5 Questions with Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis

Skyler Ellis

Emily Havea: So you’ve got quite a doozy of a role to play here Sky! Anyone who knows you personally would know that you’re about as far from an aggressively masculine ‘alpha-male dickhead’ as I am! How have you found playing Alex?
Skyler Ellis: Yeah, it’s a toughie, to say the least! Look, it’s easy to see a character described as ‘hyper-masculine d*ckhead’ and play it as ‘bogan, testosterone-filled mofo that drinks too much and starts punching the nearest person’. But that is not only judgemental towards him, but also dismissive of a lot of other information about him provided in the play. After a while of exploring Alex like that, I had an extremely insightful conversation one rehearsal with our wonderful director, Erin, which made me question everything about him, including why I, as an actor, was cast as him, and what I offer naturally as a person. It made me realise that I have much more in common with him than I anticipated. The ‘hyper-masculine’ stuff is very different in a UK context, than it is through an ‘Australian’ lens, and I hadn’t taken that into consideration. He’s “posh”, he’s a banker and he’s a business man, too. It’s these kind of seismic revelations about him that make him SO fun to experiment with. It’s challenging to constantly be questioning his existence within a harshly capitalist society, but boy is it fun!

Classic drama school character question; Are they nice or nasty? (thanks Jen Hagen) What do you think about Alex?
Well, if any character is just one or the other, they’d be pretty bloody boring to watch! It’s much more interesting to see a character’s imperfections and inconsistencies, right? If at one point, Alex was to appear ‘nasty’, it makes you question your own judgement of someone who is going through a pretty traumatic situation. It could be a coping mechanism of someone in pain. NOW who’s being nasty! Sure, I think Alex approaches situations differently than I would, but I think finding his heart, is the key.

As we all know, indi theatre is a love job! It doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks haha. What was it about this play that made you wanna jump on board?
Oh, wait, you’re not getting paid equity rates for this show? Awkward… Jokes! The whole conversation about the appreciation (or lack thereof) of arts within our society and the expectation of artists (in most mediums) to do their profession for the love of it, is a conversation for another time. For BU21, as soon as I read the script before auditioning, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. All it takes is a quick scroll of Facebook to be hit with the repercussions of living in a world dominated by fear, and I really think Stuart Slade tackles this in his work. It’s a tough world to live in right now, especially if you believe in having respect and love for fellow humans. BU21 addresses the mechanism of coping, of hope, and of human decency in an unimaginable situation, and I think that can resonate with a lot of us right now.

If you had to summarise/ describe the show in 3 words, what would they be?
“Onwards and upwards.”

What’s been your favourite part of the process thus far?
Watching docos about human tragedy. Think 9/11, London Bombings, Westgate shootings. Too soon?

Emily Havea

Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis: BU21 has some pretty hectic content, but also calls upon humour and lightness. How have you found it, having to insert yourself into an unimaginable situation to convey your character, Thalissa, with truth?
I mean, you’re absolutely right. It is truly graphic and unimaginable stuff we’re dealing with so there has to be an element of self-preservation for the actor whilst still playing for truth. I think that lightness and humour that our director Erin has pushed for is what gets us all through and stops the play from being a relentless gut-wrencher. Also having a great, supportive and fun bunch of cast members helps! The humour and camaraderie offstage is equally as necessary as it is onstage. It just pops that tension bubble and let’s us all off the trauma hook for a second. After all ‘If you laugh at it you can fucking beat it, you know.’

Along with being a wonderfully gifted actor, you’re also a damn fine dancer, an angelic vocalist, and a very talented painter and drawer. You’re artistic, to say the least! Why are these different artistic fields important forms of expression to you, and do they influence your acting in any way?
Oh my gosh Sky stahhhhp! You’re like a human personification of my Showcast! Great question too. I definitely think I’m lucky to have a number of creative outlets to express myself through and although they all come from the same place (me, der) I do wonder if they speak to each other.. Acting and dance seems like an obvious one as inhabiting a character is as much an embodied thing for me as a mental thing. I’m one of those actors who likes to have their character’s shoes so I can feel what it’s like to walk like them and that definitely comes from my dance background. But I guess at the end of the day it’s all storytelling isn’t it? Singing, dancing, acting, writing, drawing -they’re all just ways for me to express something and I’d be a sadder person if I didn’t constantly get it out.

What has been your favourite memory from rehearsals so far?
My favourite rehearsal was just the other day when we got to sit and watch everyone’s monologues! I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying, it’s a monologue heavy show -which is a whole other challenge. But it was so nice to be able to watch everyone’s work cos there’s some REALLY great acting going on. Every time I’m in a show, I always wish I could just sit out and watch it for a run and, because of the monologue style, it was finally kinda possible!

The original UK production of BU21 has just been transferred to the West End. The play has had a successful run in Spain, is opening later this year in Germany, and we are premiering it here in Australia. Why do you think it is so relevant now, in 2017?
I don’t think this play could be more relevant if it tried. One of Thalissa’s lines sums it up best for me; “You know how on the news these days there’s just this endless stream of horrendous shit going down, like every single night? Suicide bombings, mass shootings, genocide, drone strikes, school massacres -It’s like the end of the world or something.” You don’t have to scroll very far to know that to be true! Stuart Slade has written a beautifully detailed, raw account of people dealing with some of today’s atrocities head on. Terrorism is a huge collective fear of society today and I think Slade does an incredible job of confronting that and pulling it apart with all its complexities.

F*ck, marry, kill. BU21 characters. Go!
Hahaha! It’s year 10 all over again! Ok here we go… so I’d fuck Clive because he has that whole monologue about love so he’d probably be a generous lover. Marry is a hard one…. You know I might marry Ana! I could use a sensible Romanian woman to keep me on the straight and narrow. Annnnd I’d kill Graham (sorry Jeremy). Straight up. I won’t reveal any spoilers but Graham and I have some moral differences so I wouldn’t feel too bad about killing him.

Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea can be seen in BU21 by Stuart Slade.
Dates: 8 – 25 Feb, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: 4 Minutes 12 Seconds (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 8, 2016
Playwright: James Fritz
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Kate Cheel, Felix Johnson, Danielle King, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
There is a monster in the house, and we need to know where he has come from. Jack is seventeen and, to his parents, suddenly no longer a boy, but a strange being whose abhorrent behaviour towards his ex-girlfriend shocks the family to its very foundations. James Fritz’s 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is about the parenting of boys, the evolving nature of sex, and most of all, it is about misogyny; all examined against a backdrop of today’s advanced state of information technology. There are few things that can be definitively termed “new”, but the current proliferation of pornography is unprecedented. We have a level of access that permits anyone, children and teenagers included, unrestricted consumption, and unlike anything we had known before, an unimaginable ease in its production and distribution by any individual.

Jack is from a generation where sex education is derived almost entirely from the limitless abyss of our internet. Their personalities and sexualities are not shaped by anything considered or cautious, but the exact opposite. Where we used to rely on the constrictions of tradition and religion to help us navigate the always tricky process of teaching intimacy, the unpoliceable world wide web is now imposing itself on unsupervised youngsters, who open themselves up to every undeniable putridity that we have let free in cyberspace. Where a separation had existed between real sex and fantasy, is now a hazardous conflation indistinguishable to the young ones. What used to be titillating in the darkest recesses of our mind but never to be realised, is now thought of as normal. A culture of subjecting women to humiliation and violation is no longer containable in fictional pornography. What was once taboo and rigorously concealed is now part of the sexual DNA of young heterosexual men. If rape pornography is the only kind that can excite, what happens in real life between men and women can only be tragic.

Fritz’s play explains a problem that can appear in any aspirational middle-class home. Through nuanced and revelatory descriptions of how parents think and act in this modern world, we are able to make sense of the objectionable ways in which young adults behave. Each of Fritz’s characters, whether or not they appear on stage, are manifested with stunning detail, and the psychological accuracy of his work prohibits us from any possible denial of the sad state of affairs we are currently living through. The transformations we observe in Di and David, as they come to terms with their son’s actions, is absolute drama, powerful and compelling. The plot in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is scintillating at every turn. Provocatively entertaining, but also relentless in its need to challenge and inform. It is a play of the now, and essential for all.

