Category: Company Members

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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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

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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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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MPTC and SeaACT drama program

The SeaACT (SEAAC Theatre) program is partnership with Melbourne Playback Theatre Company and SEAAC Youth Services that engages young people living in the City of Casey and Greater Dandenong Council in an innovative Theatre Engagement Program. The program involves MPTC workshops within the two areas, including young people, community development workers from Council and service providers and CALD community groups.

 

“I have learned to have more confidence and energy when acting on stage and other things like studies exam and tests. I want the program to continue because I want it for other people too so they can have more confidence of what they do and not be shy. This program has supported my brothers, sisters and others. I have no complaints about this program. It is too good. KEEP IT UP!!”

Mustafa, Hampton Park Secondary, 13 years old.

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The program was first envisioned in 2012, through consultation with SEAAC Youth Services who we have performed regular Refugee Week Celebration performances. In 2013 we received a pilot Arts Victoria grant (now Creative Victoria) to work with the City of Casey community, and create a theatre hub at the Hampton Park Uniting Church Community Centre.

The program was a great success with other 120 young people registered, and we engaged with the Hampton Park community through the term workshops and performances. We had young people from Greater Dandenong travel 45 minutes to attend the program in Hampton Park. This showed us this program was a need for the young people living in the South Eastern Suburbs. SeaACT young people performed in front of 500 people during the SEAAC Refugee Week Celebration in 2014. This included a performance in Greater Dandenong and council saw the value of the program and supported our Vic Arts application for 2015.

During the 6 months of no funding by Creative Victoria, City of Casey had seen the impact of the program, and in Term 4 2014 funded for a small SeaACT program to continue. SEAAC engaged with students at a local school, and the participants performed in front of their peers.

In November 2014, SeaACT program was re-funded by Creative Victoria to operate in the City of Casey, and pilot program in Greater Dandenong. The program has been a gem for the young people living in these isolated areas, as their stories are heard, shared and valued. Some of the young people attended a MPTC rehearsal on Mondays, and one young person recently performed at the Malthouse, through a referral from the SeaACT program. We endeavour to continue this program, and create a performing arts hub in the south eastern suburbs.

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Evaluation of the program: 

The SeaACT Drama Program provided young people with an opportunity to learn essential skills acting such as group acting, confidence building and improvising. 22 young people completed the evaluation form at the end of the program and provided extremely positive feedback about the program.

  • 82% of the young people learnt something new from the program that they did not know previously
  • 78% made new friends at the workshop which meant that they could share and discuss the new information that they had learnt
  • 90% enjoyed learning drama skills with Melbourne Playback Danny and Mike
  • 90% would like to continue the SeaACT program

Case Study of the Program: 

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“We all love to say that SeaACT has been a great supporting program to everyone. They helped me to build my confidence and they gave me the opportunity to be a youth leader and build my speaking and improve my public speaking. Now I have the confidence speaking to anyone I want, and got some skills to improve things I need in the future. Thank you SEAAC for all your help and your support. SeaACT is a great program to anyone.”
 

Murtaza, Hampton Park Secondary, 17 years old

 

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