5 Questions with Rizcel Gagawanan and Melissa Hume

Rizcel Gagawanan

Melissa Hume: If the story of your life was written as an internet article, what would its clickbait headline be?
Rizcel Gagawanan: I hope it would be very similar to articles about Kim Convenience‘s Simu Liu –  “My Life from Anxiety-ridden Accountant to Marvel’s next Superhero”.

One of the themes Duckpond investigates is how we use distraction as a coping mechanism – do you consciously or unconsciously distract yourself and what are your go-to phone/internet distractions?
I’m always consciously and unconsciously distracting myself. Instagram! Instagram! Instagram! Then a bit of Facebook. Some puppy and foodie videos. Then back on Instagram.

Why are you an artist/actor/performer?
The answer to this constantly changes for me, but in all realness, storytelling and play give me the most joy. I also do this because I want other people who are like me to see that being an artist/actor/performer is possible. 

You recently gave up social media for a week as a personal goal for the Equity Wellness Challenge – how did you find the experience?
It was very difficult. Not being on Instagram and Facebook made me feel so disconnected from the world that it gave me anxiety and a sense of FOMO. I wanted people to know what I was up to and I wanted to know what other people were up to. The experience made me realise how addicted I am to Instagram and how it distracts me from being present in the moments I’m in. I’m not fully recovered because I’m still Insta-storying like a 14-year-old. But I’m more aware of it now. Hopefully someday I’ll ease off it more. 

In what ways can you relate to your character Duck and what have you found challenging?
I relate to Duck’s love of bread. I love all types of bread. To be honest I love bread more than rice (yes, very un-Asian of me. It’s blasphemous). Another thing I relate to but also found challenging was Duck’s addiction and submission, and her journey in breaking out of it. It brought to light my own addictions that I hide behind and the indoctrinated beliefs that once controlled my view of the world. 

Melissa Hume

Rizcel Gagawanan: If you could only live on bread alone, what type of bread would you choose?
Melissa Hume: I’d be nutritionally strategic and go with a dark rye bread with lots of seeds and nuts.

What common how-to or fact have you googled that you should have known IRL (like it was common sense)?
UMMM so I may have just googled “what is the most nutritious bread”…

The other day I got myself really confused and no joke googled “what century are we in”.
I also do lots of word related checks too: “apart vs a part” “inquiry vs enquiry” “a lot vs alot” and lots of definitions. 

When killing time on the train or in a food line, what are the top 3 things that you look up on your phone/internet?
Instagram number 1, then Facebook and my third would be internet (window) shopping. I love to go through hundreds of clothes listed on say ASOS or The Iconic, pick out a whole new wardrobe’s worth of clothes, look at them all in the shopping cart, decide which ones I love the most and then… NEVER buy any of them. It’s a great time waster. 

If Ingrid was on Survivor what would her strategy be?
Ingrid would make lots of alliances. She’d also try a number of different strategies and as a result she’d confuse the other competitors who wouldn’t take her as a serious threat until it was too late!

What have you enjoyed about the rehearsal process, and what has challenged you the most?
I have loved working with such open, curious and playful creatives – the rehearsal room has felt incredibly free! Tabitha’s script has been so much fun to unpack but it’s also incredibly clever and relevant. People really need to come and see this!!!

What has challenged me the most has been the character work with Ingrid. Early on I realised we are extremely similar and some of our shared traits and tendencies are actually things I don’t like about myself… a very large one being our innate social AWKWARDNESS… and at first that was very challenging for me to lean into but now I’ve been able to embrace it.

Rizcel Gagawanan and Melissa Hume can be seen in Duckpond , by Tabitha Woo.
Dates: 22 – 26 Oct, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Homesick (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Sally Alrich-Smythe
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Annie Byron, Deborah Galanos, Eliza Scott, Alex Stylianou
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Samantha has suddenly come home to Wallerawang, from New York where she is yet to complete her higher education in music. Things are not well but she is unable to articulate them. In Homesick by Sally Alrich-Smythe, we observe the environment in which the young woman has grown up, that may have contributed to her emotional troubles, although we remain uncertain if those are entirely to blame for her illness. She seems to have identified her mother’s displaced ambition as a cause, but Samantha’s inability to bring adequate expression to her emotions, forms the central mystery on which the narrative of Homesick is built.

