Melbourne Blogback: The Covid Chronicles

EPISODE THIRTEEN – JIG-SORE 🙁

By Lucy Schmidt

When we first went into lockdown in… I can’t even remember the date, now – but t’was many moons ago, the Doc and I started a (mentioned in previous blogs) very tricky jigsaw. There were basically three colours. Snow. Sky. And tree. We could only work on it in the weekends as it was safely hidden under a tablecloth, covered in books and computers, in a nifty home/office set-up, during the week. The pieces were tiny, as was the picture on the box – hence the need to wear our 1.5 magnifying specs (ah, the joys of ageing). These thousand awkward pieces seemed to represent the task of the nation or at least the state of Victoria (and particularly the dwellers of our small apartment), to link together, figuratively – social distancing and all that, to create the big picture. We fooled ourselves into thinking that there was a direct link between this puzzle of ‘Boreal Forrest in Snow’ and the length of the lockdown. In other words – if we could just finish the f*@king thing then we would be free again and liberate the city to boot!

Each weekend we would excitedly pack down the home office to expose our real work. I am proud to say the toil was always collaborative, never competitive (well maybe there was a little race to fill a particularly stubborn hole, occasionally).

We developed a language of our own, similar, I imagine to other jigsaw families out there. It was not at all out of the question to ask, in all seriousness, if one or other had seen a cinch-waisted, big head, dip toe?

We mainly worked in shifts – in between watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ on Stan (a pandemic must see, if you haven’t). A triumphant tap of a piece in place followed by a resounding ‘YUSS’, signified success. Toward the end, it was not uncommon for one of us to rush down the stairs to see exactly which empty space had been satisfyingly plugged and ooh and ah over the success. Celebrate the small wins they say, and so we did.

There was also a fair amount of stress that, as the puzzle was second hand, perhaps the set was incomplete. We imagined how rough this would make us feel. And, as pieces found homes, and the picture began to form, this stress became a genuine concern. There were a couple of places that we could not find the perfect match for love nor money. There were also times when we had to undo a near perfect match that had stuffed up a whole section. I’m not going to lie, this was an intricate job and we were rookies at it. We learnt a lot. A tip for first timers – check the floor religiously! Random escapees often need to be caught and returned to puzzle prison.

The weekend of September 13th we finally finished it. Every, single, piece found its home. It was done!!! Complete!! …Just in time to get another two weeks on our already long lock-down sentence. To say it was anti-climactic is too much. It was worse. There was just an emptiness. Had we failed, or succeeded?

I guess the lesson is to invest in the journey, and sometimes the big picture does not provide the big picture. But we sure were jig-sore. We walked Merri Creek with a lack of pep in our step, with no jigsaw to rush home to. BUT… As we returned we saw a new batch of books on our apartments building’s very cool, bring-a-book-leave-a-book-library set up. As we browsed, what should we see? Could it be? Another 1000 pc jigsaw. What a find! So! We are now the proud puzzlers of ‘Sumo and Bobo’ a very seventies looking picture of two baby orangutans. There are three colours. Green, Brown and Orangutan! Maybe this time, folks. Maybe this time!

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Melbourne Blogback: The Covid Chronicles

EPISODE #12 – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #8

By Lucy Schmidt

This week’s gang member is our fair and benevolent leader – Artistic Director, Rachael Dubois. Rach (and Alex) were the first Playback faces I ever saw. I remember thinking, these two look extremely fit, young and healthy – I may not be able to keep up with them! My first ever Playback gig was also with Rach. I was quite nervous and felt very lucky to be in such talented and experienced hands.

She reminds me a bit of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (incidentally, Rach and I are both Kiwis). She is incredibly dedicated, listens attentively, has enough confidence to defer to experts, does not get in a flap easily and seems to naturally lead in a democratic, inclusive way – all the while raising a very cute and super funny daughter.

True story – Rach is so dedicated to Playback, she was in an audition workshop when her waters broke with Zoe!

In contrast to her sure and dependable leadership, Rach can be wickedly mischievous and is great fun to be on stage with. Her improvisational skills are off the hook. She is one of the best scene shapers in the company and her character work is enchanting. In my four-ish years, I have seen Rach play the gamut, but in particular a romance obsessed Frenchman and a regal queen of nature were so well drawn, I recall them wearing costume (impossible as we dress in blacks for shows).

Under Rachael’s tutelage as A.D, MPTC has grown in many ways; notably, we are encouraged to push our own boundaries and feel free to explore without constraint. Thanks Rach!

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

Probably the school play I was part of in 5th form (Year 11). We wrote a play about a flock of sheep who discovered they were controlled by the farmer and destined for slaughter. My character ‘Romney’ decided to escape, not knowing what life would be like on the other side of the fence. I think the experience of imagining life from the perspective of a sheep did it for me! It was so strange and liberating. I also enjoyed being part of the story making process, finding a way to free this trapped character I was playing.

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

When I play with my kid, it’s ‘yes, let’s’ all day. I see how far we can take games, and try to keep opening up options for her of what play can be. When I’m at work, I ‘yes and’ to enhance collaboration and momentum with my team. With my partner, I listen, listen, listen (sometimes!).

3 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

I have had two experiences of performing where something magical happened and I felt so free and invincible. Both times it felt almost like I was flying, like actually flying. I can’t explain it, but it’s an experience I’ve only ever had while performing.

4 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Probably like lots of us, eating better, sleeping more and taking that adrenalized rush out of day-to-day life. My 3-year-old is living her best life, she loves having so much family time.

5 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

Purpose. Truth. Vulnerability. Transformation. Comedy.

6 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

Creating with others spontaneously, with our bodies and voices. Being expressive with my body.

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CHRONICLES

EPISODE ELEVEN – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #7

by Lucy Schmidt

Writing about this week’s MPTC member is slightly difficult as it is myself. I must say that when I first met me I mustn’t have made much of an impression as I can’t remember any of the first 3ish years… Reading my Plunket Book (which cost a whopping 15 cents, 48 years ago) I see that at 18 months I had one tooth and liked bananas… at two I had 16 teeth and was speaking in sentences with a continuous runny nose. I was quite proud to read that – not the runny nose bit, but speaking in sentences. I attribute this to being the 7th of 8 children. Lots of noise and action in the house. At one point, we had 13 people living in a two-bedroom house. To be fair the garage was in play – where my brothers slept. Believe me, having one bathroom for 13 people is EPIC.

And I guess this is where my performing bug bit, competing for our mother’s attention. I did this by getting into theatre – which cemented my identity as the entertainer of the family. A title I hold still.

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

I did a play in primary school where my character had to eat pikelets. We did not rehearse with them, so when the day of performance came I took a big bite, my mouth went dry. I had to chew and chew. I got the giggles and couldn’t say my line. The audience clocked the problem and started to laugh at/with me as did the rest of the cast.

I remember tears running down my face as I looked out into an audience of flip-top laughing heads – even the teachers were losing it. That is when I truly learned the power of spreading joy.

2 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I am writing this blog for MPTC and working on my opus – an hour long T.V. drama series.

3 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

Drying. Losing my lines. This has happened a few times in my career – as it does to many actors. But It terrifies me to the point where I mainly do improvised theatre and film these days instead of scripted theatre. That way I can always make something up – or do another take.

4 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Walking daily by the Merri Creek. Watching the seasons change. Learning the differences between, Rosellas (red heads), Rainbow Lorikeets (blue heads) and Red Rump parrots (green heads). And most pleasingly getting to hear the Eastern Common Froglet’s call. I love this sound and call it the frog disco.

5 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

An intriguing premise. Depth of character. High stakes and lots of heart.

6– If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Mrs Jones. My guitar teacher of thirty years ago. She was the first one who heard I could sing. She went around to my house and asked my mother If I would be allowed to sing in a talent contest she was organising. My mother laughed. I won first place.

7 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life.

Florence Pugh is a good match for younger me and a terrific actress. Myself now, even though we don’t really look alike – I’d go for Melissa McCarthy. She is one funny lady and I love her improv skills.

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE TEN – THE TASK OF THE MASK!

