THRESHOLDtc is about to enter the bizarre world of Eugene Ionesco in The Bald Soprano. A place where dogs don’t swallow their trunks, people don't polish spectacles with black wax, and where it's not uncommon to have at least eight Bobby Watsons.
Enter, if you will, into Ionesco's Theatre of the Absurd. Not for everyone – I grant you – but before hasty judgements are formed I urge you to sit a while, as I did, with THRESHOLDStc's Andrew Dodds who has a profound passion and deep respect for Ionesco, Brook, Grotowski and other experimental theatre theorists.
THRESHOLDtc is a fledging (formed in 2009) independent theatre company situated in Yarraville. Can you tell me a little bit about how artistic partnerships were formed to galvanize this creative venture?
'Everything is possible but you must find your own way’ PETER BROOK
I was midway through Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano when I received a phone call from friend and fellow actor Eoin O’Connell. I’m not sure what the phone call was originally about, but I do remember that within two to three minutes we were talking about all things theatre.
I had just finished the inaugural Melbourne season of Not Quite Cabaret at Red Bennies and had a strong desire to produce a play. I expressed these desires to Eoin, who told me that the registration for the Melbourne Fringe Festival was now open, and that should I be willing to produce a play he would offer me his full support.
With my mind already off and racing, I thanked Eoin for his call and support and began to ponder away.
After a good half-hour or so of musing on the idea of putting on a show for the Fringe, I returned to reading The Bald Soprano. It was still to be a further three pages before I could see fate’s gift staring me right in the face.
Here was a script tailor-made for the Fringe.
Absurdism has enjoyed a profound resurgence of late, with the recent tour of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (featuring Sir Ian McKellan) and before that Eugene Ionesco’s Exit The King (starring Australia’s very own Geoffrey Rush, and winning him Tony Award).
This resurgence, in my opinion, comes from our current global climate, whose spate of recent environmental disasters and civil unrest has given rise to existential commentaries. These existential viewpoints lend themselves to ‘Theatre Of The Absurd’.
With the text decided upon, I then set about securing a Director for the production. It was at this time that I called Kellie Tori.
I had recently worked with Kellie as part of Not Quite Cabaret’s inaugural Melbourne season at Red Bennies, and thought she would be a superb choice for Director. I called Kellie up and babbled through my thoughts and ideas for the production. When I eventually finished my rant, Kellie kindly told me that she would have a read of the script and get back to me.
The very next night I believe Kellie was just as giddy as me.
From there I decided to move forward with a theatre company I had started back in 2009, and build upon the successes and failings of my previous production (Christopher Durang’s Baby With The Bathwater), inviting actors Eoin O’Connell and Luke Lennox to join myself and Kellie as part of a core group.
All of us see the Melbourne Fringe Festival as a project whereby we can find our feet as a company and as a production team.
THRESHOLDtc is now in it's 2nd year. Can you talk about some of the challenges you have encountered over this time and some of the more ingenious, if you will, solutions that have been employed to keep things flowing?
I really struggled within my first production; I was fresh out of university and was absolutely bursting with ideas, yet lacked the necessary production skills to make Durang’s Baby With The Bathwater a success.
I am forever indebted to all those who helped out with Baby With The Bathwater, and am happy to report that all have moved on to amazing things.
• Directors Gemma O’Connor and Sally Christiansen have since formed an Indie band (‘FLASHfry’) and are going from strength to strength touring the local Melbourne circuit;
• Actors Joel Davey and Eliza Sweeney are now in Europe;
• Actor Tom Dickins is now one half of the ever successful cabaret band The Jane Austen Argument. Who are at this very moment performing in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival;
• Actor Miranda McGee is now touring with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company;
• Actor Vanessa Cole is currently coming to the end of her first year of study at NIDA; and,
• Actor Louise Mullavey has just returned to Australia after spending a year in Denmark.
I was also assisted greatly by Matthew Lockitt, Jordy Atkinson, Luke Cutting, and Fiona Gregory.
