioning under the glow of the exit sign… it feels like you’ve stepped into a strange dream.

What’s the biggest point of difference between you and your character?
I tend to think ahead a lot, whereas the thing I admire most about Barry is he lives moment to moment. He doesn’t think, he just does.

Who is your favourite artist and why?
Oooh, good question! This is particularly hard to answer because doing this play with Mr Skuse has really opened up a world that seemed so foreign to me. I’m going to go with Scottie Marsh, though. Growing up in the Inner-West, Hip-hop and graffiti played a big part in shaping my youth, and “fine art” seemed like something so far away from street art. Sipping nice wine in white-walled galleries was a world away from Posca’d train cabins and “Bombed” walls. I think Mr Marsh seems to do a great job of blurring the line between graffiti and fine art… and if I was a youth in 2017 who was into street art, this type of work might spark my interest into the world of fine art. I hope that makes sense!?

Do you have any pre-show ‘rituals’ to get you into character?
I guess it depends on the role. I like to do character work early on in the rehearsal process and I have a long list of questions that I ask my character to discover more about how they view themselves and their world… I read some of the responses before each show, and think about the images they create.

What’s your favourite music and what’s your character’s favourite music?
I think Barry is very much a jazz man. I think when he paints, he doesn’t like typically structured songs with lyrics, a beginning, middle, and end. I think he likes improvisation- instruments talking with each other. Me? At the moment I’m really into Bossa Nova. It’s the kinda stuff you can relax to, dance to, cook to, drive to or jam to. I love the variety of instruments that are used in Bossa… the sound has a certain “charm” to it.

Joanna Downing and Ben McIvor can be seen in Between The Streetlight And The Moon by Melita Rowston.
Dates: 5 – 27 May, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre