A double bill of one act plays spanning New York to Sydney will be presented by Michael Brasser for a strictly limited season at Chapel off Chapel early next month..

The Australian premiere of Bryan Goluboff’s Off-Broadway hit from 1991, Big Al, tells the story of two struggling writers in New York City who pitch a screenplay to their hero, Al Pacino. In Philip Ryall’s The Centenarian, Sydney couple Shirl and Clive navigate party preparations for Gran’s 100th while keeping an eye on their inheritance.

Associate Producer Shane Savage has  a hand in both plays – playing Ricky in Big Al, and Director of The Centenarian. He describes the journey for both actors and director as a collective as a fantastic process. "I’ve never experienced an ensemble such as this where we all speak the same language," he says. "It is all so collaborative, from set design (creating ‘place’ where these characters live) to costume design to complex character work, we all have such a mutual respect for one another that there is no hierarchy, no politics and no egos. We are all there to create and discover in process and it’s exhilarating!"

Much of the collaborative and 'in sync' nature of this ensemble comes from a deep understanding and respect for an identical process. Savage, and company members Sarah Hallam (Director Big Al, Shirl in The Centenarian) and Vincent Andriano (Leo in Big Al and Clive in The Centenarian) are all graduates of the Howard Fine Acting Studio where, says, Savage,  the project has allowed them  to take their training in to the professional world and really put into practice the technique they've recently studied. Hallam readily concurs and adds: "We are collaboratively working with the Howard Fine technique concentrating on the why not the how, so instead of working out how to say a line or block something, we work out why we say or do something…and the how takes care of itself! We are working slowly and specifically and working beat to beat. We are working intensely with place, have worked in depth on our relationships and back-story; and most importantly worked solidly on the Who am I…of our characters."

"I can not talk more highly of the Howard Fine technique and hope that the audiences see humans living authentically in given circumstances. Even if these circumstances are heightened and high at stakes! Enjoy the show… "

All three have accumulated an impressive body of work already with all three admitting that the seed to become an actor had been planted at a very early age. Savage shares the story about when he was cast as ‘Sheep #3’ in his Kindergarten nativity play. Hallam's first gig was a  commercial  shot in 1981 in Toronto Canada.  She was cast as ‘the girl’ for the Crayola campaign but admits that as a 2yr old she didn't think the acting bug had quite hit her yet.  It is Andriano, however, who takes the top marks for earliest starter. "My mother likes to tell the story of how her contractions started at the cinemas while watching ‘Cocoon 2’, and a few hours later I was born. I like to think I was just super eager to be a part of what was going on out there."

Since those formative beginnings each ahs made his mark in the independent/professional world. For Andriano theatre credits include: ‘Sir Henry Baskerville’ in Hound of the Baskervilles, ‘Mr. Lucas’ in a stage adaptation of Are You Being Served?, ‘Cassius’ in Julius Caesar, and ‘Macbeth’ in Macbeth. In fact Adriano lists his most challenging and thrilling role to date as the Scottish King "Immediately following the call that I was going to be Macbeth was the certain ‘oh crap’ moment: “how the hell am I going to pull this one off?” (I won’t lie; I’ve cleaned up other choice four letter words I actually used on the day). Soon enough, however, I felt I was on a first name basis with old Will and, like many before me, delving deeply into the truth and beauty of his words seemed to anchor my worries. I realized there was nothing to fear, because Shakespeare had all the answers there for you if you look hard enough."

Hallam has been working in the industry for 16 years and her acting credits include Rush, Neighbours, City Homicide, Canal Road, Stingers, Blue Heelers, and Scooter Secret Agent. Sarah is also one of Straightjacket Theatre’s founding members. Savage lists his recent theatre credits as Jack Novarro in Playing Rock Hudson and Herres in Maurice Guest (both with FLY-ONTHE- WALL Theatre) although he does state his most challenging role to date was playing The Emcee in a production of Cabaret. "It was a dream role of mine but was such a big undertaking! It was my first lead role and I gave it everything I had, most definitely the most rewarding role in terms of experience and lessons learnt. I believe I learn something from every single job, and I use that lesson to better myself for the future. This was definitely a steep learning curve…and I loved it!"

Hallam tells me about her recent film experience wherein she played the mother of two boys who had drowned when their father drove the car into the lake and killed them. (I'm sure we all remember this recent horrific tragedy) She was asked by the director to be like Meryl Streep, so both content and direction became a challenge as well as her own expectations of wanting to be truly authentic and affect others by this tragic true story.

But it is this project, spear headed by Savage, that has brought the talents, eagerness and goals – which are based on a foundation of a shared technique – into the collective arena for these individuals who have become solid supporters of one another and what they achieve together.  It is a big project and offers it's fair share of challenges. Says Savage: "A challenge for me has been juggling the three hats of Producer, Director and Actor and knowing which hat to wear at which time. It gets a little tricky at times when I have a million things on my ‘to do’ list but I just have to remind myself “You are here as an Actor. Do your job”. And then once that rehearsal is finished I’ll go home and take care of the producing side…while preparing for the next days rehearsal as a Director. It is a delicate balance but it ‘s all manageable with a supportive team and little sleep."

Each play is different yet compliments the other. Savage feels that if the audience leaves the theatre talking about the piece and the ‘journey’ they travelled with the characters, then they as the ensemble have done their job. "Without giving too much away, neither play in the double bill wrap up neatly, and leaves a lot of speculation about what could happen next," he explains. " Much like a good book, this project leaves room for the audience to paint their own picture, to draw their own conclusions once the curtain is drawn."

Andriano tells me he has learned to search for what’s at stake in the story – the greater the stakes the better, more worth fight for. "Above all else, a through line that has grounded me acting in both ‘Big Al’ and ‘The Centenarian’ has been the extreme love shared between the characters despite their varying relationships to one another, and the extent that they’ve gone and will go to keep that love. I hope the audience can recognize this through these plays that are full of a lot of laughs and a lot of heart."

Big Al/ The Centenarian – Two short plays, one ticket.

Thursday 7th Feb 8pm (Gala Opening)
Friday 8th Feb 8pm
Saturday 9th Feb (Matinee) 3pm
Saturday 9th Feb 8pm
Sunday 10th Feb 6pm
12 Little Chapel St, Prahran