This time around, I have really been appreciative of the guidance given to me by the Staff from both the Melbourne Fringe and the Revolt Art Space.
The Fringe is a perfect medium with which to grow your theatre company. There are programs such as ‘outside eye’ that offer mentorships for those wanting to learn about the theatre, and forum session such as the ‘Salon Series’ where you can talk out your ideas and receive guidance on issues such as marketing your show.
Though unsuccessful in my application for ‘outside eye’, I decided to setup my own mentorship program: with Paul Knox (formerly of PMD Productions) giving me mentorship on production related issues; and Deborah Vanderwerp (of the Holmesglen Tafe) giving the crew mentorship in Lights, Sound, and Stage Management.
Can you talk about how the creative roles (or jobs) are divided from the beginning of a show i.e. the audition process – to the final night? i.e. who is the production team? Who sources directors? Is there a committee of management? Can you describe Threshold's artistic philosophies and how these were born? How important are these philosophies to the heart of what you are trying to say as a theatre entity?
As I mentioned earlier in the piece, Kellie, Luke, Eoin, myself see THRESHOLDtc as a ‘Work-In-Progress’, so although we have assigned production roles for The Bald Soprano, they are subject to revue after the production.
For the moment we have: Kellie Tori as Arts Access Officer; Luke Lennox as our Sponsorship Co-ordinator; Eoin O’Connell as our Web and Media Liaison; and me as Producer and Artistic Director.
I suppose what is of particular note is that we have an Arts Access Officer. THRESHOLDtc believes strongly in making theatre accessible for everyone and is trialling having both Auslan Interpretation and Audio Description as part of its Melbourne Fringe Season.
Sadly there is no current subsidy available for Auslan Interpretation, however THRESHOLDtc has budgeted to take this into account. Hopefully its venture will help raise awareness of both Accessible Theatre and the need for Vic Arts to fund such undertakings.
THRESHOLDtc’s takes the use of the word ‘threshold’ from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Of A Thousand Faces which speaks of the archetypal structure of the ‘monomyth’ present within culture and society.
THRESHOLDtc’s motto is ‘Know Thyself’, which comes from comment made by Apollo in relation to the question ‘what is best for man?’ We at THRESHOLDtc believe that this is the purpose of theatre. To assist society to better know itself, and have used this to construct a company mantra:
Accepting the call to adventure, the hero leaves the world of the known and crosses the threshold into the unknown, where they will be forever changed.
At THRESHOLDtc you are the hero, and the plays, your adventure. We live to serve you so that you may better know yourself. For that is, was, and forever will be our purpose.
THRESHOLDtc ‘Know Thyself’
THRESHOLDtc’s colours are Black (representing Dionysus, and the Dionysic Abyss), White (representing Apollo, and the Apollonic Hero Reborn), and Gold (representing the Form and Ideal that Theatre can allow us to better know ourselves.
Can you talk a little about what the themes of the play address and It is a play written in 1950. How would you describe its relevancy to today's audience? Where would you like to see THRESHOLDtc say 10 years from now? And finally, what is next for yourself and the company?
Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano deals with the breakdown of language within the society of the time. A parody of Ionesco’s observations whilst trying to learn English, The Bald Soprano depicts a pair of couples from the English bourgeoisie who are unable to move forward: whether that be through miscommunication or the ability remember what either person has said.
On the surface it is highly amusing and entertaining, however the deeper you delve that darker it gets. For Ionesco’s work could be considered to be anywhere between a biting comment on post Second World War society to a tragical Sisyphus-esque comment on the nature of humankind.
I believe it is far too early to guess where THRESHOLDtc might be in 10 years time. But, similarly to Peter Brooks comment, ‘Everything is possible but you must find your own way’, and with Eoin, Luke, and Kellie, together we will do so.
The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco will play at REVOLT Melbourne, Elizabeth St, Kensington, only 5 minutes from the Fringe Hub. Season: September 22 – October 8. For further booking info: [email protected] or 03 9660 9666