By Lucy Schmidt

As if the first lockdown in Victoria wasn’t enough – welcome to ‘Lockdown II – The Lockdownier’. Hopefully this will be the final sequel in this series, although to be honest, I am not so sure. The second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria has seen infections rise from single digits to over four/five hundred new cases per day – not to mention a growing number of deaths. Large clusters are developing and hope is sunk that the original plan of six weeks in stage three lock down would flatten the curve again. So! Get ready! Less freedoms – more rules everybody! It’s a fact that community transmissions vastly outweigh the cases arriving into the country from overseas. And, the more untraced cases, the more infections, the more stress on medical staff and services, the more deaths – I’ll stop singing now, as I’m sure we know this song very well.

But there has been a new introduction to our ‘real life play’ here on earth – A prop, or should I say costume? A mask.

Not the masks us performers are used to, but a thin shield of material to cover the face and hopefully stop the spread of community transmissions. Recent research suggests the original thought that the virus was only spread through large droplets has been updated. It is now known that the virus does not quickly fall to the ground after exhalation from an infected person, instead it stays momentarily in the air, creating a possibly deadly radius. As children on winter mornings my sister and I used to ‘smoke’ just like mum! Meaning putting a mimed cigarette to our lips and exhaling a visible warm steam of ‘smoke’. This is to be discouraged, if not, outlawed at this COVID-19 juncture. I have always urged myself to be practical-not-paranoid throughout this pandemic of ours. But, walking the Merri Creek trail on a winter morning seeing ‘jogger smoke’ exit the mouth of some poor guy schlepping up a hill for his fitness, gives me the willies. I am very lucky to have been made a super funky mask by a friend – especially since the paper ones turn my sensitive nose the shade of an annoyed strawberry.

The craziness is, folks – that we have a few renegades refusing to keep themselves and others safe because they don’t want to. Even if it has been mandated by the State of Victoria and enforceable by police AND they risk a spot fine of $200. I’m not one to come down hard on people asserting their rights. Your body, your choice, always. BUT. It’s not just your body anymore. This small inconvenience of a material barrier COULD help stop the spread. Wear them with pride. Wear them to tell others that you care about them. When you pass another ‘maskee’ – do the ‘mask nod’ that has replaced the smile we can no longer see. Do it to say, I see you doing the right thing and I appreciate it.

Here are some places selling sweet, sweet fashionable masks! Buy ‘em up people. Do it for HUMANITY!

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE NINE – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #6

By Lucy Schmidt

Josiah Lulham is a fellow newbie. I met this extraordinary gent during MPTC’s extensive audition process, around three and a half years ago. My first impression (I’m guessing most everyone that meets him has the same) OMG! That man’s beard is the most beautiful shade of fire! I often think that Josiah’s parents must be incredibly proud. He is talented, kind, a feminist, a brainiac, courteous, creative and all kinds of things I imagine one could want in a modern son. He has an energetic soul that is always up for learning new skills (and bringing them back to our grateful company).

He always listens attentively and soaks up information like a hungry sponge and usually does this wearing a big smile.

I envy his physical, in-his-body-ness and strength. It’s like every cell is dancing within and he is controlling the beat with the precision of a seasoned conductor. I enjoy working with Josiah, tremendously. He embodies the improv principals and always supports decisions made by fellow actors with enthusiasm and commitment. I also admire that he is such a dedicated practitioner, devoting time to diarise performances (in tiny writing), studying those who inspire his creative journey and applying all to his craft. It’s all there in beautiful 3D truthfulness when Josiah takes the stage. He has the gift I call ‘spreading the joy’.

 

1 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

Knowing how to improvise as a theatre maker and performer is like a kind of secret superpower, because it feels as though it provides me the capacity to be ready for just about anything. I started tutoring at a university at the beginning of the year, and by week four staff and students were all working from home. Most staff had to scramble to prepare for teaching online, finding expertise with Zoom and working out how to deliver classes online. As an improviser, one thing you can’t be is a perfectionist, and I think this capacity to just dive in and give something a go really aided my ability to tutor for the rest of the semester—leaning into experimenting, checking in for feedback from the students, and being present with this digital learning environment without being rigid.

 

2 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

Sewing. Lots of sewing. I have sewn two small hats, and a kind of smock. All by hand, too! A hobby of mine is live action role play, which involves dressing up in various costumes and acting out various scenarios, usually involving some kind of medieval battle. Every Friday, ordinarily, I would be in Royal Park at a sports oval swinging swords with friends, but during lockdown all the games have stopped. So, instead, I am working on my costumes, and learning some sewing skills while I’m at it.