This production, helmed by director Craig Baldwin, is as engrossing as any work of theatre one could wish for. All its moments are replete with emotion and energy, keeping us deeply involved in both its sentimental and intellectual dimensions. Danielle King’s outstanding performance as Di insists that we invest completely in her conundrums. The actor’s incisive humour wins us over from her first line of dialogue, and sustains our empathy with unmitigated authenticity even when her struggles with morality become tenuous. Also wonderful is Jeremy Waters in the role of David, whose portrayals of both good and evil, resonate with such immense honesty and truth, that our humanity refuses to let us detach from his reality, even when the going gets very tough. Design aspects of the show are also remarkable. Baldwin’s own work on sound, Hugh O’Connor’s set and Christopher Page’s lights are dynamic, sophisticated and innovative.

There is a lot to love in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds, but its message is dark, dire, and desperate. We can easily say that parents need to do more to prevent our boys from growing up like Jack, but it is incontrovertibly true that the internet’s pervasiveness is a threat to young minds that no one has an impervious solution for. It has always been our duty to provide a shield from harm and corruption, but what we are currently facing is indomitable if our aim is to keep that danger under subjugation. Misinformation is inevitable, but it can be counteracted. Education is the perennial answer to a stronger future, and in this case, the only weapon we have against a force of sheer evil.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Kate Cheel and Felix Johnson

Kate Cheel

Kate Cheel

Felix Johnson: What was your initial reaction to, and what piqued your interest most about the story of the play?
Kate Cheel: On first read of the play, I was immediately compelled by the way the play interrogates two particular things; the long-standing culture of victim blaming and slut-shaming with regard to crimes of sexual assault against women, and the immediacy and mass-audience reach of sharing content online. Where these two intersect is so dark and so dangerous – especially surrounding teenagers and the increasing pressure on young people to share intimate or nude photographs only to have their privacy violated on social media, and then be blamed for it!

What are your go-to methods for discovering a character? How do you like to work?
I’m not sure that I have any go-tos, every job requires something different. For this project it was really important to me that I sought out the stories and voices of survivors of sexual assault and how as a society we are dealing with these instances. If I’m going to be part of the conversation and any kind of decent representative for these women I need to be informed, thoughtful and active in my participation. In terms of discovering my character, the play takes place in Croydon, West London – a world away from Sydney, Australia and a completely different scene for young people. I found immersing myself in the music, fashion and pop culture of her world really useful in getting to know who this girl is and how she exists in the world.

To what extent do you think people have control over how they are perceived online and the images and information that is shared about them?
I’m just realising… we actually have NO control. Holy cheese balls! Thank you Felix, now I’m terrified. Any person can publish any thing about you. And you can request to have it taken down or you can take them to court, but to properly police all activity would be near impossible. The other end of the spectrum is of course the curated self via social media and self-produced content. You can shape how people perceive you online by essentially telling them who you are and what you think through the select imagery and info you choose to share. But there’s no total control.

Do you think revenge is ever justified?
I believe in retribution absolutely, but I don’t think revenge does any good. And it begs the question, what is justice and can it ever truly be served? To steal from someone far wiser than me, Mr Martin Luther King Jr, “The old law of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.”

If you could know the answer to one of the world’s unsolved mysteries, what would you most like to know?
I’d like to know what happens after death. Are past lives a legit thing? Are ghosts real? Spirits? Angels? Reincarnation? Is there a puffy cloud somewhere up there with everyone I love looking over me? Do they have to wear what they died in for eternity? Eternity is ages. How would you not get bored? Where do plants and animals go when they die?