Its dark themes notwithstanding, Alrich-Smythe’s play features charming personalities and sparkling dialogue that keep us engaged. A generous measure of video projections (by Lucca Barone-Peters and Suzie Henderson) is used to help tell the story, integrated with a sensitive elegance by director Claudia Osborne, whose minimalist approach proves effective in this investigation into small town Australia.

Actor Eliza Scott offers an understated but compelling naturalism that makes believable, all of Samantha’s hidden struggles. Her mother Rachel is played by Deborah Galanos, whose effortless warmth assures us that the home in question, is loving and not overbearing. Annie Byron is quirky as the inconvenient grandmother Eadie, effective at introducing exuberance to the staging, and Alex Stylianou is memorable as Samantha’s ex-boyfriend Jess, confident with the instinctual comedy he brings to the very relaxed personality.

There are no doctors in Samantha’s story to tell us where her problems are coming from, so we try, as lay people, to arrive at our own diagnosis, which is neither reliable nor satisfactory. Mental health is complex. We may be able to detect feelings, but chemistry is best left to professionals. Samantha keeps her illness hidden, and we see her attempting to get out of the woods on her own, to no avail. It might be wishful thinking that the medical system represents a quick fix, but it bears reminding that help is always available, and even if the healing process turns out to be arduous, it is unequivocal that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

www.bontom.com.au

Review: Hairworm (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – 5, 2019
Playwright: Emma Wright
Director: Jess Davis
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Bernadette Fam, Jennifer Hart, Alex King, Rebekah Parsons, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Laura Wilson
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Emma Wright’s first play Hairworm is about anorexia. It details the experience of an unnamed protagonist, as she suffers that very severe form of mental illness. We watch her go through tremendous anguish, in a writing style that is often clinical, able only to have us regard the condition from an intellectual distance, without having to invest heavily in emotional dimensions of the subject. As a theatrical work, Hairworm does not connect with immediacy, but is valuable in terms of the insight it no doubt provides, into something real and troubling.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production is dynamic and exacting, with Priyanka Martin’s lights and Cecelia Strachan’s sound, conspiring to carefully render a sense of texture for each of its scenes. A disciplined cast brings further polish to the staging, with Rebekah Parsons’ conviction as the afflicted lead character, giving urgency to the show’s pace and rhythm. Alex King plays the sister, memorable for introducing a moment of genuine sentimentality to proceedings.

Theatre does not always have to engage our emotions, but it should find ways to make us care. Conventional narrative structures can seem banal when we have them deciphered and deconstructed, but the way we choose to tell stories, are in direct relation with our very nature, and it seems humans are mostly predictable beings. We see the suffering in Hairworm, just as we see all the suffering in real life, and as is commonplace, our instinct is to respond with an insulating nonchalance that is perhaps inevitable. Art can pierce through that veil of apathy, to get to what one would hope is an essential compassion that unites us. Without art and compassion, hope becomes unimaginable.

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Review: Matriarch (Jinda Productions)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 3 – 7, 2019
Playwrights: Sandy Greenwood, Lauren Jarrett, Oliver V. Cowley
Director: Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Sandy Greenwood
Images by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
Sandy Greenwood is a Koori woman deeply invested in her cultural heritage. In her one-woman show Matriarch, we learn that the experience of inter-generational trauma, makes it almost impossible for an individual like Greenwood to live without an intimate understanding of historical events that have affected her family. Greenwood’s story reaches back to her great-grandmother and beyond, involving Aboriginal women from three clans who had to battle unfathomable hardship, through colonisation, massacres and stolen generations, to raise children and to preserve bloodlines.

At just over an hour, the material we encounter is at once refreshing, and extraordinarily rich. The text of Matriarch often utilises slang and dialect unique to this land, and the voices that Greenwood channels in her portrayals of these marvellous mothers, are truly sublime. We witness their triumphs and their challenges, share in their humour and feel tremendous sadness for the injustices imposed upon them. Greenwood’s performance is relentlessly powerful. Her physical discipline, and her emotional range, insist that we are engaged and moved, by her honest expressions about life for Indigenous peoples in Australia.

Directed by Jasmin Sheppard, the show is both poignant and consistently entertaining. Every moment is given accurate focus, so that the audience responds precisely as the artists intend. Music by Sean Ryan enhances a sense of cultural specificity to the production, helpful in transporting us to regional locales that are so fundamental in the weaving of narratives about belonging and about land.