 

3 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

I am a current PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne studying anthropology—and I’m thinking about this question a lot. Narrative has extraordinary power—it is argued largely that narrative is the thing we all do to generate meanings during this time. During COVID-19 and social distancing, I have been feeling as though I am in the middle of a story, but can’t quite work out what the ending is. As a result, what makes a good story right now is one that has an end!

 

4 – Do you have any pre-performance must do’s or superstitions?

Stretching. So much stretching. Just… lots of stretching. I like to stretch.

 

5 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

There are three I can think of. The first is Jacquie Green, one of the dance teachers at YABC (Young Australian Broadway Chorus), who taught dance. She was an extremely rigorous dance teacher, but also someone that every student really wanted to impress. I think I learned rigour in my own practice from her, and in turn her early training has helped me embrace dance and physical theatre in my current art practice. The other two are from University of Melbourne Student Theatre: the artistic director, Tom Gutteridge; and, an early mentor who I met through student theatre when we were both studying, Alex Talamo. Tom fostered a supportive and diverse community at the University of Melbourne, and directed me in some of my favourite works there. And Alex, who founded the DiG Collective, taught me a lot about improvisation, clowning, and facilitated a space for solo performance making that I regularly go back to and think about as I make work now. All three of these people are very formative for the way I think about art now. Thanks, guys!

 

6 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

Bodies. I miss feeling like I have a body, I miss being in the presence of other bodies, and I miss the liveness of performance. I’ve seen and been involved in a few performance adjacent events on Zoom, which have been fun. But being in a room with people and using our bodies to imagine new worlds to inhabit—both as performers and audiences—is something I am sorely missing. I am really looking forward to getting back into the rehearsal room with the Melbourne Playback ensemble, and rediscovering our moving theatrical bodies!

 

 

 

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EPISODE EIGHT – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #5 

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

Mr. Ernie Gruner is a jack of all instruments and the official O.G. (original gangster) of MPTC. I was a bit intimidated by Ernie when I first met him. Which seems funny now as I have learned that he has the gentlest personality that a gentleman could have. I think because I heard such dynamism in his violin playing, I maybe assumed he would be a tortured artiste. But life is not a movie.

Ernie is just an incredibly nice, talented guy who plays violin with precision and passion.

I am very much a fan of the instrument and singing improvised songs with his searing strings is one of the things I like best about my job. We take turns at leading the melody. His ear is terrific and sometimes I feel like he knows exactly where I am heading and accompanies me as if we had rehearsed. This is a thrilling feeling. I have also noticed that he loves to laugh.. Ernie shares his knowledge of the company and the playback form with much generosity and is a fellow Merri Creek walker and birdlife appreciator extraordinaire.

 

Photo by David Wayman,

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

No, I learnt violin from age 7, and it was assumed, and I assumed, I’d perform in orchestras etc. (which I did for a long time).

 

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

By being aware that often there is no right or wrong.

 

3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I’ve been part of a global klezmer fiddle project recording and discussing recently discovered nigunnim (East European Jewish wordless singing). Also, I’m writing an essay on ideas for teaching non-classical violin.

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

Being by myself at the top of a scissors lift, near the ceiling of the National Gallery of Victoria great hall, playing violin, with other band members on other lifts…entertaining for a large corporate function.

 

Photo by Gelareh Pour.

 

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

Playing for a 400-voice choir, Archie Roach, Shane Howard and more, at Hamer Hall, for The Boite’s Gurrong concert about reconciliation.

 

6 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Teaching violin and fiddle online. Enjoying not driving and rushing all over Melbourne for gigs. Learning more about the birds of the Merri Creek near home. Zoom lunches with family and friends, nearby and interstate and overseas (why didn’t we do that before?)

 

7 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

I have four who were important. My Polish grandmother was a Vienna Conservatorium trained classical violinist who mentored me from her post WW2 home in NZ. In my late high school years, I was fortunate to learn from a University violin lecturer.

He was gentle, understanding, humorous, and taught me to realise the emotion in the music, as well as being focussed on technique.

After 3 years, he passed me on to another important teacher, an ex-Polish lawyer, who believed teaching violin was more important than practising law, and worked on my technique more, so I could express emotion more. Another influence was a singer-guitarist friend met thru uni. Choir who introduced me to folk and jazz, leading me down the slippery slope to world music and improvising for theatre.

