Young Melbourne theatre makers, RoundSquare Productions, bring Neil LaBute’s The Shape Of Things to the No vacancy Gallery in Melbourne's CBD.
The Shape of Things is LaBute's s critically acclaimed and powerful work that bluntly asks: How far would you go for love? What would you be willing to change? And what price would you be willing to pay? It is certainly a play that challenges as well as stirs up themes about personal validity based on shallow evaluation. Director (and dramaturge at 16th Street Actors Studio) Peter Blackburn understands the power of LaBute's masterful work. Blackburn admits he has a deep passion for theatre generally, but the plays that resonate mostly with him tend to be driven by ideas and ethical issues. "I want to be challenged by the theatre – intellectually stimulated, entertained and emotionally involved," he says. "Seems simple, but it can go wrong so easily. We’ve all been to bad theatre – and there are many qualities that can attribute to this feeling – but it begins with the writing. If the writing is good, you’re ahead of the game. This play is significant to me because it confronts us with the boundaries of art and intimacy – it piques my curiosity and is a wholly satisfying piece of theatre."
LaBute is generally acknowledged as a bold and inquisitive writer who likes to probe and prod the dark side of individualism. The places we, as a society, would much rather deny exist. His jibes are not gentle but he makes no apologies for this. A fascinating question that many drama students have is the question of playwright's intent and how they, as actors or directors, deal with the truth of it. Blackburn admits that the greatest theoretical debate that infused his own academic career has been that of authorial intention.
"How do we know what an author or playwright ‘meant’? What his or her ‘intention’ was?" he poses. "Quite simply, we don’t. We only have the words on the page – the narrative they tell, how they tell it, the characters they offer us. Particularly with a collaborative medium such as theatre, meaning is not fixed but fluid – and the final and most relevant meaning is not mine (as the director) but the one the audience takes home with them. I don’t mean to say we (as cast and crew) are not part of a meaning-making process, nor that LaBute is not the most significant part of that meaning-making experience; but it’s all interpretive. And that works for me both practically and theoretically. I’d do my head in if I tried to bring the audience the play LaBute ‘intended’; – how would I ever know if I ‘got it right’? And in the end, what keeps plays alive is their ability to be interpreted and re-imagined – every time a different actor steps into a role, we get a new character; and as each new director interprets, he/she puts their own stamp on the work. It’s one reason Shakespeare has been so adaptable and therefore immortal – as a society, we can continue to look at the same words, the same ‘intention’ – and read it through a new lens; impacted by the historical, cultural and artistic perspective of the ensemble of people who bring it to life and the society in which it is produced. But I hope LaBute would be satisfied with our work."
LaBute's play takes place in a contemporary museum which, Blackburn says, was always going to be a practical consideration for the production from the point of view of finding a space that could best suit the purposes of the play." One that incorporated the needs of the play but also offered something different for our version of LaBute’s text," explains Blackburn. " I think the venue No Vacancy has offered just that. Being a multi-purpose arts space, it brings the visual arts element of the story, so crucial to its themes, to the fore. This impacted the theoretical implications as well, as I have chosen to incorporate visual art in the play as a storytelling device, one integral to its meaning as a whole. There are many theoretical considerations in this play, given its weighty subject matter and academic setting, so the greatest challenge (in which LaBute has been the biggest aide) has been how to dramatise this and make it part of a narrative – an affective story of human interaction. It’s not a lecture after all, but a story about how art impacts life, and vice-versa."
Labute interestingly takes art outside its traditional boundaries and creates a far larger, and more dangerous, palette for the lead character Evelyn. When asked what he hopes the audience will ;leave with after viewing the play, Blackburn replies: "As Evelyn, the lead character in this wonderful play, says (and I paraphrase): we can all think different things and we can all be right. That’s the beauty of art. I can’t say what the audience will take away with them – but I can rest assured that this play will impact them, hopefully deeply, and there will certainly be discussions in the car on the way home. But as to their specific opinion, in quite a profound way, it’s none of my business! I do hope and trust that the audience will be entertained and stimulated throughout, however."
The Shape of Things plays at No vacancy gallery
7 – 24 March (Preview 7 March)
Bookings: 0427 832 299 and online www.trybooking.com/CISU