Before we can properly move forward, we need to own up completely to all the atrocities that have been committed in this process of colonisation. Problems cannot be adequately fixed, if the truth of these problems are not wholly revealed. The continual denial of responsibility, total or partial, means that those in power can only ever try to mend the surface of these issues. The passage of time means that the roots of our ills can only grow deeper. Indigenous voices must be listened to, and obeyed, right now.

www.jindaproductions.wordpress.com

Review: An Intervention (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 20 -31, 2019
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Bardiya McKinnon
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
They are best friends, perhaps even soul mates, but we meet them at a point where these unnamed characters begin to diverge, as they start developing in directions that seem to be in mutual conflict. There is no doubt however, that these two, in Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention, are bonded on a level of essence, that they connect on a fundamental level beyond the surprising choices that they now make. How people experience the world can only ever be unique, and friends growing apart seems almost inevitable. Bartlett’s play is keenly observed and irresistibly witty, a truthful work that reveals meaningful aspects of ourselves, able to demystify parts of human nature that we rarely bring articulation to.

Directed by Erin Taylor, the show is jaunty and engaging, sensitive in its rendering of a story about careless friendships. It is an attractive production, with Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design and Liam O’Keefe’s lights bringing a sense of flamboyant theatricality to the intimate two-hander. Actor Jessica-Belle Keogh is mesmerising as the one who drinks too much, impressive for the exquisite thoroughness with which she attacks the role. Her performance is intelligent and deliberate but never feels forced, consistently thought-provoking while keeping us wonderfully entertained. Bardiya McKinnon holds his own as the one who marries for convenience, convincing in his natural approach, if slightly too simple in comparison. Excellent chemistry between the two sets the stage alight, for 90 minutes of comedy delivered with an unexpected sophistication.

We may not always be able to intervene when friends make mistakes. Life is often out of our control, and many occasions seem to require that we sit back and watch the unfolding of a car crash. We can however, always be there to help pick up the pieces. The people in An Intervention spend an inordinate amount of time in judgement of each other, but it appears that this constant disapproval amounts to nothing. A life without fuck-ups is no life at all. To have good friends witness every embarrassment, is perhaps a crucial element in the foundation of real love.

www.old505theatre.com | www.facebook.com/LastOneStandingTheatreCo

5 Questions with Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh

Bardiya McKinnon:What is your biggest pet peeve?
Jess-Belle Keogh: This is a great question, which one do I choose? Okay so, I’m a good walker, I’m quick, even when I’m lost, so people taking up the entire pavement and having no spatial awareness grinds my gears. On a larger scale, I’m very passionate about women’s rights, so violations of those rights does an angry Jessie make (frequently vocal about it, proud of that fact, thanks very much).

What is it like working opposite only one other actor?
So the last two plays I did had at least 3-4 other actors in the room. This work has made me really check in with my own practice. It’s made me more passionate about current events. Ultimately, all of this fills me with enormous joy—it’s taught me to be more present and say “yes!” I don’t know, man– I like working with you too, I guess.

How do you put up with me?
Darling, thanks for checking in. To be frank with you, I’ve resorted to extensive periods of monastic silence in community gardens. It’s a spiritual overhaul. How the hell do you put up with me? God, you poor thing.

Friendship is the ongoing theme in An Intervention, how do your real world experiences feed this role?
The women I’ve surrounded myself with consistently operate with authenticity. The group consists of two sets of twins, and me. We’re all very different. They’re good people who keep me honest, and I love them a great deal. They’re my ride-or-dies, it isn’t shallow territory. We aren’t afraid to show each other love or say “hey, you’re being an asshole.” Wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re my family. Likewise, I’ve got some incredible friends from a myriad of places who I love to the moon and back, like yourself. So that’s my approach to friendship. Does that answer your question?

What do you think the biggest message of this show is?
Look, not to sound woo-woo, but life has a funny way of making us feel like we’re alone in all of this. The world is in turmoil, after all, and we’re lonelier than ever watching atrocity after atrocity on our smartphones. Or, we’re Instagram distracted in other ways and unaware. We’re rendered inactive all of a sudden; self-conscious voyeurs. Don’t fall for it: apathy or cool indifference is a waste of your time. Be passionate about the big stuff. Do something. Lean into looking silly. Fail gloriously. Risk buggering it all up. But show up, look around, do something. Even if it’s scary or inconvenient or doesn’t suit your Instagram aesthetic. Show up for each other and for life. People are there to meet you. You aren’t alone and damn the thing that makes you feel that way. Lean in. I promise you won’t regret it.

Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh: Bardiya, I think you’re great. Sorry, that wasn’t a question. Right. Bardiya, what do you like about Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention?
Bardiya McKinnon: I love the simplicity of it all. This show does everything in its power to draw audiences into the relationship between these two best friends. It strips away props, set, bells and whistles to focus on the beautiful space between these two “best” friends. In doing so it creates a very real, honest and genuine portrayal of life and 2 damaged people standing up for what they believe is right. I love it for that.

An Intervention involves spirited debate about socio-political matters on a global scale. We go head to head about these issues, often in bombastic ways. What cause do you feel strongly about at the moment?
This is a tough question to answer because I have never really been one for specific “causes”. I believe in the values that what I was brought up with – that all people no matter their skin colour, orientation, gender or belief system are entitled to love whoever they want, work in whichever field they so choose and believe in whatever cause they choose to as long as it doesn’t impede or harm anyone else. I know that sounds like a cop out answer but my belief system is completely inclusive and I’m sick of hearing about person/s or groups who use their power as a way of regulating how people should exist in their own skin.

We’ve been friends since 2017 (I know, don’t lose it). Perhaps tell the people about how we met? And who is Erin Taylor?
Holy crap 2017…so much has happened in my life since then. You and I met under circumstances that mirror our current situation quite closely. We worked on a show at the Old 505 in 2017, the Outhouse theatre company production of BU21 by Stuart Slade directed by our incredible director Erin Taylor. That show was an absolute highlight for me and every single member of that team was so so wonderful. After working with our wonderful director Erin Taylor on that show I knew exactly who should helm An Intervention once I had read it. Her voice and ability to tap into the fine human details that are easy to miss really make this production really special.

What have you seen recently that literally (or figuratively) knocked your socks off?
Apart from you crushing it in this show? Yeah, have you seen the wonderful promo video we made for this show where we asked a bunch of people in the street about certain events that affected their relationships. It’s super beautiful and super honest and captures our show really well. Now apart from that shameless plug my real answer is: That video of the raccoon dipping the fairy floss into a puddle… love that shit.

Right, let’s do the damn thing. Five words to describe the show— aaaaand go!:
Defiant, Flawed with Love and Wine. (I know that’s 6 but “and” is barely a word…)

Catch Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon in An Intervention by Mike Bartlett.
Dates: 20 – 31 Aug, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 3, 2019
Music: Chelsea Needham
Lyrics: Ang Collins
Director: Andrew McInnes
Cast: Monika Pieprzyk, Amelia Campbell, Tom Matthews, Jacob Mclean, Jack Richardson, Kieran Clancy-Lowe
Images by Zac Jay

Theatre review
Three Martians have landed, in a spaceship called Incel 9, because apparently, earth girls are easy. The male of that species have had to travel an enormous distance, after women on Mars had wised up to their misogynistic nonsense. Earthlings however, are being protected by Space Cops, who in Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret, happen to be two women impervious to the sleazy tricks of pickup artists. Written by Ang Collins and Chelsea Needham, this fun-filled work features kooky characters and humorous songs, for a surprisingly wholesome style of entertainment that often feels like a contemporary take on the pantomime form. A show about dirty boys with no dirty jokes, Mars is a remarkably refreshing experience.

Directed by Andrew McInnes, the comedy balances flamboyance with irony, allowing its very broad approach to communicate at somewhat unexpected levels of nuance. The visual style is appropriately lo-fi, with Lucy McCullough’s production design and Tom Houghton’s lights, establishing a lot of playful charm to keep us engaged. Some of the singing is of questionable quality, but the cast is likeable, and they present a well-rehearsed staging that impresses with its verve and spirit of inventiveness. Tom Matthews and Jack Richardson are the more disciplined performers of the group, able to contribute a sheen of professionalism with their vocal and physical polish, although the general lack of refinement remains a major component of Mars‘ appeal.

It is appropriate for our current political climate, to talk as though men are from Mars, women are from, well, Earth. A new generation of feminists have declared that poor behaviour is not acceptable, and that the toxic culture of “boys will be boys” must be changed. We talk of the young as being overly fragile, but it is evident that they are on a mission to make the world a kinder place, that people should not be required to have the fortitude to put up with all manner of bullshit. We should no longer have to laugh along with “casually racist” jokes, just as we should no longer fabricate any reason to blame victims of sexual assault. Those who find this shift in codes of conduct frustrating, are on the wrong side of history.

www.old505theatre.com