 

8 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

Interacting with other musicians, dancers and actors. Playing for weddings, parties and concerts, and sometimes interacting with audiences.

 

 

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE EIGHT – THE SECOND WAVE!

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

There is no I in team. But there is one in community. And that is the take home message of the day. Every decision we make in these times of COVID-19 may affect (or infect) another being with whom we share this earth. This afternoon Metropolitan Melbourne went back into lock down for six weeks. Residents may only leave for work, shopping for essential items, to care for another or to go to the chemist or doctors. Over the last week there have been over three hundred community transmissions of the virus and, as we have seen in other countries, things can quickly get out of hand and soon overwhelm medical capabilities.

 

There is a joke circulating on the socials right now – COVID-19 and Australia are like the Spice Girls. Everyone is doing their best but Victoria is ruining it for everyone. I must disagree with this. Posh was a very important member of the band (and the only Spice Girl with a fashion empire and an OBE from the Queen).

 

 

When we work together on the playback stage, there is an understanding that the team comes first. What is necessary to support the story is always the priority. Unlike other forms of improvisational theatre, Playback sources their narrative exclusively from the audience. So, the crowd have already heard the tale once. As a team, we must mine the emotional truth, search for a fitting metaphor and perform a satisfying interpretation of the teller’s story. Individuals may stand out from time to time for certain characters or a clever shaping of a story.

But we endeavour to deliver a unified performance. Much like we must do in Victoria.

Although the other states are treating us like we have nits because they have all managed to either flatten the curve or eradicate COVID-19 entirely, we must all pull together and ensure that our actions do not compromise the health of others. We must work as a team.

 

Another important parallel between performing playback and fighting a pandemic is that blame is dangerous. If a scene falls flat or an a-symptomatic carrier unwittingly goes to work, accusations only serve to dishearten the team. I have often taught that if a scene is in trouble you must enter to help save it.

It’s hard sometimes from the wings to be brave enough to enter a dying scene with new energy, especially when you have no idea how to save it. But the important thing is that you let your fellow players know that you are here to help.

Likewise, when a scene is going swimmingly, the audience is laughing, or crying and the team is flying without your genius, then let them. Be happy for them. So, let us delve deeply into our compassion, help our fellow Victorians. Wear our masks, help our neighbours, go out our way to keep social distancing, and get tested if we feel any symptoms and isolate if we are diagnosed. This is the only way to get the show back on the road. And speaking of shows, hopefully we will all be able to perform and watch theatre in all its live glory soon.

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

 EPISODE SIX – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #4

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

Let me begin by saying I am in awe of Diana Nguyen. Her hit web series Phi and Me absolutely blew me away. It is brilliantly structured, full of heart, and, like many successful comedies, manages to go deep through a cast of characters that give us a unique perspective into a world. Do yourself a favour and view it here

Diana is also the busiest person I know.

She is tireless in her creative juggling, whether it’s stand up, writing, clown doctoring, dancing on LinkedIn, flying to meet producers in various countries (pre-Covid19) or performing in a playback show, Diana is on the move.

I love rehearsing and performing with her. She is so open, generous and often arrives into the scene with an offer of exactly what is needed. She is a very intuitive performer and truly, truly funny. She is a fellow seeker and it is because of her encouragement and tales of her own pilgrimage that I ended up walking the Camino Portugues. Thank you, lovely Diana!!

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

It was in 1996, at the wee age of 11 years old. My primary school friends and I were fascinated by Sister Act 1 and 2, so at lunch time we practised the “I Will Follow Him” with all the moves. The principal took an interest in us, so we did a regional classroom tour of all the 3/4 and 5/6 classes, and then they asked us to perform at the school morning assembly. Five girls dressed in choir outfits, singing to the song. Unfortunately, there was only one microphone, and the principal placed it in front of me the whole time… and I knew that I wanted to perform. It was magic.

 

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

Improv does not allow me to be on flight mode or be running around busy.

It reshapes my brain to be present. To listen. To feel, and then to share. That is why I have been with Melbourne Playback for 10 years. The act of listening is an intimate gift, and to play back someone’s story is an intimate gift.

