Multi-award winning Melbourne company Elbow Room brings their brand new work, The Motion of Light in Water, to the stage.
The main inspiration for the work comes from the works of Samuel R Delany, an American science fiction writer who was born in Harlem in 1941 and started to write in the late 1950s. "African American and identifying as gay from the age of twelve, Samuel had a lot he wanted to explore through writing," explains performer and co-creator Emily Tomlins. "However, at the time this wasn't possible in mainstream fiction, so he turned to science fiction."
The project has been brewing for at least a year, with Marcel Dorney (the Artistic Director of Elbow Room) and Tomlins in planning and staging mode since. "Marcel has been a fan of Delany's work for some time, and when he read his memoir "The Motion of Light in Water", he brought it to me and we began discussions of how to put in on stage," says Tomlins. "We were generously commissioned by Hothouse Theatre in Albury in January which offered us the opportunity to spend two weeks in a farm house with a studio attached. This is where it really started to come together. Marcel and six actors including myself spent two weeks improvising, discussing, reading and generating work. After that Marcel gathered it all together and wrote a script which we began rehearsing part time in March."
Tomlins admits that creating a new work is always challenging. This time it was slightly different because the team were drawing inspiration from someone else's writing.
"Delany's memoir is over a thousand pages long. We also explore one of his novels Babel 17 along with elements of another book Empire Star, so I guess the greatest challenge was to choose what to include and what to leave out. We had to decide which direction to take and what we wanted to say. We were lucky to have a room full of very intelligent artists who all contributed throughout the rehearsal period to the evolving script."
For Tomlins, it's always incredibly special to bring a new work to life, from the beginning of a thought to a full scale production. It is a tough gig for any independent theatre company but Elbow Room have found their niche and are producing theatre that is gaining the attention of audiences and supporters alike.
"We opened our first season in Albury in June, after months of hard work from a large team of people. This is definitely the biggest thing we have done as Elbow Room. In the past, our work has concentrated on the text and the acting as the primary locations of meaning, because that's where Marcel and my propensities lie. This time, through the support of Hothouse, Theatre Works and Arts Victoria, we were able to engage an incredible team of designers – Kris Chainey, Pete Goodwin (THE SWEATS), Matt Adey, Zoë Rouse and Andre Vanderwert -who have helped us realise the magic of these worlds on a scale bigger than we could imagine. Having all of these people agree to come on this journey with us makes us incredibly proud as a company."
Tomlins is also a founding member of Elbow Room along with Dorney and Angus Grant. The company formed in 2008, just after the trio had moved to Melbourne from Brisbane.
"We'd all worked – as actors and writers – for funded companies, but we wanted to see what was possible outside that frame; to explore the possibilities of theatre in a space where we were responsible for the artistic decisions. The unofficial motto of the company has always been 'big questions in small spaces' – we love the way that theatre forces you to be simple, and clear, before you can push out into big imaginative territory, and ask the questions which always need to be asked again."
The Motion of Light in Water is a journey through space and time. Tomlins describes it as making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It explores the power of language, love and art. It's inspired by the journey of an exceptional man, and the people who loved him, and who helped pave the way for other writers and artists to explore identity, sexuality and humanity through art. It is the story of bravery and for standing up for what you believe in. And it's also a science fiction adventure about a space captain who's also a poet who has to save the galaxy. It's going to be fun…!
July 17 – 27