Felix Johnson

Felix Johnson

Kate Cheel: I’m stealing this question from you because it’s good. What was your initial reaction to, and what piqued your interest most about the story of the play?
To be honest, I’m just a fan of a good story. I loved the twists and turns that the play took me on when I first read it; bringing that to life and sharing it with an audience is the most exciting thing about being an actor for me. But then on top of that, the content of the play is so immediately relevant and relatable – I couldn’t help thinking how I and the people closest to me might behave if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about working on this project and one thing that has surprised you?
I guess I’ve learned (again) to maintain a positive scepticism. People and situations aren’t always what they appear to be no matter how familiar we think we are with them. It’s important to consider everything to find out the truth. I got a surprise listening to Croydon slang… and now I’m wondering if I’d be peng or butters…

How did you work on your accent? It’s very good.
Well, that’s kind! Luckily I had a bit of background work on a London accent already, but had to adjust quite a lot in the end to get a Croydon accent that suited Nick. It took hours of listening to samples, emulating one sound, then another, finding my ‘way in’ to the accent with particular phrases, then being as picky as I could about making all the sounds and the rhythm as authentic as possible. It’s something totally new for me now and that’s always exciting.

Have you ever made an assumption about someone or a situation and been proved totally wrong? Explain. Please…
So many times I can’t even count. Which is terrible, but luckily I’m also constantly amazed at what people can and will do for each other. I don’t have a single great example, but suffice to say I try my best to keep an open mind and give everything a chance. Curiosity over judgement any day.

What was the last photo you took on your iPhone and did you share it with anyone?
The last one is a boring photo of a timetable… which no one wants except me. But before that I sent a selfie to my girlfriend of my new haircut. She was both fascinated and rueful.

Kate Cheel and Felix Johnson are appearing in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds by James Fritz.
Dates: 13 September – 8 October, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Aliens (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 19, 2015
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: James Bell, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Social outcasts are a sad fact of life. Communities are built upon identities that will inevitably exclude “undesirables”, some of whom can form sub-cultures, and others are left to their own devices. Annie Baker’s extraordinary The Aliens features the invisible and ignored; people judged to be of no value to economies, and are indeed, a burden to our gross domestic product. We refuse to acknowledge their contributions to society, because they contradict our definitions of what is valuable, and are considered to be of no benefit to our selfish needs. Baker’s writing is the most sensitive and tender piece of theatre one can wish to encounter. It presents downtrodden lives with an effortless humanity, looking at its neglected personalities and all their open wounds that fail to heal, with a persuasive compassion. Baker turns her strangers into intimately familiar beings, by revealing their pains and desires in a way that we can immediately recognise, and by her deft transformations of peculiarities into charming eccentricities.

Direction by Craig Baldwin is idiosyncratic and powerful. Every line of dialogue is replete with poignancy, along with the many purposeful silent pauses that occur to disarm and entrance. The play is rich with subtexts and references that resonate with great effectiveness, to communicate its message of acceptance and social inclusion. The vulnerability of its characters is portrayed with an unexpected dignity, so that their foibles and weaknesses cease to be strange or reprehensible. There is little in terms of narrative in the piece, but the relationships between its three men are carefully harnessed and perfectly realised. The unusual and intense representation of platonic love between men may be rarely seen on stage, but we believe every second of their intimate friendship, and it moves us from beginning to end.

KJ masks his sorrows with substances and laughter. Played by Ben Wood, the role ranges from being very silly to deeply sorrowful, and the actor runs that entire gamut of emotive and technical demands with wonderful fluency. There is a playfulness in Wood’s approach that urges us to meet KJ’s stories with an open heart, and the results are marvellously affecting. Jeremy Waters as Jasper, is heartbroken and heartbreaking. Coupling a beautiful innocence with impressive presence, Waters’ performance is irresistible, and also completely arresting. His style is understated yet robust, and charismatic beyond belief. In the role of awkward teenager Evan is James Bell, who lifts our spirits with a simple but accurate depiction of purity, and whose gentle approach provides a dimension of aching sentimentality that gives the show its exquisite melancholia.