 

3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I have been consolidating Phi and Me video content, and sharing it to the world. We’ve had 1.3 million views on TikTok, and we are starting the process to develop Season 2.

Phi and Me is the first ever Australian Vietnamese family comedy series in the world. It celebrates the trials and love of a Vietnamese Refugee mother’s love for her daughter Phi Nguyen. www.phiandme.tv

 

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

When I got heckled in Adelaide Fringe in 2017.

The audience member was drunk, and I replied the door is open for you to leave, unlike my mum who had to flee here by boat. It is a free country you may leave.

They sat back down, and 2 minutes in, they stood up and left while I was mid-sentence. I decided in that moment of raw comedy to cry…and I couldn’t stop. The audience breathed in with me, and it has become one of my most memorable moments too because the audience created a village around me, and got me drinks after the show!

 

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

When 1000 people crammed into Bourke Street Mall, and watched 250 people sing karaoke. I hosted the event from 5pm-10, and ended up finishing at 11pm because people wanted to see more. They wanted to see the joy it brought to people’s faces. They wanted to sing.

I love karaoke, because it doesn’t matter what voice you have. It is the commitment, and that is when you are truly present.

 

6 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

I lost a lot of work due to Covid 19 with the Comedy festival cancelled. I decided that 2020 was my year so I was producing and performing in 2 shows Chasing Keanu Reeves and Deadly and Diverse, and also managed a venue for comedy festival with 10 acts. So when Covid crashed…I crashed.

Taking a moment to reflect, for 4 weeks, the work I have received has been quite magical. People are in writing rooms, people are supporting each other with grants and there is a human collaboration of “We will get through this.”

 

 

7 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Because my mum wasn’t supportive of my love for the arts, I have had many guardian angels that have supported me.

Grade 4 – Mrs Scalise – Classroom and singing teacher. I sing because of her. I found my voice and was able to articulate how I feel with music.

Yr 12 – Mr Steve McPhail – Yr 12 Coordinator, Drama teacher, Actor from Phi and Me show, and friend. I still remember sitting with him eating Pho in Springvale, and asking him, “Steve should I do my DipEd and become a teacher like you did for me?”

He said, “You haven’t given it a shot yet. Give the acting a go, and if that fails become a teacher.”

15 years I am living my dream.

8 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

I miss feeling the energy. I miss that moment when you look out to the audience and they laugh, smile, cry and acknowledge each other in that moment – “Oh yes!”

I miss the craft of playback which is to be ALIVE in the moment with my team mates.

9 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life.

With the limited roles for Asian Vietnamese women, I would be selfish and like to play myself! lol

 

 

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EPISODE FIVE – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #3

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

When I first saw Danny, I noticed, yes, that he was very tall (he gets that a lot), but more that he was incredibly fluid in his movement. It was no surprise to later learn that he was a classically trained mime artist. His body just seemed to do whatever asked of it, following the most direct route and without hesitation. This is something to envy when one stands only 164cm tall and suffers from arthritis.

 

The next thing that struck me about Danny was his kindness. He welcomed me into the company with his big smile.

 

He is often jovial and warm and has an extremely funny naive clown that made me laugh so hard one day that I totally stopped participating in the exercise we were doing, just to watch him, like a delighted child.

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

More than one!

A clown who was half-acrobat and half-silent-comedian came to my primary school and I was delighted by him. Watching The Goodies was also a huge inspiration as was watching Australian Theatresports on TV. I had a Theatresports-themed birthday party when about 9 years old and my brother and I wrote the guidelines of all the games and used them with my friends.

 

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

Often. It has helped me a lot in the times I’ve worked as a teacher. It has made me able to respond when students are particularly excited about something, and make it the centre of a lesson but then find ways to weave in the other things they need to learn. I think it has also helped me listen to my kids and be more playful as a dad.

 

3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I am slowly making some comedy video material. It involves responding to problems and questions that the audience send in. My panel of “experts” (all me) respond with life advice.

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

I was in a comedy by Aristophanes in my twenties in Canberra that makes my queasy to think about.

A large cast of actors were taken through weeks of theatre exercises by the two directors and very little time was given to working on the actual play.

I played a powerful antagonist and was given a gimmicky “funny” costume to wear which diminished my already weak grasp of the character.

