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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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

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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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE THREE – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #1

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

Melbourne Playback Theatre Company (MPTC to close friends), has a long, rich history that spans almost 40 years of storytelling, entertaining, facilitating and bringing audiences closer together with its unique brand of improvised theatre. The list of esteemed alumni is impressive. Some of Melbourne’s top performers and theatre makers got their start on a Playback crate. They have contributed to the growth and culture of our company and all have left a creative mark or two.

In 2017, the company re-shuffled once again to bring in four new members, myself included, to usher in yet another new dawn. Who exactly are MPTC these days?

I thought now would be as good a time as any to get up close and personal with this team of incredibly diverse and highly skilled performers. So, I developed a little questionnaire to find out a little more about my fellow players.

 

Our first featured player is Scott Jackson, AKA Scotty J. The first time I met this dapper young man was at the auditions. I was immediately impressed with his generosity as a performer, his infectious laugh and twinkling eyes – suggesting he might be a fellow impish soul (he is).

An accomplished stage fighter, Scott has instructed the company in a series of workshops on stage combat. His patience is commendable – especially considering my lack of talent at this skill! Getting to know Scott has been a joy.

And, attending his wedding as a company was a privilege for us all. He and his dashing husband Kyle looked so handsome, not even their gorgeous fur-child, greyhound ‘Elaine Bennis’ (who is literally a beautiful grey hound) could upstage them. Here are his answers to some curly questions and a couple of photos of some of his memorable roles in theatre. Enjoy.

 

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

In year 10 I performed in the school musical Back to the 80s. It was a great hit and the family that we created while rehearsing was amazing. At the end of one show I saw my homeroom teacher clapping so hard and wanting to stand up, but got shy as no one else around him was going to stand.

That look of pride from him as he looked at me when I bowed will always stay with me.

Also at the end of one of the show, we were all getting into people’s cars and the “cool” people (whom I looked up to so much) that were in the cast wanted me in their car. I felt so accepted and loved that I distinctly remember thinking to myself with a big smile – “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” And so, I am. 🙂

 

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

Being able to look at a situation, pull it apart in a second and respond accordingly. Especially in hard conversations or recognising that someone who is angry isn’t necessarily angry at what is going on. It’s a deeper sense. Being able to listen more and notice when I am not listening!

 

                                                                                             BEFORE

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

I haven’t really. I have had a very hard time. I have pushed myself away from anything artistic and creative. It’s the exact opposite to what I need right now, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself back into the world I want to live in.

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

Physically, when I was performing a touring Musical of King Arthur we had a sword fight with broadswords. My opponent had friends in the audience one show and went hell for leather. Using so much strength. I was fighting for my life, as, if I didn’t parry, or do the choreography, I may have been really injured.

In terms of something mucking up: Performing in a show that I didn’t care about and finding out last minute that my mentor is coming to watch just minutes before going on. I was terrified, upset, and mostly embarrassed. I wanted to leave and not do the show. But of course, the show must go on.

 

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

Performing Romeo and Juliet as Mercutio for the Australian Shakespeare Company to an audience of over 800 with my beautiful Nanna at the back. I put so much more energy into the character that night and the audience and the cast had a great night!

My most proud moment was during the bows, and seeing my Nanna up the back waving her white hanky crying.

She was never a theatre goer, so to get her there was a big struggle and to see her proud and bursting with love just made my night. The ability to affect and audience is so powerful.

 

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

Would love to play Oscar Wilde in a play about his life. Would be epic. His plays are just so full of goodness and British subtext – genius. I would also LOVE to play Macbeth on the main stage. A juicy character that goes through so much on stage, and off and before the play even happens!

 

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

Getting to spend so much time with Kyle and the darling Elaine. Also, being able to organise the house and do the jobs we have been meaning to do for ages.

 

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

Heart, truth, conflict to some degree. Vulnerability and energy.

 

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

Usually before a play I will do a 20-min vocal warm up. Go through all my lines while I stretch for another 20 minutes, and walk around the space before time is called to go hide in the dressing rooms. I also MUST say hello to all crew and staff. A happy Stage Manager and crew makes for a better show ;).

NO superstitions, however I will not say “Macbeth” in a theatre.

 

                                                                                           AFTER!

 

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

Andy Hamilton. She pushed me into doing drama and the school production because she saw something in me that I didn’t. I thought it was silly, but once I got the bug, I was hooked. Ross Hall, my uni acting teacher. Taught me so much and had faith in me. He pushed me hard and then harder still but, fuck, he was good. I owe him so much.

 

11 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID-19 restrictions?

EVERYTHING. The lights, the sounds, the feel, the black curtains, the smells, the words, the life, the lives, my family of actors, the text, the words, the emotion, the outlet, the trust, the love, the passion. THE PASSION, the purpose, the connection, the makeup, the silliness, not being me for a time. I miss everything which is why I think it’s so hard for me to watch something or do anything artistic. It’s too painful right now. It’s like I have lost a lifelong companion.

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

Me. Haha! Tom Hiddleston. Great actor, physical, lovely, and has a great range. Or, of course, Meryl Streep.

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE 2: WHY ARE STORIES SO IMPORTANT?

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

According to my first hit on google: Stories are universal, conveying meaning and purpose that help us understand ourselves better and find commonality with others. Thanks, TCK Publishing. I must say I agree. But I want to dig a little deeper. I want to try and define, for myself, what I believe is so important about our job as story collectors, performers and tellers.

 

An animals’ knowledge is written in their DNA. Birds just know they fly, and fish, they swim. But when humankind graduated from these limbic brains to our thinking brains, our purpose was no longer merely reproduction. We used these new, improved, memory-storing brains to justify our very existence. Creation stories differ the world over and what you believe, generally stems from where you were born. From an entity called God creating the earth in six days and resting on the seventh. To Rangi and Papa being separated by their children and creating earthmother and skyfather.

Or, my personal favourite – the powerful Odin and his brothers constructing the earth from the corpse of Ymir. The oceans from his blood, the soil from his skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains and sky from his skull.

These stories were not the thoughts of one person. Now we could communicate, collaborate – and elaborate. Imagine the following scene. A – ‘Wow, that round thing rolls.’ B – ‘Yeah, so does this one.’ C – ‘Maybe if we cut a hole in them and put a stick through, we could eventually turn it into some form of transport?’ D – ‘Great idea, Axle!’

 

In my career as an actor I have played a monkey, a shearer, a dominatrix, a rugby player, an angel, a man, a check-out chick, a scientist, a spider, a sheep (animals feature heavily) a fairy, a duchess (twice), a king’s fool. To name but a few. Of course, I researched these characters – well, enough to make them believable within the play (I hope). Sometimes it was easy enough – visit a zoo or a brothel. But sometimes I had to resort to historical text. Stories written before I arrived on earth. Like, factual accounts of the role of the jester in the medieval English court. So, it occurs to me ‘the importance of stories’, is that they allow human beings to store and build on knowledge. Like a living breathing history that grows through the contributions of successive generations. We are the only animals on earth that have this ability.

 

 

Of course, stories have only recently developed in written form. Cultures with oral traditions still pass on important information from generation to generation though story and song. This information can be lifesaving. Where food and water appear in an unforgiving desert. What type of vegetation is edible and what is poisonous – or even which have healing properties. When to plant certain crops and how to harvest them. But there are also stories with hidden meanings. In medieval Europe, warnings for children were wrapped up in cautionary stories called folk lore. 18th century romanticism revived an interest in traditional folktales.

The German born, Grimm brothers capitalised on this by touring the countryside, collecting local fairy tales and recording them in volumes of stories for children. Unfortunately, it is widely speculated that they also had a habit of changing the evil male characters of these stories to female villains.

Thus, encouraging children to become more suspicious of women, than the original target – the evil step-father. Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Hansel and Gretel are still popular in western society hundreds of years later – all of them starring females not to be trusted.

 

Old wives’ tales are passed down from generation to generation also generally down the female line. My half Irish grandmother taught us how to predict the gender of my pregnant sister’s baby by plucking a hair from my sister’s head, threading it through a gold ring and holding it over the pulse in her wrist. If it turns around in a circle it will be a girl. A diagonal swing signifies a male child. Sure enough, as the circle predicted, my niece, Kate, was born a couple of months later.

 

Stories collate our histories. Reassure our identities. Give us the ability to grow our knowledge. Remember that time that a world-wide pandemic called COVID-19 swept our globe, killing hundreds of thousands of people and causing unforeseen stress on the economy from which it could take decades to recover? Chances are, since it’s taking place right now, you do. But do you remember another nasty little virus nicknamed the Spanish Flu, that killed an estimated 50 – 100 million people over the course of two years? Chances are, you also know this. Because even though it happened 100 years ago it was widely reported at the time.

These stories about previous experiences with a killer virus, meant we were much more prepared in 2020. We knew to close schools, shops and places where people convene because of one community in Bristol Bay, Alaska, that shut off access to their village and banned public gatherings in 1918.

It became the only place in the world to escape the Spanish Flu, unscathed. But stories are not always true. ‘The Spanish Flu’ is rumoured to have begun in New York. It was attributed to Spain because they were neutral in WW1 and could report their deaths without any ‘other side’ thinking they were weakened by the plague.

 

Stories make us individuals, and even though we take comfort in shared experiences, no story is the same. When we ask our audiences for their stories during Playback shows, we handle these with the care and respect they are due.

Without your stories, there would be no show. SO please, when we are finally safe to perform again, share a story with us.

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE 1: THE 6 RULES OF IMPROVISATION APPLY!

 

By Lucy Schmidt 

 

It was only 64 days ago that the Australian Government announced an enforced societal lockdown unseen ever before. Our freedoms were to be slashed for our own good. This was serious. The culprits picture was plastered across TV screens worldwide. A very contagious, and deadly, virus was hitchhiking from body to body across the globe, leaving a path of human destruction and despair in its wake. Strict protocols of hand washing and social distancing were to follow. COVID19 bought with it new customs and lingo – panic buying, curve flattening, iso, Zooming, hand sani… to but name a few.

 

But what about the rules that we, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company, were already committed to? Turns out that they were just as helpful as always in my household. Allow me to share.

 

          1. COMMIT YOURSELF 

As my partner (hereafter referred to as ‘The Doc’) and I recovered from the shock announcement of a worldwide pandemic, we decided we were going to ‘jump in’ boots n’ all to keep ourselves (and therefore others in our community) as safe as we could. Hand sanitiser that I had bought for The Doc’s 50th birthday party was luckily never used. We found it and squirted it liberally on leaving and entering the apartment. Hands were washed according to YouTube clip tutorial standards. Happy Birthday sung twice for good measure – sometimes a little Nina Simone thrown in for a soul change.

Fortunately, our beautiful niece had bought us a 48 roll ‘Who Gives A Crap’ box of toilet paper for Christmas as a ‘joke’ present. Which, in this ‘present’ was no joke! People were being knocked out for a four pack at Aldi.

The Doc made a clandestine trip into the office, grabbing anything that may be needed for the foreseeable future, then set up a home office in the lounge. Washable masks, bought online for the bushfire smoke, were donned as we took our daily walk. If people were not committing to the 1.5 metre social distancing requirements, we committed to walking around them. Once our minds were made up and our house rules were agreed upon, committing was easy. Yes, occasionally there were blips, like when a friend arrived downstairs to drop off a jig-saw puzzle and I had a brain fade and went to hug her. Luckily, she too was committed, and backed off like I had a knife in my hand. Well done, team!

 

          2. MAKE YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD 

I did this literally! The Doc had to attend an online happy hour Zoom that was designated 70s dress-up. “Sweet!” I said. “I’m happy to help. Why don’t we really commit” (see Rule Number 1 above), I’ll do your make-up and everything”. I looked up online pics of the real deal. I even attached long purple lashes, liquid eyeliner (notoriously difficult to apply) and the obligatory garish matching eyeshadow.

A long black wig was donned and a jaunty scarf tied around it, to “make it look even more like real hair”. I was chuffed with the results.

A transformation back forty years in forty minutes! I was so excited that I forgot that I wasn’t attending the party. I had to make do with drinkies for one on the balcony, until I was joined by this amazing looking 70s apparition (ooh great, a new person to chat to). When The Doc said sadly that nobody else dressed up, my little heart broke. I reassured that everyone was probably really cheered that the brief had been taken up so faithfully – even if only by one person. And she did look good! We had a little party of our own.

 

          3. ACCEPT OFFERS 

Without the third rule, this blog would not exist. I have taken up every offer, unilaterally. Do we want some feijoas? Yes please. And a lovely apple and feijoa crumble was cooked by The Doc. Yum. Do I want to write a monologue in twelve hours to be filmed by an actor for Centrepoint Theatre’s online archive? You betcha. And for a mere $20 you can view ‘EScaPe – A Kitchen Sink Monologue’ (and nine other New Zealand writers’ work – not to mention ten brilliant performances) here on their website. I have swapped an easy 500-piece jigsaw for a 1000-piece one that features snowy pines and blue skies. It is infuriatingly difficult and we can only do it on the weekend because during the week a tablecloth goes over it and The Doc uses said table to do her Important Job.

 

 

But. We are determined to finish! Because accepting the offer means we ‘say yes’. I have said ‘yes’ to many a drink on the balcony. Sometimes I even say ‘yes, and’ – yes, I’ll have a drink and another drink after that, thank you.

I have said ‘yes’ to making socks for all the people on the third floor of our apartment that have birthdays during the restrictions.

To every Zoom offer (except ones that conflict with The Doc’s online yoga classes – sacrosanct). I even say ‘yes’ to self-issued challenges, like walking 70 kilometres in a week. Accepting offers is like signing for packages, exciting, and sometimes a true surprise awaits – if only you say YES!

 

          4. LET GO 

This rule is arguably the most important rule to apply during these times of change. We must let go of the freedoms we enjoyed before COVID-19 for the good of everyone we share the world with. We have let go and let our hair grow. Everyone being in the same boat, without a hairdresser, makes letting newly grey hair distinguish my temples an easy decision.

We have let go the usual social get-togethers, movie dates, dinners out. Tickets for Patti Smith expire and postpone to a new date. We let go. It’s easier without a choice.

My dear mother passed away last year on the 5 of August. My seven siblings and I made an oath we would make it back to ‘her little beach’ on the east coast of New Zealand on the same date this year and take an ocean plunge. Upon her request, her ashes had been delivered into these same choppy, white-tipped waters after she died. We would ‘take a swim with our mother again’ on this first anniversary. Alas, we all inherited her love of travel and are dotted about this globe from Ireland to Melbourne. Due to grounded planes, we will not be able to keep this promise. Letting go is part of life. Letting go of this plan is much easier than letting her go last year. But at least we were all there for that. Standing around her bedside in the little ramshackle bach she adored. If it had been this year, she would have been alone in hospital. Many poor people have had to make their last moments alone – the cruellest restriction of these times. Realising that it is the ability to ‘let go’ that gives us purchase to accept the epic ups and downs of life is an important lesson. One we must remind ourselves of, often.

 

          5. BE PRESENT 

Breathe. Notice the sunlight through the trees. Hear the Merri Creek rushing past, swollen with the recent rains. In a way, the COVID-19 restrictions have given us all an opportunity to reset. Patterns that were so ingrained have been re-evaluated. As a regular walker, I observed that gyms closing and restrictions on other leisure options made for crowded paths. It was like the clock had turned back to simpler times, where the ‘outing’ of the day was a family stroll through the park. I liked to see this. I also got up earlier to avoid this. As society ground to an almost halt, the sting was taken from the usual speed of the city. We were all concerned about catching or passing on this disease. We took time to wash our hands thoroughly. Took time to look through cupboards and soak chickpeas overnight. To cook from scratch.

The Doc and I made plans of what we would do with this extra time gifted by this awful virus. We scanned the jigsaw pieces for a ‘particular’ blue piece of sky (note: hours can be lost this way) I cleaned the fridge and pantry – instead of the usual rushed wipe. I paid attention to the detail. It was a joy.

I meditated daily as the afternoon sun streamed through the slats of the blinds. The whole world was joined in anticipation of what would happen. We were unified by a common enemy instead of each other. We huddled around TVs to get new instalments from countries facing the worst of the pandemic. Heard beautiful arias sung from balconies in Lombardy. Uncertainty placed us all in the moment, together. I try to stay as present now as we were in the early days of the pandemic but admittedly as we get used to living with this uninvited guest we revert to the status quo. But reminders like the smell of garlic and onion sizzling in a pan, the sound of rain on a roof, the warmth of a hot water bottle as the nights get colder can bring us right back to where we thrive. The present.

 

          6. PUT DOWN YOUR CLEVER (PICK UP YOUR ORDINARY) 

I take this final rule as an encouragement of simplicity. When we are not trying to be super-impressive and original, we can drop our ego and operate from our true selves. Vanity and obsession with how we are perceived can inhibit our thought processes.

But instead, let us concentrate on letting our needles point to our own true north. There have been a lot of limits put on our day to day freedoms. And now they are being lifted slowly. Let us act collectively to avoid further spread of COVID-19, instead of finding imaginative ways to beat the system and avoid a fine.

When masses of people have the clever idea to flock to a beach party, when people decide to ignore sore throats and coughs and go to work instead of isolating, when we decide we are different from the many, then we put the many at risk – as well as ourselves. There is no clever way to outwit a virus, other than the very simple rules of washing, social distancing and isolating. But if you are clever enough to come up with a vaccine – ignore this rule and please carry on!

 

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The Power for Change Project

Part of the National Sustainable Living Festival Melbourne 2020

18 February 2020 

By Lucy Schmidt.

 

“Once upon a time a theatre company and a group of people known for trying to open space for conversation decided to get together to encourage a different type of conversation. A conversation which is possibly the most important one we could be having in this moment in time. Our great experiment.” – Alex Sangster, MPTC.

 

It’s been almost four months and a worldwide pandemic since we gathered together at The Common Room, Trades Hall in Victoria Street. Built in 1856 after a winning campaign to secure the world’s first eight-hour working day, it felt like a fitting venue. The imposing classical columns at its entrance seemed to symbolise success through solidarity. And that’s exactly what we were hoping for on this hot yet rainy Tuesday evening.

 

A convivial audience milled in, umbrellas in hand, steam rising off wet wool. Some stopped to chat and get drinks at the bar. Yet more followed until The Common Room was at capacity. The small room, packed with 70 warm humans began to rise in temperature. Which was also fitting as the topic de jour was one close to the heart of Melbourne Playback Theatre Company – climate crisis.

 

The event was a co-production between Playback and Climate for Change. It promised to offer a unique way to become educated about our climate crisis. To provide space to reflect and share concerns. To engage in meaningful conversation about positive and effective actions that are already being made in our communities and provide an opportunity to become part of that change. No mean feat.

 

 

We began with an acknowledgement of country; country, we are reminded, that was never ceded. A familiar sense of shame fuelled my awareness that before this country was stolen, the original inhabitants nurtured and safeguarded it for tens of thousands of years. Yet, in the relatively short time in other hands it has suffered such acute disrepair.

 

This uncomfortable feeling was somewhat alleviated by our fantastic co-stars for the evening, Carly Robertson and Jeremy Dore from Climate for Change, who promised it’s not all doom and gloom. They chose to let their signature 20-minute documentary speak to the crisis. Images of storms, drought, mistreated animals, melting glaciers and other dire happenings were tempered by the hopeful message that there are also innovative ideas and solutions circling the globe from concerned change makers.

 

I really connected with the company’s simple philosophy for social change. Their research shows that people process information, shift attitudes and develop deep commitments to ideas through conversation with people they trust.

 

Simply put, if we spread the word to enough friends and family, we will create a groundswell of concern for the planet that will eventually form a ‘tipping point’ whereby most of the population will prioritise addressing the climate crisis and vote accordingly.

 

We are urged to become part of the upswing on the bell curve instead of climate change denying laggards that are lost to the cause. This sent a positive ripple through the theatre.There was hope. And hope, I realised, had been the thing that was nearest extinction in my own mind.

 

 

In closing Jeremy and Carly welcomed us to stay after the performance to chat to either Climate for Change, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company or one of three other grassroots local climate groups (Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion Victoria and Australian Parents for Climate Action) who would be staying behind to run a “marketplace” where we could shop for information or perhaps sign up to become members – thus, giving the audience an opportunity to actively participate in raising the collective consciousness about Climate Crisis instead of just worrying about it.

 

“I switch off the microphone and walk down the stairs, a man walks up to me: “What a great event, wasn’t it?”

I say: “Definitely, it was awesome. It was so different than anything else I have attended this week.” 

He said: “It was not only different, it was much better. So much better than all the lectures and places where you just sit and listen. This one goes straight to the heart.” – Fien Van Den Steer, Climactic Podcast.

 

 

After a short break, the cast, Danny Diesendorf, Phoebe Mason, Diana Nguyen and Josiah Lulham took to their crates for the Playback performance. The microphone was entrusted to the inimitable Alex Sangster. No stranger to conducting on the Melbourne Playback stage, Alex brought warmth and power to her introduction. We were in her safe hands.

 

Ernie Gruner and Karen Berger set the tone with an improvised melodic piece. Ernie’s searing violin accompanied perfectly by the steady beat of Karen’s drum. Alex invited us to share how we felt right then in that moment. There was a rapid-fire response from the audience – “worried, grief, motivated, angry, exhausted, frustrated” … the evocative music had done its job. This was an audience eager to share their feelings.

 

We also heard the word ‘excited’ – excitement that so many people were here that night ready to be part of making a change. This inspired a song from the ensemble, lyrics ranging from the funny: ‘You decided to come even though it was raining’ to the uplifting: ‘we can do this together … for change’.

 

Moments came thick and fast. Hands were thrust up in the crowd. Prompted by the devastation of the recent bushfires, the cast created a scene where animals tried to outrun the blaze. A heroic wombat invited them into her burrow, providing refuge underground from the flames.

 

When it was time to take a deeper dive into stories from moments, our first ‘teller’ spoke of her anger for those in power stopping positive change. She described them as big wolves with teeth – politicians, climate change deniers and mining magnates.

 

With this delightful metaphor already provided by our generous teller, the cast stuck to the fairy tale theme with a take on the Snow White story, complete with corrupt kings and afamiliar figure with catch-phrases like – ‘how good’s Hawaii? ‘How good’s coal? The king demanded that Snow White be ‘strangled in the woods by the electoral process’. It felt good to laugh at the buffoonery of the top brass as they fiddled while Rome burned.

Alex and the cast created such an atmosphere of safety that even our most retiring audience members felt secure to share. Much to the surprise of her daughter, we heard from a single mum who didn’t have much money, but enjoyed the richness of nature. As a child herself, she had been taught the beauty of nature and passed on the knowledge to her own kids – climbing trees with them. Now she was so proud of the next generation leading the cause with the school strike rally.

 

The cast responded with a forest soundscape. Before our eyes, trees grew and birds arrived. Our lover of nature was portrayed in contrast to the zombies of the city on their cell phones all day, played by the rest of the cast. The scene culminated in a proud grandmother marching with the new generation for a better future. It was a heart-warming image.

 

Our final story came from a woman who had stories of her wild two-year-old son, concerned by the rest of his family’s frustration with the prime minister. When he announced, ‘I’ll be friends with Sco-Mo’, his mum wondered whether perhaps her wild child’s humanity could be the right way forward. The ensuing scene explored this theme, to reveal life’s not as simple as just discarding the things you don’t like. The show ended with Phoebe saying ‘we need to make friends’. And, for me in the audience, it felt like we had.

 

“As a journalist, I have been travelling the last few years all over the world, listening to and reporting on stories about climate change. Some of them fill me with excitement and hope. While others fill me with desperation and fear. Yet there never was a place to share these emotions, since they were so unique to the particular situation. Often, I felt alone and lost with them. Yet tonight, I have seen all these emotions coming back, understanding that we are not alone in our fear and despair, nor in our hope and excitement.” – Fien Van Den Steer, Climactic Podcast.

 

Fien Van Den Steer’s podcast, including snippets from the event, can be found here.

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SeaACT Theatre Program -Work In Progress

Since 2013, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company has been facilitating the youth theatre program SeaACT program in the South Eastern Suburbs. In 2016 Melbourne Playback was re-funded by Creative Victoria to facilitating a new exciting program with young people living in the City of Greater Dandenong to provide a space of storytelling and performance in the area.

The program was facilitated in four components:

  • Play
  • Writing/Devising
  • Rehearsal
  • Performance.

We had over 45 young people participate in the program in the 9 months at the Walker Street Gallery and Drum Theatre. They came from diverse backgrounds from the South Eastern Suburbs, different schools and 50% of the participants have been part of the SeaACT program since 2013.

The impact of the program for the young people in SeaACT was astounding and life changing. The opportunity to make work with professional artists and be heard, was the essence of the program.

The program started with a series of 5 writing workshops with Didem Caia, an emerging writer from the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Over 5 weeks with the facilitation with Melbourne Playback drama exercises, their stories flowed in the rehearsal room. Finally intimate stories the young people wanted to share with each other, were documented and written into a script by Didem.

 

The rehearsal process was a game changer for the participants who were used to improvising and performing the playback form. The rehearsal period was intense, with extra rehearsals held, and focusing on learning lines and not letting down the team. Through this process the young people became great friends and supported each other, and became comrades in this creative piece. They articulated their unique voice by collaborating and presenting a show, the participants’ skills were grounded and developed. They had ownership of their performance, and the audience were in awe of the work.

The process of MPTC was intense with collaboration of 4 artists working together with the young people for 3 months weekly. It was a wonderful working process for the young people to watch how professional artists worked with each other, but also with them, how the collaborative the process was. The young people saw the playback process improvised and then transferred to the rehearsal process.

We had over 150 people attend the performances at Walker Street Gallery in Dandenong, and was highly promoted by Emerging Writer’s Festival Festival and supported by City of Greater Dandenong.
The impact of the program could be seen by the commitment of the young people, and the hardwork of Melbourne Playback artists who committed to the project. Our Artistic Director Emily Taylor, said it was the most rewarding work she has done with the company and hopes we continue to nurture young people living in City of Greater Dandenong and in Victoria.

The program was in partnership with Emerging Writers’ Festival, City of Great Dandenong, Drum Theatre and Copyright Cultural Fund.

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