Also noteworthy are the production’s visual design. Hugh O’Connor’s work on set and costumes is restrained but transportative. Its Americaness is convincing without being deafening, and his vibrant use of colour is a necessary and welcome counterbalance to an otherwise depressive environment. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s adventurous engagement with the incessant atmospheric shifts of the text, is a potent element that expertly guides us through the complex quandary of emotions that is The Aliens.

Anyone can fall, because nobody is invincible. In Annie Baker’s play, we see the kindness that people can have for each other, but also the care that is missing in much of our lives. It discloses the nature of how we do or do not look after each other, and evokes notions of unconditional love that many have forgotten. The outsiders of The Aliens connect in the most meaningful way possible, and watching their story unfold brings to mind our own interactions with the world; where we are successful, and where we flounder. As Australia’s attention to economic development becomes more obsessive than ever before, our interest in the ones who fall behind must grow accordingly. Instead, our political votes go to those who claim to protect our financial well being, and those who demonstrate consciousness beyond money, are struggling more and more with each passing election.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Four Places (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 10, 2014
Writer: Joel Drake Johnson
Director: Nicholas Hope
Cast: Amanda Stephens Lee, Jeremy Waters, Kim Hillas, Briony Williams
Image by Richard Farland Photography

Theatre review
Death affects everyone, but how each of us relates to it differs. People have different expectations about how terminal illnesses should be managed, also which individuals are to be held responsible for the well-being of the dying, and certainly our ideas about the “afterlife” are informed by a wide range of religious and spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Joel Drake Johnson’s script explores life at its final stages for the average middle class person, with ruminations about fear, love, family and ideology.

Nicholas Hope’s direction keeps the action very subdued. Its naturalism is so thorough that we often feel like eavesdroppers, and the family that we observe are going about their business with as much mundanity as any other party of three at a casual dining spot. They talk about serious matters, but they rarely allow themselves to react too dramatically. These are not people very open with their feelings, even if one of them is a psychologist. They each have their own secrets, and they seem content with not knowing too much about each other’s. We see the mother character Peggy, wearing an over sized crucifix as a pendant, and we are tempted to associate the stifling oppressiveness with their religious and cultural background.

Peggy is played by Kim Hillas, who is believable and truthful in her interpretation of the script, but she is often too subtle. It is a rare joy to see a play with an older female as its lead character, but we long for greater drama and stronger comedy. The theatre can be a reflection of real life, but it is also storytelling, and we need embellishments in order that our empathy can be amplified and made meaningful. Amanda Stephens Lee has the unenviable task of playing Ellen, the psychologist daughter, who is also a widow still in mourning. The character is a repressed one, and the actor portrays effectively, the dread that is felt when having to manage one’s parents’ illnesses. The role of her brother is performed by Jeremy Waters, who does his best to prevent familial disquiet. We see the character’s frustrations even if his lines give little away, and Waters makes good use of each opportunity that allows some range to his work.

To connect with an audience, a story needs to locate its points of universality and give it emphasis. Four Places has themes that we can relate to, but its characters are not accessible to all. If we do not understand them, their problems become diminished. If they do not fascinate, we lose interest. Every person on a stage has a tale to share, but it is the artistic choices they make that determines how many will be able to hear them.


5 Questions with Jeremy Waters

jeremywatersWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’m going with fucking. So many pearls to choose from but this seems to be the one that gets the most polish.

What are you wearing?
The JJJ look. Jeans, jumper, jandals. With socks. Classy.

What is love?
A Dog From Hell. (With a little help from Bukowski).

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them (New Theatre). A constellation of stars. Hilarious, challenging, provocative chaos. Do go see it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Four Places is one of those beautiful pieces of writing that comes along every now and then with the potential to burrow deep into your heart. With painstaking detail, humour and delicacy, the play accumulates a series of reveals to build a story that packs an enormous emotional wallop. I am really hopeful, particularly with the amazing team we have assembled, of giving our audiences an experience that will resonate with them long after they have left the theatre. So, yeah, it should be good!

Jeremy Waters is appearing in Four Places, by Outhouse Theatre Co.
Show dates: 29 Jul – 10 Aug, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery