Purely Pensive Productions inception is based on a unique and truly inspiring mantra – one that is not commonly found within more traditional theatre communities. Co-founders, Jeremy Ives and Angie Bedford, collaborated to create a theatre for the young. A place where young actors could be nurtured, could learn and practice their craft both on and off the stage.
The company has grown in leaps and bounds since its arrival in 2005 and it is still a labour of love, pride, experimentation and great passion for its founders. In fact the creative team does not limit itself by adhering to plays that may be considered, by some, to be more appropriate for the ‘youth theatre’ scene. Their current production is non other than Shakespeare’s most famous and popular comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I was very eager to learn more about the philosophy, goals and inspirations of the company as well as the current production and am very grateful to co-founder and President of the Community of Management Angie Bedford and director of the current production Mark Kearney for giving so generously of their time.
TP: Purely Pensive Productions was formed in 2005 by yourself and Jeremy Ives specifically for youths to explore the world of non professional theatre. What was it that motivated yourselves to create this opportunity for the younger actor?
Angie: We were young actors ourselves! Jeremy and I came up with the idea in around year 10/11, so as soon as we finished school we began planning. We just loved making drama at school, and wanted to continue it, so we created our own outlet to do so.
TP: How was the name Purely Pensive chosen?
Angie: In year 10, Jeremy and I were studying the teen film 10 Things I Hate About You as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In the film there is a blink if you miss it joke between the character Bianca and the arrogant and clueless model, Joey. In this scene, Joey asks Bianca which of two headshots she prefers; identical except that in one he wears a black tee shirt, the other a white tee shirt. She explains that she prefers the white shirt because it is more “pensive”, to which he replies “damn, I was going for thoughtful”).
We thought it was hilarious and ‘pensive’ was officially our favourite word for two years – when it came time to name our group it was the first word that sprang to mind. We tagged on the word “productions”, and in order to emphasise the alliteration, we added ‘purely’ to the front. It’s basically an in-joke, that people now have to try to pronounce without getting too tongue-tied!
TP: Can you talk about any challenges that the company has had to overcome over the years that may be different to other non professional groups?
Angie: Initially, it was funding. We founded the company entirely by ourselves, without donations or grants. We paid for everything and crossed our fingers that ‘on the night’ we’d make it back – fortunately we did!
Our area is limited for affordable venues, so we performed at a school out in Research almost exclusively for the first five years. This year we have moved much closer to town in Brunswick, and we are hoping this central location will better suit our audiences.
That said, I think that many companies can relate to these experiences– at one point or another I think that most groups have to play around with the financials, search for the right venue etc.
TP: I notice that the company is run by a youth committee of management. How important is it to retain, what seems to be, a sense of ownership with the members?
Angie: I think it’s essential. Purely Pensive Productions has always been our “baby” but at some point you need to share the load, as well as have a solid operational structure. I believe that having a committee of management is an essential foundation of a performing company.
TP: I notice that Purely Pensive present one to two performance seasons annually. How are these productions chosen?
Angie: Our productions are chosen with the guidance of our Artistic Director, Jeremy Ives, in conjunction with the committee. A range of factors influence our decision, but particularly size of cast, Australianness and originality, and what suits the Melbourne theatre scene at the time.
TP: Are there plans to increase the amount of productions per year?
Angie: This year, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been our only production as we have devoted some time to rethinking the way we produce shows and training up our committee. Two shows a year is something we are comfortable with, and can confidently produce to a standard we are happy with, so in the short term, that remains the plan!
TP: Are the members involved in all other aspects of the company? i.e. set building; lighting; audio etc?
Angie: To some extent. We don’t have a set expectation on our cast to help out in technical areas, as we are fortunate to have a large portion of our membership who are interested solely in stagecraft. What we do notice is that many of our members continue with Purely Pensive Productions and volunteer in a variety of roles. We have members who have directed, acted, designed and stage managed for Purely Pensive Productions. It is wonderful that people feel comfortable to have a go at anything!
TP: Does the company hold auditions?
Angie: We have held auditions for all shows since 2007. Whilst it is disappointing that we often have to knock back a lot of people, it is exciting to think that we have grown so much as a company that we have numerous actors to chose from. Of course, we hope that people come back again – we try to produce a variety of shows that suit a variety of performers.
TP: Quite a large cast. Was the play chosen to accommodate a large number of actors?
Angie: It was certainly a consideration. As I mentioned before, we don’t like to knock people back for roles, so we try to have as many available as possible. Large casts also offer roles of varying levels of stage time, so it opens opportunities for first time performers to have a taste of theatre without the pressure of a leading role.
TP: Can you reveal the next production yet?
Angie: Not just yet! I can tell you that we spent a very long time choosing it, and can’t wait to announce it!
TP: Where would you like to see the company in 5 – 10 years time?
Angie: We have a number of goals – we would love to develop fixed season times to offer membership to patrons, as well as find ourselves regular ‘home’. In terms of repertoire, I think we will continue to try and challenge ourselves with each new production, and I hope they will be on a very grand scale in 10 years time!
Contributions from Mark Kearney, Director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
TP: Can you talk to me a little bit about the current production?
Mark: This A Midsummer Night’s Dream is different to any I’ve seen before. I’ve chosen to recontextualise the story into the 1950s. This is an idea which has been with me for some years now since studying the film, ‘Dead Poets Society’ in high school. That movie is set in the 50s, and they perform AMND (albeit traditionally) at the end of the film. I was struck by how well the era and play suited one another. The 1950s saw the birth of teenage culture. For the first time, teenagers began to openly defy the wishes of their parents in order to find independence. At its heart, AMND is a story about just that; four teenagers – Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena – are intertwined in a love triangle of-sorts, and are trying to escape the authority of their families. This recontextualisation has allowed us to have a lot of fun with different elements of the productions, especially costumes. Look out for a new take on iconic styles of the era!
The size of the cast needed for AMND was undoubtedly something at the forefront of the PPP Committee’s mind. Logic tells us that a large cast translates into better ticket sales. But the company is also youth-orientated, and its very responsible of PPP to give as many opportunities as possible to budding actors and actresses in the community. We have many new-comers to Shakespeare in this cast, some of whom are performing in their first non-school production. I’m excited to help introduce them to this genre of theatre.
Even though some are ‘newbies’, the cast we’ve assembled are all strong actors. Fresh from her glorious appearance in the title role of ARC’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’, Jaclyn DeVincentis is again at her best playing fairy queen Titania. Some of the shows highlights come when she shares the stage with Luke Morrison, playing Bottom. They have a terrific chemistry. As Bottom, Luke flits, flails and flounces across the stage as the town’s resident over-actor. My high school drama teacher once said to me, "Playing an actor is difficult. Playing a bad actor is even harder." In that case, Luke deserves all the praise I can possibly lavish upon him. Paul Salvatico and Kerryn Moren as Demetrius and Helena are another couple whose chemistry is undeniable. Their love-hate relationship has some hysterical highs and devastating lows, which are sure to keep the audience in raptures.
I had never performed in a ‘straight’ play until I came to Purely Pensive in 2007. I was recruited after the close of another show to fill the role of Eteocles in Antigone. Since then, the company has given me a number of very distinct yet equally rewarding opportunities: to play Henry is Louis Nowra’s hysterical Australian comedy, ‘Cosi’; to play Hans in Franz Wedekind’s intense ‘Spring Awakening’; to direct/design Shakespeare’s best-known and most-loved comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’!
William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Purely Pensive Productions
Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre Corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon Road, Brunswick