Todd MacDonald is an actor, director, producer and former Artistic Director of the influential Store Room Theatre in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Since graduating from NIDA in 1994 he has worked extensively in theatre, film and television, perhaps best known for his long running role on The Secret Life of Us. He recently appeared in the Graham Kennedy telemovie, The King, and directed Alan Brough in Top Town for the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He remains on the board and as an artistic associate with the Store Room, he is a core member of performance group NYID and has served as a panel member for Arts Victoria grant applications.

After a recent triumphant season at Belvoir St, he returns to Melbourne for a third season of Construction of the Human Heart by Ross Mueller. He spoke to Australian Stage's Simon Piening.

Construction of the Human Heart You co-founded The Store Room in 1999 – an independent theatre company and venue which quickly established itself as a significant hub for small-scale, independent theatre in Melbourne. What were your original reasons/aims for establishing The Store Room?
Originally Ben Harkin and myself wanted to create a company together and make our own work – this quickly changed into building a venue and trying to run it as professionally as possible.
Were you surprised at its rapid success?
Not really surprised – there was a gap in the theatre scene here that we filled well and there was enough hungry artists who needed to make work and needed a place to make it. To be honest we were both so busy trying to make it all happen – we did not have time to be surprised.
You’re still currently a board member and associate artist with The Store Room. The company has undergone a change of structure and direction over the past year or two. Can you explain how the company has changed?
We have remodelled the company to have a strong more dedicated focus on the development of new work. Attached to the company now is a core group of around 11 artists – the company now focuses on these artists specifically in trying to develop their work. Each year we will invite new artists to join the Store Room Theatre Workshop (our new name) and there is a three year commitment to remaining a member.
What prompted the changes?
There is a real need to give work the time it needs to develop – that isn’t to say brilliant work can't emerge very quickly – but what we see is a need for a longer term commitment to artists and their ideas that isn’t just as long as an application/realisation/acquittal process that is the current predominate model.
What are the future plans for the company?
Develop our existing artists with an aim to create a sustainable model for the creation and presentation and touring, ultimately give greater ‘access’ to new work, not just in the city but regionally, nationally and internationally.
You’ve worked with various theatre companies including NYID, Elsewhere Inc, Malthouse Theatre and of course the Store Room. All of these companies have a reputation for experimenting with or pushing the boundaries of the theatrical form. Is that something that interests you?
Absolutely. We are all changing so quickly, socially, technologically, physically and all these things are intrinsically linked, so in a way we have no choice but to change and push and try the new – its what the arts does at its core. It can never get stagnant or it becomes redundant.
{xtypo_quote_left}The arts isn’t an agenda or a portfolio - it is who we are and if there is no respect for that and no support for that then that reflects enormously on our self respect as a society{/xtypo_quote_left}  
The Melbourne theatre scene looks quite different now than it did even in 1999 when you began The Store Room. You have had a lot of involvement in the small–medium sector (as an actor, director, producer, artistic director and a panel member for Arts Victoria) – what are your thoughts on the health of the current independent theatre scene?
To be honest I have stepped away from the heavy involvement I once had due to family commitments – but in my experience the getting of core funding was near impossible, which became a contributing factor to our model shift. I am sure its difficult to please everyone (from the point of view of the government funding bodies) but there seems to be a gap in how arts policy is arrived at and what actually needs to be happening to feed and respect a part of our society which is crucial to us being able to define ourself, talk about ourselves and basically be human! The arts isn’t an agenda or a portfolio - it is who we are and if there is no respect for that and no support for that then that reflects enormously on our self respect as a society. Perhaps a change in Federal politics will bring a shift? Or not?
You’ve had success as an actor on television with your role on Secret Life of Us – do you have a preference for theatre or television? Would you like to do more tv/film?
I have been lucky to have been able to work on great projects in film/TV and theatre and to be honest that is the deciding factor – the quality and love of the work. That said though and if pushed – performing live satisfies the Leo in me more so than a TV set.
You’re currently preparing for a third Melbourne season of Ross Mueller’s Construction of the Human Heart, having just returned from a successful season at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre. This is an example of a small project that you developed at the Store Room which has gone on to receive accolades wherever it has played. Can you tell us a bit about the play?
I am extremely proud of this piece of work and love performing it. We originally developed the work as a part of the Instorage season at The Store Room in 2005. The fantastic thing about the work and what I love about theatre was the collaborative nature in which it was realised. Ross delivered the words on the page – beautiful and compelling – but confusing for us. Together with Brett Adams, Fiona Macleod and I, we arrived at the form that the production now holds. It was extremely satisfying. What the audiences sees in this production was created by all four of us – plus the design team.

This combination allows the piece to skim between extreme emotion to extreme humour whilst it investigates a core theme that we all can (and have to eventually) relate to – death and creation.

For me this type of work is exactly what we loved to support at The Store Room and our whole purpose is to provide a structure to best support the artist’s and give them a home and a context. Our resources were so limited but we were able to devise a season of work that had rehearsal space, a venue, marketing, publicity and more importantly a dedicated audience.

It has been a great next step to link up with Malthouse and have them deliver the show to an even greater audience – this relationship is the perfect example of how the industry can support each other! As is the presentation of work at our regional outer city venues.
Construction of the Human Heart The role was written specifically for you – did you have much input into the development of the script?
Ross did write the work with Fiona and I in mind – but the true ownership and authenticity of the work only came after we realised what the show was during rehearsals. So yes there were plenty of changes that occurred – none fundamental though. Once we all discovered the nature of the style of the work (i.e. that it begins as a reading) then we were all able to make changes and adapt the words to this new context. It was extremely organic and Ross was totally in the flow with us. Incredibly it needed very little changing – it was uncanny how well Ross’s original text fit into this form.
What originally attracted you to the project?
The honesty of Ross’s writing was the core attraction, plus the fact he had written the piece with me in mind was also very important to me. You strive constantly to create develop real and honest working relationships with fellow artists and it is a rare thing to meet with someone with whom you truly have an affiliation with their work. 
So what’s next for you?
More theatre at the start of next year and then looking at possibly stepping behind the camera early to mid 2008.

slideshow.gifSlideshow | Construction of the Human Heart plays the Frankston Arts Centre»

Top Right: Maria Theodorakis and Todd MacDonald
Bottom Right: Todd Macdonald
Photos: Brett Boardman - from the Belvoir St (Sydney) Season of Construction of the Human Heart
by Ross Mueller

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