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

No one stands out. But I remember a lovely improvised scene performed with Melbourne Playback at an event in Sydney, opposite Rachael (now our Artistic Director). It was a story told by a home-sick English woman. She dwelt on lust and attraction and the colourful language of her friends back home. I played a man romancing the main-character. The scene involved wordplay of filthy yet poetic language.

 

6 – If you could play any historical character, who would it be and why?

Jack Mundey would be an honour to play, a man I see as both heroic and very relatable. He had a wide vision and left valuable legacy. He had an unaffected charisma and united widely different people.

He combined being practical with being compassionate. I also like the sideburns he sported back in the 70’s.

The struggles he championed are extremely relevant right now as parts of our cities become smothered in freeways and concrete blocks, while in other places people succeed in preserving greener and more human spaces.

 

7 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Slowing down. I had the chance to experiment with video which I don’t usually use.

 

8 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

When there’s something that matters at stake. And when there’s something true to the story even if it’s fantastic. The Wizard of Earthsea is a favourite story, also some autobiographies.

 

9 – Do you have any pre-performance must do’s or superstitions?

It must be both slow and fast. Stretching and humming and also running about fast. I need a game that gets me to forget about myself too, by being playing and having fun.

 

10 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Lorena Param, my school drama teacher at Dickson College. She was patient, warm-hearted encouraging, open-minded to quirky ideas, a good director who pushed me too.

 

11 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

The moments in live theatre when a performance clearly hits the audience’s funny bone. Or they visibly empathise with a character.

 

12 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life?

Either Grover (my life in Muppet musical form would be entertaining) or Daniel Craig because I’m not much of a tough cookie unlike many of his roles. There’s nothing like seeing an actor playing against type.

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES  

EPISODE FOUR – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #2

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

In pursuit of learning more about the fabulous folk that currently roam your playback stages, role play your employees/managers for corporate training events and facilitate with finesse, I have a new victim!

 

Karen Berger is one of two current musicians that lend the soundscape to Playback performances. Whether she is adding flourish with a Spanish guitar riff, singing as sweetly as a bird, creating a thunderous atmosphere with a drum or, believe it or not, playing a haunting, melodic teapot (yes! An actual teapot – that you drink tea from), Karen’s musical support is imperative to our shows – it is also completely improvised! If music be the food of love, play on – said some guy called William Shakespeare.

And I think Karen may have heard him, because she plays so intuitively, with such love, an occasional audience member will be moved to tears.

She also has natural leadership qualities, a very, very sharp brain (she is currently working on completing her doctorate) and the most impressive memory for detail I have ever met. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Karen on MPTC’s musical improv workshops. She is an excellent teacher. So! If you are interested in attending one of these workshops, keep an eye on our website or better still, sign up for our Playback newsletters to keep yourself in the loop!

 

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

I remember a moment when I realised that I liked being in the limelight. At one Melbourne Festival Maddie Flynn & Tim Humphries (ex-Playback musos) organised a 12-hour overnight performance at Deakin Edge with 100s of performers (based on a John Cage idea). I was there to perform with the Teapot Ensemble of Australia. We’d arranged to be seated in the audience for our performance and at the designated time a spotlight would be trained on us. When that spotlight arrived, I felt the glow!!!!!

 

 

2 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

Besides writing way too many grant applications & doing a bit of PhD work. Also, classical singing exercises whenever my partner leaves the house.

 

3 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

Singing ‘Watermelon Man’ in harmony at the Myer Music Bowl. Competing for the best Celtic Band at the Dan O’Connell Hotel (& winning). Dancing and drumming for the Beltane Festival May 1st eve, Edinburgh.

 

 

4– If you could play any historical character, who would it be and why?

Lady Macbeth – she’s such a baddy.

 

5 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Lots more calmness.

 

 

6 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

Beginning, middle, end. Tension, release. Variation. Rhythmic play. Important theme.

 

 

7 – Do you have any pre-performance must do’s or superstitions?

Brrrrrrrr siren. Spinal roll. Jumping. Tune the guitar.

 

8 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Workshop with Complicité when I was 18 – amazing sense of play.

 

 

9 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

Playing with other performers.

 

10 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life?

I would have said Elizabeth Moss but having watched her in the new ‘Top of the Lake’ series recently, I’m a bit bored with her.

 

 

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